52 Albums, Week 42: Ambient 1: Music for Airports (Brian Eno)
52 Albums, Week 43: Heart Food (Judee Sill)

Sunday Night Journal, October 22, 2017

Last week I spent a couple of days in Athens, Alabama, for the dedication of a statue of my grandfather, Judge James E. Horton. He was the judge in one episode of the long-running and shameful Scottsboro Boys case: a notable episode, because he set aside a jury verdict which he believed to be a miscarriage of justice. I think most people have heard at least the broad outlines of the case: in 1931, nine black youths were accused and convicted of raping two white women. If you don't know about it, here is the Wikpedia account. As the article says, it was and is "widely considered a miscarriage of justice," and my grandfather has long been honored for his resistance to it. 

You can read about the statue and the ceremony here. In the photo gallery there are several shots just before and after the unveiling. The people gathered around are all my family; I'm the guy in the dark coat and sunglasses just to the left of the statue. It was a very beautiful day, though a little hot for late October even in north Alabama. That's my sister giving the speech; she did a great job. There were several speeches, all good, none overly long. 


For me this is an old family story, and as I suppose sometimes happens its very familiarity has preserved for me a surprising level of ignorance. I discover this whenever someone asks me certain fairly obvious questions about it: for instance, exactly how is it that a judge can overrule a jury verdict? Under what circumstances can this happen? Well, I'm not exactly sure. I have owned for many years a book which I think is considered the definitive account of the case, Scottsboro: A Tragedy of the American South, by Dan Carter. But I have never read it, and I really should.

One of the main movers of the statue project was retired Judge James Woodroof of Athens. He's six or seven years younger than I am, which makes the "retired" part of that a little shocking to me. His parents and mine were friends, so I knew him slightly growing up, and ran into him a few times around the University of Alabama in the '70s. Those are my images of him, and I still haven't quite adjusted to the fact that he is not only grown up and then some, but in a position of prominence and grave responsibility, far more responsibility than I've ever had. He has a great regard for the statement my grandfather made, and that touches me. 

Some people seem to regard what my grandfather did as first and foremost a blow struck against racial oppression, and it certainly was that. But I'm fairly certain that he didn't see it primarily in that way. For him it was the discharge of a sacred duty: to apply the rule of law in a sternly impartial way, without concession to popular sentiment, much less to mob sentiment, without consideration of race, status, or anything else apart from the law and the facts of the case. I do not have any at all of the talents that make for a good lawyer or a good judge, but that ideal moves me deeply. And I'm gratified that it still resounds in the legal profession. I sometimes think it has little place there nowadays, and maybe it isn't as widely revered as it should be, but it isn't dead. A sitting judge from neighboring Morgan County came up to me after the ceremony to tell me how much my grandfather's example means to him.

It's an odd sensation to be the descendant of such an admired figure. Most of us, the descendants, were at the ceremony. Of his eight or so grandchildren and roughly twice that many great-grandchildren (none of the very young great-great-grandchildren were there), only one, the daughter of one of my brothers, has made the law her career. There is thus no direct way in which the rest of us can think of ourselves as carrying on his legacy. Nevertheless it's difficult not to feel that we--well, I suppose I should speak only for myself--that I have some sort of share in his virtue. I don't. I know that. And yet I'm proud to be his grandson, to be a part of the same elemental community, the family, which produced him. And since I do not and can not and would not deny that my family were also part of the system of oppression which began with slavery, his deed is a reminder that there was always nobility in that culture alongside the evil: the good crop and the weeds existing together, mysteriously, as they always do. 

I didn't grow up in Athens, exactly. My parents did, but we lived out in the country, and I went to school there. We visited in Athens frequently, but only for the three years of high school was it really a major part of my life. For thirty years or so after high school I rarely went there and mostly lost touch with the people I'd gone to school with. In 2000, not long before my father's death in 2001, my parents moved into town, and so since then visits home have been visits to Athens. I feel closer to it than I think I ever did as a teenager, and very much enjoy seeing old acquaintances. I find that the older I get the more I value these precisely because they are old, because they go so far back into youth and in some cases childhood. It is a community of memory. 


This appeared in the September issue of Magnificat. It's by Fr. Donald Haggerty, whom I know nothing about beyond what's given in the magazine, that he's a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, currently serving at St. Patrick's Cathedral. I like it so much that I'm going to the trouble of typing the whole thing into this post.

For some people, the intensity of their belief in God is matched by an inclination to ask questions of God. The correlation is not a sign of disrespect or of doubt. They would not ask questions in this manner except for a conviction that God can be addressed in an utterly personal manner. In fact, their questions, which often begin with a "why is it" or "how can it be," tend to summon a deeper act of faith from their souls. Inasmuch as their questions are not answered so readily, as usually they are not, these questions plunge their souls much more blindly into the mystery of God. The unanswered question demands a surrender to God and a greater offering. The surrender can only be made with a conviction that God has heard the request for some light and accepted the offering of one's soul for others. If no clarity is forthcoming, the soul can still remain at peace, certain that God has been listening and will extend grace to others.

Logical labors of thought that seem to provide clear answers and explanations are usually false solutions in the realm of sacred mystery. Only in waiting and in darkness do quiet spiritual insights come upon us, and when they do so, they are like the light slowly emerging at dawn. And often they have to do with our need to offer ourselves more fully in love for others. 

I realized recently that in a sense it no longer matters to me whether a prayer is answered, the sense being that the lack of the hoped-for result, or even of some sense of response, does not disturb "the conviction that God has heard...and accepted...."


This afternoon I went to pick up our dog and cat at the office of the vet where they have to be boarded when we go out of town. While waiting my turn, I saw the cover of a cat-lover's magazine which announced an article called 5 New Litter Trends! 


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I think that it's possible to see Judge Horton's inheritance in the fairness that you usually bring to what you write here--your willingness to step back from the current soundbites and consider an issue dispassionately. It's what got me here to begin with.

I still haven't quite adjusted to the fact that he is not only grown up and then some, but in a position of prominence and grave responsibility, far more responsibility than I've ever had.

I feel exactly the same way about my new boss who I knew slightly when he was about 12. He is now 54, but I just can't quit thinking of him as a youngster, and it surprises me to find him very capable, and that he can handle some very sticky situations in a calm and mature way.


Yes, that temperamental connection between me and my grandfather is definitely there. I have a few paragraphs about it in the book. Of which I intend every week to post another excerpt. And thanks.

Getting older keeps being full of surprises.

I find this story of your grandfather very moving. He sacrificed a lot to uphold the Rule of Law. I love the statue. I agree with Janet about the fairness too.

Thanks. He didn't by the way become a pariah or anything that bad. He carried our home county in the election he lost and was generally well thought of, certainly by the '60s when I was aware of things. I don't know how much it pained him to give up his political career but I don't think it broke his heart. He was not at all a politician in the usual sense--egomaniacal, cunning, etc.

I really like this that you wrote: "And since I do not and can not and would not deny that my family were also part of the system of oppression which began with slavery, his deed is a reminder that there was always nobility in that culture alongside the evil: the good crop and the weeds existing together, mysteriously, as they always do."

I see the plaque honoring him says he was called "Lincolnesque". In a strictly physical sense, that's what I thought when I saw his photo in the article you linked to.

I guess it basically means tall and thin. :-)

Thank you. It's rather a conundrum, being descended from slave owners. The generic white guilt that we're all supposed to feel is evaded by most people, I think, apart from the neurotic leftist types who seem to want to commit cultural-ethnic suicide. If you're not one of those, I guess you can pretty easily separate your actual own self from the guilt of slavery. And you can say, to anyone who suggests that slave owners were not possessed by absolute evil, "Well, you wouldn't say that about a Nazi, would you?!?" And the matter is closed. But that's lame and superficial, and if you're actually descended from slave owners you see that, and yet at the same time you recognize the evil. Or should. Some of course resolve the tension by not facing the reality of slavery.

"I find this story of your grandfather very moving. He sacrificed a lot to uphold the Rule of Law. I love the statue. I agree with Janet about the fairness too."

Ditto -- powerful stuff.

Glad you found it so.

I need to find a picture that lets you read the other side of the marker.

It is good to keep up on those litter trends, Mac!

I will read more about your grandfather when I have a chance. I do like these inspiring stories of the South. We hear mostly negatives, of course. My families in North Carolina and Georgia have slave-owning pasts. So it goes.

Just returned from Utah, so I was reading this post on my phone at the Salt Lake airport yesterday.

Just got back from seeing BR 2049, and...I don't know...I'll have to think about it. I'd like to see it again right away but don't really have time. I was very much on board up until the last 20 or 30 minutes or so, but then...I don't know...

If all goes as planned I'll be seeing it tonight.

Well, all went as planned, and I did see BR 2049 last night. I liked it very much. Like Mac, I'd like to see it again but not sure I'll have the chance. But it is well worth catching.

I'll definitely be getting hold of the dvd (or streaming it) when it becomes available that way. It didn't have the emotional impact of the original for me, but it was certainly interesting and visually very impressive. Not sure it would be on the small screen.

I was confused by certain things toward the end. I sought out a couple of reviews after I saw it to see if they would shed light, but they're very careful not to give much away.

It's still running at a couple local theatres through the end of this week so I should have the chance to see it again.

Much to my surprise it's still running here, too. It must be doing better than early reports indicated. I probably won't be able to see it again, though. If I do it would be toward the end of the week.

There were four other people in the theater when I saw it on a weekday afternoon. Two were young guys, in their 20s I'd say. They weren't together. The other two were a grey-haired couple, old enough to have seen the original when it was new. Like me, they sat through most of the credits (the other two did not). I considered striking up a conversation with them but needed to be somewhere.

I want to re-watch the original before seeing the new one. I found the DVD for $5 in Target over the weekend. Now comes the hard part, watching it and going to see BR 2049 before it leaves the theater!

It's not strictly necessary to know a lot about the first one. Or maybe anything at all. But I would certainly recommend seeing the first one first to anyone who either doesn't remember it very well or has never seen it at all. Which version did you get? There are some significant differences.

I think it said "The Final Cut" on the box cover.

I think that one has a different ending from the one I saw most recently, which was the original theatrical version. I won't say anything about that until you've seen it. I think the Final Cut is supposed to be somewhat more violent, which would not be a good thing in my view. The theatrical cut includes some explanatory voice-over by Deckerd which is not present in some others, I'm not sure which. But I think it helps understand the basic situation--who he is, what he does, etc.

To reiterate what I think I wrote before above, I did see this movie in the theater, but at this point all I recall is Rutger Hauer is a replicant and Harrison Ford is not (I think).

Got to see BR 2049 again last night. I think I liked it better the 2nd time, in that because I knew the plot already I was able to concentrate more on some of the other subtleties. It also struck me as more moving the second time, fwiw.

I must say, though, that unlike my first viewing, the soundtrack was played this time at a ridiculously loud volume. It was so loud that it was actually causing the speakers to crackle, as if they were being overloaded.

I think some viewers have complained about that, but I guess it was not turned up that loud when I saw it, as it seemed fine to me. I mean, most movies are kind of loud these days, but it didn't seem excessively so.

There was something in the plot that, toward the end, seemed not to make sense to me. I didn't mention it before because I didn't want to commit a spoiler, and now I can't remember exactly what it was....

[Minor spoiler]

I did think the big fight scene toward the end seemed unnecessary, almost pandering. But there was something more fundamental...?...

Hmmm...not sure. If you remember, let me know.

I want a place for major spoilers.


Yeah. Let's use the Undead thread.

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