Floods and Fortitude

Randy Newman a poet and songwriter, as well as gifted singer, wrote a song about an earlier flood. The song still works and its lyrics still resonate. The place names of the remembered waters are not exactly the right ones but they are not so far away. We are accustomed to being tried here and this is certainly a trial.  But there is a lot of complexity to the issues that relate to this flood and to other disasters. Previous trials have been mentioned in this blog here, here and here for example.  But man made disasters are more often the subject of this blog than storms and there has never been a shortage of manmade disasters. Sometimes the line is blurry. There is a town suing the State of Louisiana for road planning that interfered with effective drainage and that kind of thing is tricky. It takes skill and technology and hard work to live here.  In Randy Newman’s song the Flood has the feel of a an assault or siege.

 What has happened down here is the winds have changed
Clouds roll in from the north and it started to rain
Rained real hard and it rained for a real long time
Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline

The river rose all day
The river rose all night
Some people got lost in the flood
Some people got away alright
The river have busted through clear down to Plaquemines
Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline

I took the pictures above in the days of the flooding along with many others. Some of them were lost in a phone which was also lost in the flood. Actually it was damaged beyond repair. But as bad as things were there was not so much sense of moral assault this time as their sometimes is. Not quite as much as in the Randy Newman tune.
Louisiana, Louisiana
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
Louisiana, Louisiana
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us awayPresident Coolidge came down in a railroad train
With a little fat man with a note-pad in his hand
The President say, “Little fat man isn’t it a shame what the river has done
To this poor crackers land.”
The politicians still have a great deal of politicking to do. Meanwhile, we are all (actually most of us — we have our deadweight folks, also the truly needy and the shattered– but most of us are ) trying to do the best to get through this and get others through this. I have invested some time because as bleak as my situation is I am not substantially victimized by the flood itself. There is always a question of how the culture around here relates to the cultural framework of our society as a whole and how it ought to relate to that society. The Cajun Navy has become one of the points of controversy in this communication between ways of doing and being, a link to that controversy is here.  My judgement of being isolated and abused is not yet as intense as in the Newman lyrics:
Louisiana, Louisiana
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
Louisiana, Louisiana
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away

What can I do? Well, I have done quite a few things. So have others around me. At the bottom of this post is a collection of pictures I took during the time I spent at the distribution center in the United Way facility in Lafayette, Louisiana. I was busy receiving and helping to distribute goods.  In the set of pictures just below these words I was working with St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Church in Abbeville which was involved in a variety of flood relief activity. It so happens that the house chosen for me to work on was that of an old and dear friend and his family. John Dale Lege and Charlene were very close friends years ago and part of what John Dale and I did together was volunteer work on the houses of the needy. But John Dale was in those days a very hardworking young father and a black belt in Karate. Today he is long now fully disabled. In testimony to how close we were back then I am the godfather of his daughter Anne Frances whose middle name is in honor partly of me. She is a mother now and long has been a productive citizen. I stay in touch but we are not that close any more. There home was ravaged by the flood and they were one real and tangible set of actual people injured by this catastrophe. However, before either of these outraeches I had already been busy doing flood related things…

 

 

The truth is hard to come by… goes the John Denver song I like.  to quote but the truth is United Way, St. Mary Magdalene Church and others with whom I have worked are making a difference. We are doing what we can.  For me getting back to normal doesn’t seem so great but still it has to be a primary goal. The disaster must be addressed whatever our normal problems may be. The local chapter of the American Red Cross, the local United Way organization, Lafayette High School Student Government, St. Thomas More High School and Americorps were only some of the organizations that I saw involved in the receiving and distribution day that I participated in. Among for proffit organizations I saw Rope, Soap and Dope, Hub City Diner and the gentleman I am in the picture with is a Spolinno (sp?) from Crowley originally who owns and operates A. Bryan’s Jewelry in Lafayette. The community was coming together in many ways.

A Bryan's United Way Flood The Love - 3 United Way Flood The Love - 2 United Way Flood The Love - 1

Best wishes to all who are helping. the crisis is not over yet. But the recovery is well underway.

The Olympics, August and Despondency and floods

The flood has grown since this post was named or it might appear in the title. But while it has caused much suffering it was not anticipated like an approaching hurricane. But we do expect problems with rain and floods here.

This afternoon school is cancelled in many parts of the regionwhere I am due to storms and flooding.  I’m not in school as a student nor an employee but I am very aware of its closure. The rain also changes many other things around here. For direct and indirect reasons it has affected my sleep. Texts and calls have been coming in over most of the last twenty odd hours from automated systems warning me of the flood. Such is life. The many problems that I already have are made worse when the little acts that make up my life and struggle are interrupted.  This story continues to evolve around me across editions of this post. Hopefully with no tragedies among the near and dear in my life. But a cousin has needed rescue and nearer kin have needed sandbags. My current haunts in an old family home shared with my aunt are dry.

 

Many people, including one family very close to me, are more adversely affected than I am so far. But things have a way of letting you know when they are going from bad to worse. They often do. So why do I take time to watch the great successes on the Olympics? Even in the later edition of this post when,  among many other troubles, I have a flood damaged phone and  wound to worry about — I still took time to watch the Olympics. It’s a set of rituals, events and stories compelling to me even in a flood.

I still believe in struggle, effort, training and discipline even when the results are very far from world records and gold medals. There are a lot of other Olympic values that I share. In 2004 I found out during the Olympics that I might well get my papers in time to teach in China and I did. That’s after knowing that I had finally gotten the basic papers. But often the summer Olympics comes at a depressing and disappointing time of year for me as it does again this year. But I still watch and still care. My own less glorious struggle to survive the ordeals of another natural disaster remains connected to the stellar performance of Usain Bolt, Justin Gatlin, Alyson Felix, Van Niecken and many others on the track sprinting today. I watch them in part the way that I will celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It’s the National Feast of the Acadian People and it is a Church solemnity. There are layers of meaning.  I connect to the occasion in both Catholic and in Cajun ways.

 

“The future is not ours to see”, so the song popular in my childhood says.  But it is all too often fairly predictable for many of us. The great success of the U.S. women’s gymnastics team was happily predictable. They looked rightly confident to me. For most of us life doesn’t usually and daily resemble the kinds of unequalled success we have seen this year in the performance of Olympic athletes like Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecki, Simone Niles and a handful of other superstars. Certainly, my life doesn’t much resemble the epic Olympic performance of Michael Phelps whom I have very much enjoyed watching in these Rio games. But in the process of living we all deal with the same sense of being faced with tremendous challenges. I know what it means to push on and so do many other people who will never find a gold medal at the end of their journey. I have been reviewing old correspondence and am aware that I have long lived a life founded in faith. Sometimes, I am very grateful for all the support my faith has received. Other days find me less grateful for the same set of shared experiences.

09-08-2016-Swimming-16I have enjoyed the Olympics and hope to keep enjoying them. But on a personal level I relate more to the road racer in women’s cycling who had to cut her own air all the way to the finish line while three competitors drafted and posted their way along to pass her in the last seconds and leave her in a medal void at fourth place. I relate to another part of Team USA which is the water polo team eliminated by a loss to Montenegro in a game they had to win to have a chance to make it out of their pool or group to the single elimination tournament. I relate to the 800 meters American record setter locked behind the dominant African pack of lead runners and kept out of the medals.  America is dominating these games but many American athletes are doing brave deeds and coming up short.
Truly I enjoy the glory of the great stars but I watch more to admire than to identify. I don’t diminish their glory and success but I am not so much made glorious by these events.  However, I am very aware of my own lack of glory and success these days… I am aware of diminishing resources to bring to the fights in which I am engaged.

But like many of you reading this, I hope to keep going on the track I run and the lane I swim in daily life until my strength finally gives out….

 

Sex, Sexuality, Pornography and the Public Trust

In America sexual morality and ethics has a different character than it has in any other place in the world or in any other era in history.While that does not mean it is not the right character for us it is an important fact to note.  There is clearly a range of modesty as a value which is acceptable within our diverse society. That is exemplified by the relatively wide acceptance of  women who dress as differently as Kerri Walsh Jennings and Ibithaj Muhamad in their pursuit of both the very different sports of beach volleyball and the saber discipline of fencing. One woman is a competing in a bikini and the other in full fencing gear and in both cases this relates to issues larger than the standard practice of their sport. The issue of modesty has arisen in this blog before, more than once but most recently in the post but especially the comments on the blog post found here. I hope to watch some of both women performing in this competition.  I am not bothered by either model of behavior as much as some people but probably many Americans are more accepting of both women than I am. Modesty and dress are not the most compelling issues in the conversations and confrontations related to sex and sexuality but they are important issues in themselves and indicators of larger issues confronting the country and the people who live in it….  America takes ina lot of diverse people who care strongly about the sexual climate and mores around them and who have very different values and beliefs.


For me there is no question at all that there is sexual strain and dysfunction in our society. There is no question at all that for me this is a bad to horrible place to live from that particular point of view. But while many other people feel that way we do not dislike or disapprove of the same things nor do we look for the same solutions. The crisis in our country is not only far from being resolved it is far from being framed in any way which leads to resolution.

The opposite end of the presentation of sexuality to the world from polite discussions about modesty is the issue of pornography. There is a great deal of vile and gross pornography out there no matter how one chooses to define vile and gross. People ought to have the right to live in a world in which the people they interact with do not have their sexual machinery twisted and stimulated in ways that empower bizarre behaviors and unlicensed acts which are encouraged by a sophisticated industry which feeds impulses everyone controls only imperfectly. For someone as misanthropic as myself it is easy to say that nobody is getting an A++ on the lifetime sex test. There are issues that only become more complicated in a very diverse society and so that raises the question of what is to be criminalized. Where can people hope for protection from the real influences of porn and where does the right to freedom of information and freedom of expression come into play? The answers are not easy ones.  Louisiana has raised the age for strippers from 18 to 21 on the basis that when in doubt Americans raise the age from 18 to 21 and that principle has been used many times and is  always debated. I did hear on radio news that young strippers were suing to protect their livelihood but if that is true then they will surely lose. I can live with this law just fine, in fact I could live with a law against strip clubs just fine. I also think that 21 is an age which decreases the chance of having fifteen and sixteen year old prostitutes in brothels and I support that goal. That is true even though the strip clubs are not supposed to be brothels and girls below adult age are already not allowed to work there. In the real world  there will be some additional security against child prostitution by raising the age of strippers. The porn world has many images much more disruptive of any shared sexual ideal than the images of strippers. What are those images, well finding out may or may not be a crime. Part of the theory of all these criminal laws is that these pornographers have such sterling and perfect ethics that one can know how old a model is and what conditions are used in making a film. That of course is completely absurd. One can tell a twelve year old is under age but not a seventeen year old. Photos do not show whether special effects and honest pay or slavery and terror have made the films possible.  a picture simply appears.

The arrest of Father David Broussard a pastor in Breaux Bridge on the anniversary of his ancestors being expelled from Nova Scotia is a further development of the child sexual scandal involving Catholic clergy in an area where I live. Some very serious case of abuse were badly mishandled over and over again in this region and the scars and damage from those scandals is both real and deep.   It is also true that the way the cases were handled was at times not a great credit to prosecutors and the media but the reality is that the church needed a good cleaning in this regard. These were cases of repeated rape –penetrative sex — with minors by priest and a failure to deal with issues well even when complaints were filed with church authorities.    The rot was a time quite notable to me at many levels. Yet it was not the pervasive experience of life in the church which some made it out to be. So far as I know Father David Broussard is accused of viewing images in private on his computer that are not legal. I do not know what kind of images they were. I assume that finding out would be a felony for me but is a paid activity for the prosecutors and police. Notice that this is different than rape in many ways. Police are not required to rape a victim again to investigate rape. The rape kit may be horrible but it is something less than rape. But in viewing pornography all of the prosecutors do exactly the deed which has been criminalized and scrutinizing what they are doing in the only way that would allow a just comment is also a crime.    Did Broussard is not someone I know. He may be a thoroughgoing scoundrel and a pedophile for all I know. I believe that some priests are such things and desrve such description. But the facts remain that nobody had complained about his treatment of them and he was caught vieiwing we know not what nor on haow many occasions. The acid trip judiciary of the USA can make five hundre counts of elonies out of anything it wants, too gutless to prosecute the brutal violent rapes that leave victims afraind to testify in more cases than anyone will ever know it has plenty of nerve to count every mouse click as a separate felony.  What I do know is not that David Broussard deserves mercy but that the authority deserves a real opposition and some deserve a good whipping, sadly I am not strong enough to provide either.

The commentary about these matters of Roman Catholic clergy misconduct and all related  matters is  relatively abundant. The critical and media success of the movie Spotlight shows how much traction the issue of Roman Catholic clergy sex abuse has in this country.   The issue of sexual abuse among Boy Scout leaders and staff,  the issue of sexual abuse among public school teachers,  and sexual abuse juvenile detention workers has never received the same kind of attention nor been met with the same

The widespread abuse of patients by medical doctors is little enough reported. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has done a good job of bringing this vast problem to light and allowing the possibility for some kind of reform. But this does not have the traction in our culture that the Catholic clergy sex scandals have and are always likely to have. The sexual abuse realities, their reporting, and the way the consequences play out is  of great consequence across society. Hatred of Catholics and the Catholic clergy is the great unifying force of Protestantism and of an America formed by it to an amazing degree. Lunatics not withstanding everyone knows this to be true. there are books and not blog posts needed to discuss this.  But that is not the subject of the this post.

There are a lot of people writing about the real problems in our sexual climate and they include women who are very different from one another.  Writers among American women include Susan Faludi’s book Shafted, Rhonda Rich’s book What Southern Women Know, Elisabeth Elliot’s books Mark of a Man, Passion and Purity, and Let Me be a Woman. Among men there are others like Robert Johnson, John Gray, James Dobson, Larry Christenson, Stephen B. Clark, Robert Iatesta, Robert Bly, Edwin Cole and many other men have tried to chart the waters and coastlines of American sexual identity of men and women, with a focus on the United States of America. None of these writers are championing child pornography. None condone sex abuse by the clergy or anyone else. But if one considers the cases they all make thy point to a different rot and filth than the one which once sheltered serial rapists in this regions clergy.  There is rot across the board and it is vile and hideous to me. A joke has emerged where law once was, self righteous idiocy defines sexual interaction and there are no words bad enough to describe what I see out there . No words at all. But the kind of smug journalism that the David Broussard article brought out in some papers (but not all) in this region is an example of the capcity for pervasive blindness in our society.

The end of the long hot summer, repeat ad limine

It was a Frenchman who helped most to found the modern Olympics. He honored Greece and Olympia in particular but he was truly French. His official Olympic brief biography can be linked here. His heart is buried in Olympia, Greece. But of course every good schoolboy knows that France has nothing to do with Greece and Baron de Coubertain was just a phoney making something up. But every good schoolboy is enormously wrong. First because of references to the Olympics in the New Testament most of which are very positive and because of the great role of Christianity in forming France and Europe. Secondly, because  the first Olympic Games were played in 776 B.C and  became a standard way of keeping dates straight in Greece while individual tribes,priestly orders, colonies, kingdoms and dynasties had their own calendars. Olympic dating was being used in France in about 400 B.C. in a significant way. The first Olympic athlete who had been to France was probably not in 1896 but more like in 396 or at the latest 296 B.C. but he was neither a winner nor a real native of the region in all probability. The big sporting nations won all the events and the others were happy just to be there. The primitive lands of the Far West were relegated to the “also ran” class. But the Olympic tradition was alive. The events and memories we celebrate in the upcoming days have a deep rootedness for all of us form Western European roots which has been forgotten but for me especially..

Ad limine, at the threshold of what I define as my most profound heritage the traditions involved are already ancient.  Three thousand years ago, give or take a few centuries when my distant ancestors came to France from Greece they settled mostly on the shores of the familiar Mediterranean Sea. It is hard to say what society may have been like among those early explorers, settlers, guards, diplomats and merchants who formed more of the population than would be the case later on in the history of Hellenes in France. It is hard to say what Agathe was like for example once it was settled when Rome was yet an obscure town and Kingdom under they brief dynasty of Kings of Roman who were half Etruscan and lived under Etruscan rule. The Romans who were far from setting foot in Gaul were part of a less than half Hellenized Etruscan civilization and they had ancestral reasons unique to themselves to want to challenge the Greek civilization which was seen as the unchallenged master of the known world. But they were nothing like the Roman Empire, the Greek civilization was profoundly different than what Rome would become.  To us these times must be framed in terms of what Rome would do and become and what it would do to the Celtic societies in the Far West. But But Agde can be visited today and some artifacts can be viewed. But we know Agathe was Rome was not on the minds of the leaders or the common people of Marseilles and Agde.

As said before it is hard to know what life was like in Agde when it was the Far West of the Far West, but we do know  it was a secondary or second generation Greek colony founded by the Greeks who developed Marseilles or Masilia as it was known. The Greek story in France had begun. For me and a tiny few of us perhaps it has never stopped and we hope it never will. It also continues here in Louisiana. The Phocians were the founders of the Hellenic colonies in France but there were representatives of other tribes with reciprocal rights and treaty obligations in most colonies across the Greek world. This was a very imperfect system but it was a system that can pretty well be understood even where no direct evidence exists. I am sure in my own mind that even in those earliest days when the first Phocian ships landed in Marseilles there were Arcadian connections to the enterprise. By the time Agde was built there was what could be called a minimal Arcadian community which intermingled with the Phocians but which brought some titles and laid some pans from the earliest days. That was the threshold of the Acadian identity.

Ad limine means roughly “at the threshold”. We are on the cusp of along period of the end not at the other end of that long process where cool weather lies just ahead. I am busy working outside, it is hard to stay cool, there are summer storms one day and pure blazing but humid heat with almost no respite at all on the days when it does not rain. For me there are many things to be aware of in August that require some level of emotional, intellectual and financial attention and a few Augusts across my life are more that way than others. This is an especially  challenging August in more ways than it is otherwise special. getting this post together has been a challenge as well. The truth is that there comes a point in almost every life where one realizes that one is simply wearing down too much to bet on one’s capacity to deal with the challenges on which much of one’s earthly happiness and security depend. The Rio Olympic games are assuredly cranking up. The big political conventions are over. The brutal heat of South Louisiana is one of the conditions that wears one down and there are no cheering crowds. the near certainty that thew Zika virus will be here degrades life further in a place much buffeted by the modern world. The preventions and poison will degrade life too, necessary as it may be. So that is the world as I find it this week. I hope to watch a lot of the modern Olympics and I hope to live out this summer as well as I can. But in the heat, the political disappointment and the lack I feel there is not much sense of the great Olympic tradition But it probably is not the first or last time I will get a little boost from the connection to these events.

This is the hot time of year when certain familiar things happen and it is also an Olympiad year and a US Presidential election. There is a great deal to be said about the Olympics and the Presidency but I want to focus on the fact that his is the peak of the gulf coast summer when it is hot and going to be hot and is horribly hot — and yet the slope to cooler days lies just days or weeks away. Soon enough the hottest days will be behind us. I will be glad when it is cooler. But the Summer Olympics will be part of  what is good about this hot

Zika is gaining ground in Florida and will be present in Rio for the Olympics and doubtless it will soon spread here as well. South Louisiana is the kind of place where such a disease will be

I am near the point of admitting that almost nothing I thin most urgent in my life can I reasonably assure.

 

Hillary’s History and Politcal Conventions in a Time of Crisis

The conventions have had a bit of time to fade into the background. Both campaigns have been unconventional and both candidates experienced something different about their conventions.  In the DNC there was the contention between  Sanders supporters and the Hillary majority that she might have wished was less than it was. In the RNC,  Donald Trump was operating in a situation where Ted Cruz was booed off stage for not endorsing him and where not a single former President spoke to endorse him. Hillary had President Hubby and President Hussein. Trump did not have  have George War Hero Bush, George Texas Rangers Bush,  or Mitt Romney captain of the very loyal GOP block of moderate Mormons.  But if both sides had memorable conventions the most historic was the Democratic National Convention where a woman we all know very well if we know politics was nominated as the candidate for the Presidency of the United States.  I have no wife, no daughter and largely followed the conventions on both sides alone. I have a lot of female relatives and correspondents. But no matter what their political beliefs I would have to expect that most American women felt some kind of identification with Hillary.  It has been a long road here and she has earned the nomination by dint of creating an unequalled record of engagement in the affairs to which it relates in our time. That does not mean I will vote for her. I have not decided whom to vote for but I do want  recognize that as a student radical,  constituent advocacy attorney, First Lady of Arkansas, First Lady of the United States, United States Senator from New York,     U.S. Secretary of State and Presidential Candidate twice she has paid her dues. She simply cannot be denied that statement — no Democrat has ever had more sweat equity than she has…

She faces a candidate who is running on the plat form of building the Great Wall of the United States and encouraging an immigration policy led by wives for billionaires — although Marla Maples snuck in there somehow…. So we will see.  She is likely to be the next President of the United States of America.  She and her hubby do not make me happy about America’s future but unhappiness is a fairly permanent and pervasive thing for me.  I began my Mon ay with a meeting with the police to reclaim a relatives lost dog who had innocently enough put another relative into medical (really dental care) and then escaped the makeshift tethering the owners had done  as they left for the hospital.  Sunday after the DNC which was yesterday I had a very pleasant dinner with family but there was a potentially serious injury on both the way out and the way home.   Not traffic injuries but unrelated things. My life is full of little problems and medium size problems and big distractions but like most Americans I feel that I have a connection to Presidential politics.  Madame President or President Trump seem the only alternatives likely and Madame President is more likely. I do care and have a few things to say now.

Hillary Clinton has emerged as the first truly serious Presidential nominee by a major party in American history.  Victoria Woodhull’s candidacy in the Equal Rights Party in the nineteenth century was not a joke and has has been followed by many other minor party candidates but none of them had a realistic chance of winning. In addition, Geraldine Ferraro failed spectacularly on her ticket and Sarah Palin first lost with John McCain and then resigned the governorship of Alaska whereas before the national run she had reason to believe that she would be a reasonably successful governor and a fixture in Alaskan and regional politics for years to come.  Both women had some real success and fame after their losing bids, but not enough to say in either case that the run was entirely good for their public and political status. Palin did better in the creation of other opportunities than Feraro. But neither had as much to lose as HRC. Her selfish political reason for running (along with whatever noble and other reasons she has) is that she has done everything else except the VP and the Presidency that would constitute a climb up this ladder. Hillary Rodham Clinton has  a lot of valuable experience and also has a great deal of history to overcome. The Democratic National Convention was her time to try to cement her position leading the charge of the Democrats to regain the White House and also to show she can be an asset on down ballot elections. I think that it is fair to say that it has not gone all that smoothly. Thursday evening was the peak and the key of her efforts to legitimize and secure her position. The precedent had been set by Ivanka Trump introducing her father at the Republican National Convention, Chelsea and her mother would follow suit. But the crucial difference in a daughter introducing her mother was lost on nobody.  The question many were asking was whether a woman’s moment could be an effective reality. I thought that as regards the evening as a whole the jury is still out and may always be out. But Chelsea did a fine job.

Thursday evening Chelsea Clinton looked the best I have ever seen her look on a big stage and she spoke with virtually flawless delivery and presentation as she introduced her mother.  Then there was a video in the hall and a great deal of commentary by people who get paid to comment on most networks.  Bernie Sanders supporters in yellow shorts emblazoned with a dove of peace and the slogan “enough is enough” were much in evidence and some were interviewed.  Almost everyone was respectful of Chelsea and what she had to say.  It was much like Ivanka’s introduction at the Republican National Convention, in that it was hard not to at least wish to allow the speaker in each case a chance to rejoice and be proud of their respective parent.

Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech was another matter. There were several times when chants of “Feel the Bern” had to be drowned out by her supporters chanting “Hill-a-ry” but that was not like a cheer at the right spot — it still disrupted her delivery. That was despite several points in the speech where she made overtures to Sander and his supporters including directly thanking him and adopting his cause. She also attacked Donald Trump a great deal.

 

Wednesday, I did watch the Democratic National Convention during most of the nearly two hours that they were broadcast on broadcast networks in what seems like a later version of primetime than I remember primetime being. But actually the speeches by Tim Kaine and President Obama had little trouble keeping my interest. While I was tired and my nerves were frayed from a hard day I was eager to hear what they had to say. Of course, it bears saying that I had a high level of interest when watching Donald Trump and Ivanka as well as Ben Carson and some others who spoke at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last week. Both conventions have been contentious. Both seem to have achieved unity by their respective Wednesday evening speeches…. the contest between the parties can in fact take place.

 

I went out to dinner with an old friend on Tuesday evening and so we both missed the Bill Clinton speech. It is a tense time in the country and in the world as all times are but more so.  The country is at its most partisan, the supremacy of these two parties no matter what is more clear than ever in a year like this if there have been any other years like this. Monday July 25, 2016 the Democrats got their convention started. Most people seemed to agree that the highlight of the evening for the party was the speech given by Michelle Obama, the First Lady of these United States.   The news was not all good. there were scandals with the DNC, which has been hacked and has  leaked emails some say show they acted unfairly in favor of Clinton and against Sanders. Those scandals with the DNC are bound to make some people wonder about what was in the Clinton emails lost from her private server when she was in the State Department. Donald Trump has certainly already tried to make the connection. But regardless of what this means for the long history of apparent improprieties among the Clinton network and its two principal actors there were more direct concerns early on. It seemed clear enough that  not all Sanders supporters were in the mood to forgive and forget or to focus their anger on the hackers or any support the hackers may have received from Donald Trump or Russia. That is not likely to change completely even if it turns out that Russia is launching deliberate attacks on the Democratic party. Some evidence suggests there may be a pattern of such attacks.

They were already annoyed and now some of them are really angry. Debbie Wasserman Schultz had not planned to start the convention with her own public resignation from leadership. But her resignation and the hard work, symbolic gestures, speeches and other activities of the Democratic National Convention do seem to have worked to bring the discordant party together.  We must see the struggle as one aided by the supposed sharp contrast between the parties and candidates. However, when that is said one wants to remind everyone of all the candidates have in common although there is no reason to believe that that matters all that much. This is a season of conflict and competition….

Some will rejoice at the tone of the Hillarious  Democrats, peaceful and Kind compared to some in the GOP. But others will wonder if that is realistic.  Trump is not seeking world war or genocide. He is more alarmed than alrmist. The events around the world kept conspiring to make alarm seem reasonable. Japan had is largest mass killing in over half a century without firearms and a saintly old priest was immolated by ISIS in a French church. The Convention seemed tone deaf to some outsiders.  The message of universal tolerance, equal opportunity and average wonderfulness did not jive well with all the headlines. Of course the Democrats are in executive power that has two very different effects which play out across long periods of time.  First, a certain amount of relevance is assured and more is presumed. It’s almost impossible to be as out of touch as a party out of power can be. On the other hand, the portion of the electorate seeking change is likely to want to change such a party into an out of power party. But, in our current situation –and unlike the way many but not all countries work– the roles of the parties are reversed on the legislative side of things. Dems are out there and GOP holds sway. Both sides experience the two effects listed above in a limited and complicated way…

So the country has a complicated set of signals being sent…. But one of these people is going to be President.  Republicans just had their big political convention a few weeks ago at the longest description and it fades from memory. Hillary had her moment and now the Democrats are having their own chance for the Convention to fade in memory. The press is on for the vote. The election matters and I will return to it. But I do want to look at this moment as well.

 

 

The American Destiny and the Dudley Leblanc Exhibit at the Acadian Museum

THE CURRET POSITION IS THAT THIS EVENT SCHEDULED FOR AUGUST 20 WILL BE POSTPONED UNTIL AUGUST 27 DUE TO FLOODS.

July 28 is the day set aside in the Queen’s Apology as a memorial day for the expulsion of the Acadians from their ancestral homeland in Acadie/Nova Scotia.  The person who on the Acadian side of these negotiations was most responsible for bringing about this date is Warren Perrin. He has recently set out his thoughts about this holiday in a letter to the editors at the Daily Iberian. You can see that letter here. But in part it says the following:

In 1990, I filed a petition seeking an apology for the Acadian Deportation. On Dec. 9, 2003, Queen Elizabeth II signed the Royal Proclamation acknowledging the wrongs committed against the Acadian people in the name of the Crown and establishing a Day of Commemoration on July 28 of each year.

Without in any way wanting to trivialize the weightier aspects of recognizing this annual commemoration for some of us I cannot help but think that the one of the most difficult things to admit in all of this is that it has already been more than a quarter of a century since Warren Perrin filed that lawsuit or petition. It has already been more than a decade since the Queen’s Apology was issued. Perrin is still involved in preserving and working to enhance the Acadian people, culture and legacy throughout the world. He concludes his letter to the editor as follows after the gallery of Acadian related images below:

The queen established July 28 as an annual Day of Commemoration of the “deaths and suffering of the Acadians” as a result of the Crown’s actions. On July 28, let us pause to remember our Acadian ancestors. Vivre l’Acadie!

 

In fact Vivre l’Acadie is a sentiment which still commands quite a bit of attention and in the Museum Warren Perrin is much involved in operating and has been much involved in founding that  legacy goes on with the  celebration, commemoration and examination of the life of Dudley Leblanc. This exhibit has also been part of my own daily activity for quite some time. This post is partly repetitive and partly contextual in that it seeks to take a closer look at an event which has been discussed on this blog before. On August 20, the Acadian Museum of Erath will celebrate its 25th anniversary by hosting its annual fundraiser and several special events, according to Andy Perrin chairman of the museum’s executive committee. This has been posted in this blog before.  At 5:00 PM at the museum, 203 South Broadway Street, Michèle Le Blanc, Sen. Dudley J. LeBlanc’s granddaughter, will sponsor the re-release of LeBlanc’s historic books The Acadian Miracle (1966) on its 50th anniversary of publication and The True Story of the Acadians (1926) on its 90th anniversary. Both of these books will be available for purchase, with part of the sales being donated to the museum. Both the museum and Dudley Leblanc have long been among my significant interests. But those interests have only recent led to a greater degree of  actual involvement directly with the institution. Trent Angers, whom I know fairly well and who has written on subjects related to the Acadians for many years is only one of the knowledgeable people who has been consulted in producing this project.

 

 

I had intended to be, or at least hoped to be enrolling at Louisiana State University Graduate School in a few weeks, I cannot say that the financial crises, legislature crises, police crises and civic crises which have wracked the State Capital this year have affected my plans or not. I tend to think they have not been a major factor compared to other things, I simply did not get off the waiting list to the active list.  Whatever the case may be as regards why I am not enrolling there it seems quite clear that my efforts to enroll there caused me to more or less bring my academic book Emerging Views to the near completion which is reasonable in a book not under publisher or agent contract. I have quite a few nearly complete books and have yet to publish one and probably never will.The last true  chapter after then end of  the numbered chapters and before the appendices opens with a picture of an oiled pelican from the current century but it could start with a picture of Zachary Richard. Perhaps that would be a more positive tone than I really wanted  to set in the draft or will ever set should the book come to press.  Trent Angers wrote a book about Dudley Lebalnc in which he sets the tone of his biography by describing the pattern of highs and lows which defined the man’s life and career. That is certainly accurate as far as it goes. But it is not how I define Dudley Leblanc. I think of his legacy in the Evangeline State Park and the State Park system itself in the pilgrimages that in many ways laid the foundation for the reunions that endure in the form of the Congres Mondial des Acadiens. I see his legacy in the cleaning up and modernization of the rice milling industry in Louisiana, in the tombstones marked with his emblem of TBA for his burial insurance firm. Film and photography are a particularly important part of the struggle for preserving the culture, language and identity of the Cajun people and Dudley Leblanc’s pictures of the Evangeline girls with various US presidents over various pilgrimages clearly set  a tone along with his participation in the design of the Evangeline State Park, his HADACOL images of such variety, they set a tone for this use of images in the cause of a culture. That has never stopped, in 2016, as I was on the waiting list for admission to  Louisiana State University’s Doctoral Program in History, Zachary Richard was named Humanist of the Year by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. And his work as a musician, poet and songwriter have been enormously impressive. However, he has always been connected with and aware of the camera and its role in communication, in communicating environmental concerns and  making people aware of any aspect of cultural development and structure. He has said that reading Dudley Leblanc’s book The Acadian Miracle had a real impact on his early coming to be the Zachary Richard we all know. That is true for quite a few people, less successful and acclaimed –like myself for example. The spirit of Dudley Leblanc is both humorous and very much a combative or fighting spirit. Yet he is also a man typified by steady hard work all his life. Work within a context of being misunderstoodby the larger society.

 

Film and photography form a set of focal points in many of our lives. Zachary Richard, Warren Perrin, Barry Ancelet, Trent Angers and Carl Brasseaux to name a few all know that the images tell much of our story and they are not without some debt to Dudley Leblanc in making that connection. One of the things that has come about in this exhibit being put together at the Acadian museum is the donation of the Corinne Broussard collection of memorabilia.  She was the Evangeline Girl who represented Baton Rouge Acadians on Dudley Leblanc’s first pilgrimage. She was part of his striking campaign of visual imagery and she has preserved a great deal of information from the journey donated to the museum by her heirs and enriching all aspects of the exhibit as well as achieving other goods. She connects us to what the memorial we celebrate or observe today meant to people of her time.  She frames for me the breadth of this exhibit and highlights this day ina unique way and that is recent and makes this year special.

The book  I was working on for my enrollment this fall seeks to set out to say something about the Acadian and Cajun experience which is particularly American.  It is neither boosterism nor anti-American but by contrast and comparison illuminates  number of communities which are not equal or similar in their treatment in the book in every way and in fact are dissimilar in many ways. Those communites interacted during the life and work of Dudley Leblanc and he is part of the story in the book and at the center of at least one chapter. The groups or communities highlighted are: the Acadians of Louisiana also known as Cajuns are  the most important to the text; The Documentarians also known as documentarists are a second community; The crew  and cast of the great Robert Flaherty and his exceptional wife Frances who made so much of a difference to the development of documentary film ( these people also overlap into all other communities and are a more intense community within this community of documentarians); another key group is the Standard-Humble Oil people form another community and that exists with the nebulous but very real oil and gas industry or Oilpatch or Oilfield as sometimes referred to when those words are capitalized and the last distinct group in my story is the McIlhenny family under various names and guises and with various annexes is another community in the text.

My own work on this project began in 1991 and I was not the only person in the area thinking about these topics at that time. Here is an excerpt of other work being done more or less at the same time. Almost no real coordination or communication occurred regarding these things. But the notice following this paragraph appeared in the Abbeville paper when I was researching and writing early drafts of this topic at LSU while earning my Masters degree. In Abbeville the memory of Louisiana Story has endured. It also is featured prominently inAngels of the Basin which is a film which deals with such current  crises and coastal erosion and such a recent event as Hurricane Katrina. So there are many reasons why not only film and photography but this film and these photographs have remained highly relevant to current discussions of film and photography.  The struggle for a full understanding of Cajun life and identity today must address these images. There is no way to ignore the role in shaping the image and identity of a people and a place without greatly limiting the understanding of how that place and people moved into the world of mass communications through film and photography. This seems to be an easier association than the connection with Dudley Leblanc for some people for Leblanc was flashy and a showman and took risks and his distant Kinsman Lionel Leblanc who plays the trapper La Tour in the Louisiana Story was a quiet man who had been a fur trapper all his life although he had become a kind of manger for the McIlhenny family fur operations. Dudley is somehow easy for people to want to minimize but I do not. He had his connections to the marshes and in fact was involved in a lawsuit with Aristide Broussard for the rights to trap lands which both the sate and Broussard —  a Cajun cattle baron claimed. Aristide Broussard is Warren Perrin’s ancestor.

When I was at LSU earning my masters and starting Emerging Views it was 1991, the year when  Abbeville added a new feature to its local architecture as the Abbey Players acquired their current theater building and set it up for business. It was also the year that I began graduate study in history. It was not long after that  Louisiana Story found its way into my research and their theater in different ways.

 

The cohesion of the community goes back to the way the film was dealt with by the paper and others at the time and does not seem to have diminished.  The names in this list are left in place partly so that the reader can remember seeing some family names earlier in the text and also be fairly sure of not having seen others. The original production in 1992 was about as big a dramatic and musical experience as Abbeville has ever seen. Few can equal or surpass it in a town that does have a good bit of music and drama. The ties of LeBlanc to the Louisiana Story are somewhat tenuous although I try to bring them out a bit I also point out how limited they were. That lack of connection is in a sense at the heart of my book. And the movie remains a great source of  inspiration for the

Eight years later after the rather extensive support that the original production of the Wade Russo work had received Abbeville celebrated the sesquicentennial of its founding ( that’s right 1850 after saying it is rooted in the 1840’s but the founding was based on act act late in the total process of founding — its incorporation — most of the work was done in the 1840s). Mayor Brady Broussard chose Russo’s musical revue as the centerpiece of the celebration and it was largely billed as a celebration of life in Abbeville in the 1940s. That may be fair enough but I think we have seen that the premiere was by no means a typical day and the issues and interests it brought to the fore were by no mens limited to Abbeville.  Louisiana Story has remained however part of the consciousness of this city and a mayor named broussard could appreciate that reality.

But however important the Standard Oil projects may have been they were not coming primarily out of this place. One of the most important image makers for receiving broad recognition from this area was George Rodrigue who with his Blue Dog phase crreated an international sensation for the latter part of his life. But there are those of us who remember his earlier Saga of the Acadians series as the work which really defined him. The Rodrigue family realizes that in cultural terms these images are important  the last link goes to his wife’s communication on the subject and they have lent the museum a digital image transfer on canvas of the piece Rodrigue did depicting Leblanc and companions in association with their return to Acadie in the historic pilgrimage. Rodriguehas left a great Acadian legacy and it deserves to be linked to both today’s date and the Leblanc exhibit. The legacy of both men and both families will be enhanced.

The years go on piling on new images and new perspectives that come into the world because of or merely at the same time as other images. The films being shown to the audiences that either do or do not go to theaters and movie houses to see these feature films  change. Many of them hardly have any life as true film and some none at all. Mostly they are streams and patterns of digital information created in processes which imitate the film-making processes and ventures of previous decades. The result is also intentionally filmic. But whatever their function they owe little to cellulose many may still come to be printed on this medium in the end but they are not crafted in the old rituals of silver, sweat, light and cellulose which defined this art and expression so intensely for a   few generations. Each artist and filmmaker and documentarian telling a story works in a new set of circumstances. The exhibit at the museum has real resource and space limits and the holiday today sets out a contrast with the historic Feast of the Assumption.  There are for those like me who see so much to preserve a very pressing set of limits on every effort to preserve what is being remembered. One of my goals in Emerging Views was to capture the moment of the technology as it was then and to show how it did and did not offer a bridge of communication to various parties in the process. How it allows us to see what was happening. The time invloved was in the time of Dudley Leblanc and the chapters of that book were the occasion of me becoming more involved with Warren Perrin, I sent him copies of each chapter and he was kind enough to associate me with this Leblanc exhibit. Like F. Wade Russo moving beyond his roots, the film industry has left film and the demands it made on men like Flaherty and Leacock and Webb somewhere in the past. It may be a past that is respected and valued but it is not the present. For me the use of film was a large part of my daily life for many years and now has been entirely replaced by the manipulation of the digital component of images. Dudley Leblanc was a historian and preservationist who lived and worked in the very most modern communications technology and systems he could possibly achieve. Things changed a lot all around him and to a remarkable degree he kept abreast of the changes — but he did suffer terrible challenges and many setbacks as well.

When I went to China I had a film camera which my sister Mary had given me and it saw a lot of use there. Some of the pictures I took and others I composed but had executed by third persons appeared in the second most popular periodical reporting mostly on Vermilion Parish. Bonnes Nouvelles, where I had written quite a bit, carried this article about my experience there and photographs connected readers and neighbors back home to those days spent in a far away land. It was not the first time I had appeared in the local newspaper.

I took a lot of pictures and yet not as many as I probably should have. The camera required a special film to allow it to take pictures in three various formats including a broad panoramic view. One can compare that to the increasing universality of the digital experience. I relied mostly on my chief contact and handler in the Board of Foreign Experts, Special Exchanges Office at the Shandong Institute of Business and Technology to procure the rare film. So even in the recent past film made it mark on lives such as mine and the experience of Flaherty and the documentarians in Acadiana was also shaped by any number of experiences based directly on real and tangible facts about film. Some film was ruined, some was delivered late, some was defective. These instances were kept at a minimum. Film management was the reason why. Daily rushes are one thing but today one can see the image on replay right away. There is less need for the kind of structure in community and functional team which existed in the lives of those photographers and filmmakers.

Today the kind of work they did could be done with less obtrusive organization because of the  ability to avoid the problems associated with film itself. This may allow all sort of records to be kept edited and erased which would be nice to have on a research project such as this has been. But it also lessens the chance of organizations which can be kept accountable in the same way. These people expected to be judged by history and while I applaud much of the work they did I also criticize it and find fault. That sense of doing work that endures in a group that is committed and documented is likely changing. Media companies abound in entertainment but the cohesion of the old studios is largely gone. That trend is likely to be more pronounced in work such as this.  Nothing stays the same and what lessons may be gained here are not lessons for those doing exactly this work because this exact work will never be done again. That perspective of struggling within the rigors of a set of resources and opportunities is so much at the heart of Leblanc’s life, at the heart of the Acadian Museum and at the heart of my own work.

The Leblanc family is releasing Leblanc’s works on this occasion and I salute that effort. Like the Rodrigue’s lending the painting it is an act of faith. Faith we must all affirm. Faith that members of the human species remain literate, curious, prosperous and sympathetic enough to give a damn about a narrative that does not immediately determine their own survival. Of course one may hope that either social pressure from the popularity of the book among a reader’s friends or real pressures on students assigned to read the text may help its popularity and boost its readership. Nonetheless most writers realize that the odds are long against their  book achieving either of those two particularly desirable benefits.  Sometimes that faith seems misplaced,  when one examines the circumstances in which one is writing and all the urgencies of any year including 2016 it may seem unlikely that one’s words will find their way to the last (or at least the current) descendants of Thucydides, the latter votives of Clio who will really find in themselves the energy to address a vision of the past and find in it some direction and insight as regards the present and the future.  Anyone who has read this up to now can see that in part it is a family history in any number of  ways, it is thereby equally prone to deeper insight and also more likely to be subject to  accumulating misinformation.   For me this exhibit, this memorial day and the book I was writing are all connected in a tying together of the past and the present and a hope for the future. For me the book was an effort to set forth a history one would hope would endure. Acadian history as I have known it, petroleum history and film history as subjects similar enough to my topic to matter may one or the other or all three  well be over within a generation or two. That is not mere baseless conjecture but in all three cases one can readily enough see signs that could portend the end of Cajuns and Acadians, the end of the oil and gas industry and the end of anything that could be called the film industry. I personally hope that none of these cessations will transpire and most of all that Acadians and Cajuns will be around for a long time to come. But perhaps history is most itself when it is written to preserve a story with as much depth, reality and fullness as possible  in every way that the historian can  preserve it. What is true of readers of a history text is also true of those who thoughtfully view and exhibit.

If this  relationship with readers is one in which a great deal is invested in an uncertain outcome then that is perhaps as it should be. The winners and losers of actual wars often will both read the histories of those wars but in all the small cultural struggles which occur across a society and across lifetime’s and generations there is involved in these times a struggle for relevance and readership.  In the minds of many writers there is a sense that simply in being read at all there is a dimension of victory, just knowing that people are aware of the exhibit and even more when they view it  — that does mean something. For those in an intense and broad struggle of ideas that are not very compatible being read seems to indicate that the writers side has won through, because the writer feels, his or her opponents are by and large through with  reading the sort of things the writer is producing.

 

Cajuns and other people in Acadiana were not extremely and broadly concerned about the SONJ documentary projects. Many people are not going to observe today or the Feast of the Assumption even with a mental note.  The thing about my book is that it remebers a moment when resources for preserving images of what was a cultural moment were abundant. They are not usually that abundant. But even in that moment most Cajuns were not interacting with those viewing and documenting there culture. That is one of the most definitive  realities that cannot be escaped as one researches the response to the documentarians and to Flaherty’s somewhat autonomous film crew within the Stryker SONJ organization. These creative and observant outsiders were the objects of gossip and newsgathering but they were not major objects of either. Largely, this is a story of a people caught up in a period defined by the end of a war they did not believe was going to lead to any certain and enduring peace.  As a whole the regional press was very concerned with rebuilding Germany and Japan, with the threat of Communism and with what would happen to the economy, The press also reported on the progress of the oil and gas industry in the region and the country, Movies also commanded some attention. But reporting on the SONJ projects as such was limited. Dudley Leblanc however, was very Cajun and very committed to preservation and he did get a lot of media attention at every level over his lifetime. I am proud of what he achieved.  He made a mark for himself and his people and never at the expense of his state or the United States. He was a great man and deserves to be remembered and studied as such.   He  lived through two Wold Wars and a Great Depression but then Dudley Leblanc kept on living. His time in the Cold War is no less significant to the arc of his life.    Historians and other scholars as well as journalists and just well informed people have commented on the anxieties of the Cold War. The fear of nuclear annihilation was certainly a feature of daily life for Americans and people across the world. However other anxieties were clearly abundant. In America, the Soviet Union, Britain, France, China and many other places lives were affected by the new and emerging world order after World War II through the lens of the nation states in which these people lived. The major powers in the world and certainly the United States were under significant pressure to change and conform to a new set of demands. The Cajuns in many ways had fully entered into an identity as an American community for the first time since the Civil War in the huge changes, trials and opportunities of the Second  World War and now there were to be many questions about what kind of America was emerging from that same experience. Clearly it was not to be an instance of joining the same society that had existed in 1940. In many ways the changes that had occurred had more risk and more opportunity for the Cajuns than for almost any other of their anxious Cold War fellow American citizens. One of the voices that assured the Cajuns in the journey into American identity was that of the French radio programs by Dudley Leblanc.  He was an optimistic voice in theses times. I once worked as a DJ at KASC which was the sister station to KROF where Dudley Leblanc finished his broadcast career. He could not solve all the problems the community he loved faced — but did he make a difference?

I think he was a big part of what made a difference. He saw a people moving into a period of anxiety but he did not exacerbate it nor did he flee into escapist nonsense. Yes, it remained for the Cajuns as for many Americans a period of anxiety. But it is nonetheless wrong to see this as a period primarily of anxiety and resentment. Cajuns were in general optimistic about the future of America. There was an increasing transition between calling those outside the community Americans and calling themselves Americans. This was a hugely significant transition and can be traced to more or less this very time in the history of the community for many rural families. So this was a complex time.

 

The complexity is hidden in the lack of significant events that marked the lives of most Cajuns who did not serve in the Korean War. Acadian history is not uneventful and this period contrasts with many others as not being so starkly distinguished by conflict and upheaval as many other periods in history.  There is no Grand Derangement, no War of American Independence, no War of  1812, no Civil War, no Reconstruction and the great turmoil of the Civil Rights Era  in the Deep South had not yet begun. It is pardonable and perhaps even  reasonable that many people would look at this era and see it as a peaceful, prosperous and optimistic time. Many people both within and outside the Cajun community more or less take that view of the 1950s as a happy, prosperous and optimistic time.Just after our period of 1953, in 1957 came the turmoil of hurricane Audrey, a terror to great to describe here. J.C. Boudreaux lost his first house to a hurricane in that storm and would lose another in hurricane Rita which came the same season as the more famous Katrina which was featured in Angels of the Basin. Robert Leblanc the Brigadier General whose life is a part of the framework of this story was at the forefront in fighting the horrors and devastation of the storm with the largely Cajun units he commanded in the National Guard.  But aside from hurricane Audrey in 1857 which comes after the close of my nearly finished book there were choices optimists led by Leblanc really helped to create. It is not simply delusion that many Cajuns take a positive view of the fifties and among those who take that view there is usually a fairly positive view of the oil and gas industry. It is not the intention of this text to see the region as merely an oil producing region. Many other forms of economic activity and employment survived. But for many Cajuns oil and gas related activity provided the main chance for a good future and survival in the present era.
I was not born until 1964. Therefore for me all of this period is in fact history outside of my personal set of recollections. But anyone my age cannot help but feel that this is a world much closer after Dudley Leblanc’s career was much  to the one we all know today than the one he came of age in was — he helped a people make the transition.   This story of Dudley Leblanc, like the story of my book or the story of the exhibit  ends not with some great conflict or transformation. It simply stops as the world is going on for a people still caught up in change, still living between the past and the future. In recent months, realted to the book as I said and now to the exhibit I have become much more involved in the Acadian Museum.  I am by no means as engaged as some and yet am quite involved in this worthy project and ongoing institution of the Acadian and Cajun people and culture. The museum and its work are by no means entirely new to me.

That's me with docent Casa Vice at the Acadian Museum several years ago

That’s me with docent Casa Vice at the Acadian Museum several years ago

However in recent months that latent involvement has increased. This means that instead of simply having some vague influence and being an avid observer there is now something that I can really say that  I am officially attached to going on there.

On the date  mentioned –August 20th — the museum will also induct Morgan LeBlanc, as representative of the LeBlanc family, into the Order of Living Legends and he will officially open the new Sen. Dudley J. LeBlanc Sr. permanent exhibit at the museum. The exhibition will contain over 100 historical photographs, articles, and objects—many displayed publicly for the first time—including the diary and scrapbook of Corinne Broussard, who in 1930 traveled by train to Grand Pré in Nova Scotia, Canada, with 22 other “Evangeline Girls,” to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Acadian Deportation. Some mention of this book and some images of it have appeared in this blog already but the quality of this material will be greatly superior in the exhibit.

This exhibit is supposed to then introduce the wonderful Corinne Broussard scrapbook which records in impressive detail what was the first of three trips by Cajuns to visit their ancestral homeland—all organized by LeBlanc in his life-long efforts to re-unite Acadians of Louisiana, Canada and France. LeBlanc, who lived in Erath until age 14, and much of his life in Abbeville was born on August 16, 1894.The primary contributors to the exhibit, which is  jointly curated by museum director Warren Perrin and a local historian known as Frank W.  Summers III, Sponsors and parner early on  were Robert Vincent, Winn Murphy and members of the LeBlanc family but donors and lenders of items and money have continued to emerge. That includes the largess of B.I. Moody – a prominent business leader in the region. These events will not be the end of the festivities but the start of them. there will be another ceremony in the great tradition of living legends. The total event will be one that will have meaning in memory for years to come.

At 6:30 PM in the Erath Community Center in City Park, the newly-appointed La. Commissioner of Conservation—and former La. Attorney General—Richard Ieyoub will be inducted into the Order of Living Legends. “I am really pleased to be honored by the Acadian Museum and look forward to again visiting my friends in Vermilion Parish,” Ieyoub said. Marilyn Melancon Trahan will have her student chorus sing French songs and several authors will be present to sell their books–Tom Angers, Josh Caffery, Michèle Le Blanc, Mary Perrin, Sheila Hebert Collins, and Nelwyn Hebert.

Racial Violence, Islam, Christianity, America and Me… Part Two

While Louisiana reels or tries not to reel from tensions centering around Baton Rouge. There are families in Texas that do not  yet feel the need to pivot mostly to our news stories. They are the families of the officers killed in the recent Dallas police ambush which preceded the one in Baton R0uge. The fallen officers killed have been identified as: Dallas Police Department  Senior Corporal. Lorne Ahrens, age 48, who had been with the department since 2002; Dallas Police Department Officer Michael Krol, 40, who had been with the department since 2007; Dallas Police Department  Seargent. Michael Smith, 55, a former U.S. Army Ranger who had served in the department since 1989; Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) Officer Brent Thompson, 43, a former U.S. Marine who had been serving in DART since 2009. Thompson was the first DART officer to be killed in the line of duty since the department was founded in 1989 and last in this mention Dallas Police Department  Officer Patrick Zamarripa, 32, a former U.S. Navy sailor and Iraq War veteran who had been with the department since 2011.This event was without equal in carnage of this kind in the period since 9/11  as far as killings in the United States. On that fateful day in 2001 that we all can remember who were Americans and anything near adulthood 72 law enforcement officers died in the totality of horror that is lumped together as the September 11 attacks. But this attack by Micah Xavier Johnson surpasses the  two 2009 shootings in Lakewood, Washington, and Oakland, California, where four officers each were killed as well as the recent killings perpetrated by Long in Baton Rouge.

The shootings in Dallas were also a sort of peak thus far in the attack of radially conscious black actors against a combination of the white people of this country and the policing authorities as a direct and declared target. In addition to their significance for race relations they of course have other claims to fame and infamy. Five officers  in a community which has been honored for its excellent race and community relations were killed and nine other law enforcement officers as well as  two civilians were injured when shot by a decorated ( although not at the higher levels)  and experienced US military veteran whose life shows many of the tensions and stresses of life in America in his generation from his upbringing in Mesquite Texas, to his birth in Missisisippi. Most of the victims were shot during the protests, where they distinguished themselves by maintaining an unthreatening demeanor and presentation of a policing force. At least one Officer was killed  during a shootout that developed after the killer launched his attack.The dead comprised four Dallas Police Department (DPD) officers and one Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) officer. Four of the injured officers were from DPD, three were from DART, and two were from El Centro College. Seven of the injured officers were treated at Parkland Memorial Hospital, famous for recieing the fallen President Kennedy. Two officers underwent surgery. One civilian was shot in the back of the leg, breaking her tibia.

Unlike Baton Rouge, no Black Officers were killed in the attack and the shooter was part of the city and community  in which he did the killing.  I reacted to that deadly attack on police with a post referenced here. I will not spend very much space or very many words revisiting that attack in this post.  There has been significant research into the background of the Dallas Cop Killer Micah Johnson who also had other names. The deceased and almost-certainly-correct-and-yet-never-to- be-tried-because-he-is-dead shooting suspect, Micah Johnson, had no criminal history.  In terms of understanding what happened in Dallas there are different levels  of understanding.

Micah Xavier Johnson had a number of aliases and one was of the Anglo type and the other was Islamic or at least Arabic with Islamic resonance.  He visited assertive  and strident political causes online and investigators found that he liked several websites dedicated to Black Lives Matter and the New Black Panthers. But he was also involved with groups that are seen as going over the line of respectable discourse in this country —  the Nation of Islam and the Black Riders Liberation Party, two groups the Southern Poverty Law Center considers hate groups.  The Nation of Islam stands out as the only one with a strong Islamic connection but there is more evidence of his interest in Islam.

Dallas shooting montage

There is no shortage of racial tension in the United States nor has there been in my lifetime and there is no single image, event or idea which epitomizes race relations here. There is no single person who embodies the experience of all or even most white people or black people in the country. There is no single position on a gauge which really accounts for how good or bad race relations are, that is the truth.  But truth, as I have cited John Denver’s song for saying many times, — is hard to come by.  The relations between the races in America have a complex reality and a complicated history. Before even getting to the many legal, economic, procedural,  and religious questions that are pertinent to this post there is also the question of language and terminology. The first image in this article is a montage of people including Steph Curry, Mariah Carey, Jeremiah Wright, Soledad O’Brien, Vanessa Williams and Corey Booker who currently identify as Black. That is a legal, political and cultural decision. In the State of Louisiana where this post centers its attention people like them — who look like them and perhaps more than that have not been considered Black. This division into Black and white was accomplished in large part getting people like this to accept the designation of African-American. But the same processes and struggles had been ongoing long before that particular drama of terminology… Polarizing the country into Black and White even occurs to some real degree in a country of white and non- white. But there has been a middle ground approach which in our history also fostered greater sensitivity to 0ther differences within a responsible context. This post will get into that history a bit below. I have proposed addressing that set of realities which is represented in this discussion in my model constitutions which take up many posts and pages and in my writing about them in posts such as this and this.  The current crisis is nothing compared to what may be coming down the road if we do not address our situation well.
Colored African Americans montage

The  place where I am writing is a place with very specific racial history which is very significant in the United States of America. Every other place may have a thing which they may have done with racial overtones that falls across the line of history into the realm of legends where history joins folklore once again. But South Louisiana has many claims to fame in racial history. Perhaps if a few are listed they will add to the discussion of racial identity and relationships in America

The Battle of New Orleans is one of those parts of American history which was an enormously important event which has been minimized by various group over the years for political reasons. Many of these varied minimizers would hate and despise each other more than anyone involved in that important battle and some in fact have hated and despised each other — but nonetheless it has been a very important event which could not be accepted by many as decisive in American history and occurring as it did. One of the reasons that the battle of New Orleans was not given the fair share of credit it deserves in the age of Jim Crow segregation was because of race relations and racial identities among those in the flotilla of Jean Lafitte. Today there is little incentive to resurrect the sources buried then because Blacks were not equal in the complex reality of the period but they had vastly more opportunities and nearly equal positions than at many other times and places. In addition the society as a whole had both better (not well known) and worse (very well known) positions for African Americans of various identities including but not limited to the free negroes. Mulattoes, Quadroons, Octaroons and others of mixed race could be slave or free but they were not negroes. Sometimes the differences were large and sometimes they were slight.

Acadians who increasingly are called Cajuns have a white identity which is careful and as nuanced as whatever the society they are in may allow but they are a white ethnic group which has attachments to non-white groups that included their involvement with Jean Lafitte. the arguably very small act of setting up a relationship with Jean Lafitte and the Baratarian Association specifically to provide for the defense of their interests in the region and of their own lives and liberties from the depredations of the British.  The person who would have been most in charge of this activity would have been Gils Robin. The memories of this period persist across Acadiana.  

There is a Jean Louis Robin Canal and a Jean Louis Robin Lake to this day in South Eastern Louisiana. In the aftermath of hurricane Katrina  journalist Ken Wells did a book published in 2008 about the family still building their own boats and navigating the waters of that region. Today they are only partly Cajun culturally and genealogically  and have become part of another cultural fabric beside the homes of their Cajun ancestors. But in his book they remember the ties between the outlying Cajuns of that region  the pirates and privateers of the Barataria Association. Folkloristically, the story would be more or less that the brothers Gils, Martin and Jean Robin would have moved to the region shortly after the Acadians had settled in the Lafourche region relatively nearby. Their small community would have ties to  Attakakpas and Oppelousas Prairies of  Louisiana in the West as well as with Lafourche. Martin Robin who was a godfather to one of the Lafitte children was the grandchild of one of these brothers. Jean Lafitte also had a number of titles he sometimes used that are capable of being given Cajun interpretation unique to it Helllenic Centre Ouest Languedoc vernacular.  But the words have other possible explanations. In addition to the role Lafitte played in the Battle of New Orleans which was crucial in terms of artillery and supply and guides to the waters of the area Cajun units also fought in the area. Future Governor Henry Schuyler Thibodaux was a Lieutenant who saw action there. In addition Cajun or Acadian units served in several parts of the encounter. The service record was perhaps mixed in that battle but while some Acadians may have been farmed out to the other units and deployed some real expertise in throwing up defenses along the wetlands it does seem to be likely that the plurality of Acadians served on the ill-fated West Bank line under David Morgan.  Morgan had put his troops in a more or less indefensible position to support Patterson, the artillerist not from Lafitte’s group. The bad position was exacerbated by the Kentucky riflemen in the unit who were sick exhausted and without Lafitte and others from Louisiana would have been unarmed for all practical purposes. At the moment of the attack all witness blamed the break in the line on the lack of courage not of the Cajuns but the troops from Kentucky. However, a court of inquiry found them also without fault because the position was so ill conceived and because the overall glory of the event was enough to overshadow the failures. Nonetheless men  very likely to biased in favor of the Kentuckians over the men from South Louisiana thought they broke first.  So the ties between my own ethnic community and the Creoles of color are both deep and important ties.

Picture map creoles

The most fierce fighters on the American side in the battle of New Orleans  may well have been the Free Blacks. I did write earlier that no North American Colored officers existed before the Confederates of the Louisiana Native Guard. However, anyone who knows the battle well will remember Major Savary and Lieutenant Listeau were officers of color who fought in the battle. However, it seems very likely that their commissions like many titles of the era were carried over from other service. They held commissions as Spanish troops in Santo Domingo and the US recognized those commissions. This was intended to be temporary. Dominique Youx the Lafitte artillerist who played the most significant role of direct fighting by any Baratarian is of uncertain  (certainly not Cajun) ancestry and became a respectable citizen of Louisiana when others went to galveston for  the chance to continue a disreputable way of life.  He likely had some colored ranking people in his unit but they were not formally commissioned, that leaves Listeau and Savary as exceptions to my statement about the Louisiana Native Guard. The Spanish had a few knowingly and  officially commissioned colored officers in the Caribbean but not in their North American forces. Nonetheless, the victory at New Orleans was the greatest in American history at that time by many measures and Cajuns were there. So also were many creoles of color not all of whom considered themselves black or were considered such.

President Barack Hussein Obama has explicitly condemned the supposed absurdity of words and ideas such as “Octaroon”. He has been quick to make every African American Black in his ordinary speeches and has few real options given his ideology. He  has presided over the dismantling of the Confederate Heritage preserved in monuments across much of the South. He has added to the  impossibility of seriously examining the Confederate legacy as regards race relations. All those things listed above I believe to be demonstrable parts of his presidential legacy. But the truth is that the lack of understanding and discussion of the racial realities — realities we may not understand but which we nonetheless use to guide every day decisions that affect millions — has been badly inhibited for a long time.

I think that the constitutional realities were less than ideal for Micah Xavier Johnson, that does not excuse him for avenging Philando Castille and Alton Sterling as he did. But he was a man who had a gift for killing and attacking and for forming passionately held political convictions.  A child of divorce and a marginal student he found a way to honor and decency in the US military. But he came home an alienated and violent man in an individualistic and dishonest society.  Alienation underlies the violence,rage, unreasoning rhetoric and chaos coming from much of the Black community today. Alienation affects many others in our country and I think in part for constitutional reasons.  That includes alienated white southerners and many cops.

But the Cajun people with whom I most identify have suffered enormous alienation in this country.  For Cajuns it was often the case that there was a sense of facing three unpalatable realities at the same time. It was a cultural shift from a time when French heritage and American citizenship had enjoyed a more promising and positive relationship than they were coming to have in the years between 1865 and 1943. The portraits of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI had hung in honor in the halls of the Congress in Philadelphia before the Capital was moved to Washington and the District of Columbia. The Louisiana Purchase was both a friendly act and one which established a very definite equality between Citizens of France in Napoleonic Imperial Louisiana and those of the current United States of America. The result was a new country which was in a real sense a merger of two societies. This unity had been imperfectly but impressively sealed in the Battle of New Orleans. While other states, like Missouri would find themselves under the British common law after entering the Union, Louisiana itself at least would remain under the State’s new version of the French Civil Code. In 1847 the first laws describing language in schools were passed and the assurance was made of right to English only, French only and bilingual education. The Acadian Governor Mouton had from the Cajun point of view presided over the zenith of antebellum life in Louisiana before the forces of chaos and destruction which led to the Civil War were pouring across the region and were contested by his son Alfred Mouton. That same Alfred Mouton was killed in that war and so it was to that same golden age which Margaret Mitchell commemorated in Gone With the Wind was in fact a golden age in memory for many Cajuns as well. The horrors that followed were no less horrible for them than for other Southerners in fact they may have been worse years to come on average but the complexities of the period which followed were not going to be simply defined. Postbellum America was an increasingly alienating and hostile place for Acadians to live out their lives and destiny as Acadians or Cajuns.

But one may well argue that Black people are far more alienated and that certainly the Confederate monuments help to alienate them and cannot possibly point to anything that Black or other African American people  would relate to in a way that might point to a path forward. A path rooted in Christian experience primarily, in the leadership of whites but in hope for full realization of African American  potential. Probabaly most people who feel that way would still feel that way after reading this post but there are other arguments to be made from the facts. There is no way to avoid writing that despite all that has been written by very many competent people about the issues related to race in these decades I find that there are many large areas of important experience that are not duly explained.

While the Code Noir of 1685 was not the law in effect in Louisiana in 1860 it was still the strongest single source of the legal spirit behind the Louisiana Civil Code and the customs and practices of the State. That law stated in its final article the following: Article LIX. We grant to freed slaves the same rights, privileges and immunities that are enjoyed by freeborn persons. We desire that they are deserving of this acquired freedom, and that this freedom gives them, as much for their person as for their property, the same happiness that natural liberty has on our other subjects.

An ocean of ink has been expended to show that by no means did any spirit of this law exist in the South. That has been done by those of a more Southron party and disposition and those more inclined to extol the benevolence of the wonderful Union reconstruction. There is evidence that much of that ink does not deal adequately with the facts as they existed in Louisiana. We see that in the period of time immediately following Louisiana’s secession, Governor Thomas Overton Moore issued pleas for troops on April 17 and April 21, 1861. There is a great deal to be learned from the incidents related to the creation and the rest of the story of the Louisiana Native Guard. So that story is outlined here in brief. It remains in testimony to realities of that era.
In response to the governor’s request, a committee of ten prominent New Orleans free people of color who included people across the color spectrum which in their society was not the only factor for determining a family or an individual’s rank but was the single most important purely social factor in a complex social system. The certified were a group of people less than one eighth Negroes who were proven to be committed to the social order of antebellum Louisiana and these enjoyed a special relationship with the Creole and Cajun elite. These people were being woven into the fabric of the merged culture of Louisiana after Statehood until the War. Below them were the Octoroons, the Quadroons, the Mulattoes and the true free blacks. Writers today will tend to call all of these people free blacks and they have their reasons for doing so but that is not how they saw themselves. This complex and racially conscious and stratified community was represented in this Committee of Ten who called a meeting at the Catholic Institute on the 22d of April. About two thousand people attended the meeting where muster lists were opened, with about 1,500 free men of color signed up. The anglo Southron Governor Moore included in all the proper and ordinary channels these applications and included these men as part of the state’s militia. The Louisiana Native Guard is so named because they were natives who were not quite citizens but they were accepted as armed patriots in the Confederate cause. It bears adding that while this text asserts that Acadians were largely very free under the laws of 1685 many French people were not. Thus in the way of thinking of many in Louisiana including most Cajuns these freed people had preserved the kind of liberty and status a 1685 Frenchman would have who did not enjoy the freedom of a Coutume, a religious order, a knightly order, a chartered city or a privileged family. That was still a real level of freedom. Ancient Acadian rights, the Louisiana Purchase and the US Constitution allowed the Cajuns more freedoms to which the freedmen were not a party. Likewise the “Kentucks” as Cajuns sometimes called the newcomers asserted the rights of Scotsmen, Englishmen and the rights of the Louisiana Purchase and the US Constitution. Those were rights to which these people were not a party but did not preclude them from preserving the rights of French Colonial Natives which were transferred as an unspecified adjunct to the rights of Citizens under the Purchase. So the new militia regiment of colored Natives was formed during May 1861. The men were mostly but not all from the Francophone community, some members of the colored Confederate regiment came from wealthy prominent gens libres de coleurs families. they filled the majority of NCO posts initially but the majority of the men held the rank of private soldiers and were in civilian life clerks, artisans, and skilled laborers. at the end of that fateful May on the 29th in 1861, Governor Moore appointed three white officers as commanders of the regiment, and company commanders were appointed from among the larger group of elected non-commissioned officers. This volunteer militia unit was the first of any in North American history to knowingly have African-American officer. That is not because there had not been colored soldiers under the United States, Britain, Spain and France. It was Louisiana as she rose up for Dixie that chose to take this step.Though ten per cent of the members of this Confederate unit would later join the Union Army’s First Louisiana Native Guard, the two are regarded by most as separate military units. It is one of the tragedies of the falling and failing South that these men never fired a shot in anger as Confederates against the Yankee invader. While there may be many other stories for which their fate is a better one for a Cajun view of what the South it was supposed to be it was a sign of bad times to come. It indicates something about the customs, commerce and status of person in Louisiana that these Native Guards were traditional American militia volunteers, and as such supplied their own arms and uniforms. One here is reminded of another article of the Code Noir, as follows: Article XV. We forbid slaves from carrying any offensive weapons or large sticks, at the risk of being whipped and having the weapons confiscated. The weapons shall then belong to he who confiscated them. The sole exception shall be made for those who have been sent by their masters to hunt and who are carrying either a letter from their masters or his known mark.

There is every reason to believe that the even as the Code lived on in more current laws regarding arms restrictions strictly enforced against slaves were not applied to these men in their daily lives before the war.These were displayed in a grand review of troops in New Orleans on November 23, 1861, and again on January 8, 1862. The terribly wasted troops offered their services to escort Union prisoners taken prisoner by the Confederate forces at the First Battle of Bull Run. One could imagine that this could have been done with white troops as well and with international observers it might have been a means of showing the possibility of Confederate policy working out a secure future the abolitionist powers they sought to ally with as they marched through New Orleans.But this would have required the kind of social daring the COnfederacy would usually lack.

Confederate General David Twiggs failed to accept the unit’s offer, but thanked them for the “promptness with which they answered the call. That was a response that reflected the way such transactions occurred in the military. The Louisiana State Legislature had begun to change the society into something new when they passed a law in January 1862 reorganizing the militia into only “…free white males capable of bearing arms… ”. The Native Guards regiment was effectively disbanded by this law on February 15, 1862. Despite the change in racial ideology already starting Governor Moore used his executive powers to reinstate the Native Guards to oppose the U.S. Naval invasion. But when the regular Confederate forces under Major General Mansfield Lovell abandoned New Orleans the whole system was plunged, into disarray. Cajuns served in the regular Confederate Forces and had militia units advancing to defend the city as well as the unauthorized units that have always been part of the culture who hoped to join in the fight in their traditional guerilla manner. But none of these units did well when the Confederate forces withdrew and the militia units were left to fend for themselves. The Native Guards were subject to the same relative disgrace and so it was no great surprise that they were again, and in finality, ordered to disband by General John L. Lewis, 1862, as Federal ships arrived opposite the city. General Lewis of the Louisiana Militia as he sent word to their units deployed in useless positions disbanded these colored Confederates and cautioned them to hide their arms and uniforms before returning home. He also began the process requiring them to hide their COnfederate service, later ten percent of this unit would serve in the Union and be among the most distinguished colored troops. Some came to the irregular Cajun militia according to spoken tradition and assisted in the armed and highly secretive smuggling supplies to Confederate forces during the war. None of those ever received much recognition even though some did fire shots in anger at Union forces in these irregular units. The white creole Colonel Felix Labatut maintained the belief that colored troops could make a difference and was proven right by the Union service with distinction of his former officers Cailloux and Morrison in the cause of the Yankee invaders.

The moratorium of colored troops by the South certainly did not limit the deployment of colored troops by the union. Whatever the injustices and horrors of the slaveholding South may have been there were plenty of woes in the war and reconstruction that followed. From the Cajun point of view it was a bitter irony to lose possible GLC units and see that throughout the war and in the time of the period after end of hostilities in the Civil War was a time in which Cajun folklore reports that people believed that Yankee bureaucrats had motivated and armed a quarter of a million freed slaves and loosed them in strongly encouraged rage upon the Southland. This period followed the kinds of endless horrors described in books like Yankee Autumn in Acadiana and local institutions of my ancestors rolled over to face the new challenge. the Knights of the Invisible Empire of the Ku Klux Klan Also known with the same name given here but with the word White preceding all the others i.e. “White Knights…” also known as the Ku Klux Klan, the KKK and the Klan. The Klan share many motifs, traditions and operating procedures with the much older Ridelles and somewhat older Comites de Vigilance that existed among the Acadians. However, the Klan always had it own symbols too and those grew in importance and common symbols declined. The Cross-Lighting was never an Acadian symbol but perhaps went with the ideas of ethnic differentiation that are very Acadian. Knights of the White Camellia have been basically a special Louisiana version of the Ku Klux Klan. The name is a triple entendre it references the beautiful flowers of this area, the legendary kingdom of Arthur of the Round Table, and the Chivalric legacy left by French Catholic  Christian Prince Camille de Polignac, a fine specimen of all that being white as well as being human can offer. Aside from a relatively long list of titles his ordinary name was Camille Armand Jules Marie, Prince de Polignac.  He was a handsome, well educated, musical, mathematical, valiant and well traveled aristocrat who was a Confederate General during the Civil War. This Prince took command from the Acadian Confederate General Alfred Mouton after he died achieving the last major victory under the Confederate flag. Cajuns cannot be expected to say that right or wrong as life may be there is nothing to be admired in this Prince that is absent in a miserable ignorant Black field hand given a gun and a few weeks training. The Prince as a friend of Mouton embodied a sense of the lost potential of Acadiana to bring the South into a prominent place in the world. Christian institutions in the White Supremacist South did offer a flowering of African American potential and that flowering was largely vandalized by Southern factors but also by the union. Getting rid of Confederate heritage will not mend our woes. The roots of our struggles these days in my opinion are in various forms of alienation and a solution I could tolerate will start with telling the truth. Telling the truth many times in difficult ways will not solve the problems alone but it will  be part of making a start at solving the problem.

Racial violence is not going to end tomorrow. Ending racial violence cannot be achieved in isolation form other challenges.  I believe that we need radical change. But most radical change is bad. Getting the right radical change when it is needed is almost miraculous….

 

 

I have posted about race in America before on more than one occasion. This is a link to one such post. But I will provide much of the text as needed here below.  It is only a moderately distilled and limited boiling down of the original in the next few paragraphs.  There is some effort to cover the news but there is more than that an effort to discuss how a great deal of America’s trouble seems to me, it is made real by near experience.  That includes a sense that law enforcement and the judicial system are not exactly fixed in the role of protecting me from outside invasion — they have other roles as well. In following the economic collapse and in 2013 the official financial bankruptcy of Detroit, I remembered my ex-wife’s trips to Troy and our entertaining one of her supervisors when she came to Louisiana. I also remember my numerous trips to Michigan. I remember troubled neighborhoods and cities I have visited or lived in around the world.  The school shootings remind me of my many experiences in schools. The soaring prison population reminds me of my many visits to and interactions with prisoners. One of the pastors of the church parish to which I belong and which I have regularly attended most of the last fifteen years has been to prison. Governors Edwards and Leche, Attorney General Jack Gremillion, Commissioners Brown and Roemer (Roemer was the father of Governor Roemer) all went to prison.  One of the more successful members of my father’s law school class who was also one of his good friends went to prison. Several of my first cousins have gone to jail and a sizable number of my friends and classmates over the years have done time.  Those numbers are not an abstraction for me. Lots of prisoners are black and a lot of others are in some way tied up with the results of our attempt at a misguided racial revolution.  But misguided or not I do understand to some real degree the resentments and fears of many black people in the United States.  I could empathize with black kids protesting over the Trayvon Martin shooting who were afraid of getting shot and the many whites and Asians not protesting who are afraid or disturbed by the racist Black masses of vengeful, ignorant people who harbor those calling for blood, making death threats and collecting money for bounties. This is a real tension and crisis but there are plenty of people who are not black who are concerned about run-ins with the police.  When discussing the Trayvon Martin case the role of the President in responding to this crisis is very debatable but it surely can be said that it was not quickly resolved or defused.

White House redo

We all have images of what leadership should look like which are not simple portrayals of reality.

Much of the current Black Lives Matter movement began with the shooting of Trayvon Martin.  But actually it was less on the fateful night of February 26, 2012,  when in Sanford, Florida of these United States, George Zimmerman delivered the bullet that killed Trayvon Martin that the protests really became intense.  There were large protests that Trayvon’s killer was not charged. the masses of Blacks who erupted in the streets in those early days could make some claim to acting within reason. The original discussion focussed on the factual reality that after the largely untrained and officious Zimmerman shot Martin, who was young and  unarmed, during an altercation  which went on in the context of some kind of policing by Zimmerman and became physically intense between the two men and he was not charged with anything. The police who arrived were perhaps predisposed to see his side of things (so it could be argued) because they were responding to an earlier call from Zimmerman, the police had fresh and clear evidence as well because of the call and the fact that they arrived on the scene within two minutes of the shooting. Zimmerman was taken into custody, treated for head injuries, then questioned for five hours — a reasonably thorough response but still not as exhaustive as many. The police chief in charge of the investigation and arrest stated that Zimmerman was released for lack of  evidence to refute Zimmerman’s claim of having acted in self-defense. In fact it did seem to be the case that  under Florida’s Stand Your Ground statute, the police were prohibited by law from making an arrest in this case. But the optics were at least controversial and the protests might be just. They became intense  and also really anti social in a new way when the issue became different. Right or wrong Zimmerman was arrested and charged for the fatal  shooting of a 17-year-old African American high school student.  The shooter was a significantly battered  28-year-old mixed race Hispanic man who was the neighborhood watch coordinator obviously doing his earnest best for the gated community and in this situation he killed Trayvon  Martin  living with relatives there and he was acquitted on July 13, 2013 and the protests began to deny the basic legitimacy of the justice system. This dislocation from a watchdog of the system was intensified when the protest spewed hatred at many parties when on February 24,  2015, the United States Department of Justice announced that “there was not enough evidence for a federal hate crime prosecution.” In that intense 2013 period there was another set of racial realities on my mind.

The posts I wrote about the Trayvon  Martin case came at a time when I would rather have been paying tribute to a local and personal connection in an uncomplicated with one of that  same  year’s National Medal of Arts recipients: A man who has had his work put into successful television formats, who has a center named after him in my undergraduate alma mater, who has had his work and career recognized in many ways as this native of Louisiana and former Stanford University Stegner Fellow Ernest Gaines had that same year at eighty years old received an important  award from the hands of President Barack Hussein Obama. Gaines was the only novelist on the National Medal of Arts list that year – he had already received the National Medal for the Humanities in 2000 and a similar honor from France and his work has been translated into Chinese and most large European languages.  Poets and novelists have been awarded regularly the National Medal in both categories but I am not sure how many have received both awards.  The language of the citation includes the following statement that Gaines is “recognized for his contributions as an author and teacher. Drawing deeply from his childhood in the rural South, his works have shed new light on the African-American experience and given voice to those who have endured injustice.”

Gaines was born more than 80 years ago on the River Lake Plantation near the small town of Oscar, in Pointe Coupee Parish, Louisiana. His ancestors had lived on the same plantation, River Lake, since slavery, remaining after emancipation to work the land as sharecroppers for five generations. Gaines and his family lived in the houses, much expanded, that had once served as slave quarters. His parents separated when he was eight; the strongest adult influence in his childhood was a great aunt, Augusteen Jefferson, crippled from birth, who crawled from kitchen to the family’s garden patch, growing and preparing food, and caring for him and for six of his brothers and sisters.

This became the setting and premise for many of his later works. He was the oldest of 12 children, raised by his aunt, who was crippled and had to crawl to get around the house. Gaines’ first years of school took place in the plantation church. When the children were not picking cotton in the fields, a visiting teacher came for five to six months of the year to provide basic education. Gaines then spent three years at St. Augustine School, a Catholic school for African Americans in New Roads, Louisiana. Pointe Coupée Parish, “Negro schooling” in the Parish did not progress beyond the eighth grade at that time.

At the age of fifteen, Gaines moved to California to join his mother and stepfather. He wrote his first novel was written at age 17, while babysitting his youngest brother, Michael. In 1956, Gaines published a short story, The Turtles, in a college magazine at San Francisco State (SFSU). He graduated in literature in 1957 from SFSU. After spending two years in the Army, he won the Stegner, a writing fellowship to Stanford. In most years since 1984, Gaines has spent the first half of each year in San Francisco and the second half at the university in Lafayette, Louisiana, where he has taught a workshop every autumn. But in 1996, Gaines did spend a full semester as a visiting professor at the University of Rennes in France where he taught the first Creative Writing class ever offered in the French University system  Gaine  remains deeply rooted and he and his wife a home on part of the River Lake Plantation where he grew up.[ He has also had the church he grew up with moved to his property.

He has been open about what he most treasures from those days, “I was raised by a lady that was crippled all her life but she did everything for me and she raised me,” he wrote. “She washed our clothes, cooked our food, she did everything for us. I don’t think I ever heard her complain a day in her life. She taught me responsibility towards my brother and sisters and the community.””

Ernest Gaines has at least two ways in which he has walked the path of a man of letters, a race man and a son of Louisiana.  One part of his legacy is his work and life as a writer in residence, commercial success and regional celebrity. That must be taken into account in any assessment of his work and its impact on racial identity and politics. In that area he has been about the advance of his racial group as well as himself.  When I was at enrolled the university where Gaines taught I was never enrolled in one of his classes, I did however attend lectures he gave, two of which were hosted by Dr. Patricia Rickels, now deceased,  whom both of us knew very well and who was both in the English Department and head of the Honors Program to which I belonged.  I spoke to her and students who knew him well about him much more often than I spoke to him and I read his books and bought several although at a time when I often got books signed I never had his books signed nor asked him for anything that I recall except once for his plans for classes in the coming semester which I recall he did not much appreciate.  Gaines was a well dressed, disciplined man who was an intimidating physical specimen and more often in the national spotlight than anyone else in the Department when I was there. A strong academic, a strong son of Louisiana and a strong Black man – he was all those things.

The other side of Gaines is his writing itself. He preserved characters and scenes of White Creoles, Cajuns, Anglos and other people along with the African-American characters often described in ten different ways by use of the same “N word” now left out of some versions of Huckleberry Finn. The black people are humans with hopes, dreams, consciousness and aspiration. In A Gathering of Old Men, there is cowardice, backwardness, ignorance and folly portrayed with realism in the African-American Community. There is also courage, cleverness, hope and community as old men with shotguns having fired a shot face down the white supremacist Cajun establishment.  In the Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman there is failure and lack of achievement but also perseverance, a struggle for decency and a triumph of continuity.  In A Lesson Before Dyingthere is a bit of heavy-handed moralizing, racial philosophizing, and more Black assertiveness than anywhere else but there is real pathos, tender regard for life and law and compromise as people of all colors find them.  These are likely his most important works but not as revealing or upsetting to mainstream America as some of his lesser pieces.  I have always liked reading Gaines and found him fulfilling to read as well.  I once gave a copy of a Gaines novel, I believe it was Of Love and Dust to a friend and relative of mine, now deceased, who was a self-identified White Racist and asked the person to read it and get back to me. The response as best I recall it was, “That N***** can write. I really could hardly put the book down because it is story you feel. He knows and sees everything I do about N****** and he writes in a fully N*****ish fashion but he makes you think about what is right and how people should relate to each other because you know he is not afraid of the truth.”  Gaines has a unique voice, I doubt that friend would have read an entire book by many other Black writers and maybe none at all who wrote about Blacks chiefly.   Marcia Gaudet of the University of Louisiana’s Ernest Gaines center was quoted by a West Coast interviewer associate with the Stanford University where Gaines has long had ties and she said: “His literature is based on memory of the past, and it’s somewhat different from that of many African-American writers of the mid-20th century, who based their work on erasure of that past and moving their characters to Northern urban settings. Gaines was one of the first to go back and look at what the hardships were.” I pay tribute to Ernest Gaines here. But we all know that the arts alone will not save our society — they have an important part to play but it will no alone decide our fate.

The school shootings and other mass killings which Obama has loved to lump in together in his cries for gun control are not all racially motivated. The toll they take are also both real and significant. But so are all the acts of violence, disorder and depravity which destory our quality of Iife and do not involve a gun It is hard to see how the Rolling Stone cover of Dzokhar Tsarnaev helped to address the problem then or why  it helps that nobody can discuss the fact that police and much more so unarmed white citizens have been driven by violent and disorderly blacks for so much our American heritage in a sustained campaign of ethnic cleansing.. However, it does remind us of how real our social problems are today.  This is a society in crisis. I have a different perception of the Tsarnaev’s to add to the big picture of who they are which includes them being Muslim, Chechen, young, living in Boston and a dozen other realities that defined who these brothers were and who Dzokhar still is. But I want to think about their sense of ethnicity and identity and heritage in a society without very strong moorings in that regard. The alienation they felt led them to radical Islam and we have found a kindred and connected set of empathies in the recent cop-killers which is outlined in this post. Alienation and an inability to seriously understand diversity, federalism and sicuss one’s own background with those who surround one’s daily life — these are realities of American daily life.

If it is dangerous not to know one‘s self and it is dangerous not to know the world it is also more dangerous than some would think not to know the elements of one’s history as played by one’s neighbors. I am an Anglo-Acadian. I will not be discussing that heritage here as it relates to the Confederate heritage or American heritage but I have written of such things elsewhere .  The word Christian was first used in Syria. It makes all Christians weak that there are few Christians left there and a priest was beheaded and it was scarcely reported here.   We are living in a deadly blindness and are seeking a solution in trying to wipe out our own white supremacy for no particularly good reason – rather than trying to make it better. The Trayvon Martin movement is full of racist and violent blacks who want to control the country but not themselves. We are running out of time for a good plan.

Besides the Trayvon Martin protests, the bankruptcy of the City of Detroit and the collapse of al sense of a real legal system I have learned other things.  I learned them over a life which has been punctuated by crises before the current cop killings. I have made proposals here which seem radcial and far-fetched and even if they do not seems such have a small chance of success. But they are serious proposals. Such proposal have in large part come about from the realization that it is a demonstrable fact that cowardice, corruption and cruelty are normal in governance and yet fatal as well and those who live in such modes of what might be called evil often applaud themselves most loudly for doing their best. I know hard times loom large and am aware of the fact that life is without apparent justice in countless cases, but I am trying to be part of creating a plan for a better future. My model constitutions have already spelled out the answers I would propose. What I am asserting here is mostly that the course we have been on will not work and will not be survivable if continued.  Race and ethnicity must be faced and understood differently and that must happen soon. Doing it right will matter a lot.
I have decided to write most of everything I write from now on in preparation for the future which has stretched out so bleakly and horribly ahead of me for so long to be vastly worse than it has long been. I think that the time will be coming soon enough when I will sign off my web presence entirely but I will at least have written the things I will have wanted to say as the years of living hell extend into a limitless misery at least until death. I need to set a frame of reference I suppose, the person I respect the most among the living in the world today is me. That does not make me happy but it is the truth.

The truth of much policy and political philosophy is that it exists framed and living in a dialectic between that which must be done in a crisis and that which can be reasoned and properly debated in relative leisure during times not defined by a particularly urgent crisis.  Lives like those of Gaines and others do map out a path of the minds that must engage the crises in which we live. History well understood makes it possible to be better informed about what is possible in a the new time in which we live. But we must have the basic facts and realities of society clear enough for our decisions to possible matter .  The struggle of every society to formulate policy and then to put it into effect is one of the great themes of history although it may less often make its way into the titles of books or even their chapter headings. The truth is that most good historians telling most good and important histories have at least some interest in how the people of a given period discussed and intellectually prepared for a great historical crisis when it was incipient, developing and the then escalating. The activity during the time when the crisis is acute is not likely to produce original theoretical frameworks or innovative discussion which is really excellent. Instead those acting in the acute stage are often doing more than can be expected if they can reach for and apply the best theories and remedies which have been reasoned out and proposed in advance.

 

There is no shortage of information out and about which connects Islam to terror, here is such a post. The concern about how intense and intrinsic the basic disagreement with Islam may be is also something which has been discussed here and there online.  The first link given has John Quincy Adams expressing the awareness of a basic animosity in Islam itself. The second post shows how Sarah Palin feels that Iran is outside the pale of diplomacy and how this relates to Islamic governance there.

One of my Facebook friends who also purchased the house I was living in before recently moving into my grandparents old house has long published a string of posts about Islam and its history with the West. I publish one of those posts here. It is unattributed beyond him but the facts are more or less right — with the exception that Crusade is a Christian word and Jihad is the Muslim equivalent. I reproduce this post from a man whose names start with the initials P. P. only knowing that it is largely correct and also expresses the feelings of a real American in my own sphere of contact and influence:

“ISLAMIC CRUSADES
630 Muhammad conquers Mecca from his base in Medina.
632 Muhammad dies in Medina. Islam controls the Hijaz.
636 Muslims conquest of Syria, and the surrounding lands, all Christian – including Palestine and Babylonia/Mesopotamia (Iraq).
637 Muslim Crusaders conquer Iraq (some date it in 635 or 636).
638 Muslim Crusaders conquer and annex Jerusalem, taking it from the Byzantines.
638 – 650 Muslim Crusaders conquer Persia (Iran), except along Caspian Sea.
639 – 642 Muslim Crusaders conquer Egypt.
641 Muslim Crusaders control Syria and Palestine.
643 – 707 Muslim Crusaders conquer North Africa.
644 – 650 Muslim Crusaders conquer Cyprus, Tripoli in North Africa, and establish Islamic rule in Iran, Afghanistan, and Sindh.
673 – 678 Arabs besiege Constantinople, capital of Byzantine Empire.
691 Dome of the Rock is completed in Jerusalem, only six decades after Muhammad’s death.
710 – 713 Muslim Crusaders conquer the lower Indus Valley.
711 – 713 Muslim Crusaders conquer Spain and impose the kingdom of Andalus. The Muslim conquest moves into Europe.
718 Conquest of Spain complete.
732 Muslim invasion of France is stopped at the Battle of Poitiers / Battle of Tours. The Franks, under their leader Charles Martel (the grandfather of Charlemagne), defeat the Muslims and turn them back out of France.
762 Foundation of Baghdad.
785 Foundation of the Great Mosque of Cordova.
789 Rise of Idrisid amirs (Muslim Crusaders) in Morocco; Christoforos, a Muslim who converted to Christianity, is executed.
800 Autonomous Aghlabid dynasty (Muslim Crusaders) in Tunisia
807 Caliph Harun al—Rashid orders the destruction of non-Muslim prayer houses & of the church of Mary Magdalene in Jerusalem.
809 Aghlabids (Muslim Crusaders) conquer Sardinia, Italy.
813 Christians in Palestine are attacked; many flee the country.
831 Muslim Crusaders capture Palermo, Italy; raids in Southern Italy.
837 – 901 Aghlabids (Muslim Crusaders) conquer Sicily, raid Corsica, Italy, France.
869 – 883 Revolt of black slaves in Iraq.
909 Rise of the Fatimid Caliphate in Tunisia; these Muslim Crusaders occupy Sicily, Sardinia.
928 – 969 Byzantine military revival, they retake old territories, such as Cyprus (964) and Tarsus (969).
937 The Church of the Resurrection (aka Church of Holy Sepulchre) is burned down by Muslims; more churches in Jerusalem are attacked.
960 Conversion of Qarakhanid Turks to Islam.
969 Fatimids (Muslim Crusaders) conquer Egypt and found Cairo.
973 Palestine and southern Syria are again conquered by the Fatimids.
1003 First persecutions by al—Hakim; the Church of St. Mark in Fustat, Egypt, is destroyed.
1009 Destruction of the Church of the Resurrection by al—Hakim (see 937).
1012 Beginning of al—Hakim’s oppressive decrees against Jews and Christians.
1050 Creation of Almoravid (Muslim Crusaders) movement in Mauretania; Almoravids (aka Murabitun) are coalition of western Saharan Berbers; followers of Islam, focusing on the Qur’an, the Hadith, and Maliki law.
1071 Battle of Manzikert, Seljuk Turks (Muslim Crusaders) defeat Byzantines and occupy much of Anatolia.
1071 Turks (Muslim Crusaders) invade Palestine.
1073 Conquest of Jerusalem by Turks (Muslim Crusaders).
1075 Seljuks (Muslim Crusaders) capture Nicea (Iznik) and make it their capital in Anatolia.
1076 Almoravids (Muslim Crusaders) (see 1050) conquer western Ghana.
1086 Almoravids (Muslim Crusaders) (see 1050) send help to Andalus, Battle of Zallaca.
1090 – 1091 Almoravids (Muslim Crusaders) occupy all of Andalus except Saragossa and Balearic Islands.

START OF WESTERN CRUSADES
Only after all of the Islamic aggressive invasions is when Western Christendom launches its first Crusades.

1094 Byzantine emperor Alexius Comnenus I asks western Christendom for help against Seljuk (Muslim Turks) invasions of his territory.
1095 Pope Urban II preaches first Crusade; they capture Jerusalem in 1099.”

 

So now I conclude, what do we expect or want to happen if America does not face the facts of being eroded and interpreted into a position where it cannot respond. People like our President tend to believe that the Christianity among Blacks emerged as a sort of covert Islam. There is an element of truth in that. But all Christianity brings forth the culture of those who embrace the faith. In addition not all slaves came to the new world with Islamic roots and not all converts were slaves. We have much to do and honestly not much chance of of doing it. But our national future hangs in the balance.

Racial Violence, Islam, Christianity, America and Me… Part One

There is a lot to say and so I am using a series to look at our challenges described in the title. This is not a long series of posts it has only two parts. There was an assassination of police officers in Baton Rouge this Sunday. Three officers, two white men named Matthew Gerald and Brad Garafola were killed as was one black man named Montrell Jackson. The basic original report of their tragic death is covered here by the Times-Picayune.  Of the dead, two – Jackson and Gerald- were Baton  Rouge city police and the other one was an East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s deputy. All leave behind families that include children. At least three other officers were wounded. All casualties were from the same two departments. One of the wounded, Nick Tullier, is still struggling for life. The others seem certain to survive.  It makes me sad and angry to think about the loss of life, the breach of peace and public order and the cost to all parts of our civil society arising from these tensions and their many manifestations. I especially realized how emotionally involved I am from video on one of the local television stations which showed me in a distant wide shot asking the panel my question during the forum. I was more agitated than I normally am as far as body language can allow one to communicate agitation, and that was without voice or a close up. But nonetheless I am not devoting this entire post to these events.  I do have emotions about these events that I need to express but I feel the need to express more than those emotions… But frankly, this post is only partly about the police ambush. A small part is about this important story in fact. This blog has some themes to pursue and these sad events occasion my pursing them a bit further. However, this has been more intense of an experience for those who represent the State of Louisiana at the capital city, and that has been covered by the Advocate here.

Baton Rouge cops shot art

In what has been described as a rambling series of YouTube presentations by several reporters and analysts, Gavin Eugene Long claimed to be a former Nation of Islam member, there has be no public affirmation or denial of this claim by  any Nation of Islam leadership that I know of so far. Also on what was basically a You Tube show, however unsuccessful, Long in fact referred to Alton Sterling, the armed black man who ran a long term squatter based DVD business in front of a convenience store and was killed by Baton Rouge police officers on July 5,  this was seen in graphic images and there was at least an element of summary execution in the images that a reasonable prosecutor could pursue as grave police misconduct. Gavin Long operated his own YouTube channel under his new legal name, Cosmo Setepenr which he had adopted in May of 2015. He used the Sterling shooting as an example of oppression, making references to oppression against blacks and police protests.Also relevant to these acts Long called the shootings of five Dallas police officers an act of “justice” in one of his videos. His political analysis led him to declare that  “One hundred percent of revolutions… have been successful through fighting back through bloodshed.” Some portion of the reporting on these matters is well handled by the Los Angeles Times here.  In his You Tube presentations Long said  the act of peaceful protesting was a futile method based on emotion and was easily forgettable. So he claimed association with the Nation of Islam and with more exotic small and less Islamic supposedly Muslim groups. But he also belonged to a number of groups most Islamists would never touch. The individual sovereignty movement is very small but also very diverse, with members varying enormously from one another in every way and it appears that Long was part of that movement. I did receive a degree from  LSU and I had intended to be there in a few weeks as of not so long ago. I reported recently that that would not happen.

Monday, July 18,2016 I attended the Acadiana Press Club Forum Panel Discussion on policing in times of civil unrest. Panelists included David Khey, head of the criminal justice department at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette;  Reginald Thomas, interim chief with the Lafayette Police Department; Marja Broussard, Lafayette NAACP leader and community organizer; and Maj. Art LeBreton, enforcement commander with the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office. Not in attendance as announced was Tracie L. Washington, a New Orleans-based National Lawyers Guild attorney. The discussion also included a number of people from the audience all of whom were concerned about the state of affairs we have been hearing about in Baton Rouge among other things. The mood has been tense in various places across the region since the shooting of the police in our state’s capital on Sunday and remains so to some degree today. But where I am and in many other places it is a subtle tone and feel which is easily missed. The usual  moderator was absent and a young woman from the Advocate organization named Lanie Lee Cook did an excellent job of moderating.She allowed a number of issues to come out including my question about tendencies to unduly nationalize crises and questions about riot gear which later shaped her own article appearing in the Acadiana Advocate.  I met here fro the first time when I helped her bring in the water from her car to go with complimentary snacks. But there was for me a mix of familiar and unfamiliar faces as there always is in these events. Several people were there for this topic who would almost never normally come but still that is not so unusual as people come specifically for each topic as well as those who try to come to most events. The violence in Baton Rouge including protest violence and arrests certainly colored all other discussions about this topic. A pastor and a senatorial candidate from the  African American community certainly brought up black on black violence and how this affects all of our perceptions of the current troubles. But admirable as I find these fora to be they are always limited in scope.

There should be enough material for several blog posts in discussing the Baton Rouge police ambush shooting, the protests and arrests as well as the Alton Sterling shooting that went first in this timeline. The video taken from a witness’s phone showed police struggling with Sterling and shooting him to death. It appears that in both the Sterling shooting and the ambush police responded to reports of an armed man who appeared to be a threat. Gavin Long, Sunday’s shooter was dressed all in black, was a military veteran ( like the Dallas cop killer) and seems to have come all the way from Missouri to kill Baton Rouge law enforcement officials. Rich as that story is, I am only going to deal with it briefly. He was clearly involved in the political realities of his time and clearly was not overly successful, not so different than me or a good number of other people I know in that regard. Just days before his deadly rampage Lafayette General Hospital was launching the formal establishment of the Mayci Breaux Memorial Scholarship founded to honor one of the two women killed at The Grand Theater in Lafayette. That story was reported on my blog here and here.  Also this reminded me that like that shooter, only more so, this killer drove a distance to come to Louisiana and kill our people. Two known high profile incidents do a pattern make. They may also indicate a larger pattern. I can think of a lot of reasons why the choice to attack Louisiana might seem a natural one to some people. Hauser was a man as much an open Christian as Long was a Muslim and then had some nearness left to spare. But his Christianity was of the Hitlerite variety and I will mention Hitler and his views just a bit below. Hitler was a larger supporter of a breed of anti-Semitic, violent and disruptive Islam not so different than the Islamist terror movements of our own day. These two groups often find it easier to converse than Muslim  Sufis and Catholic Charismatics for example. But I believe that for America the Catholic Charismatics and the Sufis would have more to offer as citizens and in productive dialog.

This is the season where one can argue endlessly about the success of various programs and wars and not really agree on where the results stand. In his final Prime Minister’s Question David Cameron dealt convincingly with the progress of the war and yet one knows that there is no doubt that the war on ISIS has a darker side than he describes when hne lists the devastation of their militarized territoties and even claims that their foreign recruits have been cut off by as much as 90%.  Even if those things are true, and it is hard to be sure we know that the region is a mess and the world is made more unstable by the many degree and layers of chaos that are ongoing there.  There is much more to say about that dark side of the Syrian and Iraqi political realities and their consequences elsewhere than we can get to here. There is so much to be said about the recent terrorist attack in Nice that deserves more attention in this post than the Baton Rouge attacks and that event as a whole is more than we can get to here. The Nice attacker was of Tunisian descent but his family seems to have arrived in France even before that early wave of the Arab Spring. He was not directly a part of the huge displacement of people, the refugee crisis and the resulting tensions across the region in Europe and even here in North America which has resulted most of all from the Syrian war. But that is not the only bad outcome. However, it is  quite debatable which outcomes are good and bad fairly quickly.  For me few things could more clear than that we need to fight ISIS and that it has not been an entirely successful fight  — I hope this post contributes something  to understanding what has contributed to the faults in our strategy. The fight with ISIS, the Black Lives Matter excesses, the remnants of Al Qaeda, the Arab Spring, the chaos in Turkey and the tensions related to BRexit cannot all be seen as purely disparate phenomena. In addition,  in September of 2012 in this blog I posted a post  titled “The Current Crisis in US- Islamic Relations…”, you can link to it here but it is reproduced significantly in what follows. In that post I was declaring that the angry Muslim crowds protesting outside US embassies, the killing of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and his four companions at the consulate in Benghazi were all  deeply troublesome events. I reminded readers that from 1776 to 1950 no United States Ambassadors were killed in office.  I speculated given my lack of research resources that perhaps two or three died in transit from posts or even sickened and died after taking some kind of leave but none died in office. Just as with Lincoln no presidents were killed in office before him nor shot but a good percentage were shot or shot and killed after the Kennedy assassination, however I failed to mention that if Andrew Jackson had not had the skills that he had as a sort of action hero co me to life then he might well have been shot on at least one occasion and if he survived that then perhaps on another. This initial shooting of Lincoln after our greatest national crisis also tied to race forms a pattern for future and repeated violence and if one leaves  aside the Indian curse and natural deaths in office that made up a patter until Reagan survived his shooting then one can say it was a creation of a new bloody political discourse when John Wilkes Booth shot the President he perceived as a tyrant. If that is the Case then Ambassador Steven death for which Secretary Clinton bears little penalty might become a very important and seminal historical event because it had been almost thirty years since our singular period of bloody Ambassador service had ended, that is from 1950 to 1988 seven died violently in office. Two in plane crashes ruled accidental and five in armed attacks. The last one killed in an armed attack was in 1979, that was almost forty years ago. It is true that in the last few years no more Ambassadors have been killed. But since on September  11 2012  the whole consulate in Benghazi was gutted and the Ambassador, an IT specialist and two armed men (one of whom was a former US Navy SEAL and the other a State Department Security professional) were killed we can see an escalating patter of violence and worldwide disorder related to the forces that killed them.  Symbols matter from the prompt reality that the within hours of the Libya events  the US flag was torn down in our embassy in Cairo and desecrated and an Islamist flag was raised in its place to the attack in Nice and the shootings of cops by two people who had some ties to Islam in their final views on what to do in America. Other embassies surrounds are erupting and the potential for more killings is very real. Prior to the attacks on the embassy, in fact one day prior on September 10, 2012 I posted the following  paragraph in a note here in this blog:

I am concerned about tomorrow’s anniversary. There have been a lot more shootings in Afghanistan lately of our troops, there have been a lot of ammo dumps opened up to terrorist groups through the so-called Arab Spring. There are new governments with ties to these terror groups. There have been a lot of mass shootings in the USA lately. Our border is very porous with Mexico in which violence is breaking out in new ways daily. In addition the Arab element in Mexico has multiplied many times over in recent decades. Very little has been done to honor the woman who shot the Fort Hood shooter or to punish the Fort Hood shooter. I do not mean to predict that there will be ground based terrorist attacks on our soil this month. Probably there will not be. But if there are they will not be unpredictable.

We find that I was well aware of the general kinds of risks that we would face on the very day that disaster occurred because I was aware. Montrell Jackson was a big armed black man,  sexually vital and successful enough to be a father and financially successful enough to make it in middle class America. he was not less assertive than his killer or less black. But what did he care about: He discusses being tired sending out prayers and hugs working for peace and unity. He has a desire for the civic good to come about as inspired by and separate from the religious good but connected to it. I do not know where this man whose wife had just given birth to a son a few months before worshipped but it is a deeply Christian vision with roots in Augustine and the book of Acts of the Apostles. Labels are not the most important thing and all Islam is not the enemy of all peace in America. But it is true that here the killer found solace in the Nation of Islam and the defending martyr in sentiments with a deeply Christian provenance. Adolph Hitler in his early years of organizing decried the efforts of German missionaries to  make Christians converts among the negroes in Africa. More subtly but clearly enough Macaualay the great British historian indicated a few truths that string together for him into a doctrine. First that Catholic Christianity leads to race mixing more than Protestantism and  secondly that Protestantism produces a superior civilization.  He also believed Catholic Christianity had created the English as a racial entity by mixing the Norse, Celts and Germans but that having happened then it was important that it not happen again. Christians in America do not subscribe generally to such explicit ideas, but they are not irrelevant to us. Christians here do not really understand that Egypt, Turkey and Syria form a real part of the Christian Holy Land and the churches devastated under the years of American influence are deep and sacred parts of our heritage. Almost every comment Christians in the west would make about the racial and ethnic identity of those old Christians is offensive ot most of them even though all the statements are profoundly at odds with other offensive statements from the West.

Montrell Jackson Post

This is not the easiest post to write and not all of them are easy to write anyway. What we have to recognize in my opinion is the real history of the United States as regards Islam. The role of religion in the life of the United States and in geopolitics was probably less open and more minimized during my early childhood than ever at any other time among American children. The Soviet Union was the great Marxist atheist adversary which had reinvented itself and had nothing to do with the thousand year formation of Russia as it struggled to be a Christian nation. The struggle for nationhood and the struggle for Christianity can be separated for discussion but they are deeply linked and in the most complicated ways. We also have to remember that the Slavic peoples we criticize for abusing Muslim territories have an ethnic name of Slav that resembles  slavery in English largely because they were enslaved by Turks and Arabs on a broad scale for centuries.  The numbers are staggering and althoughmany died horribly their genes as much or more than Hellenic and Minoan communities absorbed before account for many of the Europena genetic features in parts of the Arab world which would other wise be far more negroes because of other people enslaved by Arabs and other Muslims then freed over previous centuries.    In this period of history of which Putin is likely more aware than Trump or Clinton most white slaves did not have definably negro masters but certainly thousands of whites did have negro masters and the overall tone that informs the racial dialog in America is in blissful ignorance of these matters.  Almost exactly year before Long shot up Baton Rouge a Muslim shot up a recruiting station in Chatanooga, Tennessee.  Did the internet savvy Long find those memories online when making a decision? The endless bloody chain of events has no end and we must at least understand it — that includes the slavery in America and the COnfederacy but those events have a context as well.  Monuments and flags are coming down across America but what is taking their place?

Today we all know religion has a profound influence on the world, its politics and its power arrangements at least as compared to the secular tone of my childhood as it was portrayed in the news and politics more often than not. I am myself a very openly Christian person and it is not hard for me to connect my  faith to anything else that I might be interested in doing, talking about or writing about in this blog. Sometimes the connection is that what I am doing is not very Christian but there is always a connection. The future of Christianity in America is not assured and not easy to define. It can take many forms and it will face many challenges.  But however much I may disagree with many Americans about what that faith is  meant to be and what its role is — but I think we can not ignore its significance. In the next part of this series, which may or may not be the next post , I will look at how Christianity and Islam offer competing visions of America which affect the violence in our streets.   But for now I will simply conclude by saying that we will not get anywhere I want to go without a lot more painful and uncomfortable discussion of the inter changes between race, religion and violence than we have known so far.

Faith Camp, Bukidnon Youth Conference and the Future

Faith Camp is a one week long camp held for middle school aged students based somewhere in Vermilion Parish. There are currently two such camps held each year. While the kids are the focus it is an event that involves people of all ages. For many who participate in its various aspects it is both an optimistic and fun experience and a deeply spiritual one. The Catholic faith is celebrated in a context which is fairly complete and brings the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the experience of church into the lives of these young people in a complete way.

The last two weeks  before this posting there has been ongoing the 20th year of continuous Faith Camps. This ministry was founded by my sister Susanna whom I saw at Faith Camp last night. At the time she founded she and were regular prayer partners and she was in the area and living at Big Woods during the summer after having started her studies at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. It was a fairly small camp that year but I was deeply impressed with it and shared with her my own memories of a live-in conference  in Bukidnon when she was a child as one of my better memories and so the two things were linked in my mind at the inception although there was not much of a causal link.  Susanna wasalso a small child when the Bukidnon Youth Conference was going on around and near her in various manifestations in Malaybalay, Bukidnon on the southern island of Mindanao in the Republic of the Philippines. I haven’t been back since the 1980s but it was a time which I have always felt had a big influence on the rest of my life and other lives in the family. Many members of my family have played key roles in the success of the camp over the decades. This year a middle school aged child of one of the campers at the second camp was a camper at Faith Camp.

 

 This year my sister Sarah’s eldest daughter Alyse is the coordinator of Faith Camp as she was last year. This is one of the blog posts that I write that is not primarily driven by the news. It is more driven by  a series of important experiences, recollections  and feelings which resonate in my life. This is one of those posts which combines both some vivid recollection and some fading memories: But the hope one felt at key times continues. The possibility of really putting together a history of those years is a daunting and not a very promising prospect. But the prospect of trying to recapture some of the spirit of those times seems a worthy aspiration as it will help me to convey some thoughts about the current times and some of the times in between now and then. I went from New Zealand to the Philippines with my birth family when I was seventeen and arrived there around Christmas. The bottom right hand picture below is of the Maranatha Youth Group in St. Pius X Church Parish in Titahi Bay which I left behind there on those cool windswept coasts. We passed through Australia on the way there.The top set of damaged images are from my time in the Philippines as is my better picture of myself leading my sisters on the carabao. The bottom right hand corner isa picture of the wall of my Household at the Franciscan University of Steubenville.

 

 We were in the Philippines for a couple of years (or so I remember without checking) and Simon was born with difficulties associated with Prader-Willi Syndrome. That was also at Christmas and was at the time of my Bukidnon Youth Conference which is the real subject of part at least of this post. Due to Simon’s condition we came back to the United States. While there I completed my Freshman Year at USL — now the University of Louisiana  — in one semester and in the preceding summer worked in some college and youth ministries in the church. Then we all returned to the Philippines and I renewed my ministry for a while and in the summer just after my brother Joseph was born and having overstayed my visa in a tense time in a country on edge and with a gift of a large and dangerous looking tribal sword I flew back alone to the United States.The picctures I took there for various reasons have not much been digitzed and the ones that were have not al made it into part of the cloud I can access. But the memories that I have of the Philippines are indeed plentiful and meaningful. Many of them were pleasant enough. Although the images in the pair below do not show the day to day life there as I justified that life they do show some of the rewards of the experience. Visiting the sick westerners in trouble, prison ministry, speaking to dozens of groups and working with college ministries all filled most of my days. But the Bukidnon Youth Conference was perhaps the  peak of my ministry there.  Being a 52 year old, divorced, childless near indigent was not the future among many possible futures which I saw as most likely in those days. But the journey since has certainly been a complicated on and rich too in color and texture and that sense of richness makes me feel like an expert on almost everything on some days. While that is not fair to much of anything neither or the days entirely fair when I feel that my onIy efforts to communicate come from having little else to do that is fulfilling and that I only ever feel that I  am well qualified to be a sage because I appear not to be qualified for anything else. My life has not been laser focused in a single direction and my time in the Philippines was not either. I like Faith Camp and I liked the Bukidnon Youth Conference in part because they touched many aspects of life from the arts to sport to socializing over dinner. This reminds me of one of my first Facebook notes when I wrote about  some of the extracurricular activities and hobbies that have enriched my life  and divided them into the big three categories of Faith, Science and Sports which I  chose to denominate as easy issues for that early Facebook note. These Easy Issues are not to be confused with the Easy Essays written by Peter Maurin of the Catholic Worker Movement. His essays were easy,  because he easily guided the reader through the complexities of political philosophy to a simple and cohesive approach which would provide the framework fo the movement he and Dorthy Day were founding. In my Facebook the subjects are easy because of my tremendous insights into the very narrow experience I had in each of those fields — I did not concern myself with the larger picture. There was some tongue in cheek in the use of there terms and words but Faith Camp and the Bukidnon Youth Conference were also founded to give young people a real body of experience that they could claim as their own. A small window of controlled positive experience from ehich to see the world.

During those years when ministry was part of my life I did a lot of work preparing to work . One thing  or another or many things must be left out including almost all my regular Catholic  school time but I now note  the religious education I received. Some I received within the context of the schools mentioned. However, I also took a set of remote preparation confirmation classes in the Diocese of Lafayette within the Come Lord Jesus Program and the brief imediate preparation course at a Parish in the Archdiocese of Wellington, New Zealand. I was confirmed by a cardinal. In the Diocese of Lafayette I also completed instruction in and was commissioned for Evangelism as a Lay Evangelist of my native dicoese. This was also where after college I was certified as a catechist. Beyond those things, I completed the Life in the Spirit Seminar, the Cursillo de Cristiandad (en Ingles), a basic Lector’s training, Prayer Group Leaders Training Course, a salvation history micro course and stdied as a journalist the English translation of the Prelature of Bukidnon’s Alagad course which was a successful lay leadership course. I also read and discussed the Documents of the Second Vatican Council many times and in many contexts. Susanna who founded Faith Camp completed here degree in theology while continuing to build up this ministry. The two things have in common that they communicate to the kids from a depp and well laid foundation.

Like a lot of activity among Christians it is designed to provide an opportunity for a personal spiritual experience. The importance of personal spiritual experience in America is more evident than in some countries. One of the reasons for that comes from a man who was not a Christian but had a profound influence on the Christian and other populations of these United States at a critical time — the Revolution. Thomas Paine, one of the great thinkers of the American revolution basically stated that one of the profound problems with revelation as a basis for any law or covenant is that as soon as it is written down or described rather than existing as a perceived miracle or apparition or Messianic epiphany it becomes mere tradition. Three things can be said about that idea that miracles and revelation become traditions:

1. It is somewhat true and worth keeping in mind.
2. If God, the universe, the gods and Divine Wisdom were communicating with humanity they might not excuse people who said “Well, I needed that direct Apparition your Highness — didn’t get it so it’s your fault not mine.”
3.In places and times such as existed in the Charismatic renewal there was a renewal within the person which was seen to confirm the written Word and the received tradition. It is out of that third connection with the renewal of the background music and lifestyle of our family that the Bukidnon Youth Conference (BYC) and twenty years of Faith Camps have come. The Bukidnon Conference was less part of the Charismatic Renewal than was some of my work in those days and the current Faith Camps only remind one of the renewal. But the tradition is there.

St. Augustine is credited with two sayings that mean a lot to me as far as faith goes. One is “Seek not to understand that you may believe. Seek rather to believe that you may understand.” That saying is not perfect and is easily misconstrued but it remains profoundly true and truly profound.The second saying I will allow to explain itself and to be interpreted without me. St Augustine wrote “The best and the worst men in the world live in monasteries.” The idea that these young people come together to find understanding and to explore a fully lay spirituality does not mean that none will later become monks, priests, scientists or theologians some do and those around usually rejoice.  But the experience is of a different focus of informing a growing faith and living for Christ in the world.

That Filipino journey  in which the Bukidnon YouthBconference was born was one  which only temporarily ended just after the conference itself. But after returning with them from my time at USL and in this region I did not stay but went to enroll at the school where Susanna was studying when Faith Camp was founded.  I returned a bit early and went to live that summer with my paternal grandparents in a larger than most two storey house beside a park. That  is where I lived in that intervening summer have lived at other times and is also where I am living  now as I type this but I have only been here for a few months this go round. Then I enrolled as a sophomore at the Franciscan University. The summer after my sophomore year I returned to the Philippines to visit and overstayed my visa yet again by only a few days and flew home alone. I left school in mid semester for complicated reasons including some to do with problems in the Philippines related to those whom I had invited into the region to help me with the Youth Conference and  shortly after leaving school I met my parents returning to Abbeville where I currently reside. All of that was along time ago and I took a break to do some more ministry and other things before enrolling again at USL and finishing my degree there. Thousands of picture taken during those and subsequent years are unavailable to me here and now on this blog. But the family on the bottom left hand of the set below are the son of Abbeville friends and his wife who have been FMC missionaries where we once served for more than a few years now. The picture on the bottom right hand corner shows my brother Simon and my parents at an FMC Donors Dinner. He clearly survived the ordeals surrounding his birth as did we all.

 

Of the  actual BYC as an event I have no photos to share and never had many photos. Indeed of the conference itself very little documentation was made and far less survives. But there are a few things and here are a pair of snippets of that time. The newsletter Resounding Praise which defined so much of our communication with the rest of the world had a feature on the conference. This gathering so distant in time and space is still near to my memory and sensibility. The sense and vision behind the conference was one of bringing young Catholics and some not sure they were Catholics together to celebrate the gospel and to deal with the real challenges not only of their personal lives but of Islamist and Communist pressures from groups which in several cases were profoundly hostile to their Catholic Christian commitments.  There was also a real openness to finding what could be improved in the generally pro-American, Catholic, free market synthesis that informed the conference. There was not a tone of xenophobia or paranoia but of relatively optimistic participation in the world as it was  for young Catholic Christians. There is something in Faith Camp’s tradition that has always reminded me of that event.

 

 

There are bigger events in the world than Faith Camp or the Bukidnon Youth Conference but bigness is not everything. Nonetheless as America approaches it participation with other countries in the Rio Olympic Games I am reminded that the New testament is full of references to Olympic events. Paul wrote of racing, boxing, archery and of the disciplines of training as well as the glories of victory in those ancient games. For those going to the Olympics who are Christians while they should respect the games and the diversity there it can be both a mission and a spiritual experience in Christ.

A few years ago London prepared to see the wedding take place in Westminster Abbey there was a lot of suffering and pain in the world. Truthfully, there is almost always a lot of suffering and pain in the world.  Whatever their role may be in adding to the sum of distress in the world, the British royals do quite a bit to lessen the sum of woe and that was not the less true in a year when they were planning a royal wedding . That  set of outreaches to those in need is an effort that  is well documented. Prince Charles, Camilla Duchess of Cornwall and Prince William (the bridegroom this weekend) all have long supported a variety of charities benefiting humans, animals, ecosystems and cultural groups in distress.Prince Charles has a substantial income as Duke of Cornwall and donates a great deal of the income to charities in such a way that it leverages and is leveraged by other charitable donations. While it may well be that not a direct penny of that family’s efforts and gifts will go to help those hurt by the tornadoes whch ripped through the South last night it is also true that they are part of a philanthropic community around the world in which helping is informally circulated almost everywhere. Two babies (at least) ago the United Kingdom and the British Commonwealth celebrated on the 29th of April 2011 The wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. This expensive and extravagant occasion was also a Christian ritual and gathering and an expression of faith. The scene was truly extraordinary and the elegant venue and the well prepared  liturgy and preaching were all rather impressive even for those who are not so easily impressed.  The sermon of the Anglican Bishop of London is one which I have found to be a worthy sermon to address our times:

“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” So said St Catherine of Siena whose festival day it is today. Marriage is intended to be a way in which man and woman help each other to become what God meant each one to be, their deepest and truest selves.

Many are full of fear for the future of the prospects of our world but the message of the celebrations in this country and far beyond its shores is the right one – this is a joyful day!

It is good that people in every continent are able to share in these celebrations because this is, as every wedding day should be, a day of hope.

In a sense every wedding is a royal wedding with the bride and the groom as king and queen of creation, making a new life together so that life can flow through them into the future.

uture.

 

The future does flow through families and gathering and weddings and the like. Churches and other communities have an obligation, it seems to me to prepare young people to be conduits of the grace of God and the hope of the future into new generations. They need to be prepared for the task. All married couples, all celibates and many other classes of not mutually exclusive kinds of people have to be educated in that complete humanity. For Faith Camp that is a Catholic Christian experience An I like that best but it also speaks to those not with us in that community. I am not a young optimist and my own view of life can be pretty bleak often enough. But while  I am sorry that when caught up in nearly apocalyptic events I often already have declared myself to have been involved in a number of calamities — sorry but not very repentant. these conferences and other things have not made me boldly cheerful in that sense. But each Faith Camp and its predecessor to my view  have in fact reminded me that how one engages with life may change over the years  but faith filled engagement  and courage remain necessary.  I know that I  was at one time more fully engaged in meeting the world and the changes going on around me with gusto and energy than I am now. I beilieve that some of those now enthused will persevere in doing good but will not have the same zest when they are my age as they do now.  The world is no stranger to my dire assessments and prognostications regarding my own life and future but the truth is I am still in the fight for the same causes and so are some of those who fought with me under that old distant BYC banner. So also is Susanna and her early team.

Faith Camp prayer - 8   But there is a time and a place for looking back on all that has happened in ones life and that place is this blog. The time is spread out over many posts and pages. The truth is that I was not always quite so late middle aged, directionless and chronically despondent as I am now.  There were times when I aspired to other and more things in daily life than a differing serving of a perpetual mix of the routine, the impossible and the trivial. I was working hard at BYC but perhaps nobody got more out of it than I. I rejoice in the legacy I see although nobody else may see it the same way exactly.

The outgrowth of my various involvements and labors over the years are not all that easy to track, however there has been an institution which has grown out of all that activity in one sense or another and which is also dear to my heart for various reasons…  My brother John Paul was the head coordinator longer than anyone else so far I believe. It is also interesting that this year’s head coordinator Alyse Spiehler has a brother who although he only went to the first camp and was abroad on his birthday during the second camp has celebrated his birthday at Faith Camp several years and probably will again. In fact all of my sibling except Simon and my deceased half brother have served ads head coordinators or coordinators although I never have. I did of course at BYC which I consider to be an ancestor of Faith Camp. The family tie is a real one with my family but there are many other family ties as well. This does not make the focus more narrow and our family does not embody any analogous local set of privileges to those that shaped the hosting of the large wedding in London mentioned before. But the family story is part of the Faith Camp story.

 

That is, with everything else already mentioned and many other things not mentioned here  — the ongoing work of Faith Camp. That is the distant legacy of the BYC. And in some way it is the universal call of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are called to be the Body of Christ as Church and to celebrate the mystery of the fullness of life Christ came to offer and assure. All of that is part of the Faith Camp Story.

faith camp week 2, 2016 - 4 faith camp week 2, 2016 - 2 faith camp week 2, 2016 - 1

Sex, Race, Money and the American Experience

While there has been a good bit of conversation about the possibility that Hillary Clinton may become the first woman to assume the Presidency of the United States the United Kingdom has in fact elected a new female Prime Minister, the second in their history. If Hillary Clinton is elected then for at least a little while the two countries would have something more in common than merely female heads of government. She is also the current Home Secretary which is an analogous position to the that of the Secretary of State of the United States.  both she and Hillary Clinton have been the beneficiary of elite educational institutions in their countries. Doubtless one could list many other similarities but in fact the two women strike me as profoundly different people produced in part by profoundly different political systems. The sexual contexts are not so profoundly different but upon looking closer at same sex marriage law in Britain and the USA one finds very different regimes and oppositions, likewise on abortion, sperm banking and literally a host of other issues. Whether it is better or not there is very often a capacity to compromise and reach legislative splitting of the difference in the UK. In addition rule by judicial review is much more limited. For those reasons as well as others May represents a different kind of feminist synthesis that the one Hillary Clinton has long been associated with in this country.

 

Theresa May is a thoroughgoing enough politician who is committed to the electoral process and aware of it. Theresa May did not become presumptive  Prime Minister in a general election but rather in the election for Conservative Party Leadership when David Cameron stepped down after failing to keep Britain in the European Union. This is not unusual, in the 24 times that the UK has changed Prime Minister in the last century half of those occasions did not involve a general election. The leadership election came about because Cameron had put too much political capital on the BRexit referendum to continue in office when the Leavers defeated him. However, as Britain has recently passed the Fixed Term Parliament Act, this change in leadership is not likely to cause a general election to be held early although it may…  This is something not only unusual but  new for Brits to adjust to, no row of whether or not to have a vote of no confidence is at all assured of amounting to much in the new set of rules.  In the meanwhile the final two people produced by the first rounds of the Conservative Party leadership chase presented the rank and file membership with two candidates to choose from both of whom were female and they have chosen Prime Minister Theresa May. Assuming Royal Assent and Her Majesty asking the woman to take the job as she did for Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher back in the day, then May will take the job in a place in the Queen’s presence sometime after Cameron officially resigns  following tomorrow’s (Wednesday, July 13) Prime Minister’s Questions. A bit of what she says about her own vision of her administration of Her Majesty’s Government can be read here. She appears to be sincere enough about bringing the benefits of her party’s vision for Britain to more people of more modest means. In America there is a lot of discussion about the wage gap between men and women and how it affects families. There is less discussion of increasing morbidity among men, declining employment among men and the myriad of other sexually related disasters afflicting primarily meant in this country — affecting men in distinction to women.  One senses that in Britain they are facing the struggles we face with a feminism that is less anti-mail than our version is in a number of ways. That has to be put into the context of two female prime ministers and the fact that British suffragettes really fought violently to bring about change early in the twentieth century. They of course suffered real violence and the disorder of their movement would make and interesting comparison to the chaos I see in the Black Lives Matter movement — but that is beyond the scope of this post.

I am quite sure that the struggle between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton for leadership of our country will in part be affected by how Americans believe a man or a woman would respond to the violence, protests, police shooting and racial tensions which shape our experience of city streets and television viewing in these days. Doubtless whatever they do will be shaped in large part by their own experience as the man or the woman that in fact they are. Their views and actions will also be shaped by their experience as Americans. One factor in this Black Lives Matter centered current crisis is that the lens is very much exclusive of sexual assault against women. The lens is not inclusive of black grievances of sexual abuse under slavery, of white womanhood being subject to the attacks of black male sexual predation. The focus is on the protesting of acts of violence by police against black men who in most cases so far have a history of trouble with the law. In the case of a few like Philando Castille the man seemed to be a pillar of the community and not a violent criminal who was armed, did have many run-ins with police and was confused with a robbery suspect. Michael Brown and Alton Sterling seemed to have a number of violent criminal acts in their past. Black reactions to these deaths among the minority who lead Black Lives Matter has tended to be unreasonably indiscriminate at countless levels. the hate filled chants, throwing of blocks, fireworks and Molotov cocktails have added criminal violence to their vision of a policing ethic which would destroy the country in my opinion.   But in all this chaos we have heard no reports of sexual assaults to speak of — why I am not sure. Perhaps there have been very few.  This contrasts with my vivid memory of the Lara Logan assault during the Arab Spring protests. So far now all of this is taking place with a low level of direct connection to sexual  violence at least. Nonethless the connections of racial and sexual politics in this country cannot be entirely severed. Philando Castille looked edgy but was one of the most securely the middle class persons celebrated by Black Lives Matter movement. Most of the victims it celebrates are not financially secure. The Dallas cop killer however was apparently prosperous and was involved in this movement.

Black lives matter

Sometimes it is easy to think of all the reasons why being a  Catholic  are compelling and all the reasons why I am glad to be one. Sometimes it is easy to think of a good number of reasons why I am glad to be an American. Sometimes  not so much is obvious when I try to count the blessings of being a Catholic American. Then there are days when all of the problems and obstacles in my life seem to clearly outweigh any positive and hopeful energies that I might be able to muster.  Yet even on those days it is not impossible to find some cause for rejoicing. I recently read the Papal encyclical which  has the English language title the Joy of Love.   A pdf version should be available here: papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20160319_amoris-laetitia_en

Among Black Americans the marriage rate is low. It’s been shown to correlate to many problems in that section of the American population. The energy behind gay marriage masks the decline of marriage rates as a whole. Marriage plays many important roles in society.  The professional agitators in leadership in many American movements today benefit from the single state of more people who are more attracted to protests.   I’m aware of myself as being single in a way I never saw coming. Many people are single in such ways. The pope is urging the Catholic Church to find ways to make meaningful and personal weddings accessible to young couples in a context which encourages lower cost options. This is addressing the real role cost plays in keeping people from tying the knot. That’s especially true for church weddings. This is kind of a crisis, Pope Francis has addressed among others. I’m not going to quote all of his attempts to set forth a vision for Christian sexual and marital institutions,

Sexual politics is not a simple matter today in America and never has been a simple matter for anyone anywhere. politics has never been a simple matter and human politics never has been a simple matter.  But I think these are more challenging times than most. I think that the Pope has some things to say that many Americans need to hear or read. But I think white Americans are really facing a moment for coming to a sense of sexual clarity and I think that the Pope has something to say to them, to us. The encyclical reminds us all of what a basic sexual ideal for our society or any other might be.

What does the drama of American sexual politics as evinced in the Pulse Nightclub shootings, the debates over same sex marriage and other tensions of our society have to do with the recent encyclical from Pope Francis?  I myself think that the real emphasis we are losing on a livable sexual ideal is something that we need to consider as a great risk. To a remarkable degree sexuality in America in my lifetime has been typified by open conflict between the sexes. A resulting atmosphere of suspicion and distrust has colored relationships between persons most committed to building enduring relationships of trust and love. Approaching members of the opposite sex has seen new challenges emerge.

One group of Americans who have played and continue to play a role in our struggle to understand sexualtity or an informal and unofficial group of women who are the American sex symbols. They are usually not pornographic symbols and are not courtesans by and large. They vary tremendously in what they represent and how they love but they somehow make us aware of both challenges and ideals we face as a nation. at any given time their names and a faces and bodies speak to us of different struggles and hopes we have as sexual beings in this country. It is in their real lives and selves that we are sometimes able to picture what we wish our sexual identity to be and how it relates to womanhood, procreation and love among other things…

 

The future of this country is nonexistent without families and without a reasonably healthy sexuality. We will not resolve the tensions between blacks and the police or  the tensions that resonate in our political dysfunction without recognizing where we have gotten and where we have come from and without thinking seriously about where we are going as regards the realities of sex, race, money and how those matter to American families. Likewise we will not get anywhere good without seeing all the ways Americans are eager to protect their families however flawed they are and also the real limits of that protection in every case.    I include here a verse from an acrostic love poem that I sent after sending another and receiving no answer.  It’s about flirting on the internet after a fashion. About finding the limits of seeking love without a close personal association in real life.

Now comes the time for a pause in my poetic email,

One thing is sending verse to the love one has at hand.

Too different is this shooting into the dark gaps across the land.

Even the madness of the laws of our time 

That poem is not the issue but what our society believes about sex and how it portrays the appeal of sex is very relevant to what direction we are going in. My life is nobody’s sexual ideal. But my life is lived according to certain sexual ideals.

Ünderworlds of love and sexuality deserve to be remembered but the Pope reminds us of how love makes family and family shapes both society and the Christian faith. Sexuality is to be both ideal and ordinary for people of all races and cultures. That is the Christian vision he invites us to share.

 

 Jesus himself was born into a modest family that soon had to flee to a foreign land. He visits the home of Peter, whose mother-in-law is ill (cf. Mk 1:30-31) and shows sympathy upon hearing of deaths in the homes of Jairus and Lazarus (cf. Mk 5:22-24, 35-43; Jn 11:1-44). He hears the desperate wailing of the widow of Nain for her dead son (cf. Lk 7:11-15) and heeds the plea of the father of an epileptic child in a small country town (cf. Mk 9:17-27). He goes to the homes of tax collectors like Matthew and Zacchaeus (cf. Mt 9:9-13; Lk 19:1-10), and speaks to sinners like the woman in the house of Simon the Pharisee (cf. Lk 7:36-50). Jesus knows the anxieties and tensions experienced by families and he weaves them into his parables: children who leave home to seek adventure (cf. Lk 15:11-32), or who prove troublesome (Mt 21:28-31) or fall prey to violence (Mk 12:1-9). He is also sensitive to the embarrassment caused by the lack of wine at a wedding feast (Jn 2:1-10), the failure of guests to come to a banquet (Mt 22:1-10), and the anxiety of a poor family over the loss of a coin (Lk 15:8-10).

I end this reflection with another quote from an unsuccessful love poem. I will say that love poems were part of my life when love was more a part of my life– so they have not all been unsuccessful. But perhaps the difference was in the life context. This poem reflects on the changes in situations..

My youth is long behind me, an almost forgotten circumstance today

Young men’s loving words and bold lines are not mine to safely say.

Aside from my own life, I think we have to look at the vision for love in this country, for sex and for sexuality. Where is it heading and where should it be heading?