THE WEEKLY BLAB
Volume 10, Issue 01– July 13, 2015
For those who follow meaningless minutia, this issue of the BLAB marks the beginning of Volume 10. Yes, that means I’ve been writing this sort of stuff for ten years now. It all started as a way for me (back when I was VPAA at Southern Polytechnic State University) to be able to communicate in a regular, but informal, way with the faculty and academic affairs staff there. I later found out that some people at other colleges, as well as down at the Board of Regents had found out about it and were reading it. As you can imagine, I got a bit more circumspect about what I was saying at that point! Anyway, happy 10th Anniversary to the BLAB, and I hope folks still find it pleasant and useful.
Speaking of anniversaries, this past June 20 was Jill and my anniversary—our 39th. We got married in the Bicentennial year of 1976, and had our honeymoon in Israel, where we were on that special July 4. It was a rather interesting day and not just because it was Bicentennial Day, since it was on that day that the Israeli army rescued more than 100 hostages from Entebbe, Uganda in a rather famous operation. Jill, my grandmother, my uncle Reuven, and I were taking a bus up to Tiberius (on the Sea of Galilee) that day for a little tourist fun, and when the others on the bus heard Jill and me speaking English, they kept interrupting to ask “What do you think of our army? Pretty good, huh?” That evening, in honor of the success of the operation, someone placed an ad in the paper, donating one month’s salary to support the army. The idea went viral, and in the course of the next two weeks, I remember hearing that a billion shekels were raised.
Things were a bit quieter than that for this anniversary. We had a nice drive along the river, and went to the Little Italy in Ogdensburg for dinner. When the waitress heard it was our anniversary (son Mark had to tell her, of course), we got a complimentary dessert.
Flags and Flags: Norwood, New York and Charleston, South Carolina
I hope everyone had a good time celebrating the 4th of July with all of its patriotic pageantry. My family and I went up to Norwood, NY, where they have a very nice small town 4th of July Parade, originally held in honor of their volunteer fire department. Firefighters and their engines from around the county all come, and there are floats about other small town things as well. It has grown to be the biggest 4th of July parade in these parts, and it’s America at its best.
In addition to the 4th of July, the past few weeks have focused on a different flag issue as well, starting with the tragedy in a church in Charleston, transforming into a national debate about the Confederate Flag (yes, I know it’s really the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, but everyone thinks it’s the Confederate Flag), and in an astonishing turn, resulting in what I would have thought was impossible.
I know Charleston and South Carolina rather well, having gone to graduate school at the University of South Carolina (USC) to get my doctorate in chemistry. Charleston is an elegant city with beautiful homes along the main waterfronts, where (as the locals tell it) the Ashley and the Cooper rivers come together to form the Atlantic Ocean. The most beautiful architecture in the city is found at The Battery, which looks out over Fort Sumter, which is where the Civil War began. Charleston architecture is well known for its long side porches that catch the sea breeze on those sultry summer days, and their beautiful wrought iron railings. Among the historical sights are the aforementioned Fort Sumter, the Old Slave Mart, Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim Synagogue (the oldest or 2nd oldest in America in continuous use—from 1740), the historic downtown, and many other things. There’s a lot to see there, lots of excellent restaurants, and it was only a 2-hour drive from Columbia, so we used to go down there for visits all the time.
The Battery in Charleston
South Carolina was a funny state to live in for a “Yankee” like me. I was there from 1976 to 1981, living in Columbia, the state capitol, where USC is located. When I told people in New England (where I went to college as an undergrad) that I was going to USC, they reacted like I was stepping off the edge of the Earth. Things were beginning to change in South Carolina—the University had moved well beyond token integration in the late 1960’s, and some black politicians had been elected to the state legislature and to county and local offices. While there was still a lot of racism under the surface (and occasionally above it), there was also a veneer of Southern politeness covering it, and some real change beginning to occur.
The Confederate flag flew over the state house in those days, but it was beginning to become controversial and discussions were beginning to take place about possibly moving it. Lots of people thought that it had always flown there since the Civil War, but it actually only went up in 1961. Ostensibly, it was added to commemorate the centennial of the start of the Civil War, but in reality, everyone knew that it was being kept there as a protest against desegregation. While several other southern states removed the Confederate flag from their capitols over time, the South Carolina legislature continuously refused, which resulted in a substantial boycott led by the NAACP.
In the year 2000, state senator Arthur Ravenel made some derogatory remarks that drew national attention, referring to the NAACP as the “National Association of Retarded People”, and then apologized to “retarded people” for associating them with the NAACP. This became a hot campaign issue, with arguments being raised for and against the flag similar to now. A compromise finally was arrived at later that year, with the Confederate flag moved from being over the state house to being over a Confederate memorial nearby on July 1. To ensure that the compromise would go no further, it was also agreed that it would take a 2/3 vote of both houses of the South Carolina legislature to move the flag again.
South Carolina was the last state to make Martin Luther King Day a paid state holiday, which it also did in 2000 (until then, all state employees had a choice between Martin Luther King Day and three Confederate holidays, which I thought was an unusual compromise). Did the compromise on the flag and the move to make Martin Luther King Day a ‘full’ holiday happen, in part, because of the controversy over Ravenel’s remarks? I always thought so. While South Carolina certainly had its irredeemable racists, it also had many people of goodwill and others who could be reached. Perhaps enough people were appalled by Ravenel’s remarks that year that they felt they had to do something significant to distance themselves from them.
Which brings me to the present day. As everyone knows, on June 18, nine black worshipers were murdered at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, by Dylann Roof. Pictures of Roof posing with the Confederate flag were found on his Facebook page, as were other pictures of a racist nature and a rather elaborate racist screed. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this tragedy was the response of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church community—they immediately forgave Roof and prayed that he would find redemption. Forgiveness shouldn’t be confused here with absolution—no one argued he should be let go and not have to pay for his crime. The forgiveness was a spiritual forgiveness—that he should learn the errors of his ways and repent. Lots of articles and editorials were written about the grace shown by the congregation, and how their lack of hatred was such a singular thing.
Immediately after Roof’s connection with the Confederate flag became known, a movement began advocating that the Confederate flag be removed from the capital grounds. It was led by state representative Norman “Doug” Brannon, a conservative republican, who promised to introduce legislation to remove the flag. State Senator Pinckney, one of the worshipers murdered at the church, was a friend of his. Brannon also said that he was ashamed that he hadn’t proposed the legislation sooner, and that it should not have taken the murders of nine people at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church for the legislation to be presented. “It’s tragic. [But] it shouldn’t have taken that, and again, I apologize.”
For a short time, other political candidates were reluctant to join in, but a few days later, Nikki Haley, the state’s governor, called for the flag’s removal to a museum, and was quickly joined by both US Senators from South Carolina and many others political leaders. The movement quickly spread to other states—in Virginia, the governor called for removal of the Confederate flag on license plates, and discussion began on removing it from being part of the Mississippi state flag.
The question was, would there be the necessary 2/3 margin of votes to remove the flag in both houses of the SC legislature? The backlash against removing the flag began, and robocalls went out arguing against the removal. What would come next, the call asked? The bill quickly passed the Senate 20-3, and after some delay in the house, with multiple dozens of amendments introduced, passed there by a sufficient margin. Governor Halley signed the bill, and the Confederate flag came down Friday morning, July 10.
What was responsible for this dramatic change in sentiment in South Carolina? A lot of newspapers and TV news reports said it was a result of the murders of the nine worshipers, but I think that may be incorrect. I think it was a result of the grace and forgiveness shown by the survivors and the families of those murdered—a grace and forgiveness that positively screamed for a moral response. I think that the grace that was displayed broke through the defensive wall that a lot of white South Carolinians had surrounded themselves with. Their argument that the flag was about heritage, not hate, no longer mattered. They couldn’t bear to be inside that wall any longer, and had to make an unmistakable moral response.
So often today we make arguments that come down to money or politics. It’s so rare when something happens that transcends—when we see a moral wave that can’t be resisted. There’s a lesson in this, about harnessing the power of grace, forgiveness, kindness, and moral suasion. We need to do it a lot more often, to deal with the issues that divide us. What might we be able to accomplish if we did?
On the Today Show Friday morning, Governor Halley said: “I don’t want this to go away quickly. I want people to remember what today feels like and know that anything is possible with us.”
Anything is possible with us. A good thing to remember.
Down to New York Again
I took the week of June 29 off for vacation. On Sunday, July 5, it was travel time to go to New York for a meeting of the SUNY Social Media Responsibility Committee that I co-chair. I had procrastinated in booking my travel, always figuring that if worse came to worse, I could drive down to Poughkeepsie, leave my car there, and take local rail into the city. Since it was 4th of July weekend, things were pretty heavily booked, but I lucked out and got the necessary seats.
I left at 6:00 AM to drive to Ogdensburg, where I caught the Cape Air puddle jumper to Albany. The flight was about 90 minutes late, due to a pilot in Nantucket having an ear infection, leading to a cascade of flight changes. I had left 2 hours for the connection in Albany, where I had to take a taxi to the Amtrak station in Rensselaer to catch the train to New York. The late flight made this a tight one, but I caught a taxi right away and got to the train station just as the train was being called. The ride to New York was very pleasant, with some very pretty Hudson River views along the way. I stayed at my sister-in-law Ellen and her partner Etta’s apartment in Greenwich Village, which is one of the nicest locations in the city. They had kindly left some cold beer for me, and I found a nice Thai restaurant nearby for dinner.
The Social Media Responsibility Committee met the next morning at the SUNY Office in the East 50’s, which was an easy subway ride. The meetings went will, with representatives from Yik Yak, Facebook, and Tumblr giving their views on how safety issues involving their sites should be handled. It was interesting to hear things from their perspective, including examples of positive ways in which their social media sites are used by students. The meeting broke up at about 3:00 PM, and I walked over to the Korean consulate to speak to the consul about forming relations between SUNY Canton and some Korean colleges, and inviting folks from the consulate to the College for a visit and talk. Dinner that night was at a Mediterranean restaurant that was pretty good.
On Tuesday morning, I met with folks from the Institute of International Education about bringing in students from Brazil (of which at least two will be here this coming fall) and other places in South America. After the meetings, I walked over to Grand Central Station, had some lunch, and took the shuttle over to Penn to catch my train home. The train left on time, but due to track work, got into Albany about 50 minutes late. After catching a taxi and getting to the airport, that only gave me about half an hour to get my ticket, go through security, and get to the gate. In Albany, that’s plenty and I was there with 20 minutes to spare. Other than the right engine not wanting to engage for multiple tries (which was a bit disconcerting), the flight was uneventful and I got home right on time.
I’m a member of a number of economic development boards for the North Country, and immediately upon returning from New York, it was time for their meetings. On Wednesday evening, the Economic Development Study for St. Lawrence County Advisory Board was meeting in Massena at the NYPA Vistors Center. The next day, it was a quick drive to Lake Placid for a meeting of the North Country Regional Economic Development Council. While some of what’s happening is confidential at this point, I can note that the directions we’re moving in as a College are well in tune with the economic development needs of this region, and with the plans from these agencies.
Last Week’s Trivia Contest
There wasn’t any.
This Week’s Trivia Challenge
This week’s challenge deals with summer—every answer is a song that has the word “summer” in it. As usual, the first with the most takes the prize. No looking up the answers now! SEND ALL ENTRIES BY EMAIL TO firstname.lastname@example.org since if you put them as a response on the BLOG, everyone will be able to see them.
- Sam Cooke had a hit with this classic, about “when the living is easy”.
- Alice Cooper song about the end of classes.
- Olivia Newton-John sang this to John Travolta in the movie “Grease”.
- Seals and Crofts had a hit with song that dealt with the jasmine in your mind.
- Summer classic by Eddie Cochran, it has the lines: Every time I call my baby, and try to get a date; My boss says “No dice son, you gotta work late.”