Inept Florida interpreter angers some, amuses others

The recent hurricane that devastated the Caribbean and Florida was no laughing matter. But officials in Manatee County, Fla., unwittingly added hilarity to a Sept. 8 press conference when they hired a bumbling interpreter for the deaf for an emergency briefing related to Irma.

The interpreter, Marshall Greene, a lifeguard for the county, has a brother who is deaf, according to the DailyMoth, a video news site that provides information via American Sign Language. Greene mostly signed gibbering, referencing pizza, monsters and using the phrase “help you at that time to use bear big,” during the event. Other information signed to viewers was incomplete, members of the deaf community said.

While there’s no question that the county failed in its responsibility to the hearing impaired, watching a video of the press conference, with Greene’s signing translated into subtitles, is amusing to say the least. You can watch one of the videos here.

The county typically uses interpreters from VisCom, a professional sign language interpreting service. VisCom owner Charlene McCarthy told local media she was not contacted about providing services for the press conference and that Green was apparently not fluent in American Sign Language, according to the website AL.com.

Manatee County spokesperson Nick Azzara told the Bradenton Herald Greene was asked to interpret during the storm rather than have no one signing.

In retrospect, one suspects county officials now understand that it would have been better to have no one signing rather than an individual informing the deaf about pizza and monsters while a major storm worked its way toward them.

(Top: Manatee County, Fla., press conference held on Sept. 8 featuring interpreter Marshall Greene, in yellow.)

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Modern Iconoclasts draw bead on ever-growing list of targets

The trend of modern iconoclasm seems to be gaining steam, fueled by the complicit support of a mainstream media that either overtly or covertly agrees with the message being sent by those vandalizing monuments across the US and a lack of consequence for those behind the acts.

Most recently, a bronze statue of Catholic Saint Junipero Serra, canonized by Pope Francis in 2015, was not only splashed with red paint but decapitated, and a statue celebrating Francis Scott Key, author of the Star Spangled Banner, was splashed with red paint and the words “racist anthem” scrawled across it.

Besides numerous Confederate statues that have been vandalized and even pulled down, other monuments that have been attacked include those honoring Christopher Columbus, Abraham Lincoln, former Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo, Joan of Arc and Martin Luther King Jr. In addition, the New England Holocaust Memorial and a peace monument in Atlanta have been damaged.

Such actions have taken place across the nation, from Washington state to Florida, New York to Arizona. And they are happening with increasing frequency, particularly when weak-kneed officials such as those at Duke University give criminals what they want and remove the statues after they’ve been vandalized.

Talk about an incentive to continue with extralegal measures.

And it won’t be long before statues of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and others deemed “politically incorrect” will get similar treatment.

The recent spate of illiberal behavior reminds one of Iconoclasm – the impulse to break or destroy images for religious or political reasons – that spasmodically wracked Christianity during the Middle Ages and Reformation.

Statue of Francis Scott Key, vandalized earlier this week in Baltimore.

Iconoclasm reared its ugly head in Byzantine Greece between 726–87 and 815–43 as a theological debate involving both the Byzantine church and state. In a lesson on the need for separation of church and state, imperial legislation by the Byzantine state barred the production and use of figural images.

Archaeological evidence suggests that in certain regions of Byzantium, including Constantinople and Nicaea, existing icons were destroyed or plastered over. Very few early Byzantine icons survived the Iconoclastic period, according to Sarah Brooks of James Madison University.

During the Protestant Reformation, a period not especially noted for open-mindedness, statues and images were destroyed in countries across Europe.

Significant iconoclastic riots took place in Zurich, Copenhagen, Munich, Geneva, Augsburg, Scotland, Rouen and La Rochelle in the 16th century, ostensibly in accordance with biblical prohibitions against graven images but no doubt as a means of furthering anti-Catholicism.

In 1549, radical Protestant preachers in London incited a mob to destroy many of the interior decorations in Old St Paul’s Cathedral. In addition, monasteries were sacked in different locales, as well.

And then there was the French Revolution, in which a wide variety of monuments, religious works and other historically significant pieces were destroyed in an attempt to eradicate any memory of the Ancien Régime.

Consider the priceless objets d’art destroyed by intolerance over the millennia. What a tremendous loss to our cultural, religious and spiritual histories.

Confederate statues were the starting point in this most recent spate of Iconoclasm, and the media, that great bastion of the First Amendment, has covered the attacks while ignoring the fact that those who mete out such violence aren’t likely to stop as this cultural inquisition continues to grow and generate increasing attention.

We live in odd times when individuals who one may very generously label as well-intentioned can’t smell their own hypocrisy. Insisting you’re part of a civil rights movement while trampling at least half of such known rights would seem to invite a primer on said liberties. Mob rule is generally frowned upon when it comes to discussing civil rights, at least where I come from.

That which may be considered – logically or not – painful historical facts are not de facto grounds for unilaterally squelching the freedoms of others.

(Top: Destruction of religion icons in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1524.)

New book ponders long-lasting effects of Reconstruction

If social media has a redeeming quality, it may be the ability to learn the unvarnished truth regarding the true feelings of others.

Within the past month I’ve come across numerous comments in the middle of Facebook conversations that were startlingly narrow-minded, yet because they singled out a group deemed OK to bash, no one uttered a peep.

The first came in early July, amid debates concerning the South’s ongoing educational deficiencies, specifically the overall low ranking many Southern states register on nationalized tests. Within a short time, the cause was identified solely as “Jim Crow.” Finally, one individual, located in the Northeast, stated bluntly, “I hate Southern white males.”

A second conversation dealt with the threat of radical Islam within the US. One individual countered that he had been to Islamic countries and that the Deep South, for example, was “way scarier” than Indonesia “in his experience.”

This individual lives on the West Coast, so it’s difficult to determine whether he’s ever set foot in the “Deep South.” I also understand that as a relatively tall, fit white guy, I may have an easier time than a black man or woman in the South. Still many blacks I speak with in the South – but by no means all – say that while issues certainly remain related to racism, they’re not specific to the South.

But unfortunately many of the South’s biggest detractors appear to have little to no actual experience with the South of today. It is certainly not perfect, but it’s vastly different from what it was 50 years ago, and it is a far friendly place, at least in my own experience, than New England, New York, much of the West Coast and the major Midwestern cities.

Still, the image persists, at least if one goes by the New York Times, Slate or other Northeastern-centric media outlets, that whites in the South are largely bigots, rural regions are populated almost exclusively by extras from Deliverance and blacks and other minorities live in constant fear, with some whites eagerly awaiting the return of “Judge Lynch.”

My experience has been largely the opposite: Whether on the West Coast, or the East Coast north of Richmond, no one will so much look at you when you pass them on the street, never mind say hello. Down South it’s unusual if you don’t wave when passing someone on a country road, whether you know them or not.

I can’t imagine standing to cross a street with someone in a Southern town and not saying hello and asking how they were doing, or vice versa. And anyone who knows me will tell you I am an introvert’s introvert.

While I may be a hermit in the making, my mother didn’t raise me to be rude. When I talk with strangers it’s not out of simple duty; I do have a genuine wish that their day goes well.

So why does a significant percentage of those outside the South feel white males in Dixie are a bunch of ignorant knuckle-draggers who keep white sheets and hoods in our closets?

A recently released book by Philip Leigh called Southern Reconstruction concludes that no small part of the problem is the result of Reconstruction, the period following the War Between the States.

However, Leigh doesn’t limit the term “reconstruction” to the 1865-1877 period that is generally used to designate the post-war era but expands it to include the decades afterward, when the former Confederate states lagged far behind most of the rest of the nation, stricken with higher rates of poverty, lower lifespans, poorer diets and reduced access to health care.

Leigh’s superb work points out that many of today’s mainstream historians focus solely on white racism in the South as the reason for Reconstruction’s failure, and that Reconstruction’s failure greatly aided the spread of white Southern racism.

Yet, as progressives like to point out, hate is a learned behavior. In other words, the racism that blacks experienced during Reconstruction and Jim Crow didn’t materialize out of nowhere – and it was different from that which existed during slavery. There was a root cause, and like many root causes, it was financial.

“The harmful effects of Reconstruction were more substantial, multiracial, and protracted than commonly understood, with poverty being among the most devastating,” Leigh writes.

Stereotypes play a role in how we see Reconstruction today: “Although Southern poverty and cotton culture is commonly associated with blacks, in 1940, whites made up two-thirds of the region’s farmers who either rented their lands or were sharecroppers,” Leigh writes. “According to a 1938 presidential economic report, about half of Southern white farmers were sharecroppers ‘living under economic conditions almost identical to those of Negro sharecroppers.’”

Unfortunately, post-Civil War Republicans were more interested in holding and building on political gains than actual advocating for black civil rights.

Even though blacks represented less than 2 percent of the population in the Northern states, compared to 40 percent in the Confederate states, most white Northerners wanted blacks concentrated in the South. Some white Northerners were concerned with increased competition for jobs if freed slaves moved North, while others likely were motivated by a dislike for people different from themselves, much as they disliked foreigners just off the boat from Europe or Asia.

Lincoln’s Treasury Secretary, Salmon Chase, thought emancipation would motivate Northern blacks to move to the South. In 1862, when blacks comprised less than 1 percent of the Illinois population, the state’s soldiers voted 3 to 1 to deny the blacks the right to vote, and Massachusetts and Illinois each refused to resettle contrabands (slaves behind Union lines) in their states during the war, according to Leigh.

Reconstruction was probably doomed to failure given the corruption that took place immediately following the war. Budgets in Southern states mushroomed, even if residents rarely got anywhere near their money’s worth as politicos, some Northerners who’d moved South after the war and others opportunists from the region, lined their pockets in many states.

Once the states were “redeemed,” a term which meant that Democrats effectively ousted Republicans for control, often by dubious means, the first goal of the new administration was to reduce the cost of operating state government, Leigh said, adding that segregation and disfranchisement of blacks didn’t begin to pick up steam until Populists were elected in the 1890s.

Leigh writes that white Southerners resented the financial burden associated with educating ex-slaves. Given that abolition was a national policy, many felt that the federal government should at least partly assist with the effort. Southern states were already poor to begin with and ultimately slashed education spending for both races.

There was certainly unequal treatment before the law and a general animus toward blacks in the South, particularly in the late 19th century and early 20th century. But Leigh argues that efforts to raise the South were hindered by the economic serfdom it was held in by northeastern economic interests.

He cites as an example the artificially high costs imposed on Southern steel by Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie, who created the U.S. Steel monopoly, recognized that the South, specifically the steel industry around the Birmingham, Ala., area, represented the biggest threat to his Pennsylvania operation.

By 1895, he had bought up the major Southern steel mills and imposed discriminatory pricing on Southern production.

“Thereafter,” Leigh writes, “steel from the company’s Alabama’s mills included an incremental markup … of $3 per ton over the Pittsburgh quote.” In addition, “buyers of Birmingham steel were required to pay freight from Birmingham plus a phantom charge as if the shipments originated in Pittsburgh.”

By the time the Federal Trade Commission got around to investigating the matter, during Woodrow Wilson’s presidency, it was discovered that Birmingham’s steel costs were the lowest in the country and 26 percent below those of Pittsburgh.

For 80 years, the South suffered from burdensome tariffs and monopolistic rate charges, costs that kept wages down, stymied progress and contributed greatly to the poverty that helped create dissention between races.

But Reconstruction and the decades that followed it remain little understood among much of the population. In secondary schools, if it’s taught at all, it’s narrowly defined as a period when Southern whites sought to not only disfranchise blacks, but essentially place them back in the fetters of slavery.

White Southerners weren’t blameless but there was plenty of criticism to be leveled at others, as well.

As our nation currently tangles with the ghosts of the past, perhaps we would do well to seek out the reasons why the South has struggled economically and educationally for much of the past 150 years.

The reason, as Phil Leigh demonstrates clearly in Southern Reconstruction, isn’t simply that Southern whites didn’t like Southern blacks. History is rarely that evident.

(Top: Sharecroppers pick cotton in Arkansas in 1938.)

Ignore conflict, these shiny stones will catch your attention

And newspapers wonder why an increasing number of readers (and former readers) view them with incredulity.

Eleven of the top 12 stories in the online version of my local paper are eclipse related, the astronomical event that area media has been hyping for months. Everything from improving your eclipse glasses to a list of where to find the best eclipse-related food.

A complete solar eclipse is impressive, but this seems over the top. One might even get the impression that not much else was going on elsewhere in the state, nation or world. Kind of how ancient people used to react when they thought an eclipse presaged the world’s end, but with a more mindless twist.

Actually, there are a few other things of note taking place around the globe. Such as:

  • President Trump will address the country tonight and outline a new strategy for Afghanistan, the longest war in US history;
  • The death toll from last week’s militant Islamist attack in Spain, which appear to be striking Europe with startling regularity, is now at 15; and
  • Aggrieved demonstrators, while not done training their sites on all things Confederate, converged on a bust of Christopher Columbus in Detroit and demanded the monument come down as they protest against white supremacy and the nation continues to be roiled by racial tension.

But here, local ink-stained wretches gleefully slap story after story about the eclipse on page 1 and the Internet, eager first and foremost to sell as many papers as possible. Informing readers is somewhere further down the line of priorities.

The Roman poet Juvenal knew of what he wrote more than 2,000 years ago:

“… Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions – everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.”

(Top: Image showing online front page of local daily newspaper, showing 11 of top 12 news headlines devoted to today’s eclipse.)

Romanesque church appears to have date with wrecking ball

Developers are expected to make public early next month designs to raze a 88-year-old historic church in Worcester, Mass.

Developers of the proposed Roseland Apartment complex will unveil plans, which include tearing down the former Notre Dame des Canadiens Church to erect a four-story apartment building, on Aug. 2 at a Worcester public meeting.

The church, built in 1929, was closed by the Diocese of Worcester a decade ago. Multi-year efforts to preserve the structure have apparently failed.

Worcester is said to be “in a renaissance of development, dining and culture,” and historic properties like the Notre Dame Church in its downtown have been targeted by developers to make for Worcester’s new future, according to the website Masslive.com.

Located in the downtown of what was once a major industrial city, the church served for three-quarters of a century as the epicenter of Worcester’s once-large French-Canadian community.

The Romanesque Revival style structure was the first French-Canadian Roman Catholic parish established in Worcester, and the mother parish to three later French Canadian parishes in the city.

Historically, French Canadians represented Worcester’s largest immigrant population, second only to the Irish.

While some artwork, historical artifacts and stained glass windows have been removed for reuse, many stained-glass windows still remain in the building, according to the group Preservation Worcester.

It should be noted that the church is in desperate need of an overhaul, which would likely be quite expensive, given its size. That said, it’s hard to imagine a replacement that could prove anywhere near the draw for tourism.

Over the past 20 years, many Roman Catholic dioceses in New England and the Rust Belt have had to consolidate and close churches as attendance and parish membership has dropped.

Notre Dame des Canadiens is not listed on the state or national registers of historic places, but is listed on the Massachusetts Cultural Resources Information System.

The church survived an earlier attempt at demolition. During the dreadful urban renewal efforts that swept much of the US in the 1950s and ‘60s, plans called for Notre Dame des Canadiens to be knocked down. However, strong opposition from residents from across Worcester resulted in the Worcester Redevelopment Authority dropping its plans to acquire and demolish the church.

It doesn’t appear the church will get a second reprieve, however.

(Top: Image of Notre Dame des Canadiens church, Worcester, Mass.)

An old veteran, or a very, very old veteran?

Most of the graves at the Marietta Confederate Cemetery, just outside Atlanta, are unmarked, holding the remains of Southern soldiers who died during the Atlanta campaign, including many killed at the bloody Battle of Chickamauga.

There are, however, several dozen graves of men who died decades after the war, living out their lives in the nearby Georgia Confederate Soldiers Home.

Among these was Lorenzo Dow Grace, who, according to his gravestone, lived to the ripe old age of 115 before dying in 1928.

The September 1926 issue of Confederate Veteran magazine, then the publication of the United Confederate Veterans, devoted several inches of space to Grace, who served in Capt. Sisson’s Company of Georgia State Troops during the last seven months of the war:

“Lorenzo Dow Grace, who was admitted to the Georgia Home early in 1923, at which time he was long past the century mark, (is) still a lively specimen. The Secretary of the Home, Mr. Sam J. Bell, writes of him:

‘From the best information obtainable, which seems to be fairly authentic and, to say the least of it, is indisputable, Lorenzo Dow Grace was born on October 29, 1813, in Buncombe County, N.C. From this it will be seen that he will be one hundred and thirteen years of age on the 29th of October, next. He is in splendid health and as ‘lively as a cricket.’ He walks a great deal (without the use of a cane, by the way), and runs errands for the other old men at the Home.

‘Moving from Buncombe County, N. C., to Ellijay, Gilmer County, Ga., while yet a young man, he engaged in the occupations of wood chopping and gardening for the public, therefore spending almost his entire time in the open air of the mountains of North Georgia, which, no doubt, accounts in no small way for his longevity.

Confederate pension application for Lorenzo Dow Grace from 1903, showing Dow’s date of birth as 1828, rather than 1813, as was later stated, making him at least 15 years younger than later stories indicated. Click to embiggen.

‘When the first guns were fired at Fort Sumter, he tendered his services to the Confederacy, but was refused, as he was over age; and it was not until the last call was made for men from sixteen to sixty that he was finally accepted as a private in Captain Sisson’s Company, of Ralston’s Battalion, with which outfit he remained until honorably discharged at Kingston, Ga., at the close of the war.”

He attributes his longevity to his life in the open and to his simple habits. Most of his life was spent on a farm, and when that work became too much for him, he went to chopping wood for a living, and he made it until his third wife died and he was left alone, his children of an earlier marriage having died of ‘old age.’ So he decided to lay down his ax and live for the next ‘forty years at least’ on the bounty of his State as a reward for his services to the Confederacy. He also served in the Mexican War, and even then was not a youth. He says that he never had much time to waste in his life, and he never expects to get too old to learn. He eats an apple every day and drinks in the sunshine of the out of doors, and thus stores away strength and energy far beyond the time of the average life.

However, Grace’s Georgia’s pension application, filed in 1903, states that he was born in 1828, meaning that the aging Confederate was approximately 100 when he died. No mean feat, particularly 90 years ago, but definitely more common than making it to 115.

Of course, it’s quite possible that information such as that found in pension applications was inaccessible while applicants were still alive and, given Grace’s age, he could well have lost track of his own age. On the other hand, he might have been looking for some late-in-life publicity.

Grace, of course, didn’t make it too much longer past his bit of fame in the Confederate Veteran. And whoever was tasked with making his gravestone was apparently none the wiser regarding the aged veteran’s actual birth year.

(Lorenzo Dow Grace’s gravestone at the Marietta Confederate Cemetery, Marietta, Ga.)

Redefining the problem as a means of remaining viable

I pass the above billboard, paid for by the National Fair Housing Alliance, each day on my way to work. It brings a number of issues to mind.

(Begin disclaimer.) As a caveat to keep the easily offended from being seized with apoplexy, I understand discrimination still exists. It likely always will. This is not an attempt to diminish or disregard the impact of discrimination in housing. (End disclaimer.)

That said, the billboard is an appeal to emotion, and not a very good one at that.

The average 6-year-old boy’s “dream home,” at least from what I can recall, is a pillow fort made from couch cushions.

Any bank making a loan to a 6-year old would, of course, be hauled before regulators and hit with sanctions, unless the 6-year-old was a pop music wonderkid, ala Michael Jackson, 1965.

Finally, I know of very few recent instances of individuals or organizations discriminating against others when it comes to selling homes. It seems illogical to turn down someone else’s money when you’re trying to sell your home.

A glance at the website for National Fair Housing Alliance – a Washington, DC, operation which touts itself as “the only national organization dedicated solely to ending discrimination in housing” – shows very little actual activity in this area. And it’s safe to say that this organization, begun in 1988, would be promoting such cases in order to rationalize its existence. Under “enforcement” is the following:

That means over the past year, the only activities that this entity has seen fit to post to the “enforcement” section of its website are lawsuits that it has filed. No resolutions of cases. And filing a lawsuit hardly qualifies as “enforcement.”

If one looks at the NFHA’s “news & media” section, one finds press releases for the following:

There are also press releases announcing a settlement between Bank of America and the National Fair Housing Alliance Reach in a mortgage loan case, and the Supreme Court upholding the right of cities to sue banks whose practices harm the municipalities and their residents.

The last two have a direct tie to the NFHA’s mission; the first two seem a bit off the reservation for an organization dedicated to ending discrimination in housing.

Finally, consider this from the NFHA’s annual Fair Housing Trends Report, issued April 19, 2017, which documents “continued patterns of discrimination and segregation and highlighting fair housing trends in 2016.”

“We are one year away from commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Fair Housing Act which was passed just seven days after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in April, 1968,” said Shanna Smith, president and CEO of NFHA. “Some advances have been made in opening up neighborhoods to everyone; however, people of color, persons with disabilities and other marginalized groups continue to be unlawfully shut out of many neighborhoods that provide quality schools and health care, fresh food, employment opportunities, quality and affordable credit, small business investment, and other opportunities that affect life outcomes.”

Some advances? There were many, many neighborhoods from which minorities were excluded in 1968, either de jure or de facto, and there wasn’t a great deal they could do about it. Those that fought against such discrimination were often harassed, and those who dared move into white neighborhoods were many times treated extremely harshly, even violently. Those actions, as near as I can tell, are largely absent today.

Were such actions taking place, the media would highlight them in great detail.

If people of color, persons with disabilities and other marginalized groups are unlawfully shut out of neighborhoods today, there are remedies that authorities are more than willing to employ, and rightfully so.

If, however, groups such as the NFHA feel the need to downplay success in opening up housing opportunities for all so that they can continue to garner funding and have a viable reason to remain in operation, that doesn’t speak very highly about it as an organization.