Beware of those who divide the masses for fun and profit

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One sometimes wonders whether certain elements of society would opt to plunge mankind into the Apocalypse rather than have it experience peace and goodwill, as long as the former enabled them to bolster their bottom line by another handful of shekels.

Case in point: media coverage of several church fires in the South over the past few days seems determined to either outright assert or strongly infer white racists are targeting black houses of worship following the dreadful killings on June 17 at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.

A few recent headlines:

Seventh Black Church Burns In South Since Charleston Church Shooting” – CBS News.

Feds Investigate String of Fires at Black Churches in South” – Time magazine.

Seventh Black Church Goes Up in Flames Following Charleston Massacre” – People magazine.

Fires at Black Churches in the South Raise Hate-Crime Fears” – NBC News.

After Charleston, Black Churches Targeted By Arsonists Across The South” – Think Progress.

This, when the story often can’t even back up the rhetoric.

In the first example above, CBS News pointed out in its lead paragraph that the most recent church fire was not arson, despite a headline that might lead some to believe malicious intent was involved.

“A federal law enforcement source says a fire that destroyed a black church in South Carolina was not the work of an arsonist,” the CBS report begins, referring to a fire at Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Greeleyville, SC, about an hour north of Charleston.

While the story adds that the fire is still under investigation, it states that the fire was not intentionally set and was not arson.

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Deep debate cast aside for quick decisions based on ‘perception’

FILE -- The Confederate battle flag flies near the South Carolina State Capitol building in Columbia in this file framegrab.

Over the past few days it has been stated repeatedly that the Confederate flag should be removed from the South Carolina Statehouse grounds because it’s a racist symbol – no matter what its advocates claim – because “perception is reality.”

Certainly the Confederate battle flag was misappropriated in the 1950s and ‘60s by groups opposed to the Civil Rights movement. That these groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizens Council, also made ample use of the Stars and Stripes, seems to be of small concern to those who would like to see the Confederate flag placed in a museum.

While there’s plenty of room for debate about the role of the Confederate flag in public life, if the basis for one’s arguments includes “perception is reality,” then one is starting from a position of weakness.

History has shown that the idea that perception can be both erroneous and damaging.

Black Codes and Jim Crow laws were enforced in part because blacks were perceived by many as being inferior to whites. Most ex-slaves, thanks to law and/or custom, had never been taught to read or write. They were therefore perceived as being less intelligent than whites, even though the playing field was never close to being level.

This perception continues to hold currency even today among some, who mistakenly believe that blacks as a group don’t have the capacity to keep pace with whites and some other ethnic groups, while overlooking the fact that in many areas where African-Americans make up a significant percentage of the population substandard schooling and a history of state indifference to education are the real culprits.

Along those same lines, blacks were perceived well into the 20th century as lacking the educational skills necessary for college. At the time of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s, only about 10,000 American blacks – one in 1,000 – were college educated, according to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. Today, more than 4.5 million blacks hold a four-year college degree.

Consider also that blacks who volunteered or were drafted into the US military were discriminated against for many decades because of the perception that they were suited only for “heavy lifting” rather than positions that relied on brainpower.

At the outset of the Civil War, neither free blacks nor escaped slaves were allowed to enlist in the Union Army. The prevailing view among Union officers was that the black man lacked mental ability, discipline and courage, and could never be trained to fight like the white soldier. It would take the better part of two years before white military leaders, desperate for troops, consented to the use of black soldiers, enabling this error to be disproved.

Up into World War I, black troops were often given thankless tasks that white soldiers sought to avoid and racial segregation in the US military remained in place until after World War II.

During the latter conflict, the Navy assigned most who did enlist to mess duty and the Marines barred blacks entirely until 1942. The military as a whole held to the “perception” that blacks weren’t as good at “soldiering” as whites.

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When a brief obituary speaks volumes

mike a

Obituaries are often like first dates: Light and fluffy without any of the baggage that inevitably accompanies life.

Sometimes, though, an obituary will tell it like it is (or was).

Take this notice that appeared in the Tampa Tribune on May 27.

RUSH, Michael J. (AKA Dirty Mike), Born Oct. 10, 1953, in Dayton Ohio. Transplanted to Nashville in 1958. Took root in Tampa in 1986. Died May 18, 2015. Sorry for any harm I have ever caused or done. If I owe you money, sue me.

Short and sweet, at least in a figurative sense.

Also shown is an American flag, denoting that “Dirty Mike” was a veteran.

What’s nice about this obit is, beyond its brevity, is the lack of platitudes, false praise or bromides about peace, love and understanding.

It would seem likely that ol’ Dirty Mike wrote his own obituary, and one gets the impression he penned the piece as he lived life – on his own terms.

Dirty Mike likely would have been the first to tell you he was no saint, but he also would have had no trouble owning up to that fact.

That I can respect.

Famed Manx nationalist remains little noted by modern officials

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The Isle of Man, inhabited for at least 8,500 years, counts among its greatest heroes Illiam Dhône, a 17th century nationalist who was executed for actions taken amid the English Civil War.

How does the Manx government honor Dhône? Hardly at all, it turns out.

Dhône’s memorial is nothing more than a weathered brass plaque on a stump of an aged concrete structure that marks the site of his execution, according to the Celtic League, an organization that seeks to promote greater cooperation between Celtic peoples. The plaque is not only hard to find, but the site is unkempt and overgrown, and the dilapidated building is unconnected to the events of 1663, the year Dhône was put to death.

In 1648, amid the English Civil War, James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby and the supreme lord of the Isle of Man, appointed Dhône as receiver general of the island, located in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Ireland.

Three years later, Stanley went to England to fight for Charles II, who was battling Parliamentarian forces in a bid to regain his throne. Stanley’s wife Countess Charlotte de la Tremouille was left in charge of the island, with Dhône, whose English name was William Christian, in command of its militia.

The Earl of Derby fought with Charles II at the Battle of Worcester on Sept. 3, 1651.

Once Stanley left to aid Charles, a revolt erupted on the island. Led by Dhône, the conflict, known as the Manx Rebellion of 1651, was the result of the void caused by Stanley’s departure and discontent caused by agrarian changes recently introduced by Stanley.

After the rebels seized many of the island’s forts Dhône entered into negotiations with Parliamentary forces.

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Remebering Julia Peterkin, who brought Gullah to the masses

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My first brush with author Julia Peterkin didn’t come in a literature class, book club or library.

I happened across her wholly by chance a few years back while wandering the South Carolina back country. I was in rural Calhoun County, traveling along seemingly endless miles of blacktop country roads when I came across a picturesque antebellum church surrounded by fields of cotton.

I stopped at St. Matthews Parish Episcopal Church, a structure that dates to the 1850s and, as I later learned, still has a slave balcony, and ambled about. Across the road was a small family cemetery with no more than four dozen graves. As I glanced at each, I came across Peterkin’s marker.

I can’t remember now how I realized that there was something significant about Julia Peterkin, but perhaps that’s not surprising. She had largely slipped from literary consciousness less 75 years after becoming the first Southern writer to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

In retrospect, Peterkin’s life likely had far more downs than ups, a sad testament given her short-lived but important literary efforts.

Born Julia Mood into a wealthy family in Laurens County, SC, south of Greenville, her mother died before she was two. When her father remarried, Julia was sent to live with her paternal grandparents while her two older sisters remained with her father and his new wife.

Her views on race were likely conflicted by the fact that her grandfather’s ancestors had opposed slavery on religious grounds and had illegally taught slaves to read, while her grandmother was descended from a long line of wealthy slave holders, according to Susan Millar Williams.

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Russian billboard pays homage to Nazi bomber crew

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Those who adhere to the axiom that there’s no such thing as bad publicity will find at least one Russian politician who likely believes differently.

Sergei Gridnev, mayor of Ivanteyevka, outside Moscow, has apologized after billboards celebrating the upcoming 70th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s World War II victory, set for May 9, appeared around town featuring a German air force crew.

Not surprising given that the Soviet Union bore the lion’s share of Hitler’s wrath between 1941-45, suffering at least 25 million dead, the image of a Luftwaffe Junkers Ju 88 bomber crew rather than that of Soviet soldiers didn’t sit particularly well with locals.

Area news portal Ivanteyevka Today has since owned up to the blunder, according to the BBC.

It commissioned 20 banners to mark the end of the conflict, but confessed to “negligence” in choosing the photo, which had the unfortunate tagline “They fought for the Motherland.”

Also not helping matters: The brutal Battle of Moscow, fought from October 1941 to January 1942 and an integral aspect of the Nazi assault on the Soviet Union, code named Operation Barbarossa, claimed 1.5 million lives.

Attempts to point out that the photo dated from 1940, the year before Germany invaded the Soviet Union, when the two nations were actually allies, did little to alleviate heartburn.

Gridnev says local people, war veterans and the whole of Russia can rest assured that “he’ll punish those responsible for the ‘appalling incident,” the state news agency Tass reported.

“The local branch of the pro-Putin All-Russia People’s Front says it spotted the billboard and demanded its removal, and 12 hours after it went up the offending image came right back down again,” according to the BBC.

On the bright side for Gridnev and everyone at Ivanteyevka Today, if this had happened when Stalin was in power, everyone involved with this gaffe would have already been tortured in Lubyanka Prison and then lined up and shot.

(Top: Billboard in Ivanteyevka, Russia, celebrating the upcoming 70th anniversary of Soviet victory over Nazi Germany with image of Nazi bomber crew and words “They fought for the Motherland.”

The decision that shaped van Gogh’s, and art’s, future

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Vincent van Gogh’s life was awash with misfortune, from mental illness to inability to hold a job to the fact that during his lifetime he sold but one of the more than 900 paintings he created. Even today, this artistic giant is known by many for but a single work – Starry Night – despite having produced a wide array of images during his relatively brief career.

While van Gogh’s difficulty with mental illness is relatively well documented, as is its impact on his work, his struggle to find a job and the bearing it had on his art career is perhaps less well known, according to Alastair Sooke, art critic of The Daily Telegraph.

By age 25, van Gogh had failed in stints at art dealerships in The Hague, London and Paris; teaching jobs in England; and a spell in bookshop in The Netherlands. He then attempted to follow in his father’s footsteps and join the ministry, but this too proved a flop, and his family began to wonder if there was hope for the 25-year old, according to Sooke, writing for the BBC.

In was then that an event critical to van Gogh’s career as an artist occurred. In 1878, still bent on becoming an evangelist, he left for the depressed Belgian coal mining district of the Borinage, to the west of the city of Mons. His goal was to establish himself as a lay preacher to the working class.

Van Gogh efforts as an evangelist in Borinage were hampered by a number of factors. Not being gifted with a golden tongue, his talks were sparsely attended, at best. His ability to connect with locals was hindered by the fact that the latter spoke “Walloon French,” which van Gogh struggled to understand, while his own French sounded overly stilted to the blue-collar coal miners and their families.

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