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May 2014

Reparations for Slavery and Segregation?

This lengthy piece in The Atlantic by Ta-Nehisi Coates, "The Case for Reparations," is getting a good bit of attention, and deservedly so. Coates (I wonder how his first name is pronounced) is an intelligent and thoughtful man, and I think he makes a pretty strong moral case for reparations from the U.S. government to the descendants of slaves. Moreover, he writes very well. It's a powerful statement, and you really should read it before drawing a conclusion on the question.

Any decent person will be appalled and angered by the oppression Coates details. And it is not just a rehearsal of stories about slavery, with which we are all familiar, but of things that have taken place much more recently, and not just in the South but in, for instance, Chicago--tactics deliberately undertaken to keep blacks in segregated neighborhoods and, much worse, to cheat them of what little wealth they managed to get hold of. The case for some sort of attempt to make restitution is, as I say, strong.

But in the end I remain unconvinced that the proposal is a good idea, or even workable. Or rather I should say I don't think it's a good idea because I don't think it's workable, and would probably do a good deal of harm. 

I'm speaking there of the idea of material reparations. But that's not what Coates wants, really. Early in the piece he dismisses the practical concerns in favor of making the moral case. Later on he seems to see the material reparations as principally a means toward a deeper end, or perhaps even only a symbol of it:

And so we must imagine a new country. Reparations—by which I mean the full acceptance of our collective biography and its consequences—is the price we must pay to see ourselves squarely. The recovering alcoholic may well have to live with his illness for the rest of his life. But at least he is not living a drunken lie. Reparations beckons us to reject the intoxication of hubris and see America as it is—the work of fallible humans.

Won’t reparations divide us? Not any more than we are already divided. The wealth gap merely puts a number on something we feel but cannot say—that American prosperity was ill-gotten and selective in its distribution. What is needed is an airing of family secrets, a settling with old ghosts. What is needed is a healing of the American psyche and the banishment of white guilt.

What I’m talking about is more than recompense for past injustices—more than a handout, a payoff, hush money, or a reluctant bribe. What I’m talking about is a national reckoning that would lead to spiritual renewal. Reparations would mean the end of scarfing hot dogs on the Fourth of July while denying the facts of our heritage. Reparations would mean the end of yelling “patriotism” while waving a Confederate flag. Reparations would mean a revolution of the American consciousness, a reconciling of our self-image as the great democratizer with the facts of our history.

If only. That would be a price worth paying if it could actually purchase the healing he describes. But I don't think spiritual renewal can be obtained by any means other than spiritual renewal. 

And is a persuasive case. And unlike most white Americans I know that some of my ancestors were slave owners, and so I have a sense of real personal involvement in the history. I'll be thinking about this for a while. I could change my mind if I heard a really plausible and effective plan for implementing the idea. 

(N.B., he might have left out the Confederate flag dig, which as a matter of rhetoric is not well-chosen.  There's plenty of justification for it, but there are also plenty of people for whom the flag is a cultural symbol displayed without any particular racist intent, and reconciliation would require leaving them alone. I don't think the flag should fly from public buildings, but let's not try to stamp it out.)

Fr. Matt's Heart Attack Journal

A few weeks ago I asked for prayers for Fr. Matt Venuti, who had suffered a massive heart attack. Well, he's recovering pretty well now, and has posted an account of the attack and its aftermath on his blog, in four parts (so far):

Heart Attack

Heart Attadck: The Days After (The painkillers and the ordeal in general were apparently affecting his typing skills.)

The First Week Home

The Second Week

Continued prayers are requested and appreciated.

52 Guitars: Week 21

Eric Johnson

As a perenially failing guitarist, I have occasionally over the years read Guitar Player magazine. I even subscribed to it for a few years in the mid-1990s or so, though I was always a little uneasy in doing so, as if one day I might get a letter saying "Inasmuch as our magazine is called Guitar PLAYER, we are obliged to discontinue your subscription...." 

There was a period--in the '80s, I suppose--long before the Web and electronic distribution of music, and when it was still reasonable to assume that anyone interested in music owned a record player, when the magazine had an insert that was a piece of flexible black plastic which could be played on a record player. That was how they distributed samples of the music of some of the artists they wrote about. One of these was an instrumental by Eric Johnson, of whom I'd never heard, called "Cliffs of Dover." It's possible that it was this performance, (possibly an edited version, as I don't recall the intro being quite this long).


I thought it was fantastic, and managed to make a cassette copy of it. I kept an eye out for an official recording of it, but when I finally heard it, I was disappointed. It was a studio version that somehow lacked the excitement of the live performance. And that pattern has more or less continued in my acquaintance with his music. I like the live album Live from Austin, TX, which is an Austin City Limits performance, better than the two or three studio albums I've heard. The studio work is more polished--too polished, many would say--and the playing is superb, but something's missing.

Here's another live track, "S.R.V.", which I assume stands for Stevie Ray Vaughan.


Like a lot of virtuoso instrumentalists, Johnson wants to do it all, including singing, but unfortunately neither his compositions, for the most part, nor his vocals really appeal very much to me ("Cliffs of Dover" a striking but sadly rare exception). I can't help wishing he had found a place in a band with a singer and writer(s) as good in their specialties as he is. But I do love his playing. Obviously he's influenced by Hendrix (who isn't?), which he acknowledges in interviews, and he covers Hendrix tunes, but much of this performance seems so Hendrix-like as to be a homage.


Here's a link to the studio version; see if you agree that the live one is stronger.

Thank God for EWTN

And Catholic Answers, and other Catholic initiatives in the media world. During this past Lent, abstaining from listening to music in the car on my way to and from work, I listened to a certain amount of Catholic radio (we have a local station, Archangel Radio). Some of it was from EWTN, some from Catholic Answers, some of it locally produced. And the world is a better place because of what these people do.

Yes, I could find a lot to criticize in these efforts. I could watch EWTN anytime I want to, but I rarely do, because most of their programming doesn't appeal much to me. (I do watch The Journey Home sometimes, because the stories of converts are always interesting to  me.) But these are relatively small reservations, and I want to put them aside at the moment. EWTN has brought people to the faith, or brought people back, and if it has driven anyone away, I'd think he or she has deeper spiritual problems than EWTN can be held responsible for.

What struck me most was the Catholic Answers talk show that was generally in progress during my drive home. Over and over again I listened to knowledgeable, articulate, courteous hosts field a wide range of questions from a wide range of people, from committed Catholics wanting clarification of some point of doctrine or morals to atheists wanting to argue. I never heard them at a loss for a response, and I never heard them sound irritated or bully a caller. The most uncomfortable things ever got was when a caller rambled and the hosts couldn't bring him round to a specific question, but it's the nature of radio that you can only allow that to go on for so long before you have to stop it for the sake of your listeners. I was especially impressed by the way they dealt with a young man having serious personal problems, making an effort to get him in touch with counselors who could help him face to face. And with the recurring program where they invite atheists and agnostics to call in and discuss the existence of God or anything else relating to religion; they were unfailingly capable, patient, and good-humored. 

They're performing a great service to the Church and to the world, and, again, I thank God for them. 

To Architect Or Not To Architect

In the comments a few days ago discussing "graduated college" vs. "graduated from college," there were mentions of several current verbal tics that get on people's nerves. Rob G mentioned that he'd heard one that came from IT (information technology) that really bugs him, but couldn't remember what it was.

I wonder if it was the use of "architect" as a verb. Not only a verb, but one commonly found in the past tense, as "architected." As in "We architected this system to be very responsive." There are multiple annoying usages that come from the IT world, but this one makes me snarl.

It means, as you can gather, nothing more or less than "designed." There is a reason for its existence, and the reason reveals a lot about the linguistic knowledge and sensitivities of technologists. Going back forty years and more, there has existed a sub-category of computer engineering called computer architecture, or sometimes system architecture. It refers to the structure of a system, or some major feature of it, considered as a whole, comparable to the ordinary use of the word "architecture" in relation to building.

Some person with absolutely no feel for language apparently decided that architecture is the result of the activity of architecting, and began to speak in ugly sentences like the one above. It's caught on to some degree, though I hope it's so clumsy that few outside the technical world will adopt it. 


Typepad Problems Again

The blog has been unavailable for most of the day today. Typepad reports that they've again suffered a major denial-of-service attack. Last time it took three or four days before things were really stable. So if the blog disappears again in the next day or two, that's probably why. 

Burrell On Hart On God

Craig Burrell has written such an insightful and extensive review of David Bentley Hart's The Experience of God that I'm half-tempted to write a review of the review. But instead I'll just provide you with the link and recommend strongly that you read it for yourself. 

I bought the book a couple of months ago, in a spell of eyes-bigger-than-stomach book-buying, but I'm not sure when I'm going to get to it. The review makes me want to move it up higher on my list.


And by the way: I have been wrestling with how to review a book of the same genus, if not species, as Hart's: Stratford Caldecott's The Radiance of Being. The struggle comes, as it has done in similar cases, because I feel rather out of my intellectual depth in much of the book. In the midst of this I learned a few days ago that Mr. Caldecott is suffering from prostate cancer and is not expected to live a great deal longer. And a rather touching thing has happened: he is apparently a big fan of superhero comics and movies, and somehow his family has managed to contact various people involved in those productions, and they've responded in very kind ways. I trust we will all pray for him and his family. 




52 Guitars: Week 20

Davy Graham

You knew he would be next, didn't you? Well, no, I guess you didn't, but if you're familiar with British folky guitar players, you've probably heard of him. He's not that well known outside of that world, but he's very highly regarded within it, and is said to have been a big influence on Jansch, Renbourn, and others. Here's his signature tune, "Anji", which has been recorded by a number of other people as "Angie." You may be familiar with it from Paul Simon's version on the Sounds of Silence album.


I confess that I haven't sought out his music, because he sings on much of it, and he has a very uninteresting voice. (To be honest, I think his blues vocals are worse than that--they're among the most unconvincing I've ever heard.) But in looking for samples of his work on YouTube, I'm discovering that there is quite a lot that is purely instrumental. Here is a fascinating take on the classic short story of uncanny love, "She Moves Through the Fair." (If you don't know it, you might want to listen to this performance by Anne Briggs so you know the tune.) The sound is not especially good, and I don't see any indication of what the TV show is. From the '60s, I guess.


As that clip shows, he shouldn't really be classified as a folk guitarist, because he ventured far afield into jazz and what's now called "world music" ("foreign" began to sound bad at some point). In fact his first album was mostly jazz. Here's another example. You can say it was trendy for its time, 1968, but I don't think I've ever heard as convincing an effort at a raga-style instrumental from any other guitarist.


His Wikipedia entry indicates that there is some inconsistency in whether his name should be "Davy" or "Davey."

"When I graduated..."

Which is correct?

"When I graduated from high school..."


"When I graduated high school..."

The second seems obviously wrong to me, both logically and in terms of what just sounds right or wrong, which is mostly the way I do grammar. But I see it constantly these days, and am wondering if I missed an update to the rules at some point. I don't remember seeing it before the past fifteen years or so. Is it just an idiom, sanctioned by tradition in spite of its not making sense, or another indicator of cultural decline?

It especially bothers me when it's "When I graduated college..."