A proposed new state motto for Vermont

Today, March 4, 1791, Vermont became the 14th state.  It seems appropriate to write about a piece of legislation I hope will pass this year.  One of my state Senators, Jeannette White, wrote a column about it last week in the Brattleboro Reformer.

State flag of Vermont

State flag of Vermont

Vermont, like most states, has the state tree (sugar maple), bird (hermit thrush), and motto  “Freedom and Unity”, but unlike many other states, has no motto in Latin.  I’ll let Senator White explain

…[the] Senate Government Operations Committee, which I chair, has broad enough authority that it can address many of these [smaller] issues. One of them was a proposal to adopt a state Latin motto. This began last session when an 8th-grade Latin student, Angela Kubicke, discovered we are one of a few states that do not have one. It was late in the session and there simply wasn’t time to take it up. So the Government Operations Committee gave her some advice and suggested she come back at the beginning of this session. She did her homework and it paid off. She organized Latin students around the state, developed a motto that made sense for Vermont, got a bill sponsor, brought it to us and on Feb. 11 our Committee heard the testimony before a room full of about 70 Latin students from around the state, their teachers, three classics professors from UVM [University of Vermont], and other interested people.

I love the fact that the young woman didn’t get discourage and give up.  Instead she organized.

The motto is Stella quarta decima fulgeat — May the 14th star shine brightly. The number 14 has some significance in Vermont: there are 14 counties and we were an independent republic for 14 years. But even more important was that, during those 14 years as a republic, Vermonters worked very hard to become the 14th state — the 14th star on the flag. And during those years as a republic, there was a mint in Ruppert that minted Vermont coins. On the back was this motto.

At least twenty other states have Latin mottos and the proposed “Stella quarta decima fulgeat” would not replace “Freedom and Unity”.  So what happened when word got out that an additional Latin motto was being considered by the Vermont legislature?

WCAX did a small story about it that immediately riled bloggers. The comments ranged from “Stop wasting time on this” to “Latin motto? They should learn to read English” to “If we have a Latin motto it will open the flood gates for illegal aliens coming over the Mexican border (in case this is lost on anyone — apparently many Vermonters feel that Latinos speak Latin)” to “Send Joe Benning (sponsor of the bill) and Obama back to Mexico.”

I have to say, however that all the comments I saw on the WCAX  page were not negative and I think several comments were posted by some college students – who do do not go to school in Vermont – as an attempt at humor.  But some, like the ones quoted by Senator White, were just nasty and ignorant.

This being my first Vermont legislative session I hope I have this right.  We are having town meeting week and the legislature is not meeting. But Angela Kubicke’s bill is going to the House when they reconvene.  Hope it passes.  Stella quarta decima fulgeat.

Extremists and history

Last week I caught a snippet of news about a state legislator in Oklahoma who wanted to redo the Advance Placement History syllabus to emphasize the speeches of Ronald Reagan.  I gather he was also not interested in any multicultural aspects of our history.  And he also didn’t understand that changing AP history would keep students from getting college credit for the class – one of the reasons kids take AP classes.  According to CNN, Oklahoma is only one state that doesn’t like the new framework for history under the Common Core.  I don’t think that everyone will ever agree on what should be included in our history class.  For example, the internment of the Japanese Americans into camps during World War II was never taught in my high school history class.  I took care of that by doing a report on my grandparents.  History is such a huge subject and these classes are designed to touch on a few highlights.  And a framework is just that, a framework.  Students and teachers can hang a lot of information within that framework.

What frightens me is that some of the same people who think they know better than historians what should be taught in high school history are the same people who are also religious fundamentalists.  Many in our fundamentalist Christian movement want to make Christianity the state religion.  Forget that the U.S. Constitution prohibits establishment of a state religion. These folks like to carry around pocket-sized copies of the Constitution, but I don’t think they have actually read it.  Will their next fight be to teach only about Christianity and not other religions and cultures?

Destruction

There is sickening news out of Iraq and Syria.  This is the part of the world that we learned about in world history class as the “Cradle of Civilization”.  Yes, it was mostly Western Civ, but the Mesopotamian influence was far-reaching.  I was watching MSNBC when they ran the video of men taking sledge hammers and drills to 7th century B.C. statues destroying them forever.  The New York Times wrote this

The limestone sculptures, statues and reliefs smashed by militants in northern Iraq provided valuable historical insights into kingdoms that flourished thousands of years ago and were crucial in the formation of early Arab identity, experts say. The destruction took place in Mosul, in one of the most important museums in the Middle East.

On Friday, archaeologists and historians in Iraq and around the world studied a video posted by the Islamic State showing millenniums-old artifacts being smashed by sledgehammers, seeking to come to terms with what artistic and historical riches had been lost in an exercise clearly meant to promote the militants’ extreme beliefs and project their power.

As with all news programs and video, the pictures ran again and again.  I could only watch once.

The World Post (from the Huffington Post) quotes one of the destroyers

The region under IS control in Iraq has nearly 1,800 of Iraq’s 12,000 registered archaeological sites and the militants appear to be out to cleanse it of any non-Islamic ideas, including library books, archaeological relics, and even Islamic sites considered idolatrous.

“Oh Muslims, these artifacts that are behind me were idols and gods worshipped by people who lived centuries ago instead of Allah,” a bearded man tells the camera as he stands in front of the partially demolished winged-bull.

“The so-called Assyrians and Akkadians and others looked to gods for war, agriculture and rain to whom they offered sacrifices,” he added, referring to groups that that left their mark on Mesopotamia for more than 5,000 years in what is now Iraq, eastern Syria and southern Turkey.

“Our prophet ordered us to remove all these statues as his followers did when they conquered nations,” the man in the video adds. The video bore the logo of the IS group’s media arm and was posted on a Twitter account used by the group.

But this is only the most recent destruction of history.

In January, Islamic State militants ransacked the Central Library of Mosul, smashing the locks and taking around 2,000 books — leaving only Islamic texts. Days later, militants broke into University of Mosul’s library. They made a bonfire out of hundreds of books on science and culture, destroying them in front of students.

The day after Baghdad fell to U.S. troops in April 2003, looters burst into the Iraqi National Museum in the Iraqi capital, making off with scores of priceless artifacts and leaving the floor littered with shattered pottery. The U.S. was widely criticized at the time for failing to protect the site.

Yes, we are also complicit in failing to protect world heritage.

But it is the ransacking of the library and the burning of the books that leads me to a comparison to the fundamentalist Christians in this country.  They have in common with ISIS a tunnel vision that allow only for one point of view.  One religion.  One way of thinking.  It seems to me that all fundamentalists have a common root:  To destroy that which is other or different.  I am not comparing that Oklahoma legislator to an ISIS terrorist, let me be clear about that.  What I am saying is that while the manifestation of their beliefs may be different, they share a desire to make everyone adhere to what they know is best.  It is done through terror and killing in Syria, Iraq, and Africa and stupid legislation in the United States, but the end goals seem to me to be the same.

Photograph:  AP

A eulogy for Karen

I was, in the way children count age, 2 years and 3 months old when Karen was born so I always used to tell her I knew her when she was born.  That wasn’t really true as I don’t remember the event although I have a memory of her older brother showing her to me.  And maybe that isn’t a true memory but something that one of our mothers told us when we were older.  In any event she was my oldest girlfriend.  Our mothers were best friends from college and so we grew up together – like having two Moms and two Dads.  In fact, her parents introduced my parents, but that is another story.

When we were young, we lived pretty close to each other and spent a lot of time playing together.  But at least once I must have gone off to do something with her brother and another friend and told her she couldn’t come because she was too young.  I don’t remember the incident but she never forgot it!  When we got older and her family moved to California, we started writing letters between occasional visits.  We wrote through high school and college maybe not regularly but several times a year.  The only time I remember losing touch a little was after she got married, but that separation didn’t last long.  We would also talk on the phone when one of us could afford the long distance call (Yes, it used to cost money.) or had something really important to convey.

By the mid 1990s, long distance became much less expensive and we began monthly calls.  I had a bad habit of forgetting the time difference between east and west coast and, more than once, called too early.  She tolerated my early wake-ups.  We talked though her return to college to get her degree and then her Master’s.  She talked me through my dissertation.  We talked about her divorce and my marriage.  We talked about her son’s marriage and our grandchildren.  We discussed the tribulations of being adjunct faculty. We talked politics and family and baseball.  And we always remembered each other’s birthdays with cards.

I think it was in 2010 when I realized that something was wrong.  She repeated herself a lot and barely let me say anything.  It was the first time I had to make excuses to get off the phone or she would have continued to talk.  And then I didn’t get a card for my birthday.  I found out from her brother that she had been diagnosed with a form of dementia and was going into a group living situation.   She moved into an assisted living facility where she died at the end of last month.

I’m sad to say that I never made it out to see her after she got sick and that I didn’t send her cards and pictures as often as I should have.  I appreciated all the reports from her family and friends on her special page on Facebook.  But I never forgot her and miss our phone calls to this day.  Just before I learned of her death, I was thinking how much she would appreciate all the snow around our house.

I won’t be at her memorial tomorrow, but I wanted to write a eulogy anyway.  I think she would appreciate it.

Judge Moore and Justice Thomas and marriage equality in Alabama

I guess that Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore is taking his cues from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ dissent instead of from the actual ruling in which the majority of the United States Supreme Court refused to stay a District Court ruling that allowed the state to become the 37th state to allow same – sex marriages.  According to the Washington Post story, Justice Thomas wanted a stay.

The court is months away from hearing arguments in a landmark case about whether states are free to ban such unions. But Thomas said a majority of the justices may have already made up their minds, as reflected by the court’s “indecorous” decision Monday morning allowing same-sex marriages to proceed in Alabama.

“This acquiescence may well be seen as a signal of the Court’s intended resolution of that question,” Thomas wrote in a dissent from the court’s order refusing to stay the weddings. “This is not the proper way to discharge our . . . responsibilities.”

Thomas and his pal, Justice Scalia voted for a stay.  And I think he is probably right.  The more states that allow marriage equality and the more couples that marry, the harder it will be to overturn any lower court rulings.  It may turnout that the Supreme Court will “compromise” by letting the few states in which the Appeals Court has overturned lower court rulings that not allowing marriage equality violates either the state or U.S. Constitution, but I think they are headed for a Loving v. Virginia kind of decision.

However, Judge Moore appears to have decided that he’d rather go with Thomas than the actual ruling.  Judge Moore ordered Alabama probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  According to the Washington Post

Much of the legal uncertainty in Alabama over same-sex marriage centers on Roy Moore, chief justice of the state’s Supreme Court. On Sunday night,Moore told Alabama’s probate judges not to issue marriage licenses, defying a federal judge. This is not the first time Moore has refused to follow a federal judge’s ruling.

We all remember when Judge Moore refuse to remove that large stone Ten Commandments monument from the courthouse.  The Post explains

Until this week, Moore’s claim to fame was being the “Ten Commandments judge.” The controversy that led to Moore being ousted from the bench involved a large monument to the Ten Commandments that had been installed in the Alabama Judicial Building in Montgomery.

This two-and-a-half-ton monument, and Moore’s fight to keep it in place, served as a cultural flash point. Civil liberties groups argued that it violated the church-state separation, while conservative and religious supporters of Moore defended his actions.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State filed a lawsuitarguing that the monument violated the constitutional prohibition against religious endorsement. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit agreed, ordering Moore to remove the monument.

He was then removed from his judgeship by the state ethics panel, but was reelected in 2012.

2300alabama-ssm-0209

So as a result of Judge Moore deciding the Thomas dissent was better than the refusal to grant a stay, Alabama is in chaos.  There are now counties where no marriage licenses are being issued at all, some that are just refusing same-sex couples, and others who are complying with the district court.

There will be more lawsuits as people are denied the right to marry.  I wonder what Justice Thomas will do when the next appeal from Alabama reaches the Supreme Court, but I think the Alabama ethics panel will be having another hearing with Judge Moore.

Dean Smith and Carolina basketball

My mother, Marii Hasegawa, loved Atlantic Coast Basketball, but she really loved the Tar Heels the best.  Even after my sister got her Masters degree from Duke, my mother refused to root for them when they played North Carolina.  I have only been to one Final Four, but it was in 1982 and I got to see North Carolina win it all.

Dean Smith, the North Carolina basketball coach, after the Tar Heels defeated Georgetown for the N.C.A.A. championship in 1982

Dean Smith, the North Carolina basketball coach, after the Tar Heels defeated Georgetown for the N.C.A.A. championship in 1982

My mother was happy; my aunt who favored Georgetown, was not.

Richard Goldstein writing the obituary in the New York Times points out that while Dean Smith was a legendary basketball coach he should be remembered for a great deal more.

Smith’s 879 victories rank him No. 4 among major college men’s basketball coaches, and his teams won two national championships. He turned out a host of all-Americans, most notably Michael Jordan, perhaps basketball’s greatest player, but he emphasized unselfish team play. He was a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame and a four-time national coach of the year.

Like most successful coaches, Smith was adept at diagraming plays on a blackboard. But unlike many, he ran a program that was never accused of N.C.A.A. violations, and some 97 percent of his players graduated.

President Obama awarded Smith the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, in November 2013, presenting it to his wife, Linnea, who represented him at a White House ceremony.

In addition to citing Smith’s achievements on the court, Mr. Obama praised his “courage in helping to change our country” through his progressive views on race relations.

He drew on a moral code implanted by his parents in Depression-era Kansas to break racial barriers in a changing South. He challenged segregation and recruited Charlie Scott, who became the first starring black basketball player in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“My father said, ‘Value each human being,’ ” Smith recalled in “A Coach’s Life” (1999), written with John Kilgo and Sally Jenkins. “Racial justice wasn’t preached around the house, but there was a fundamental understanding that you treated each person with dignity.”

Smith’s parents instilled a sense of racial tolerance in him, in a highly segregated state, long before the modern civil rights movement. His father [a high school basketball coach] put a black player named Paul Terry on his 1933-34 team, which won the state championship, though Terry was barred from playing in the state tournament by Kansas sports officials.

I remember hearing a lot of players say they made decisions well into adulthood only after consulting with Coach Smith.  I remember when Michael Jordan wanted to leave UNC early some of the announcers saying that Jordan was leaving only after promising his mother and Coach Smith he would get his degree.  He did.

The Charlotte Observer has this anecdote.

Smith the innovator also was Smith the motivator. But he didn’t give rah-rah pep talks. He typically explained what they needed to do to win and the significance of the moment.

Once at Maryland, however, he did promise to sing “Amen” – the Terps’ late-game theme song – if the Tar Heels beat Lefty Driesell’s club. Carolina won and Smith fulfilled his vocal promise, but according to reports, he would not have won the “American Idol” title.

“He was not much as a singer,’’ recalled guard Ged Doughton.

Many will write about Dean Smith’s contributions to the game of basketball.  For example, his “Four Corners” offense made the shot clock necessary.  But I want to remember him for his views off the court also.  In an article from 2013, Barry Jacobs wrote

Smith was periodically approached about running for the U.S. Senate from North Carolina as a Democrat. But the publicity-shy coach disdained the glad-handing involved in soliciting votes and raising money. Besides, he said, “I’d never get elected if people in North Carolina realized how liberal I am.”

He was probably right. Over the years Smith spoke in favor of a nuclear freeze and for gay rights. He opposed capital punishment. He joined a Chapel Hill street protest against the war in Vietnam. When President George H.W. Bush sent American troops into Iraq in 1991, Smith asked: “Why can’t the United States band together for some other good thing like (fighting) poverty? If you want to kill somebody, then everybody’s for it.”

 My mother loved Carolina basketball and she admired Dean Smith.  If they had ever met I think they would have had a lot to say to each other.

Photograph:  Pete Leabo/Associated Press

 

Ghettoside

We are all thinking this January 2015 about relationship between the minority – in particular, black – communities and the police. Ghettoside by Los Angeles reporter, Jill Leovy, is a timely addition to the conversation.

The homicide rate in Los Angeles, in Watts and in South Central in particular, consists of young black men killing other young black men. The clearance rate for these murders is very low. Because of the difficulties in finding witnesses willing to testify and a culture that put a low premium on their lives, many police resorted to arresting those they knew were guilty of murder but against whom they had insufficient evidence, of “proxy crimes.” These crimes included public drinking, possession of drugs, and parole violations. These arrests did get killers off the streets, but they were often viewed as harassment.

Ghettoside is the story of two murders and of John Skaggs, the white police detective who solved both. Skaggs was the detective who actually cared and he and his partners preserved until both cases resulted in convictions. Leovy chose as victims the son of a black police detective and a tenth grader son of a single mother home health care worker. Neither were gang affiliated. One would expect effort to solve the case concerning a fellow police officer, but given the culture of the L.A. police at the time, not the other. Skaggs worked through police budget cuts and the lack of resources his entire career. He and his first partner and later those they trained cared. They cared about the families, the victims and the witnesses. They solved homicides. Leovy gives us a small glimpse into what makes Skaggs tick, but I never learned enough to understand why he was different, why he was driven to solve these crimes that few others cared about.

The unfolding of the investigations reads like a mystery story. Some may get confused about the multiple characters, but I found it no more confusing than reading Ngaio Marsh or Agatha Christie. I did find that Leovy’s digressions into the roots of both black on black crime and white indifference distracting and, in the end, superficial. Leovy is not an historian or sociologist and the strength of this book is her reporting on the crimes and the investigations. She began a blog for the Los Angeles Times called the “Homicide Report” in 2007. The report chronicles every homicide in the city to the current day. Every city should have a similar blog.

Ghettoside ends with a quote from William J. Stuntz. Stuntz was a Harvard Law School Professor who studied the criminal justice system and died much too young. “Poor black neighborhoods see too little of the kids of policing and criminal punishment that do the most good, and too much of the kinds that do the most harm.” This also sums up Ghettoside.

I highly recommend this book.

This was first published as a review for LibraryThing with an Advanced Readers Copy.  The book will be available on January 27.

 

 

Family legacies

It must be difficult to be the son or daughter of a famous person.  We have all read about the child of a Hollywood star who does drugs, goes to jail, and generally is a sad case.  We have also read of children who try to live their own lives out of the public view.  And there are also children who work at preserving the parent’s legacy.  But it can’t be easy.  I’ve been thinking for the last couple of days about the column Adrian Walker wrote in the Boston Globe for MLK Day.  It was titled “King had a dream. His children have an army of lawyers.”

But a far less joyous scene is being played out in a courtroom in Atlanta. Not for the first time, King’s three surviving children are on opposing sides of a lawsuit involving his legacy.

At stake is ownership of King’s 1964 Nobel Peace Prize and his Bible, which President Obama used for his second swearing-in. King’s sons, Martin III and Dexter, apparently want to sell the heirlooms; his daughter, Bernice, has sued to stop them. By court order, both items have been stored in a safe deposit box for nearly a year.

If King had a dream, the King children have a piggy bank. They are one litigious group.

Aside from having previously sued one another, they have sued their father’s closest friends, too. Both former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young and actor/activist Harry Belafonte have been the target of lawsuits about King’s property. Belafonte sued them back in a dispute about ownership of one of King’s most famous speeches, one in which he came out in opposition to the Vietnam War. The parties reached an undisclosed settlement last year.

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I hate to mention it to the King children, but sometimes a person is bigger than just being a family member.  He – or she – actually belongs to all of us.  Most of us would love to be able to go to Atlanta and see the Nobel Prize metal and the family Bible.  When I was there a few years back, we visited Ebenezer Baptist Church, the family home, and the pool with the tomb containing Martin and Coretta King at the King Center.  It was a very moving experience.  To see the various artifacts would have added a great deal.

The family feuds about money have not tarnished King’s legacy, but they have wasted opportunities to enhance it. At the end of the Selma march, King stood in front of the Alabama capital and gave one of the most deeply moving speeches of his career. But you won’t hear it in “Selma” — it’s paraphrased, painfully — because the filmmakers couldn’t get permission to use it.

There are a lot of stories like that. The Kings sued CNN over airing the “I Have A Dream” speech, essentially taking the video of it out of circulation.

King’s greatest moments are increasingly available only in truncated form. That is not the way to honor his memory.

While it is not clear that the brothers would sell the artifacts should they prevail in court, that is the most likely possibility.  Nobel Peace prizes should not be auctioned off.

Walker ends his piece

King’s career offers so much to celebrate. Like few Americans before or since, he challenged us to live up to our best and truest selves. Though unfinished, the results of the heroic campaign he led can be seen all around us. As much as anything, he stood for the collective good over the glorification of one individual. He certainly wasn’t about money.

Tragically, that lesson never quite made it to his successors.

King taught us about nonviolence, but it seems that his children have yet to learn that violence does not have to be physical.

Photograph:  King Center website http://thekingcenter.org/plan-your-visit