Here’s something weird. Last night, I dreamed I was hired by the Washington Post, and my Post writer friend Annie Gowen — just sent to the New Delhi bureau — was showing me how to get started at the paper. Just now someone sent me today’s Family Almanac column from the Post, in which writer Marguerite Kelly answered a reader’s question about how to stop sibling fighting. It included the following passage:
Sibling rivalry is a much bigger problem. If children don’t learn to be civil with each other while they are growing up, they may stop trusting each other. This may make it hard for them to get along with their roommates at college; to work well with their colleagues at the office; and to have a happy and enduring relationship with their spouses, especially when life gets stressful or boring or money gets tight. And if you still don’t think that childhood squabbles can affect your children later, read “The Little Way of Ruthie Leming” by Rod Dreher, a beautifully written memoir about the author, his sister and how their rivalry sowed the seeds of mistrust, even in their garden of love.
I appreciate the mention, and cannot emphasize Marguerite’s point strongly enough. Every single day I live with the fallout of the childhood sibling rivalry between my sister and me, which extended into adulthood. Its destructive effects have lingered after her death, and I suspect will last for a very long time, permanently altering our family. For all that, I seem to be about as effective in stopping the fighting and griping between my sons as my mom and dad were in stopping it between my sister and me. It’s so sad to see this happening, and no matter how hard you try to stop it by warning them and chastising them, it continues.
I’m leaving for a couple of days fishing on the coast with my dad and some other folks, so please don’t expect a lot of posting from me for the rest of the week. On the other hand, if the fishing camp in Cocodrie has wi-fi, expect posts — especially a couple of Views From Your Table.
Before I take off in a few minutes, I wanted to update readers who have expressed interest in the Walker Percy Weekend festival we have planned for Spring 2014, here in St. Francisville. Our local planning committee met last night, and we talked about the complaints we’ve received from a number of academics who want to participate, saying that our initial plan for the festival, in mid-May, was problematic. For many of them, it’s right in the final exam and graduation season. So, to accommodate them, we’ve moved the date to June 6 and 7, 2014.
Soon we’ll be announcing programming. You who were kind enough to write me privately and offer to speak or participate on panels, I’ll be in touch soon. Among the things we have planned is a “This Is Despair?” tent offering boiled crawfish and Louisiana craft beer (this, based on Percy’s answer to an interviewer who asked him if he was in despair: “I drink beer and I eat crawfish; this is despair?”, and a Royal Street Bourbon Promenade, a stroll through the St. Francisville historic district, with small-batch Bourbon tastings on various front porches. If you don’t have a seersucker suit, now’s a good time to buy one.
More news later, as it develops.
I give you the all-male dance team Prancing Elites of Mobile, Alabama. More Prancing Elites here.
O Fortuna, don’t ask me why, but I do love the South. Every day is like an afternoon at the Prytania if you look hard enough. Thank you, Mississippi friend, who sent that video.
Here’s a great GetReligion post highlighting both a BBC news story about gays who oppose gay marriage, and a new Pew study finding overwhelmingly pro-SSM media bias in the coverage of the gay marriage debate. First, this from the BBC story:
Jonathan Soroff lives in liberal Massachusetts with his male partner, Sam. He doesn’t fit the common stereotype of an opponent of gay marriage.
But like half of his friends, he does not believe that couples of the same gender should marry.
“We’re not going to procreate as a couple and while the desire to demonstrate commitment might be laudable, the religious traditions that have accommodated same-sex couples have had to do some fairly major contortions,” says Soroff.
Until the federal government recognises and codifies the same rights for same-sex couples as straight ones, equality is the goal so why get hung up on a word, he asks.
“I’m not going to walk down the aisle to Mendelssohn wearing white in a church and throw a bouquet and do the first dance,” adds Soroff, columnist for the Improper Boston.
“I’ve been to some lovely gay weddings but aping the traditional heterosexual wedding is weird and I don’t understand why anyone wants to do that.
“I’m not saying that people who want that shouldn’t have it but for me, all that matters is the legal stuff.”
GetReligion praises the BBC piece:
All of this underlines the bottom line that so many journalists do not seem to be able to see: There are multiple points of view on gay-rights issues in a variety of different camps.
That’s not just the opinion of the GetReligionistas. Look at this new study from the nonpartisan Pew Center. Excerpt:
In a period marked by Supreme Court deliberations on the subject, the news media coverage provided a strong sense of momentum towards legalizing same-sex marriage, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center. Stories with more statements supporting same-sex marriage outweighed those with more statements opposing it by a margin of roughly 5-to-1.
In the coverage studied, the central argument among proponents of same-sex marriage was one of civil rights. Arguments against were more varied, but most often voiced the idea that same-sex marriage would hurt society and the institution of traditional marriage.
I am a subscriber to The New York Times, which its own public editors have called out in the past for practicing gay-marriage cheerleading as opposed to journalism. Here’s Daniel Okrent in 2004:
Set aside the editorial page, the columnists or the lengthy article in the magazine (”Toward a More Perfect Union,” by David J. Garrow, May 9) that compared the lawyers who won the Massachusetts same-sex marriage lawsuit to Thurgood Marshall and Martin Luther King. That’s all fine, especially for those of us who believe that homosexual couples should have precisely the same civil rights as heterosexuals.
But for those who also believe the news pages cannot retain their credibility unless all aspects of an issue are subject to robust examination, it’s disappointing to see The Times present the social and cultural aspects of same-sex marriage in a tone that approaches cheerleading.
And here’s Arthur Brisbane in 2012:
I also noted two years ago that I had taken up the public editor duties believing “there is no conspiracy” and that The Times’s output was too vast and complex to be dictated by any Wizard of Oz-like individual or cabal. I still believe that, but also see that the hive on Eighth Avenue is powerfully shaped by a culture of like minds — a phenomenon, I believe, that is more easily recognized from without than from within.
When The Times covers a national presidential campaign, I have found that the lead editors and reporters are disciplined about enforcing fairness and balance, and usually succeed in doing so. Across the paper’s many departments, though, so many share a kind of political and cultural progressivism — for lack of a better term — that this worldview virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times.
As a result, developments like the Occupy movement and gay marriage seem almost to erupt in The Times, overloved and undermanaged, more like causes than news subjects.
On same-sex marriage, and on any aspect of gay culture, the Times doesn’t practice journalism, but rather publicity. But the Pew study indicates that this is a problem not only at the Times, but across the news media. The problem is that journalists don’t see it as a problem, because they cannot imagine that anybody could be against same-sex marriage for any reason other than bigotry, and they don’t believe they should be expected to be fair and balanced towards bigots.
I know, I know, you’ve heard it all before from me. It’s important, somehow, to remind you that this stuff exists, and that the news media by and large really do hate cultural and religious conservatives.
The beauty pageant contestant who gave a stammering, dopey answer to a policy question was widely derided as a dumb bunny, but Linda Holmes says all she revealed in that pageant moment was that she is no good at generating b.s. on command. Holmes:
This isn’t the kind of question that actually tests what you know; it’s basically a test of your ability to generate cow patties on command. Have you ever seen the part of Miss Congeniality where they all say “world peace” and receive polite applause? The entire reason it’s funny when Sandra Bullock says, “That would be harsher punishment for parole violators, Stan,” is that she’s not supposed to say anything substantive based on her experience. She’s supposed to say “world peace.”
These dumb questions aren’t intended to actually see whether you’re smart or not. Miss Utah USA might be smart and she might not be, but the last thing I’d use to guess at whether she’s smart is whether she can answer this kind of question “correctly.” Because “correctly” here just means smoothly, expertly, without hesitation or stammering. Had she said, “What it says is that we live in the greatest country in the world, and every day I get up and thank my lucky stars that I live in the United States of America,” she would not be in the news, despite having given just as irrelevant a non-answer. Had she said, “What it says is that family is the most important thing in the world, and we need to figure out how to help all families be happy families because it’s the most important thing in the world,” she would not be in the news.
And none of this has to do with whether beautiful women or pageant contestants can be smart or are smart. Some are! Some are not! Welcome to the broad sweep of humanity.
Verily. How would you have answered the question put to Miss Utah, if you were standing on stage in front of a live audience, and a large TV audience? You wouldn’t have done much better than she did, probably. I know I wouldn’t have.
I’m not a fan of beauty pageants, but the idea that beauty queens have to show that they’re smart and sensitive is absurd. They tell us nothing about whether or not a woman is beautiful, which is what these pageants are for. They are measures undertaken by pageant organizers to assuage the guilt they feel, and pageant enthusiasts feel, over watching a program in which women are paraded around like objects and judged on the basis of their aesthetic perfection. If we can all pretend that there’s more to it, that we’re really judging also on the basis of their intelligence and conscience, then we can quit feeling bad about it. If I had been a judge, seeing Miss Utah retain her poise after flubbing an answer to a policy question that has stumped experts for decades, I would have given her extra points. She’s not there to be smart; she’s there to look good. Why do we have to pretend otherwise?
Elizabeth Scalia explains exactly how I, as an Orthodox Christian, think and feel about same-sex marriage: against it, but under no obligation as a result of my convictions to spite gay couples we otherwise like. Scalia’s post is in response to a conservative Catholic who wrote her demanding that she prove her orthodox Catholic bona fides by censuring a friend of hers who announced he was marrying another man. She refused to do that — she likes him and wants him to be happy — but also refused to offer him congratulations. She explains her reasoning in that post.
What a strange culture we live in, in which people are expected to approve of everything those they love believe in and do, or be guilty of betraying that love. I have friends and family whose core beliefs on politics, sexuality, religion, etc., are not the same as my own, and it would not occur to me in the slightest to love them any less because of it. I hope it would not occur to them to love me any less because they don’t agree with me. People are somehow more than the sum of their beliefs and actions.
Growing up in the Deep South is good training for developing the kind of conscience that can love sinners despite their sin. Every younger person, white and black, knows at least one old white person who holds immoral views on race, but who is also, in other ways, a kind, generous, and upstanding person. Are we to condemn them wholesale for their moral blindness on this one issue? How fair is that? More to the point, how truthful is that, given that all of us are morally blind in one way or another, and depend on the mercy of others, hoping that they will love us and accept us despite our sins, failings, and errors. Once you start pulling at that thread, and deciding who you are and aren’t going to love and live in relationship with because they’ve transgressed an important moral boundary, who knows where it will end? There are some moral boundaries that, when crossed, to require disfellowshipping. But I think we ought to be reluctant to draw those lines.
In past threads, people have said to me, “If one of your children is gay, will you cast them out?” Of course not! I would not love him or her any less. I could not imagine what would separate any of my children from the love of their father. At the same time, I couldn’t affirm them in what I believe to be untruth — nor should they expect me to. That would not be true love. As Scalia writes:
Part of the Catholic Church’s charge on earth is to train us in agape; it is meant to provide the foundation and—through its richly reasoned theology and liturgical and spiritual disciplines—the means by which we continually advance and grow toward a depth of wholeness that says, “I love you as God loves you, which means enough to set you free, in the hope that we will find each other again in that freedom.”
This is a great mystery, because to the world, that freedom is always supposed to mean an unimpeded “yes” to everything we want. In the divine economy, though, “yes” is the thing we discover once we have batted away the highly-burnished, distortive, self-reflecting idols we have picked up from society or created on our own, so that we may stand before something greater than we can ever imagine.
In East Baton Rouge Parish, a public spat has erupted between John White, the Louisiana state education chief and Bernard Taylor, the superintendent of troubled East Baton Rouge Parish public schools. Excerpt:
At the same time state Sen. Bodi White, R-Central, accused district officials of “gaming the system” by moving talented students into failing public schools to improve school scores, and avoid having them taken over by the state and placed in the Recovery School District.
Bodi White noted that some parents were upset about the local board’s approval in April of moving about 100 gifted and talented students this fall from Glen Oaks Park Elementary, which is rated C by the state, to nearby Merrydale Elementary, which is rated F, to avoid state intervention.
More than 100 students at F-rated Mayfair Middle and 300 students at F-rated Delmont Elementary schools are being reassigned this fall as part of another bid to avoid state intervention.
“They are forcibly moving families,” John White said. “They are very upset about it.”
It appears that what East Baton Rouge is doing is not illegal, however. But can you imagine being the parent of a child who does well in school, being told that your kid is being reassigned to a failing school precisely because of her academic success?
There is a larger issue in that parish, over the public schools. For some time now, there has been a movement (championed in the legislature by the aforementioned Rep. Bodi White) to create a breakaway public school district in the southern part of the parish. It hasn’t gotten very far, for various reasons. Excerpt:
Advocates have argued the new district would have been smaller and better able to serve the children in the southeast Baton Rouge area. Supporters from the community group Local Schools for Local Children say around 86 percent of the students from the East Baton Rouge system attend schools that are ranked C, D, or F by the state, leaving only a small portion of students in top-performing schools.
But the legislation faced fierce opposition from those who say the measure would slice away at funding for the old district while limiting students’ choice for magnet schools and gifted and talented programs. Opponents have also argued the districts would allow the new school system to “walk away” from the financial obligations they owe to retirees.
Belinda Davis, president of One Community One School District, a group fighting the breakaway, said they’ll be pushing for meetings with supporters of the southeast school district to see how both sides can come to an agreement on how to educate their children.
“We know that the East Baton Rouge Parish school system is stronger as one system. And we’re committed to working with parents in the southeast to continue improvements in the East Baton Rouge system,” Davis said. “We would love to harness all of this energy and put it toward improving quality for all kids, not just 7,000.”
Like so many things in public education these days, there is a significant racial element to this. The Southern part of the parish is predominantly white, and relatively wealthy; the northern part of the parish is predominantly black, and … not.
Seen one way, the attempt at creating a breakaway school district is an effort to cut white, relatively well-off students off from black, relatively poor black students, building a structure of de facto segregation by race and class, and further impoverishing an already struggling public school system. Plus, it would further divide an already-strained city along racial lines.
Seen another way, this is a last-ditch, sauve qui peut attempt by white middle-class people in the parish to save their public schools from the social and cultural dysfunction of the black underclass in the northern part of the parish, which (on this view) is dragging the entire public school system down. The ongoing collapse of East Baton Rouge public schools has been a key driver of white middle-class outmigration into my own parish, and into the town of Zachary, a neighboring northern suburban school system, which is one of the best in the state.
This is a painful situation all around, one that speaks directly to the question, “Who is my community?”
It’s completely understandable that opponents of the proposed school district see it as a potentially mortal blow to the parish school system. If the middle-class white people of south Baton Rouge want out, what kind of message does that send about how those folks see their membership in the city? What kind of message does that send about the future of the city? More specifically: what would that say about the grand project of desegregation, and building one, deracialized community out of the history of slavery and Jim Crow?
It’s completely understandable that proponents of the proposed school district would be unwilling to sacrifice their children’s educations to a school system increasingly dominated by a black underclass whose social problems are chronic, and get in the way of educating their children. The message they may wish to send is: “We have no faith that you are going to fix your problems, and we don’t want to lose our schools because you can’t get your act together.”
In the 1980s, a federal judge forced East Baton Rouge Parish schools to implement a strict busing plan to remedy segregation. That appears to have been the thing that began the destruction of the parish school system, as the Times-Picayune observed in 2007. Excerpt:
As the clock continues to tick on many desegregation cases across the state, experts warn that over the years cases have had an unintended consequence: Middle-class whites and blacks flee integrated public school systems after fears of declining quality of education.
New Orleans public schools were one of the first systems in the state to be released from court supervision, after administrators shifted attendance zones to maintain balance in schools. But by the time the district was released, white students were leaving in droves for public schools in surrounding parishes. By the mid-1980s, low-income, black students made up 90 percent of the district.
“If this was all about desegregating schools, it didn’t work,” said Stephen Caldas, a desegregation expert at Hofstra University in New York who formerly taught at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. “The consequences were pretty much the opposite of what we want: The middle class left, took all of their social capital and financial capital, and moved to the middle-class parishes that surround them.”
East Baton Rouge Parish schools were released from federal court supervision a few weeks ago in a case that dated back to 1956. But many critics have said the long federal case there strayed from its intended goal.
During the intervening 51 years, a federal judge recused himself, and two parish towns, Zachary and Baker, formed their own school districts in protest. Schools fell into disrepair; no new school taxes were passed for nearly three decades, from the late ’60s until 1998.
Former Superintendent Gary Mathews, who ran the district from 1995 through 2001, publicly said conditions in the schools were “comparable to that of some Third World countries.”
Up until 1981, little was done to integrate the schools, so a federal judge stepped in with a sweeping plan to bus students and combine many schools.
The decision caused white families, who at the time made up 60 percent of the student population, to largely abandon the system. Since the late 1970s, the number of white students declined from nearly 42,000 to fewer than 8,000, and private school enrollment has surged. Black students make up nearly 80 percent of the district’s population.
“The very children for whom the desegregation order was intended turned out to be those who were harmed the most by the atrocious forced-busing plan that was in place,” said Mathews, who now works as a superintendent in Williamsburg, Va. “My view is the courts had the right motive, but they were employing the wrong means.”
You could say that the white parents who abandoned the public schools did so for racist reasons. You could also say that they despised the fact that a federal judge was forcing them to abandoned their neighborhood institutions, and bus their kids across town to achieve a utopian scheme. Whatever the case, it happened — and, as the T-P article points out, the black middle class left too; it didn’t want to sacrifice its children either to underclass dysfunction. That black middle class people left the system too shows that it’s not just a race thing, but a class and culture thing.
So, now the East Baton Rouge system is reduced to moving gifted students still in the system — and, given the geography of these schools, these are almost certainly gifted black students — to failing schools to boost the test scores. What kind of message does that send to those students and their parents? That these children are pawns in a game designed to protect a system that doesn’t work? You can bet that if the parents of any of these kids have a chance to move to a suburb, they will. Who could blame them? It gets back to the issue raised yesterday in the “Black Flight” piece: Should middle-class, achievement-oriented black people feel compelled to submit to the social pathologies of the black underclass out of a sense of racial solidarity?
All this makes me think about how real community solidarity requires reciprocity, and a sense that we all share the same basic mission, and the same basic values and commitment to living by them. That is what we do not have. In the Black Flight situation, some believe black middle-class people should be expected to tolerate all kinds of behavior destructive of their community norms (and the values that inspire that behavior) out of solidarity. Guess what? The middle-class people share the same ethnicity as the underclass people, but not the same culture. Culture matters most of all — and some cultures are a lot better than others. At what point do you discern that some cultures, in fact, are anti-cultures, and cannot be endured without destroying your own?
A fallen-away Catholic named “Ellery” left an interesting comment this morning in the “Why They Left God” thread. I encourage you to read the whole thing. This was the most notable part of it, I think:
Years later, I have realized, especially after living in Israel and seeing Judaism in all its forms, that what is missing isn’t “liberal” or “conservative” but rather, a discipline of prayer. No one really taught me that, not my conservative, crazy 7th grade Catholic teacher who told us all the divorced & remarried parents of her students would go to hell for what they’d done, and showed us really horrible anti-abortion movies- nor the Jesuit church where God was sometimes referred to as “She” and Latin America was high on the list of things we talked about at Mass.
Marshall McLuhan — yes, the media theorist; he was a devout Catholic — said this:
I never came into the church as a person who was being taught Catholic doctrines. I came in on my knees. That is the only way in. When people start praying they need truths; that’s all. You don’t come into the Church through ideas and concepts, and you cannot leave by mere disagreement. It has to be a loss of faith, a loss of participation.
You can tell: when people leave the Church, they have quit praying. The active relating to the Church’s prayer and sacraments is not through ideas.
Me being me, I can’t be reminded of this often enough.
Erin Manning passes along this story about a teacher at a Catholic school who was fired, and her children kicked out of the school because her allegedly abusive ex-husband showed up on school property. Excerpt:
On April 11, school officials, under Diocese of San Diego letterhead, sent Charlesworth a letter to inform her that the “unfortunate and challenging situation” created by her ex-husband would result in her contract’s not being renewed for the upcoming school year.
“In the interest of the safety of the students, faculty and parents at Holy Trinity School, we simply cannot allow you to return to work there or, unfortunately, at any other school in the Diocese,” school officials wrote. “Therefore, you will not receive a teaching agreement for the 2013-2014 school year.”
I think this is what happens when you let a climate of fear rule everything. That, and it sends the message that domestic violence victims can be punished for being victims.
A few months ago on this blog, we had a long comments thread discussion about urban black crime. A black reader from New Jersey, “Alice,” made the point that middle-class black people don’t like ghetto thuggery any more than white people do — and that they do exactly what white people do when the ghetto gets too close: move. Part of Alice’s point is that white people are wrong to assume that black culture is monolithic, and that blacks ought to “do something” about ghetto crime and dysfunction. I think she had a very good point. White people don’t expect all white people to assume responsibility for white thugs and knuckleheads and layabouts. It’s not right to expect middle-class black people to do so for black troublemakers.
The Associated Press writes about middle-class black suburbanites in the Detroit area who are upset over the ghettoization of their own neighborhoods, as underclass blacks move in from the city, and bring their unpleasant culture with them. Excerpt:
Three years ago, Lamar Grace left Detroit for the suburb of Southfield. He got a good deal — a 3,000-square-foot colonial that once was worth $220,000. In foreclosure, he paid $109,000.
The neighbors were not pleased.
“They don’t want to live next door to ghetto folks,” he says.
That his neighbors are black, like Grace, is immaterial. Many in the black middle class moved out of Detroit and settled in the northern suburbs years ago; now, because of foreclosures, it is easy to buy or rent houses on the cheap here. The result has been a new, poorer wave of arrivals from the city, and growing tensions between established residents and the newcomers.
“There’s a way in which they look down on people moving in from Detroit into houses they bought for much lower prices,” says Grace, a 39-year-old telephone company analyst. “I understand you want to keep out the riffraff, but it’s not my fault you paid $250,000 and I paid a buck.”
The neighbors say there’s more to it than that. People like John Clanton, a retired auto worker, say the new arrivals have brought behavior more common in the inner city — increased trash, adults and children on the streets at all times of the night, a disregard for others’ property.
“During the summer months, I sat in the garage and at 3 o’clock in the morning you see them walking up and the down the streets on their cell phones talking,” Clanton says. “They pull up (in cars) in the middle of the street, and they’ll hold a conversation. You can’t get in your driveway. You blow the horn and they look back at you and keep on talking. That’s all Detroit.”
The tensions have not gone unnoticed by local officials.
“I’ve got people of color who don’t want people of color to move into the city,” says Southfield Police Chief Joseph Thomas, who is himself black. “It’s not a black-white thing. This is a black-black thing. My six-figure blacks are very concerned about multiple-family, economically depressed people moving into rental homes and apartments, bringing in their bad behaviors.”
For example, “They still think it’s OK to play basketball at 3 o’clock in the morning; it’s OK to play football in the streets when there’s a car coming; it’s OK to walk down the streets three abreast. That’s unacceptable in this city.”
Steve Sailer continues quoting the AP piece (I can’t find a link to the entire thing):
Sheryll Cashin, who teaches constitutional law and race and American law at Georgetown University, says it would be a shame if black flight from the city set off black flight from the near suburbs.
Some blacks just don’t want to live near other blacks, she says: “There is classism within the black community. The foreclosure crisis may be accelerating it.” But she says middle-class blacks, like middle-class whites, are also put off by behavior of impoverished blacks who “have developed their own culture, one that is very different from mainstream America.”
Those who contemplate fleeing have fallen into what Cashin calls the “black middle-class dilemma.”
“You have a choice of whether you are willing to be around your people or go 180 degrees in the other direction,” she says. “To the higher income black people, if you don’t want to love and help your lower-income black brethren, why would you expect white people to? If you can’t do it, no one in society can do it. You can try to flee or you can be part of the solution.”
Well, who are “your people,” anyway? White people don’t feel burdened by ethnic solidarity to endure this kind of behavior to be “part of the solution” to the problems of underclass whites. The unspoken assumption here seems to be that loving one’s “lower-income black brethren” means having to accept the ruin of one’s neighborhood by anti-social asshats whose cultural values and behaviors created the conditions that drove away people who could afford to leave their presence.
My dad used to own and run a trailer park, and it was a nice, calm, well-kept place for law-abiding working-class people to live. Some trailer parks, though, are cesspools of dysfunction. If a white person wants to get out of those kinds of trailer parks, nobody (except the people they stand to leave behind) faults them for wanting a better life for themselves and their kids. Again, I don’t get why black people who are middle class, or who aspire to a safe, uneventful middle class life, have to bear the burden of racial betrayal, simply because they want what most people in this country want: normality.