Tag Archives: Black Lives Matter

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.

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?

 

Remembering Dallas Cops and Asking:What Constitutes A Crisis?

This is  the day after July 7, 2016 it is not clear how famous that day or the July 8, 2016  when the most deadly law enforcement  incident since 9-11  began and ended in Dallas. Much remains unclear and much is likely to remain unclear for some time. These are surely troubling days… and it remains to be seen how famous or infamous these days will be in the history of the United States or even in more narrow histories of the period of the struggles of various parts of American society or in the histories of the Obama administration. The shootings of Philando Castille and Alton Sterling both armed black men one in front of a convenience store in Baton Rouge and one in a traffic stop in Minnesota have been the occasion for a vast amount of upheaval, protest, and perhaps have led to the violence enacted in Dallas.
The Washington Post has tried to react to these three events and to round up reactions to them in a way not so different than what I do tin this blog. Their story draws out the connections for consideration.

 I am reminded in a way that might seem trivial and inappropriate to some of a John Denver song from his later and less glorious years but before he had ceased to really be an important star in his own part of the musical firmament.  I have put these lyrics up on my Facebook timeline before. In fact, they’ve appeared probably three times or so. But every once in a while I have to let John Denver say something about my own life. Except that I am now  writing about my country as well  and writing much more bluntly than the speaker is in the lyrics. But I still relate to the way the song sounded when I first heard it. It is time for Americans to realize that many very serious problems must be addressed in our society. Wr would all like to say that thinngs will work out bu they may not, we would like to say that the crises on our streets and eslewhere almost every day do not define our country but in part they do. the song expresses that well in the personal sphere.

“When you asked, how I’ve been here without you
I’d like to say, I’ve been fine and I do
But we both know the truth is hard to come by
And if I told the truth, that’s not quite true

Some days are diamonds, some days are stones
Sometimes the hard times won’t leave me alone
Sometimes a cold wind blows a chill in my bones
Some days are diamonds, some days are stones

Now the face that I see in my mirror
More and more is a stranger to me
More and more, I can see there’s a danger
In becoming what I never thought I’d be

Some days are diamonds, some days are stones
Sometimes the hard times won’t leave me alone
Sometimes a cold wind blows a chill in my bones
Some days are diamonds, some days are stones”

The song then repeats these refrain lyrics

It is important that we try to see the value of our civic exercises, it is important that we care about the lives of all Americans, it is important that wc recognize the price paid by those who form the thin blue line in times of trouble. It is important that we try to support out President as he negotiates difficult situations near Russia. But there comes a point when one has to admit that there are serious problems in the country and that things are not going along just fine. There comes a point when  the existence of national instability has to be admitted and a national crisis has to be addressed. This is a day when it would be good to be able to write about one tragic situation at a time. This is a day when it would be good to be able to focus on positive things going on in my  personal life. This is a time when it would be good to be able to focus  on th issues without writing anything that might seem paranoid or lend credence to the fears that many Americans have — but that is not the day that I am actually writing about or in which I am actually writing. But there is a great deal on my mind which is not going to be resolved in any kind of post that meets any of those standards. In fact my own personal situation for dealing with anything at all is very poor as well. Let us remember that this killer in Dallas was killed by a bomb he had made, 9-11 involved box cutters taking planes, Timothy McVeigh took down a building with fertilizer and a van,   the current serial killer in San Diego seems to be content to murder homeless people by burning them alive and beating them to death.  But guns do make it possible for the law abiding citizenry to face a country filled with protesters flirting with violent extremists (not only Black Lives Matter but many other groups) and make a realistic plan to continues living their lives.

Originally many highly credible reports were filed that spoke of multiple shooters in a coordinated attack on police.  But the new orthodoxy after Obama and his feds made contact is the traditional lone nut idea. The focus is increasingly only on a suspect who died after  a robot destroyed  a bomb he had made or placed and after he had spoken with negotiators in a  standoff with Dallas police. That man said that  he wanted to kill white people — especially white police officers — and that he was angry about “the recent police shootings”. Conveniently for the great American narrative that all is well this man may have been recorded saying  that he acted alone and that is the narrative put forth by Dallas Police Chief David Brown after the  told reporters Friday that there would be no questions answered about suspects. Early reports can be seen here and here. The original posting of the first article online was,

Four gunmen shoot 11 police officers – killing at least five – and … Daily Mail

While these texts are fluid and are changed to fit the evolving narrative it is clear that there was enormous evidence that this was not a lone nut situation. In addition there is a great deal of interlocking tension in the country. There is a very limited amount of real and effective political discussion about these tensions. Political discussion is not a cure-all by any means  and the country might move into greater crisis with such discussions. But the lack of effective discussion of the forces straining our national consensus and the framework which  allow for our differences — that lack of effective discussion is an important part of our daily reality.

Two civilians it appears were also were injured in the shootings, the office of Dallas’ mayor has said. Most of the injured Dallas police officers have by midday of the Friday on which this post appears  been released from a hospital, Chief Brown told reporters. The officers’ conditions are improving, Brown said. He seemed to be clearly aware of a set of underlying tensions to be dealt with. “All I know is that this must stop — this divisiveness between our police and our citizens,” African American Police Chief and Dallas area native Brown said. “We don’t feel much support most days. Let’s not make today most days. Please, we need your support to be able to protect you from men like these, who carried out this tragic, tragic event.”
Twelve officers were shot it appears and the chaos affected the entire city in one way or another but especially the area around the protests.
I think about what Chief Brown said and am aware of a post that appeared on Facebook which I quote liberally hear from a Facebook friend that I only know slightly in real life:
— Officers killed include one officer with DART, the Dallas Area Rapid Transit agency, which operates buses and commuter rail in the city and surrounding suburbs.
— DART identified the officer killed as Brent Thompson, 43. He joined the transit agency in 2009, and was its first officer killed in the line of duty, DART tweeted.
— Thompson got married two weeks ago to a fellow transit officer, DART police Chief James Spiller told CNN’s “New Day” on Friday.
Witness Ismael Dejesus said he filmed a shooter from his hotel balcony about 50 yards away. He described the gunman as carrying a weapon with a “pretty big magazine.”

 

 

In between we had a bad cop that the city fathers eventually fired. It happens. Cops are humans just like the rest of us. But the vast majority are good people, just the like vast majority of people in other occupations. And like other first responders and people in the military, they routinely take risks that the rest of us rarely face in order to keep us safe, and I am grateful for that. When there are episodes like those in Baton Rouge and Minnesota this week, I hold the bad cops responsible as individuals, not as a representative of all cops.

A lot of cops have helped my family and me, not least those men and women who stood out in the wind and rain for hours and hours during Katrina and Gustav. A lot of them have been my friends and neighbors. John and Danny Cummings—the sons of my dear friend Big John, who taught them to call me Uncle Bill (which I like)—have both been cops, and I am proud of them.

A lot of cops have been my colleagues on the faculty at Southeastern Louisiana University, for example, Ronnie Jones, the one-time spokesman of the Louisiana State Police, who was a great teacher and a great cop. In the latter guise, he was on hand a few years ago when a truck started leaking explosive chemicals less than a mile from my house, and emergency workers had to set off a controlled explosion to destroy it.

A lot of our campus cops have been my friends, including Paul Marek, who served as chief of the University Police and whose previous job was as a U.S. Army Colonel and head of Southeastern’s ROTC. And O’Neill DeNoux, who writes brilliant crime novels when he is off duty. And all the others who have defused dangerous situations on campus, been the first responders when faculty, staff, and students have been injured, and in one instance bailed out a shamefaced department head who accidentally locked his keys in his office.

One of my former graduate students is a state cop named Clay Schutz, who has been the driver for every Louisiana governor since Roemer and who still calls me from time to time. In fact, a lot of cops have been my students, including several who retired at the end of their hitch and went into teaching in an effort to get kids into good jobs and keep them off the street. I learned as much from them as they did from me.

That is why I pray for the cops who lost their lives in Louisiana over the last week-and-a-half and those who died in Dallas yesterday. That is why I do not hold all cops to blame when one does the wrong thing. That is why I do not identify cops by race, gender, or anything else except the badge. That is why I, diehard civil libertarian that I am, regard cops as my friends. God bless all those who serve, who uphold the law, who take risks on our behalf, and who in some cases make the ultimate sacrifice. I know who you are, and I thank you.

 

 

Presidential Politics and the Crises Shaping American Life

I am writing this blog post in a fairly low energy state in my own life to borrow a phrase from Donald Trump’s discussion of JEB (or Jeb Bush).  I have a certain amount of accumulated wear and tear that is getting me down just now.  In my blog and in other writing I have done I have dealt with and discussed issues that are troubling and involve the serious troubles of the world. I have been careful never to evoke specific acts of violence or to encourage people to take violent means to address their problems. I have argued for armed vigilance, for scrutiny and support for the military and law enforcement and I have told the tales of violence in the past. I live an often fairly solitary personal life now. However, I have lived among many people who were  prone to say things like “we ought to kill those bastards until the rest of them get the message”, others who said “the only good (fill in enemy here) is probably still a dead (repeat descriptor)” and many people have as far as words go threatened to kill me. I have also seen a lot of real violence but I could always believe that I could usually tell the difference between, on the one hand, someone warning that eventually the current course would leader to bloody conflict with me or some other specific group or person and on the other hand someone advocating homicide. That has been one of the luxuries of Americanism and American life. We remember Reagan’s joke on the microphone about abolishing the Soviet Union. We also know that not everyone around the world who screams “Death to America!” really means it in the worst way. Yet we are sure that none of them mean it in a way we could possible call good. Today as a clerk sits in jail for not issuing marriage license to same sex couples, the feds sue the Governor of Louisiana for defunding Planned Parenthood and there are other signs of American cultural transformation we know that  people are feeling aware that while they really feel threatened it may be riskier than ever to have ever tried to oppose or threaten in return any of the forces rolling across American society. This is a set of feelings related to evidence and fact but it remains a matter mostly of feelings. A lot of Americans are feeling both pressured and depressed.  I certainly feel some of the those feelings myself. Like a lot of Americans and other people I feel that every year for a long time my life has gotten worse, a little or a lot worse. Year ago among other things I led a worldwide discussion on what it would take to colonize the Moon and Mars. It was a serious and patient discussion and it is hard to imagine leading that kind of discussion today.

Today the Moon is a remote place I merely photograph with my phone at home...

Today the Moon is a remote place I merely photograph with my phone at home…

There no doubt are people who are doing a lot better than before but many feel alienated and stressed about the place things are and the place they will be.  Little seems certain except that they do not fit in to the world emerging around them and their plans and dreams are not relevant to what is actually happening. Obama’s Dreamers are the children of migrants who have not been born here but have grown up in this country and have human needs and aspirations. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” has struck different chords with the audiences over the decades and hardworking Americans believe still in the lure of the American dream that is a little better than any life they have actually known but is related to it as an ideal is related to a decent approximation. I recently discussed how there is a luxury in coolly discussing political ideas. You can see that post here. The environment on the campaign trail has not really gotten all that hostile so far and yet there are signs that many sources of stress are turning the dreams that frame our national dialog into a framing set of wake-up calls, nightmares and sleepless nights.  I certainly feel close to that state of mind.

The popular mass street politics of the left may yet be telling ...

The popular mass street politics of the left may yet be telling …

There are lots of little factors in creating my case of the blues that I will not include in this post. I do believe that we are in a complex situation as a society, as the United States of America. Catholics in the United States see the Pope coming to the United States, they wonder about the collision of Hispanic Catholics  and the movement to control migration which is finding a voice in Donald Trump and they worry about what the fallout from the Gay Marriage laws will be. You can see some of the commentary about migration here. But this is in the context not so much of a great trial for American Catholicism but a time which tries many American souls and consciences in a variety of ways.  Jewish Americans have less of a unified voice or even organized quarrel than Catholic Americans but they are troubled by disagreements in their ranks over moral issues, new and transforming threats to Israel, potential threats in the growing Christian Identity aspect of the Conservative movement and political spectrum in this country and a number of other issues that seem to affect them deeply. Law enforcement officers and their friends and families are troubled by the framing of organized deadly assaults on police officers across the nation. There does seem to be a diverse and widespread response of people, groups and governments getting together to show support for the police as well. One example of that is right here.   But there is a St. Martin Parish Friends of Law Enforcement rally going on as well  near me and many other things.  This is all to the good but does not change the fact that there are real problems with policing in this country and that some of the chaos and violence stems in large part from real fears, frustration and chaos for which various parts of our law enforcement institutions share some responsibility.  When I was younger I both supported the police in various ways in some of the hotspots where they lived and supported the inmates and their families. What has happened to the idealism, charity and energy that could do both things? Perhaps it is just one more example of how I like many others have grown tired. The police get tired as well and there is plenty to tire us all.

Grand  Theater Shooting police presence  days later

Grand Theater Shooting police presence days later

I provide a link in this paragraph to what is an article by a young man who has been my eldest niece’s boyfriend since they were in high school together. It seems to me to be the kind of thing a young man ought to be writing. He enthusiastically profiles the work of an academic in the university he attends. I wrote for my college paper too but didn’t have a piece like this there, but the writing reminds me of other pieces I wrote about 30 years ago.
I wrote and acted in pursuit of ideals similar to the set he espouses when I was young. I still care about torture. However, I am in a different place now. I can’t help questioning the results of the new professional standards but as I am now I remain very glad new young men find the pursuit of public decency as compelling now as I once did. You can see Aaron Credeur’s article here.

 

We presume that there will be a new President of the United States elected in 2016. The Constitution requires this and there seems to be no way that it can be amended in time for any other result. So if that is the case then it seems that the new President will be faced with a good number of serious challenges. These are unusual times with a high degree of uncertainty. It may well be that the forces behind groups like Black Lives Matter, Occupy Democrats, Black Block, The New Black Panther Party, and less obvious groups have not come behind a successor to Obama and do not have a plan for his succession.  They have come to believe in power on the streets and  may plan to really try to draft Obama directly for a third term. These group alone are a tiny sliver of the electorate but what would the impact be if they sparked a real crisis demanding that Obama stay in office?

This year is a crucial year for the United States in a number of ways. I believe that we will find more and more evidence of the dangers and opportunities of the current moment as the Presidential year unfolds. I am impressed already at the number of shakes and jolts our society is experiencing in all sorts of different directions. The number of protests, mass shooting, police shootings demonstrations of open carry organizations and calls for gun control have al reached heights that are impressive. The availability of two dollar gasoline at pumps in the nation’s cities and towns and the great state visit of the King of Saudi Arabia combine to cast an interesting light on things. The crisis in the Chinese stock markets and especially the Shanghai Stock Exchange form our perceptions of America’s situation in the world. The escape of El Chapo Guzman and the fact that he is still at large with billions of dollars and hundreds of armed men combines with the images of the refugees flooding into Europe to frame the questions related to borders and migration in a somewhat different context than would otherwise be true. The fact that so much has changed in the country and the fact that Biden is not yet running for President makes some people listen more attentively to those who have said that Obama intends to manipulate a crisis to seek an additional term in office under emergency powers.

Would that constitute that kind of lasting change Obama promised? Is that part of what he suggested as a possibility of lasting change all along? See his vision here.  I know that I am easily convinced we could face real emergencies and am really sure Americans are not unified around a love of constitutional legitimacy right now.

The Congress is deeply unpopular and it is hard to see how they could effectively oppose such a bid for unconstitutional power if it was properly initiated. The Republicans present what is arguably the most institutionally divided image in their party’s history. If Obama’s administration were to provoke and declare a state of emergency to  remain in power then who would stop such a thing from succeeding? I am not saying here that a third term crisis will in fact be the crisis that sweeps the nation. But I do expect more crises to come and soon enough. In my own life I feel the strain and threat of change and rising challenges from many directions.

This is a time when many of us turn to our faith, political ideals desperate need and fears and all of those are legitimate places to turn. But electing a President as we have done from the time of Washington comes from another place. It comes not from a sense of crises or unified crisis but from a sense of belief in constitutional process. I hope that the months remaining will not diminish that aspect of our nation very much. I am still writing and still not doing more than writing as the changes sweeping our country develop. There is a lot more that could be written. The refugees pouring into Europe and those not pouring in affect us. The heroes on the French train affect us. The crisis in understanding the merging geopolitical situation affects us. The question is whether any of these will lead to a stampeding crisis that will remake America and if that does happen how will America be remade?