thoughts on kentucky

A few scattered thoughts, the day after the Kentucky Derby, many of which I have written about before. First, a post from 2012:

I’m looking at the will of my great-great-great-great-great grandfather on my mom’s side of the family. John Cralle II died in Virginia in 1757. Some excerpts:

To Thomas Cralle Lamkin, son of Mary Jones, widow and relict of Charles Jones, late of Northumberland County five negoes vixt: Little Ben, Isaac, Peggs Bess, Blacka Top and Aggy. If he should die before he arrives to age or day of marriage, his mother Mary Jones to enjoy two of the said slaves that may be left at his death, she to have her choice during her natural life, then to revert to my children the remaining part

To son William Matthews Cralle nine negroes vizt: Chnce, Cate, and their daughter Bess, Frank, Alice, Stephen, Cate, Dominy, and Edmond.

Mulatto man Will, may be free at my decease.

To son Rodham Kenner Cralle three negroes vizt: Harry, George, and Nanny and my watch.

To daugher Mary Foushee my silver tankard, and negro wench Rose Anna

Rest of my estate both real and personal to be equally divided between five children Kenner, John, Rodham, William, and Mary, except Ben and Matthews whom I give to my son Kenner, son John to have Rachel, Old Ben to make choice of his master among my children.

From "How African-Americans disappeared from the Kentucky Derby", by Katherine Mooney:

When the horses enter the gate for the 145th Kentucky Derby, their jockeys will hail from Venezuela, Florida, Panama and France. None will be African-American. That’s been the norm for quite a while. When Marlon St. Julien rode the Derby in 2000, he became the first black man to get a mount since 1921.

It wasn’t always this way. The Kentucky Derby, in fact, is closely intertwined with black Americans’ struggles for equality, a history I explore in my book on race and thoroughbred racing. In the 19th century – when horse racing was America’s most popular sport – former slaves populated the ranks of jockeys and trainers, and black men won more than half of the first 25 runnings of the Kentucky Derby. But in the 1890s – as Jim Crow laws destroyed gains black people had made since emancipation – they ended up losing their jobs....

Soup Perkins, who won the Kentucky Derby at 15, drank himself to death at 31. The jockey Tom Britton couldn’t find a job and committed suicide by swallowing acid. Albert Isom bought a pistol at a pawnshop and shot himself in the head in front of the clerk.

The history of the Kentucky Derby, then, is also the history of men who were at the forefront of black life in the decades after emancipation – only to pay a terrible price for it.

And finally, an anecdote I have told many times. When my maternal grandmother was alive, she always looked forward to the Kentucky Derby. She was born in Kentucky in 1903, although it appears she had moved to California by the time she was 7 years old. Each year, when they played "My Old Kentucky Home" at the Derby, she would cry. I don't actually remember this happening, but I definitely remember her telling me about it on several occasions. It mattered to her.

Her name, before she later married, was Georgia Catherine Cralle. She was descended from the aforementioned John Cralle II.

As in my earlier mentions, I don't know what to make of all of the above.


throwback: the vietnam veterans memorial

[This is the third time I have posted this. I wrote it for a California American Studies Association conference 22 years ago today, May 2, 1997. The audience for the paper was small, but I think I did right by the words I had written, and more than one person told me it was a strong piece. I present it, unchanged.]

 

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, popularly referred to as "The Wall," stands between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.. The decision to locate it between these two enduring testaments to America was a conscious one, and the design of the Wall reflects the importance of its presence in such honored company; the instructions for the original design competition which resulted in the wall required that it "harmonize with its surroundings, especially the nearby Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial." Maya Lin's final design is a two-winged wall, with each wing pointing to one of the other monuments. However, despite the intentions to connect the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial to Washington and Lincoln, a visitor is quickly aware of key differences between this memorial and the others.

Most obviously, the Wall is a testament to death, a list of 57,709 Americans dead or missing in action in the Vietnam War. There is little celebratory about the Wall; one does not experience it and think fondly of "The Father Of Our Country" or "The Man Who Ended Slavery." Instead, one enters into a personal relationship with Americans who died in the service of that country. The Wall invites us to contemplate the awfulness of all those deaths, to wonder what lives were lived by the tens of thousands named on the Wall, to wonder as well how our own lives are different because of the presence of so many dead.

While the Wall is a public memorial, to be visited alongside other people, it evokes many private feelings. For all the seeming endlessness of the names, there is nothing expansive about the Wall. Visitors turn inwards, alone with their thoughts and memories. The interactions are personal, not necessarily communal. The Wall does encourage interaction, in a way the monuments to Washington and Lincoln do not; one listens to tour guides at the Lincoln Memorial, but tour guides seem out of place at the Wall.

However, the Wall also draws individuals out of their shells. Your experience with the Wall might be private, but the presence of so many gifts, trinkets, war memories, letters, flowers, all left by visitors to the Wall, presents for the dead to be sure, but also presents for the living, are a way for us as individual visitors to be a part of the Wall community. When we leave something at the Wall, we are becoming co-creators of the work of art (and the Wall is, among other things, very much a work of art). In her competition submission, Maya Lin wrote, "The Memorial is composed not as an unchanging monument, but as a moving composition to be understood as we move into and out of it."

We come to the Wall as individuals or as families; we experience it in private, inwardly; yet we leave it as part of the community of America. The Wall has a tremendous, mysterious ability to make us feel part of something larger than ourselves, even as we confront it with our silent thoughts. The Wall brings us together. Bill Clinton, speaking at the Wall, once said, "Let us continue to disagree if we must about the war, but let us not let it divide us as a people any longer.... At this monument, can any American be out of place ... ? I think not."

One often hears talk about "healing" when the Wall is discussed. A particular, specific, example of this came recently when a half-size replica of the Wall came to Berkeley as part of a nationwide tour. Longtime Berkeley resident, anti-war activist, and veteran Country Joe McDonald was one of the organizers involved in bringing the mini-Wall to Berkeley, and his participation emphasized the contradictions many found in the appearance of this memorial in such a leftist hotbed as Berkeley. This "Wall of Healing," like the original Wall, marks a new era in America's relationship to the Vietnam War, one where we reach the time of healing. (Jan Scruggs, the veteran who came up with the idea for a Vietnam veterans' memorial after watching The Deer Hunter in 1979, said that his hope was that it could "bring about some healing for the country.") This awful national nightmare, to borrow a phrase Gerald Ford used in a different context, needs to be over; we as a community must move beyond partisanship and recognize our common losses. The war itself was bad enough; what it did to the U.S. was frustratingly inescapable. We should not have to sustain our agony forever. We should finally be able to accept that time moves on, that in allowing the war to retain its power to fragment our society, we are still in effect "losing the war." As long as we let the old feelings gnaw at our national psyche, we will remain "losers." And so we move on, and the symbolism of the Wall's presence in Berkeley seemed to be an especially useful version of this needed reconciliation with our past. If a city of so much anti-war activism could finally open its arms to the Wall of Healing, then surely we have moved to a new and better place.

If, indeed, that is what is involved. We do desire closure, we do need to move on, we do need in some ways to bury the hatchets. There is something heartbreakingly human about these needs. However human those needs seem, though, they should not be accepted uncritically. We should not be too eager to buy into this latest attempt to corral us as a culture into believing the version of events presented to us, just because it makes us feel better. Feeling better may have everything to do with being human; it is unclear how much feeling better has to do with history, or with our future.

The design for the memorial was chosen via a competition, the rules of which were fairly simple. Contestants were told that the design must be "apolitical," to heal, not reopen old wounds. From the beginning, the memorial was seen as a monument to reconciliation. Again, the need for such a reconciliation is understandable, but the assumption that healing could be "apolitical" is problematic, since the desire to remove political content from the memorial was in itself a political move. The question becomes, what political purpose could it serve to insist upon apolitical meaning to a memorial to the Vietnam War?

An important part of this process of "healing" is the manner in which a memorial designed to honor the memory of valiant Americans is used to help us forget some of the essential reasons for the existence of the war that killed those Americans in the first place. The Wall eloquently asks us to remember all 57,709 dead or missing Americans, but the intentions of those who put together the Wall is that it be "apolitical," that is, to forget the past, rather than remember it. It places the thousands of forgotten soldiers at the front of our consciousness, and surely this is a good thing. It reminds us that every life is important, that we should never forget those who gave their lives in the name of us as Americans, and surely this is a good thing. It intentionally forgets the "politics" that placed Americans in this war to begin with, though, because this memorial is not only about remembering, but also about healing, and anyone who remembers the terrible turmoil which engulfed the nation during the war knows very well that such turmoil is not conducive to reconciliation, is not a good way to help heal a country and its people, and so the memorial is "apolitical." It brings individual mourners together as a community of healed Americans, with its wings pointing to Washington and Jefferson and our hearts and minds directed away from the disturbing "political" ramifications of the war.

The databases associated with the Wall, which make for easy searching through the 57,709 names, are magnificent tools for individuals obsessing about the Wall, its meanings, the names and the lives and deaths of those listed on it. Our attention may be directed away from the "political" aspects of the Wall and the war, but that attention must go somewhere, and these databases do an excellent job of collating information about all of the names. There are catalogs at the memorial site, where visitors can look up specific names and find their location on the Wall. The combined effect of all these databases is to allow us to bring individual soldiers to our consciousness. The physical and emotional immenseness of the Wall can overpower visitors; the sheer numbers can make it difficult to focus on individual people. ("These names," Maya Lin wrote, "seemingly infinite in number, convey the sense of overwhelming numbers, while unifying these individuals into a whole.") But the database focuses our attention. Let us stop for a second and consider some of the people whose names appear on the Wall.

Private First Class James C. Ward of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was born on January 26, 1948, coincidentally the date of my mother's 20th birthday. (The databases encourage this kind of random personal connection to the names, as if we might better know the lives of the dead if we can just attach them to events in our own lives.) On October 11, 1965, PFC Ward died. You can find his name on the East panel. At his death, he was 17 years, 8 months, and 16 days old. He was the youngest American casualty of the war. Eleven other Americans died in the war at the age of 17.

Kenna C. Taylor died at 62, the oldest American casualty.

Five thousand, five hundred and seventy-seven Californians died in the war. Three hundred thiry-eight men named "Steven" (with a "v") died in the war. Four people named Rubio died in the war. Seventeen Americans from Berkeley died in the war. Seven Americans from my home town, Antioch, California, died in the war. On September 28, 1968, the night of which I first kissed the woman who later became my wife, eighteen Americans died in the war.

You can do this kind of thing forever when poring through the databases. You can get lost in the numbers, the names, the dates, the minutiae. You're drawn in, much as you're drawn in to the memorial itself when you first arrive at the top of one of the two wings. In every case, the haze into which your mind enters insulates you momentarily from the "real world." This is yet another way in which the Wall elicits personal, private responses. This most public of all events, an unpopular war played out nightly on the teevee news, is recalled in solitary, away from the tumult which accompanied the war when it actually happened.

And perhaps this is part of the healing process, as well, although the databases, obviously, are not the Wall. Still, the Wall puts the names into granite, gives them substance, unifies them, in Lin's words, into a whole. The databases, many of them online, at least one, "Beyond the Wall: Stories Behind the Vietnam War," on CD-ROM, allow us to peruse the names at our leisure, to relive our experience of the Wall as the Wall allows us to relive our experience of the war. To the extent these experiences allow us the opportunity to re-examine our ideas about the war, they are fruitful beyond mere healing (although healing is anything but mere, and my intention is not to belittle the need for healing and reconciliation). The problem arises, though, that any honest re-examination of the Vietnam War would necessarily include an appraisal of the political roots of that war, a war that people on all sides seemed to agree was a disaster, although their reasons for thinking it a disaster varied considerably. And once we move to an appraisal of the political ramifications of the war, we've moved beyond the healing process, we're right back where we started, grumbling and fuming and suffering, reliving the antagonisms and the hatreds. It's easy to see why this would be counter-productive to the process of healing. But it should also be clear at this point that we can not just choose to forget the parts of our past that make us uncomfortable, that we can not allow our desire for reconciliation to change how history is written.

The Vietnam war was a terrible thing. This trite statement needs to be said. It was a terrible thing because 57,709 Americans died in it. It was a terrible thing because many, many more Vietnamese died in it. It was a terrible thing because imperialism is a terrible thing, it was a terrible thing because we, as a nation, made some hugely regrettable political decisions about our place in the world and our role in Southeast Asia. Many Americans thought this war was a terrible thing while it was happening, and their public expression of their despair, their attempts to change the political climate of the United States of America, led to near-cataclysmic upheaval in American society. Among the victims of this upheaval were those veterans who returned home from a bad war to find they were underappreciated by their countrymen. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial does its part towards re-integrating those veterans, and the 57,709 who were left behind, into our society once again, and we must welcome them back with open arms.

But we must be vigilant; we must remember. We must remember it all. We can not let the healing process blind us to the political ramifications of our presence in Vietnam. A memorial helps us to remember; we honor the Vietnam Veterans Memorial when we refuse to forget.

One recurring aspect of the various presentations of the Wall is the reading of the names. Speakers working in shifts read the names off the Wall, one by one, from first to last. This marathon of name-reading reminds us, almost as much as the Wall itself, of the enormity of lives lost. In the spirit of those readings, and in honor of all who died in Vietnam, I would like to read here, on May 2nd 1997, as part of the California American Studies Association convention, the names of the 37 Californians who died in Vietnam on May 2nd.

Paul L. Abraham 
Terry J. Allen 
Jose C. Alvarez 
O.D. Brunner 
Steve Butorovic 
Daniel Carrasco 
Willie C. Clark 
Frank R. Corona 
Michael D. Craig 
Thomas E. Diefenderfer 
Lawrence J. Englander 
Edward A. Escobar 
John A. Frick 
Eugene Gastelum 
John M. Henderson 
Larry Herrera 
Nathaniel H. Jackson 
Daniel C. Johnson 
Richard R. Landers 
Michael D. Lee 
Thomas W. Mallon 
William A. Mansergh 
Glenn R. Mearns 
Jon L. Messer 
Otto P. Meyer 
Willie L. Moses 
Lloyd F. Mousseau 
Douglas E. Partridge 
Dale K. Porterfield 
Robert A. Romo 
Leopoldo P. Serna 
John C. Sherman 
Geoffrey R. Taylor 
Ismael J. Valdez 
Clyde J. Valstad 
Thomas M. Walker 
Alonzo D. Woods


a net plus for trump

Matt Taibbi on what he calls a "fiasco [that] will surely end up being a net plus for Trump". "The Press Will Learn Nothing From the Russiagate Fiasco".

So, yay journalism! You were more truthful than Donald Trump, at times. This is like being proud of beating a fish at Boggle.

We’re not trying to be right more often than Trump — we’re trying to not be wrong, ever. It’s a standard, not a competition. [emphasis added] ...

Reporters are going to insist all they did was accurately report the developments of a real investigation. They didn’t imply vast criminality that wasn’t there, or hoodwink audiences into thinking a Watergate-style ending was just around the corner, or routinely blow meaningless episodes like the Sessions-Kislyak meeting out of proportion, or regularly smear people who not only weren’t part of a conspiracy but had no connection to anything (see here for an example).

They’ll also claim they didn’t spend years openly rooting for indictment and impeachment via wish-casted predictions disguised as reporting and commentary, or denouncing people who doubted the conspiracy as spies and Putin apologists, or clearing their broadcast panels and op-ed pages of skeptics while giving big stages to craven conspiracy-spinners like Malcolm Nance and Luke Harding....

The obstruction parts of the report make [Trump] look like a brainless goon and thug, but the absence of what Mueller repeatedly calls “underlying crime” make his ravings about an elitist mob out to get him look justified. This is not an easy thing to achieve, but we’re there, and the press is a big part of that picture.


don't know what this means

Which means I'm not sure why I did this, other than it was there. This comes from the I Side With website, where you answer a bunch of questions and they tell you which presidential candidates come closest to your views. You can see the results here: https://www.isidewith.com/profile/3755425458/ballot/2020-presidential

I pretty much lost any confidence I might have had when it said Beto O'Rourke was my guy. There was a question that asked straight out, if the election was today, who would you vote for, and I said "undecided", so I guess it serves me right that I left it up to them. While I am not a member of any party, the top 13 out of 16 were Democrats (or Bernie Sanders), followed by a Libertarian and two Republicans. (I am 65 years old, and have still never voted for a Republican.) There were 10 candidates who finished from 92% (Amy Klobuchar) to 97% (Beto) ... not sure what the numbers mean, but that's how they rank candidates. Elizabeth Warren came 5th, and she's probably who I would vote for now.

Among the additional notes:

Left Wing vs. Right Wing: "You side extremely towards 'left wing', meaning you very strongly support policies that promote social and economic equality."

Pacifism vs. Militarism: "You side strongly towards 'pacifism', meaning you strongly believe we should use non-violent diplomatic discussion to resolve conflicts."

Centralization vs. Decentralization: "You are a centrist on centralization and decentralization issues."

Secular vs. Religious: "You side strongly towards 'secular', meaning you strongly support policies that reflect a separation of church and state."

Big Government vs. Small Government: "You side strongly towards 'big government', meaning you strongly believe the government should do more to address social inequality, corruption, and assistance for its citizens."


jury duty

Been busy around here in a mundane way, which explains the lack of posts. Friday night, my daughter and I went to Fireworks Night at the Giants game. Game lasted 18 innings ... we bolted after 13 so we didn't miss our BART train, got home an hour later and were able to catch the end of the game on TV. Followed, a few minutes later, by the sound of fireworks (we live maybe 10 miles from the park, although on the other side of the Bay). Since then, I've mostly been waiting to see if I would get jury duty, and sure enough, I had to report yesterday morning. Nothing much happened, and they sent us home until today. I returned this morning, and was one of the 18 selected for voir dire. I predicted in advance that I would not be selected, and told my wife I even knew the reason why, although I wouldn't talk about it ... you know how it is, you can't discuss a case and all that.

Well, I'm home now, having been thanked and excused, for what I am sure is the very reason I expected. I'll be vague ... I don't know when you are allowed to talk, but really, the story doesn't need too many details. I usually decide in advance if I want to serve or not ... I have lots of honest answers that can make me seem like a better or worse jury member ... I've been known to pull the old "my dad was an embezzler", and once even said I didn't like cops because one of them gut shot a friend. When I worked in a factory, I liked jury duty, because we got paid full time (thank you, union) and didn't have to go to work. That one lasted six days. I was on one other jury ... I should have been asked to leave, but I kept my mouth shut ... it was a case of one guy getting his face smashed in by another guy in a pickup basketball game, and I couldn't quit wondering why we were wasting our time ... but the second day, they settled, with the puncher agreeing to pay the punchee's dental bills. And I've been excused once.

This time, I was happy to serve, although transportation was a bit of a problem, and in a few hours we're going to see Pink in San Jose and I didn't want that to be a problem. But as I say, I knew I wouldn't be chosen.

You see, this was a civil case involving a wrongful death (apologies if I get the legal terms wrong) where the family of the deceased was suing the landlords of the building where the death occurred. I knew if I said anything about my opinion of landlords, I'd be gone. I wasn't going to volunteer the information ... I wasn't sure how relevant it was, and I felt I could overcome my hatred of landlords if it was necessary to help decide a case. But one of the attorneys asked a general question about people who either were landlords or who had negative experiences with landlords, and I felt I should say something. So I said I hesitated to bring it up, and I meant no disrespect to the landlords sitting in the courtroom, but I don't like landlords, and I've lived in Berkeley for 45+ years, and we make Landlord Hating into a religion.

Sure enough, the lawyers for the landlords used a peremptory challenge to thank me and excuse me.

Next stop, Pink. At one point today, a lawyer asked us if we had any things we were passionate about. I happened to be sitting directly in front of him, so he looked at his chart and asked, "Mr. Rubio?" I said, well, I'm going to see Pink tonight!


film fatales #50: rbg (julie cohen and betsy west, 2018)

I laughed often during RBG, which tells you something about how the film is constructed. Cohen and West allow the audience to be charmed by Ginsburg. This is not a warts-and-all production. The filmmakers avoid hagiography, but only barely.

It helps that they have such an interesting subject. Ginsburg's work as a lawyer arguing gender discrimination cases before the Supreme Court are featured (she won five of six), and the time is taken to explain why these were important beyond the immediate moment. We also learn how Ginsburg is not the flaming liberal of her reputation. The film suggests that when she joined the Court, she was ideologically planted in the center. Over time, she has moved left relative to her colleagues, but she herself hasn't changed.

I'm currently reading Rebecca Traister's Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger, and she argues that powerful women are more appreciated when they are in fact relatively powerless. About Ginsburg, she writes:

Ginsburg, whose fiery dissents have become the stuff of internet legend, and who has become known on the internet as the Notorious RBG, is in the minority of the Supreme Court. The pleasures of celebrating her toughness stem in part from her actual physical stature: she is a short, thin, octogenarian who has twice had cancer; the whole punch line of admiration for her is in part rooted in the improbability of her threat; she's like a little doll of female anger who we can all cheer for, even as she is outvoted again and again and again. It's extremely difficult to imagine the same kind of tattoo-inspiring admiration for her angry opinions if those opinions were actually reshaping the law.

But Ginsburg has said, "Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one's ability to persuade." Persuasion is her speciality ... she has persuaded many people in her career to make the right decision, and did so without anger.

RBG the film, though, could use a little anger. We are shown things that would make us angry, but they are usually presented as obstacles Ginsburg helps us to overcome, so even the anger turns positive in the movie.

There are many highlights. The footage of her as a young woman reminds us that she wasn't always 80+ years old ... it's one thing to read that, to think that, but here a picture does indeed say a thousand words, and Ginsburg is a more real person to us when we see where she has come from. Her lifelong love affair with her husband is a joy. Her friendship with the ultra-conservative justice Antonin Scalia has never made sense, but seeing the two old friends interact here, that friendship makes perfect sense. Watching her workout is inspiring. And it's fun to see her accept her new celebrity. I laughed hardest when Cohen and West sat Ginsburg down in front of a TV and showed her Kate McKinnon's impression of her on SNL. She laughs throughout ... she thinks it's quite funny ... when asked if she thinks McKinnon is like her, though, she laughs again and says no.

I know more about Ginsburg than I did before I watched RBG. It was an enjoyable film. It could have been harder-hitting, but that's not the film Cohen and West wanted to make. As far as I can tell, they have succeeded in what they set out to accomplish. Nominated for two Oscars (one is for a Diane Warren song, so it doesn't count).

(Explanation of the Film Fatales Series.)