Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Tragedy of Trayvon Martin

After the shooting death of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, the Martin family and their supporters began to create a narrative that portrayed Martin as an innocent victim of racial profiling by a racist Martin. Their fluffers in the mainstream media facilitated this narrative by juxtaposing photographs of a twelve year old Martin against the arrest photo of Zimmerman, as if the neighborhood watchman murdered a twelve year old kid. And the Martins have projected themselves as a broken but loving family fighting for justice.

In an age when one can find out most anything from the internet, finding solid information about the Martin family proves to be quite a challenge. Only after reading multiple articles can one piece together even a superficial summary of their background. Tracy Martin married Sybrina Fulton back the 1990s. Travyvon Martin was born in 1995. They couple divorced in 1999. Trayvon has an older brother, Jahvaris, who for some reason retains his mother's maiden name. Tracy Martin later married Alicia Stanley; the relationship lasted 14 years. Trayvon lived with his father while Jahvaris lived with his mother. Alicia is really the only mother he ever knew. After 14 years, Tracy Martin divorced Stanley to take up with Brandi Green. It appears that during that divorce, Trayvon moved back to Miami Gardens to live with his mother. Tracy Martin and former wife Sybrina Fulton have excluded Alicia Stanley from the picture and have established themselves at the face of Martins' parents, even though Trayvon spent most of his life with Stanley. This complicates, too, legal status of claims to the million dollar plus settlement by the insurer of the homeowners association where Martin was killed. None is this is directly relevant to the murder or the trial, but it is interesting that this information seems so difficult to come by; most of this may not even be accurate.Why? Perhaps the accessibility of this information might make for a less sympathetic family in the public propaganda phase of the pre-trial hearings.

While apparently obscuring their own backgrounds, the Martin family complains about the character assassination of their son. They rightly note that Trayvon Martin's history may be irrelevant to the confrontation with Zimmerman that took place in that courtyard. The information that has emerged about Martin, however, does cast doubt on the narrative that he lived as a typical teen and died as a child only trying to make his way home. In stark contrast to the photos of the twelve year old child that the Martin's provided and that the mainstream media ran with, these less flattering photos of Trayon Martin the young adult:

In addition,  Martin had been visiting his father and girlfriend because of a suspension from school--the third one that year. Martin's book bag has traces of marijuana and female jewelry that he never satisfactorily explained. If Martin has not been suspended, he never would have encountered Zimmerman.

Finally, the emotionally powerful symbols of Martin's childhood innocence--skittles-- may not be that at all. Martin's social media interests include "lean" or "purple drank," a mixture of any sweet drink, codeine (or DXM), and jolly ranchers or skittles.

An autopsy of Martin after his death revealed the presence of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. It is only speculation, but one wonders  if  Martin had smoked a blunt that evening and went to the convenience store to purchase ingredients to mix up some lean. Again, this may be irrelevant to the events leading up to Martin's death. It does empty the skittles bags of their symbolic content that will be on exhibition by this weekend's marchers.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Tragedy of Ignorance

This weekend several cities witnessed large demonstrations against the acquittal of George Zimmerman for second degree murder and manslaughter. Many demonstrators held posters or wore clothing recalling  the late Trayvon Martin. Although demonstrators kept it peaceful, the chant of "no justice no peace" certainly implies the threat of violence if they do not get what they want. Emotions running high appear to be the theme of the day.

Indeed, Trayvon Martin supporters have been fueled by emotion from the beginning. And that is understandable. Whenever a young person loses his life violently, we all share an immediate intuitive reaction that justice must be served--that someone must pay.

The justice system weights evidence however, not intuitions and emotions. When evidence about what actually happened emerges in a trial, it often fails to affirm those intuitions and emotions about the events. Many of us accept the verdict, however uneasy that may be. In an interview with Anderson Cooper, juror B-37 (here and here) apparently experienced this difficulty. She talked about the emotional strain of wanting the give the Martin family the verdict that they desire but feeling powerless to do so because of the law and the evidence.

Others seemed to have had their intuitions and emotions affirmed--not by evidence--but by racial bomb throwers like Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and Benjamin Jealous--along with their fluffers in the mainstream media. Our ever meddling President Barack Obama, joined in as well. They told the story of an innocent teen trying only to make his way back home after a visit to a local convenience store. They made Martin's hoody, Arizona drink, and skittles into a powerful symbols of youthful innocence.

In contrast, their narrative portrayed George Zimmerman not as a neighborhood watch volunteer looking out for the safety of the community, but as a "wanna be cop"  driven by malevolent intent. Zimmerman's suspicions about Martin revealed his racism--not his conscientious citizenship. Zimmerman profiled, stalked, and  killed Trayvon Martin.

The trial should have caused a reassessment of this narrative. The crucial evidence originated from the prosecution.  Jurors ( and any television viewers who cared to pay attention) learned that instead of hurrying back to the apartment of his father's girlfriend,  Martin decided to wait for  Zimmerman. Martin knocked Zimmerman to the ground. A witness residing in the complex heard the commotion and called 911. He testified that he saw Martin standing over Zimmerman repeatedly punching him. Once Martin made the decision to face Zimmerman, he no longer was a teen just trying to get home.

This crucial testimony moved the narrative of Martin supporters  not a whit. Progressive pundits on CNN, MSNBC, the Huffington Post, continue to describe the tragedy as the cold blooded murder of an innocent child simply trying to make his way home. Often the pundits eased into a discussion of Florida's "stand your ground laws," which neither the prosecution nor the defense introduced into the trial at all. If viewers did not know better, they would conclude that trial had not yet taken place.

These themes appear prominently in the mass demonstrations that have followed. Prominent among the messages from demonstrators signs are hoodies, skittles, racism, profiling and stand your ground. For demonstrators, too, the evidence failed to affirm their intuitions and emotions about the case, so they ignore it. Instead, they

More demonstrations are planned for this weekend. And more displays of ignorance.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

A Sunday Review: The American Dissent

The American Dissent: A Decade of American Conservatism
Jeffrey Hart
Doubleday and Company, Garden City New York: 1966

Another look at conservative books from the past . . .

One of the first books to appear after the conservative debacle in the 1964 presidential election was Jeffery Hart's The American Dissent: A Decade of American Conservatism. Hart, a Dartmouth professor of literature and longtime editor at the National Review, reflects upon the experience of the conservative movement in the previous ten years—this first decade following the establishment of the National Review in 1965.

Hart does not attempt to explain what went wrong in the 1964 election or even articulate a coherent theory of conservatism. According to Hart, “I do not conceive of this book as a primer on Conservatism. None such exists, and for the best of reasons: it cannot be written.” Instead, he provides a summary of conservative thought on issues of the time as addressed by various writers in the pages of the National Review.

Hart opens with the oft quoted passage from Lionel Trilling's The Liberal Imagination from 1950: “Nowadays, there are no conservative or reactionary ideas in general circulation.” Moreover, Trilling asserts that “liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition” in the United States”

Jefferey Hart fundamentally agrees. In his opening chapter titled, “The Emergence of Conservatism,” He invites his readers to imagine a student growing into adulthood in the 1940s as he or she passes through high school and college. Hart envisions that this student would experience exposure to nothing but a liberal perspective on the issues of the day. Hart suspects, however, that some questions might be lingering in the mind of his imaginary student. Although the student has been taught tolerance and respect for other cultures based upon innate equality, he cannot help wonder about the disparity of the conditions of life which exist for the people who live in those cultures. And although he has learned that our country exalts freedom of speech, he has learned also that somethings just aren't said--at least not in polite company. The lingering doubt or even skepticism of Hart's student may harbor doubts about the prevailing liberal orthodoxy but does not make a conservative. It does reveal, however, a mind open to other voices that challenge the liberal consensus. And it is these doubters to which the so-called “New Conservatism” appealed when it emerged in the post-WWII period. Hart briefly describes the familiar story of the emergence of the modern conservative movement.

Hart summarizes the observations of National Review writers in subsequent chapters devoted to Liberalism, the Negro Problem, the Protracted Conflict (with communism), and the Academy.

Liberalism has many spokesperson with diverse views, but conservative critics from the National Review recognize several unifying assumptions. First, liberals assume the basic goodness of humanity or that human nature is, in James Burnham's words, “changing and plastic.” Consequently, they conclude that such problems as poverty, ignorance, inequality, etc. result from lack of education or the victimization of people by means of the inadequacy of our economic and institutional arrangements. This latter conclusion creates the drive for reform. Second, liberals embark on their reforms with an unjustified optimism about success and little concern with unintended consequences. (For hope as a theme, see Arthur Schlesinger's The Politics of Hope and, more recently, Barack Obama's The Audacity of Hope. In my own profession, some of us mistakenly used the word “hope” in conjunction with executing some process or corporate directive. The corporate suits on hand quickly remind us that “hope is not a strategy.”) And liberals assume that their ideology as the sole intellectual tradition endures as the ration, “vital center” (in Arthur Schlesinger's words) while the extreme left and right constitute “pathologies.” In contrast, conservatives maintain a healthy skepticism about the ease at which problems can be solved and a cognizance of the unanticipated consequences of change. Hart notes even at this publication date of 1966 the rise of skepticism within the left—doubts about the liberal project that the next decade led to the rise of the neoconservatives. He also predicts, however, that many liberals will jettison their remaining attachments to traditional Western culture and move more radically left.

The so-called “Negro Problem” (perhaps better spoken of as “Southern White” problem) presented a more challenging issue. The civil rights movement consisted of so many voices calling for so many divergent goals and courses of action that conservative writers at the National Review experienced difficulty forming a unified assessment. Most writers recognized the sordid history of relations between whites and blacks and the current injustice of Southern laws. Garry Wills observes that “the wrong done to the Negro . . . is so unmanageably large a debt that even those with the best will in the world try to evade the logarithmic ordeal of itemizing these accounts.” The magazine supported the movement, especially what it called the “social power” of boycotts. Even in so just a cause, however conservatives retained some of their skepticism of proposed reforms. First, they remind readers that many of the difficulties facing black Americans South and North derived from problem in the black community itself. Second, they express concern about the impact of federal power in securing equality on the rights of other Americans. Finally, they stongly object when civil rights advocates at home embraced more radical liberation movements abroad that operated outside the American tradition of liberalism.

Overseas, “The Protracted Conflict” with communism attracted expansive attention from the National Review. Indeed, anticommunism seemed to serve as the mortar that held together eclectic elements of the “New Conservatism.” The conservatives assert that American leftists feel something in common with the communists while we are in reality at war with them. Liberals fail to recognize the fundamental distinctions between the free world and the communists as articulated in the pages of the National Review. In addition, liberals habitually support “liberation movements” abroad when such movements subvert reactionary regimes. And they overlook acts of violence when done in the name of their future hopes or as payback for past oppressions. And no matter how many of these liberation movements turn out badly, liberals maintain their sunny optimism and eagerly lend their support to the next one.

In the shortest chapter, “The Academy,” Hart repeats the stock criticism about the liberal domination of American universities. He notes the increased prevalence of liberalism among graduate students. Rather than correlate liberal beliefs with educational level, Hart sees it as result of the longer exposure to liberalism that come from extended years in graduate schools.

Hart also explores the varieties of conservative thought encountered in the pages of the National Review. He quotes another conservative writer's division of conservatism into the economists, the romantics, the skeptics, the natural law theorists, and the neo-idealists. Sometimes these contrasting perspectives led to verbal clashes, the most well-known and heated between Frank Meyer and Russell Kirk. While polemical pyrotechnics between Meyer and Kirk heated up both the pages of the magazine and conservative book publishing, other disagreements led to quiet resignations, as when Mex Eastman left over the magazines overt Christian tone.

In his final chapter, “The Prospects before Us,” Hart congratulates the National Review for putting a new kind of conservatism on the map and for creating a “conservative establishment.” He devotes most of his attention, though, on his predicted liberal crack up. The difficult choices, writes Hart, will fragment the liberal consensus. The civil rights movement, the cold war with the Soviet Union, the hot war in Viet Nam, and other national challenges will force difficult choices. Anticipating the rise of the New Left and the neo-conservatives, Hart sees a liberal crack up of sorts. The conservative movement will be augmented by those liberals those cannot countenance a turn to the hard left. He envisions a thriving conservative movement that provides a distinct alternative to “the revolutionary left and a dissolving liberalism.” More important, this conservatism will be “in harmony with our traditions and with the best that is in our actual civilization.”

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Enjoy a Glorious Fourth!

And proudly fly this flag . . .

Or this one . . . 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Happy Independence Day!

On this date two hundred thirty six years ago thirteen of Great Britain's twenty seven North American colonies declared independence.

The Second Continental Congress convened on 10 May 1776 to assess the progress made since its sessions the previous summer in maintaining their rights while at the same time preserving their union with Britain. The situation had worsened.

The previous October King George III charged in a speech before Parliament that opposition in the colonies was “carried on for the purpose of establishing an independent Empire.” The colonists, he continued, make “vague expression of attachments to the parent state, and the strongest protestations of loyalty to me, whilst they were preparing for a general revolt.” It was time, he concluded, “ to put a speedy and to these disorders by the most decisive exertions.” In response to the King's charges, Parliament passed the Prohibitory Act. This act declared the colonies outside the protection of the empire, prohibited all commerce with the colonies,  initiated a naval blockade, and announced that all colonial ships and cargo forfeit to the Crown as enemy vessels. Moreover, the month before the convening of the Congress, fighting erupted between British regulars and Massachusetts militiamen at Lexington and Concord.

During the month of May, Congress assumed the role of an unofficial provisional government, trying to coordinate the colonies and assume military control over the thousands of militiamen gathering in the Boston area.

Then on 7 June 1776, representative Richard Henry Lee of Virginia introduced the following resolution:

“That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved. That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances. That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted tot he respective Colonies for their consideration and approbation.”

After a couple of days debate, the Congress postponed additional discussion until July. At the time, only slightly more than half the colonies supported independence. A consensus had to be formed. Meanwhile, the Congress appointed a committee of five to draft a formal declaration of independence for adoption if the colonies reached a consensus. The committee delegated one of its members, Thomas Jefferson, to write the draft.

Finally, on 1 July, the Congress resumed debate on Lee's original resolution. Although no new points emerged, a virtual consensus had been reached. Only the delegates from the state of New York had failed to receive any instructions to support the resolution. So on 2 July 1776, the Continental Congress voted to pass the Lee resolution declaring independence. The United Colonies became the United States.

Two days later, on 4 July, 1776, the Congress voted to approve the Declaration of Independence as a formal statement of their decision.

      Thomas Jefferson