Showing posts with label Law. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Law. Show all posts

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Free Textbooks To Academies

 In 1940, Governor Paul Johnson pushed for a change to the Mississippi code to allow for the state to pay for free textbooks for Mississippi undergraduate students.  Many other states had similar laws, and Johnson wanted Mississippi children to have the same educational opportunities as children in other states.

Using Texas as a model, my Uncle Boyd applied for and made a contract with the relative textbook publishers to maintain and operate a textbook depository in Mississippi.  Publishers would print the books, mostly in Nashville, and ship them to our warehouse on South Street, which is now the Cathead Vodka distillery.  The state of Mississippi would pass laws specifying the funds available for textbooks, and the schools would apply to the State Textbook Commission to make an order for the books they wanted.  We would ship them and bill the state of Mississippi.  When the state paid us, we kept eight percent and sent the rest to the publishers.  This is how textbooks were bought and sold in Mississippi until the change in the Mississippi code in the 90s, which abolished the State Textbook fund and allowed schools to order textbooks out of the general education funds.  

When students got their books at the beginning of the year, they had a stamp on the inside front cover that said, “This Book Is The Property of the State of Mississippi and is assigned to:” and then a blank for the student’s name and the year.  The state of Mississippi owned your fourth-grade reading textbook and let you use it for a year.  The next year, they added a name to the stamp and let another student use the same book.

This system worked great for quite a while.  Even schools like St. Andrews and St. Richards qualified for free textbooks as long as the students were citizens of Mississippi.  In 1964, the United States passed the Civil Rights Act and its several chapters.  Chapter Six of the Civil Rights Act made it illegal to use federal funds for segregated programs.  

“Section 601 provides that recipients must comply with the mandate that no person, on the basis of race, color, or national origin, “be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under” any federally funded program or activity.” That’s where Mississippi ran into a problem.  Our schools were still very segregated.  That segregation of public schools would soon be struck down, in some parts because of chapter six, but Mississippi would attempt to escape segregating its schools by creating new, private schools that could still legally segregate because they didn’t receive federal funds or state funds.

After salaries and insurance, textbooks are the next largest yearly expense for most schools.  Many of these private schools tried to make a case that they were still eligible for state textbook funds.  The first case came in 1970 in Tunica.  A young lawyer from Oxford made the case that the Superintendent of Tunica public schools was ordering textbooks for the public schools but delivering them to the Tunica Institute, a private academy.   The case went before Judge Keady, who ordered that the practice not continue but didn’t rule on whether or not it happened in the past since Tunica Institute was only six years old and is generally considered one of the very first segregation academies.  I don’t have access to our records from 1969, but I’m pretty sure we shipped textbooks to the Tunica superintendent that ended up a the Tunica Institute.

Almost two years later, the Mississippi Association of Private Schools sued the State Textbook Commission because parochial schools were receiving textbook funds, but they were not.  Bill Goodman had a team representing the Textbook Commission, Ed Bruini had a team representing us, and the judge was Bill Coleman.  This was pretty serious stuff.  The private school association tried to prove that since they had no verbiage about segregation in their charter, they should be allowed free textbooks.  The state’s position was that the parochial schools were, in fact, integrated, even if they didn’t have very many non-white students, and at that time, none of the Association of Private Schools members were integrated, even though they had no verbiage in their charter preventing it.  Missco, for their part, sat in the corner, trying not to offend anyone as both sides were our customers.

Coleman ruled in favor of the state and said the academies would not get any textbook money as long as they were defacto segregated, no matter what their charter said.  

None of this was very flashy news.  There are one or two articles in the Clarion Ledger about either case; none were very long as there wasn’t much public interest.  There were some hurt feelings, though.  The next year we were subject to a Peer Committee review and audit.  They said in their report that we were a “paragon of efficiency” that became part of our marketing material for years after, but the message was still pretty clear.  “Choose your friends, and stick with them.”  We honestly didn’t have much choice.  The public schools were much bigger customers, and we were doing our best to stay very well within the letter of the law.

Another outcome of the case was that we could no longer charge adopted textbook materials to private schools.  They could order books from us, but they had to pay cash lest we get accused of mingling adopted textbook money with their accounts receivable.  Many of the academies ended up buying their textbooks by mail order, partially out of spite but also because that way they could get 120-day dating on their invoices, and in those early days 120, day dating on invoices was a heck of a gift.  

I was a kid when most of this happened.  Most of it I know about from talking to the principal players years after the fact and looking it up on microfiche at the Millsaps Library.  Mississippi went to great lengths to avoid cooperating with the spirit of the Civil Rights Act.  At the time, people thought they had beaten the system, but here fifty years later, I wonder if maybe we didn’t break the system.  

I don’t think there’s anybody left alive who is still angry about decisions my dad or anyone at Missco had to make in those days.  There were at the time, but that was a long time ago.  The state of your public schools has such a major role in the quality of life in a community.  It’s so easy to say that the state of Jackson Public Schools is the Mayor’s fault or the city council’s fault, but as much as I respected him as a person, I’m looking much more at the decisions Dr. Walker and Mr. Howell made in 1969 as an explanation for the state of Jackson Public Schools today.  A lot of people will point to the Citizens Council, and I will too.  I knew those guys too, but our educational leaders honestly should bear a special burden here because they had the most reason to know better.  Bob Fortenberry had a big role in keeping Jackson Public Schools in a workable state, but after he moved on it was, and still is a struggle to find anyone to take that position.

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer

 I saw Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer at the Capri Theater and dined on the fried catfish plate that was delicious and finished with the apple cobbler.  In a lifetime of going to movies, the Capri offers the nicest, most complete experience yet.  Even better than when I saw Silent Running and Escape From The Planet of the Apes there.

I’ve always felt a great deal of existential tension about the work of J. Robert Oppenheimer.  As a teenager, I read that a 13-year-old boy built a working atomic bomb for a science fair project.  It was even the subject of an episode of Barney Miller.  I took this to mean that I should learn to build one.  Along the way, I learned that the story about the 13-year-old boy was greatly exaggerated.  He lacked not only the plutonium but also the shaped-charged explosives to make his model work.  

The segments of a California orange inspired Oppenheimer’s team to create shaped charged explosives in such a way that it created an implosion into a small container of plutonium with sufficient force to break apart the atomic bonds in the plutonium.  They made a bomb powerful enough to use the fingers of God to split apart the basic structure of the universe, making an even bigger bomb.

My knowledge of this never settled well with me.  To excise it, I made a folded paper model of Fatman and Littleboy; the devices dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  There’s a sequence in Nolan’s film where they crate up Fatman and Littleboy and drive them away on the back of trucks, leaving Los Alamos, through Jornada del Muerto, in correspondingly large and small crates, out of the laboratory out into the history books: fame and Infamy.  Seeing them, I thought: “Hello, old friend.”

I’ve made excruciatingly detailed scale models of these devices in folded paper, then destroyed them when it began to concern me that keeping them around was an imperfect reflection of my mental state.  Maybe it was.  When I met some of the worst people I’ve ever known on the internet, I imported those files into Blender and made a .obj file out of them, which I then imported into a virtual world filled with truly objectionable people.  I’m not sure what my point was other than to say this exists, and you exist, and I can’t really break it down further than that.

There have been several films about the creation of the bomb; this one goes from Oppenheimer’s early years in Europe through the trinity device test and ends with Oppeheimer’s confrontation with the McCarthy era insanity.

Like many turn-of-the-century Jews, Oppenheimer once entertained the possibility that communism might provide his people with the safe and beneficial environment they desperately wanted.  You saw this sort of worker’s philosophy working its way through art and literature, and science in an era when men believed in the concept of a better world.  Many intellectuals saw the Russian experience with communism as a deformation of the optimism felt in the early worker’s movement.  Oppenheimer, like many turn-of-the-century Jews, felt a great sense of betrayal when Russian communism became what it became.  

There have been many historical investigations into Oppenheimer’s history with communism, and no one has ever been able to come up with more than that.  Like many intellectuals, he would be criticized for his involvement in the Spanish Civil War and the communists there.  There was a strong sense of antisemitism in the McCarthy era persecution of pre-war communists.  In the theater where I saw the movie, a woman cackled anytime communists were mentioned.  I’m not sure what that portends, but it’s been my observation that the communist witch hunts have returned.  

Nolan used his trademark cinematic style to portray the guilt Oppenheimer felt about what his creation became.  This was clearly the strongest of all the themes explored in the film.  The effect is really very strong in a Dolby-enabled theater.  I doubt it will have the same emotional impact on a home system.

Clearly, Barbie will be the most successful film this year.  Oppenheimer might be the most important.  Like a lot of important films, some people won’t enjoy it.  The intensity of it becomes a different sort of entertainment from what some people pursue.  Murphy as Oppenheimer and Downey as Strauss are standouts.  Much has been said about the performance of Florence Pugh and Tom Conti as Einstein.

It’s a movie about people much smarter than anyone you know discussing the basic structure of the universe and how to unlock the awesome destructive forces of God himself.  The sequence covering the trinity test itself comes at the end of the third act.  It’s powerful and effective at putting you into that scene, that moment in human development.

In the bible, it talks about God’s power to smite entire cultures, and he did. Before Oppenheimer, that ability was reserved for God.  Based on the book, The American Prometheus, Oppenheimer stole the fire from Olympus and gave it to men.   I’ve never lived in a world where this power didn’t exist.  The year before I was born, the Russians sent missiles with atomic weapons to the island nation of Cuba.  Mississippi was well within striking distance.  

As a physicist, Oppenheimer pondered the death of stars; as a leader, he gave us the means to bring about the death of humanity.  Only a physicist could do that.  

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Gun Statistics - Real Life

 Here on the front end of sixty, here is the tally on my experience with guns:

A few dead deer.  Several dead ducks and doves.  A few dead squirrels, which I feel bad about because we didn't eat them; we just killed them.  

Three near-fatal accidents.  Three accidents where only property was damaged.  Six suicides and two suicide attempts.  Two murders.  Three armed robberies and two assaults with a deadly weapon.  

What I have yet to experience is anybody using a firearm to protect life, liberty, or property, including the police.  I've heard of it happening, but I have yet to witness it or have it happen close to me.  

If you look at the FBI statistics for Mississippi, my experience is pretty normal.  Despite what the NRA says, you're statistically more likely to accidentally shoot yourself or someone else than you are to use a gun to defend yourself.  You're also more likely to use a gun to kill yourself.  Whatever effect the 2nd amendment hoped to produce, this is what it did produce.

The other argument in favor of the NRA's interpretation of the 2nd amendment is that it gives us what we need to defend ourselves from a tyrannical government.  Well, we tried that too.  The result was Jackson burned to the ground, and Vicksburg was under siege for so long people were eating rats and mules to survive.  Our economy was destroyed, our railroads unusable, and more than six thousand Mississippians were dead.  People like to say we killed more Yankees than they killed of us, but that's not true.  Mississippi was a turkey shoot.  We've received accolades for fighting as hard as we did, but we were brutalized, and the right to bear arms didn't help us.

Reasonable gun laws start with looking at things how they really are, not how we'd like for them to be.  I don't know why we're not using guns more to protect life and liberty, but at the moment, you're a lot more likely to take these things with a gun than to protect them.

Whatever the intention of the 2nd amendment was, whatever the potential the 2nd amendment has, the result we're getting now is the exact opposite. Clearly, we're not interpreting this correctly, and since one organization is almost entirely responsible for how we interpret the 2nd amendment, the fault pretty clearly lies with them.

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Women Who Don't Celebrate Holidays

 Wayne LaPierre and the NRA are big fans of the idea that a "good guy with a gun" is all you need to solve the problem of "bad guys with guns."  They believe in it so much that they plaster it all over their social media every time it works.  

That's the problem; every time it works is between one and two percent of all the gun violence in the nation.  One or two percent make their evidence in this argument almost anecdotal.  While it does work at some level, their strategy simply isn't solving the problem.

Usually, their social media post will go like this: Larry Smith takes out Rico Warez with the AK47 he kept in the back of his truck in case he wanted to go deer hunting.  Their posts are filled to the brim with racial dog whistles. Then 500 middle-aged men will comment how great it is to be an American and FU Brandon!  

Problems like gun violence amplify problems with economic disparity.  The darker and the poorer you are, the more likely you are to be the victim of gun violence.

Going to the grocery today, I was struck by what a terrible job we do of governing the people who live here.  Morgan Place is so filled with potholes you can't navigate it with a normal vehicle.  Inside the grocery, the women at the deli counter were talking.  I suppose the topic before I walked up was why they're working today (July 4).  One of them said she didn't mind working on the fourth because that's when her cousin got shot, and her family doesn't celebrate it, and the other woman said she felt the same about Christmas because that's when her daddy got shot.  

Two women, Americans both Mississippians and Jacksonians, laid out a testimony before me of what a horrible job we've done of governing the world they live in.  By "we," I mean me too!  There certainly have been thousands of times when I could have done more, said more, and tried more to make things better but didn't.  

Our city has an administration that was elected on the premise that they could and would do something about economic disparity, but they've done such a shit job at maintaining the basic functions of a city that they've actually made the effects of economic disparity much worse.  Our state has a decidedly conservative legislature and administration, by word, absolutely devoted to providing security to its citizens but failing utterly for these two women.  Both ends of the political spectrum made promises to help these women, and both failed.  Their lives are bad and getting worse.  

I think we have to admit that conservative gun policies are a failure.  I think we also have to admit that liberal policing policies are also a failure.  I think we have to go back to the drawing board and re-evaluate everything we're doing and look for solutions to the problem rather than ways to protect our empire of ideas.  

It's not fair that these women have to work on July fourth while I get to fuck around and do what I want.  It's also not fair that in one of the world's most advanced countries, we can't keep that woman's father safe on Christmas Eve or the other woman's cousin safe on the Fourth of July.

Friday, June 2, 2023

What's In The Box?

A lot of people find things they don't understand are intimidating.  It's a natural reaction.  If you don't know what's in a box labeled "X," it could be anything.  It could be a puppy, it could be a chocolate cake, but it could also be a tiger or a diamond-back rattlesnake.  Until you open the box, you don't know.   Some people find the chance that it might be a rattlesnake much more important than the chance that it might be a chocolate cake, so they presume this box labeled "X" is a threat and act like it.

I think that may be part of what's happening with some of the hate we're seeing lately with transgenderism.  For most of us, me included, the experience of transgenderism is utterly alien and quite far from our daily experience.  We make our physical gender part of our identity, and even people who understand that identity is a construct find it very difficult to see beyond it.   

Over the last fifteen years, a lot of LGBTQ people and their allies have been operating under the presumption that if they raise the awareness of gay and trans people, it will make the larger public more accepting of them.  The idea being that if we open the box and show the contents, people will see it's not a threat.  In many cases, that's worked.  It worked on me.

Some people are so concerned about the possible threat in the box that they don't want to look, even if it's open.  Efforts to raise the awareness of LGBTQ people and normalize their presence make some people feel threatened, like this thing they're afraid of is growing and being "forced down their throat," which is exactly the opposite of the original intent to show that LGBTQ people aren't anything to be afraid of or concerned about.

It's really hard to cross the lines of culture, sexuality, and identity.  These ideas become the core of how people define themselves, and far too many people don't feel confident enough of their own place in society to be accepting of people who are different.  Anytime you see somebody with a chip on their shoulder, jealously guarding their spot in the world, it's a pretty good bet they're going to have trouble with bigotry.  

It's particularly painful to see people who themselves were once marginalized because of their culture or race, or religion participate in the hate and rejection of LGBTQ people.  You'd think they would be the first to recognize this syndrome in other people, and most are, but some become even more reactionary, almost as if their seat at the table will be taken away if they allow someone different to sit next to them.   

This is one of those situations where I don't really know the solution.  I think there's some merit to staying the course and continuing to raise the profile of differently-sexualized people and continue to try and educate people that they are not a threat in any way.  There's going to be pushback.  The slate at the last session of the Mississippi Legislature is a pretty good example of push-back.  Recent political pressure to shut down the LGBTQ clinic at the University of Mississippi Medical Center is another example.  

All I can suggest is, don't respond to hate with hate.  Be firm but understanding.  Fear of the unknown is legitimate; continuing to try and make known the unknown is still the best course.  Maybe cut back on some of these basic cable shows exploiting the lives of teenage transgender people and focus more on the experience of adults.  A lot of people are responding with near violence to the idea of trans people participating in sexed sports.  It's actually a pretty rare event, but concern over it has exploded.  Maybe there's some merit to trying to understand and cooperate with these fears, even though it's really very rare.

Reaching out to people who don't fit the larger cultural patterns isn't a hill most people want to fight on.  It makes people wonder why you can't just go along to get along.  This is something Jesus specifically shows us to do, though.  There's a reason why he made a tax collector his disciple.  There's a reason why he told the parable of the Samaritan.  It's incredibly liberating for your own mind to take these lessons to heart and make them part of your life.  Living without fear of other people is one of the greatest gifts you can I've yourself.  

Monday, July 11, 2022

Shrimp and Grits

 1985.  Ruben Anderson is appointed to the Mississippi State Supreme Court.  My dad decided to have a dinner party in his honor.  My dad was making a point.  He probably thought his points were subtle, but they never were.  There were men in Mississippi who might make a face at having a black man on the State Supreme court, and my dad wanted them to know his opinion of their opinion.  

Besides Judge Anderson and his remarkable wife, the guest list was the regular suspects, Brum Day, Rowan Taylor, Charlie Deaton, and added in George Hughes, Bill Goodman, and of course, everyone's respective spouses or public girlfriends.  A lot of times, I was more pleased to see the spouses and girlfriends than the men themselves.

Daddy was making a point.  His side of the Capitol Street Gang approved of Judge Anderson, and he didn't care who had other opinions.  Not just approval of Judge Anderson, although he's a genuinely remarkable man, but approval of having black men in positions of power in Jackson, Mississippi.

The guts and the details of the dinner party fell to my mom.  She was a self-taught cook and a great one.  Her regular co-conspirators were Mrs. Kroeze, Mrs. Lewis, Mrs. Flood, Mrs. Bass, and my Aunt Linda.   Jane Lewis was the best baker I've ever met.  They told me it was a rare disease that took her from us, but several other dear Mississippians died of the same condition, so maybe it wasn't all that rare after all.  That disease stole vital human beings from me.  That makes it my enemy.

Mother was a very experimental cook, which I appreciated, but my siblings often had another opinion.  Sometimes her menus were unconventional.  Gazpacho, different forms of liver and oysters, and calf's tongue were served at family dinners but not well received.

"What are you serving?"  I asked as she was cutting onions.

"Shrimp and Grits," she said.  I could see the shrimp in the sink where she de-veined them.  She bought them from a man coming up from Biloxi every week and parked his truck with ice chests full of fresh seafood at Deville Plaza.  Every woman in town made occasional trips to meet him and cut a deal. 

"Mother, this man is a judge; you cannot serve grits for supper."  I was adamant.

She ignored my opinion, as she often would.  In this instance, she was correct.  This was a few years before Bill Neal made shrimp and grits famous and Southern Cooking respectable.  If you've never heard of Bill Neal, I'll include a link to a video about him.  He's a remarkable man and responsible for many of the recipes you eat.

Years later, I asked her how she knew ten years before anyone else that Shrimp and Grits were a thing.  She said she got the recipe out of Southern Living, but I've looked, and there weren't any Shrimp and Grits recipes in Southern Living that year.  Further research told me that Galatoire's in New Orleans had occasionally been serving Shrimp and Grits since the seventies.  Her recipe was similar to that.  Either she had it there, or one of her co-conspirators had it there.

The best Shrimp and Grits I've ever had was at City Grocery in Oxford.  Their recipe was similar to Bill Neal's but had a little extra push to it.  By now, if you're from here, you've had the dish somewhere unless you were kosher or suffered a shellfish allergy.  

For me, Shrimp and Grits mean a time when my mother was right, and I was wrong.  They represent a day when my Daddy wanted to make a blunt point, and my mom made it graceful.  Food isn't just food.  It's art, and it's culture, and sometimes it's memory.

A video about Bill Neal

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

The Kidnapping of Annie Laurie Hearin

 This story is pretty hard for me to tell.  Those are the stories worth telling though, so bear with me.

July 1988.  I still worked for my dad at Missco and lived at Pebble Creek Apartments in Jackson.  I opened the mail with my dad at six-thirty that morning.  He was uncharacteristically silent. It was the busy season, and the company was doing well.  Usually, I'd have coffee and chat with Mrs. Jeffreys, Mrs. Noel, and him after finishing the mail until eight am when the workday started, but he went straight to his office that day.  I began to suspect something was up.

Three or four times during the day, he asked his secretary to close the door to his office.  That rarely happened.    I knew something was up, but what?  That night, I brought laundry to my mom's house.  There were machines at Pebble Creek, but I had a bad feeling, so I used hers.  My brothers were at their homes, and my sister was with her college friends.  

My dad watched television in the den without making a sound.  I made a fried egg sandwich in the kitchen while my laundry cycled.  Mom sat in the kitchen, watching her little television and drinking her scotch and tab (I know that sounds gross, but it was her drink of choice).  She held the plastic glass in her hand but didn't sip it while the ice melted.  She didn't want a sandwich.  My dad didn't either.  

The doorbell rang.  It was Leon Lewis.  Leon Lewis in the middle of the night, without Mrs. Lewis.  Something was up.  Dad and Mr. Lewis retired to the living room, not the den.  The living room we never used. They spoke quietly.  I began to worry in earnest.  Dad came to the kitchen and gave me a ten-dollar bill.  "Get me a couple packs of Viceroy, buddy."  My dad wanted two packs of cigarettes in the middle of the night.  That had never happened before.

I went to the gas station next door to what used to be the Tote-Sum at Maywood Mart, now converted into one of Jackson's first Subway franchises.  I got the two packs of Viceroy and added one pack of Merit Ultra Lights and a pickle in a napkin for me.  I put his smokes in a bag with the change and ate my pickle on the drive home.

Brum Day joined dad and Mr. Lewis in the living room when I got home. Whatever was going on, Trustmark was involved.  I loved Brum, but his appearances carried weight.  I was very worried and gave my mother a look.  She said she'd tell me later.  After delivering the bag with the Viceroys, all three men left silently but together.  I still don't know where they went.  They looked horrible.

That night, Mayor Dale Danks went on television to say that Annie Laurie Hearin, wife of Bob Hearin, Trustmark Chairman, had been kidnapped the day before.  Danks was a pretty good lawyer in his own right and often took a leading role in bigger police affairs.   The FBI took over the case from JPD.  It was that big of a deal. 

The press agreed to a 24-hour news blackout while the FBI began its investigation.  My dad agreed to a 24-hour don't-tell-Boyd blackout for reasons I completely understood.  That's why he behaved so strangely at work.  After the news, my Mom went to bed.  I waited for daddy to come home.  "Can I do anything for you?" I asked.  "There's really nothing you can do," he said, "I wish there were," and went to bed.   Seeing my dad that sad and that powerless shifted the foundations of the universe for me.  

Bob Hearin was my dad's mentor, and my dad loved him.  He was the principal stockholder for Trustmark National Bank, Mississippi Valley Gas, Lamar Life insurance company, and Yazoo Big Wheel Mower Company.  As I understand it, Yazoo made the best mowers in the world but couldn't compete with the less expensive Snapper versions.  Besides Trustmark, Mr. Hearin got my dad involved in MP&L, Bell South, Lamar Life, and The PineyWoods Country Life School.   He also could tell you about every barbeque place in central Mississippi.  For Mr. Hearin, the best was near Pocahontas, where he had a farm.  He was friendly and spoke kindly, but he still terrified me.

The first time I ever met Bob Hearin was at the Trustmark/Deposit Guarantee joint Christmas party.  Every business person in Jackson filed through these parties as a strictly held tradition.  We started at Trustmark, then used a (semi) secret passage between The Trustmark building and the new Deposit Guarantee building (now Regions).  I wonder if it's still there.

In his office, Mr. Hearin smoked a cigar the size of a big carrot.  His still dark hair was arranged neatly with pomade.  Everyone else was doing Christmas party things, but he was working.  I was nineteen at best, maybe eighteen.  "You were named for somebody," he said to me.  I'd heard that about a million times before.  By "somebody," he meant my Uncle Boyd.  I was flattered but dumbfounded.  He knew who I was.  Twenty years before, my uncle died at the Walthal Hotel across the street.  They used to say, "the only thing separating Trustmark from Lamar Life was Capitol street.  Eventually, the feds stepped in and made Trustmark divest most of its Lamar Life stock, but the boards were still tangled as a bird's nest.  

Some Saturdays, Mr. Hearin came by Missco to visit with my dad.  "Tell Mr. Hearin the story about the gorilla," My dad said.  I honestly cannot tell you the story about the gorilla here.  It was filthy, and I stole it from a Redd Foxx album.  Pretty funny, though.  Mr. Hearin laughed, my dad laughed, and the pattern was set.  From then on, I had to have an equally inappropriate joke for Mr. Hearin every time he visited.

Mrs. Hearin was in her seventies.  She was very involved in Jackson becoming a vital patron of the arts, especially the symphony.  The Hearins lived humbly but well in Woodland Hills.  Despite their vast wealth, the Hearin's never led what you would call a flashy life.  They maintained their membership at their Capitol Street church long after everyone else in town moved to the one on North State Street.  He was a fan of West Capitol Street, maintaining the Mississippi Vally Gas offices there long after everyone else moved northeast.

Everyone loved Mrs. Hearin; she was friendly and very much a lady.  The day she disappeared, she had a bridge party at her house.  The idea that anyone might do her any harm that way is still disturbing.  

In the late sixties, Mr. Hearin purchased a company called School Pictures Inc.  They sold franchises to photographers who took student portraits and then sold the prints to the parents.  If you're my age from the South East, you probably had your pictures taken by a School Pictures franchise.  I still think it was a pretty good business model.  Considering how much gross profit they made on the photos, it should have made a mint.  My dad had stock; lots of people in Jackson did.  The franchisees took the photos, School Pictures developed the negatives, made the prints, and packaged them for parents.  It was slick.

The company ran into problems when some of the franchisees weren't paying the company their processing fees.  Hearin sued the franchisees that were in arrears.  That proved fatal.  The ransom note for Mrs. Hearin demanded Mr. Hearin repay the people he sued.  

The FBI soon made a case that Newton Alfred Winn, a School Pictures franchisee in Florida, conspired to kidnap Mrs. Hearon.  Two of his co-conspirators made a deal to testify against him.  At trial, he was convicted of conspiracy, but not murder.  Mrs. Hearin's body was never found, and Winn never confessed or gave any information on what happened to her.  Winn left prison in 2006 and died six years later.  After the kidnapping, School Pictures collapsed in on itself.

Before the kidnapping, Mr. Hearin seemed like Agamemnon, vital and legendary to me.  After the abduction, he was a broken man.  He continued to visit some Saturdays.  I continued to tell questionable jokes, but it wasn't the same.  He lost weight, making his suits hang on him.  His eyes lost that fire that paralyzed me on our first meeting.  

Two years after the kidnapping, Robert Hearin died, never knowing what ultimately befell his beloved wife.  The courts declared her legally dead the next year to help settle his estate.  Her fate is still a mystery and an FBI open case.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Illusion of Justice and the Reality of Forgiveness

Have you ever considered how much we spend on the concept of justice?

All over the world, hundreds of thousands are in prisons. Maybe even millions. We pass around lawsuits like Christmas cards and the people: police, lawyers, judges, clerks, wardens, secretaries, guards, bondsmen, on and on, every country has an army of people all trying to find justice.

And the armies. How many wars have we fought seeking justice? All of them? How many died fighting wars for justice? How much property destroyed? How many wounded inside and out?

The thing is: for all we've done to find justice, but have we ever done it? Even once? Did we even come close? Or, was it all just vengeance?

Tom and Ben get in a fight and Tom shoots Ben in the head. Whatever happens in the future, however wrong and illogical his thinking was, in that moment Tom thought he was justified in doing what he did. Only now Ben is dead, and whatever was happening between the two of them, now it's a matter for us all.

Justice is the one thing we can't have here. Justice would be to turn back time and make Ben no longer dead and have these men resolve their differences without injury. Because we can't go back, because we can't undo what was done, justice is something we'll never have.

Because we want only this justice we can't have, our mind slips back into the most primitive parts of our brain and brings forth the only answer we've ever known: revenge. "You killed him so now we'll kill you".

It's not justice. We had one dead person, now we have two. Even if we don't kill Tom, we have one dead person and another in prison or some other punishment we devise to satisfy this craving for revenge. That's not justice though, that's just two suffering people.

Jesus offers us an alternative. Instead of vengeance, he offers us redemption, mercy and forgiveness. You don't have to believe in Jesus to see this though. Logic will tell you these are superior choices.

No matter how much the beastly side of our brain screams out for it, logic tells us that punishment doesn't cancel out any transgression. You can't undo what's been done.

Justice is an illusion. We can never have it. Forgiveness though, forgiveness is real and available to us all.

Some of you may think, it's easy for me to talk about forgiveness because I've never been transgressed against. You're wrong. I've been sinned against many, many times and I've sinned many, many times as well.

This is hard. It goes against human nature to forgive, our nature cries out for revenge and only revenge. We're not bound to our nature though. We can transcend beyond it, if we choose to.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Putting off Melton's Re-Trial

It's probably not possible, but part of me would like federal authorities to put off Frank Melton's retrial until after we elect a new mayor.

The city's been through so much the past few years, it might help if we put off the turmoil of a new trial until a time when Melton's no longer mayor. Of course, that assumes he won't win re-election, and with a field of as many as fifteen candidates anything is possible.

A lot of people were upset when Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon to spare the country the damage of a presidential trial and conviction, but I've always thought his decision was wise. As much as I despise the crap Melton pulled while in office, a re-trial, conviction, and the turmoil of pulling him out of office leaving us with a gap of six months or more with no mayor or an acting mayor might be worse.

If possible, it might be better to see him somehow constrained from further illegal acts, but still in office until the natural end of his term, and once he's no longer mayor, I don't much care what happens to him.

The Next Mayor
So far I don't see a really outstanding choice among the contenders for Melton's seat. There's still time before the election for one of these guys to really distinguish himself though, so I'm holding out hope.

Whoever becomes our next mayor faces all the same challenges in place when Melton was elected, plus having to deal with the gang-like management structure Melton put in power. It's going to take some time and a lot of effort for the new mayor to clean that particular mess up and get some of these jokers out of power in the city's systems.

Jackson's next mayor will probably be black, but it could be a different experience than before. Electing a third black mayor is a very different from the first or second. For one thing, his race isn't nearly as big a deal as it once was and there won't be as many people who cast their vote or lend their support based just on the candidates race. There should be a feeling among the voters that getting the job done is now more important than race.

I'm holding out hope that the Obama presidency can provide a model to cities like Jackson of what a black-lead administration can be like. At the very least, a successful black president should give any newly-elected black mayor confidence none of his predecessors had.

There will still be conflicts over whether to spend money on the white side of town or the black side of town, but those definitions are changing to be more about class and income than race, and, although that's still not an ideal situation, it is improvement.

The nation is changing and Jackson is changing. I, for one, am hopeful, but we still have to shed ourselves of some of the mistakes of the past, and that's going to be difficult.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Hung Jury For Melton?

It's looking more and more like Frank Melton's second trial may end in a hung jury.

I really thought both juries would find his actions more disturbing than they did. His defense seems to be that it was OK to tear down the house because it was a public nuisance. I guess if that's all there is to it, heck, tear them all down. Forget about due process, just let the mayor decide what should be done.

The thing people don't understand is that sometimes there's nothing more dangerous than a person trying to do the right thing. That's why our constitution was written to try and protect us from our own government.

I understand Melton's desire to tear down all the crack houses in Jackson, but I don't trust anyone with the power to actually go out and do it based just on their own judgment. Vigilantes are dangerous because it's difficult enough to ensure justice with our full court system, there's no way we can trust any single man to dispense justice on his own.

Certainly I don't want a mayor who's soft on crime, but jeeze louise fellas, can't we get somebody in there who has the same respect for the law he wants the criminals to have?

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Paul Minor Back in the News

I hate to use a phrase like "liberal media" because it's so cliche', but some folks don't mind the label and some of them have recently published articles about Paul Minor. (see links below) Nominally these stories focus on Karl Rove, but they spend much more ink in an effort to exonerate Minor.

Both articles I list and half a dozen blog posts from around the country paint Minor as an innocent man who became the victim of Karl Rove's shenanigans. Now that a Democrat is president, I'm assuming all of this is in preparation of some effort to get Minor at least out of prison, if not exonerated.

Minor bribed that judge. There's no question of that. They may call it a loan or a contribution or any number of other things, but it was a bribe and everybody involved knows it. So, he is guilty, but he may not have broken any laws.

The state cleaned up these laws a lot over the past forty years, but there are still many ways an interested person can bribe an official from any of the three branches of Mississippi government and not break any laws. Minor's defense, both in court and before the public, admits he threw great bags of money at judges, but insists he did it legally.

So what? If Minor found enough loop-holes in the law to conduct his bribery without breaking the law does that mean he gets a "get out of jail free" card?

Yeah, I guess it does. We live by the rule of law, and even if somebody does something really, really wrong, they still get to walk if they didn't break the law. It's our responsibility as citizens to elect people who will close up these loop-holes before someone exploits them, not afterwards.

I'm deeply concerned about the sheer bulk of money Minor and others gave judges over the years. Our law-makers simply must take the necessary steps to make sure nobody ever manipulates the system like Minor and Scrugs and others did ever again.

How's this for starters? Nobody admitted to the Mississippi bar has any business making loan guarantees to any judge, appointed or elected, under any circumstances. That's just begging for trouble.

Judges and lawyers are far too chummy in Mississippi. Many people would be shocked if they knew just how close they sometimes are. It's time for that to end. They shouldn't socialize and they especially shouldn't pass money back and forth. There should be an imaginary, but impenetrable wall between Mississippi judges and anyone who might practice before their bar.


Pro Minor:
Harpers Magazine
Jackson Free Press
Anti Minor:
Ya'll Politics Blog

There's a lot more about this in the Blogosphere. If I left anybody out, I apologize.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Mississippi Fried Politics

Jere Nash and Andy Taggart follow their earlier more serious book with this fun collection of stories and anecdotes about Mississippi Politicians. Available at Mississippi Fried Politics: Tall Tales from the Back Rooms

Who's that doing the voice-over? It kinna sounds like either John Maxwell or J.C. Patterson

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Protecting Steel from Foreigners

Last week I made an argument that there were some circumstances where protectionism might be logical and needed. Apparently the president agrees, because it's part of his economic stimulus package, particularly in regards to steel.

Almost immediately, representatives from the EU began calling for the removal of any protectionist elements from the bill, particularly with regards to steel. European steel isn't the problem. European steelmakers operate on a fairly level playing field with US steelmakers because Europe requires their factories to meet standards similar to those in the US with regards to pollution, product and worker safety. The problem is Asian countries who don't have these safeguards and can produce steel much cheaper because they don't.

There's a diplomatic problem though, with singling out Asia or particular Asian countries from the stimulus bill, which is probably why they chose to word it so that it covers all foreign-produced steel. The other possible problem is that I suspect this aspect of the bill comes from the United Steelworkers Union and invoking protectionism for the sake of unions can be problematic.

It may also be that we have WTO, EU and other treaties that prevent this element of Obama's stimulus package. If that happens, then we have the choice of either passing them as is and trying to change the treaties after the fact, or we can remove the provision until such time that we can secure changes in these treaties, or we can just pass it as is and let the chips fall where they may with regards to any trade treaties.

I can't recommend the third option, but I can't rule it out either. The answer here has to be a policy of not entering into international trade agreements with countries who use a lax legal environment with regards to pollution, worker and product safety to cut costs and make their products cheaper than ours. If we can get the EU to agree with us on this, then the move would have even more clout. Moves like this might even make agreements like the Kyoto document redundant and unnecessary.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Weight Watchers Sues Casino

Weight Watchers is suing a local casino to recover monies gambled there by an employee who embezzled them from the company. Read the story in the Clarion Ledger.

Weight Watchers doesn't mind if you get the idea they're a health related non-profit organization. They're not.

They make a lot of money. So much money, that one of their employees could embezzle almost a million bucks from a local franchise before anyone noticed.

Weight Watchers is one of the more effective weight loss programs out there, but it still pays to look into what they are and who they are before giving them your money.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Law and Disorder

Mississippi can't ever get in the swing of things. Just when the Democratic party is on the rise nationally, here in Mississippi it's in the crapper, due almost entirely on the fallout from the Dickie Scruggs web of intrigue.

While most of us focused on the executive and legislative branches of state government, the real power was in the judicial all along and since it wasn't as well noticed as the other two, hijinks ensued.

I think it's time to admit that the Republican party, in Mississippi and nationwide, was far too influenced by big business and big finance, but the Democratic party was likewise far too influenced by big law and big labor.

Since Mississippi doesn't offer much by way of big business or big finance, big law stepped in to fill the gap and we're only now discovering the full extent of their influence and their corruption.

How big was it? Let's put it this way: they could afford to pay Ed Peters a million bucks just to be the bag man, and that was just the tip on the tip of the iceburg. I really hate it too, because Peters was a guy I admired in a lot of ways, but a million bucks can do a lot to lure a guy to the dark side.

Looking on the bright side, it may be a good sign that any Mississippi scandal could involve so much money. Maybe that there was so much money to be had is an indication of how far Mississippi has come and how much potential there is out there for somebody willing to do things the right way.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Hiding Behind States' Rights

People tend to hide a multitude of sins under the banner of "states rights".

There actually are states' rights issues involving property and taxes and other mundane things but nobody knows about those so they could hardly get upset if they lost them. No, it's only issues involving basic civil rights where people really cling to their states rights.

Occasionally a state may invoke states rights because they're ahead of the curve on some issue, but usually, it's a matter of a state or a collection of states desperately holding on to something the rest of the nation moved away from a long time ago.

The problem with this is that the most basic model of this country is the premise that all people are created equal, therefore they all have equal civil rights and you can't say we all have equal rights if they fluctuate from state to state. You can't have "equal protection under the law", if a person has a civil right in Wyoming but doesn't have it in Mississippi.

The first of these issues we had to deal with was slavery. Resolving it took the most bitter and brutal of all courses in a horrible war. You can tell yourself all sorts of bed-time stories about how the Civil War wasn't over slavery, but it doesn't change history.

The next two issues over the right of women to vote and the right of all people to drink were settled the most civilly of all, by voting on amendments to the constitution. This is how the founding fathers designed for us to handle these issues.

The next big issues was the dismantling of the Jim Crow laws in the South. Those were fought in the supreme court and settled by executive order. That may have been the best way to handle those issues because they weren't actually new rights, but reinterpretation of existing rights. It was still far more painful than it needed to be though.

Currently there are three issues on this field: abortion, the separation of church and state and gay rights. There is at least one side with each of these issues trying to make them an issue of states rights. That's simply not going to work with any of these issues.

You can't allow abortion in one state, but not its neighbor. Likewise, we can't have gay marriages recognized in some states but not in others and we can't have different standards for separating church and states across the nation.

Using the civil rights movement as a model, people have been trying to resolve these issues in the court. With the possible exception of separation of church and state, that model is inadequate in these circumstances.

For one thing, it has lead to a fight to manipulate the composition of the Supreme Court one way or another to try and make their decisions come out whichever way partisan groups want.

We need to face up to our responsibility with these issues and settle them, not in the courts, but with amendments.

Amendments can be difficult. Sometimes to get the necessary votes, compromises must be made, but, it is the way our government was designed and it's the most logical and peaceful path we have available to us.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

What Happened on Proposition 8

The problem with being in a big tent party is that there are so many damn people in the tent and they all want something, usually all at the same time.

One day after a huge and historic victory for the Democratic party and already chinks are showing up in their armor.

At issue is the passing of Proposition 8 in California. Prop 8 amends the California constitution to make gay marriage illegal. The proposition was written by California conservatives with two motives. The first most obvious was to roll back the advances of the gay rights movement, but there was a second, less obvious motive, to encourage right wing voters to the polling booth in an election when John McCain needed all the votes he could get.

The only thing is, it didn't turn out that way. Obama won big in California, but prop 8 won too, by a similarly large margin.

Mathematically, there are only two ways that could have happened. Either a whole bunch of right wing people voted for Prop. 8, but didn't vote for McCain, or, much more likely, an awful lot of people who voted for Obama also voted in favor of Prop. 8.

We've heard before that some race minority Democrats weren't supportive of gay rights issues and this may have been the proof of it. If that's what happened, then Democrats will need to move pretty quickly to close ranks or there could be some problems.

It would be a problem for the party if some people thought they were faithful to the party by voting for Obama, but the party wasn't faithful to them by allowing Prop. 8 to pass in California. Adding similar measures with similar results in Florida and Arizona and the scope of the problem becomes apparent.

It's not just the seven to nine percent of the population who votes for gay rights issues because they themselves are gay that's at stake here. It's the twenty to twenty-five percent of the population who classify themselves as white, educated liberals that also support gay rights issues. Combined, you're looking at fifty to sixty percent of the Democratic party that's understandably upset that members of their own party voted against one of their key issues.

The black church leaders are major players here. If they don't push their faithful to start voting for gay rights issues then this divide in the party could widen.

Right now, there's no where for these people to go. It's not like they can up and join the Republican Party. But what they can do is stop voting for each other's issues, effectively handing whole elections to the Republicans.

If I were Barak Obama, I'd hit this issue pretty hard, pretty early: before the inauguration. If I were Howard Dean, I'd be working pretty hard behind-the-scenes to let these church leaders know what's at stake if they don't close ranks on this issue.

Ronald Reagan used to say the new Golden Rule was "thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican." For the Democrats there might need to be a new Golden Rule as well, "thou shalt not vote against another Democrat's important issues."

Monday, September 15, 2008

National Abortion Amendment

We require an amendment to the constitution describing precisely our national abortion policy.

Currently, we have left the issue up to the courts to decide, but that is insufficient. It's beyond the scope and design of the court to make these decisions.

Likewise, the issue is too sensitive and contains too many human rights' issues to govern on a state-to-state basis.

The reason we don't already have a constitutional amendment on abortion is because both extremes know they don't have the votes to get everything they want out of an amendment so they're satisfied trying to manipulate the courts instead.

This is not good government. The onus of good government is that we consciously decide what we think is best and right and proceed with it, not allowing ourselves to be controlled by special interest groups of either extreme.

The obvious solution is a compromise between both extremes.

Here is what I propose: A normal pregnancy can be divided into three trimesters.

For the first trimester: allow no state to enact a law that prohibits or limits a woman's right to a safe abortion for any reason. This way, the state doesn't force anyone to be pregnant who doesn't wish to be. Women may decide to abort and the state has no say in their decision.

There is some pressure for women to make their decision quickly, but that pressure exists anyway. This also prohibits states from trying to eliminate abortions by putting unreasonable restrictions on abortion providers.

For the second trimester: abortions are only allowed on the recommendation of a licensed physician based only on the mother's physical health. This addresses those cases where abortion is more of an issue of health than one of choice--and it puts the decision in the hand of those we entrust to make those health decisions in other matters.

At this stage, we begin to give the fetus some human rights, but the focus remains on the health of the mother if not her preferences. There will be some physicians who "rubber stamp" all abortion requests, but medical ethics is really more an issue of peer evaluation and licensing than one of statutory law.

For the third trimester: every effort must be made to deliver the fetus alive. No state may allow an abortion during this period unless proscribed by both a physician and a judge.

During the third trimester, the fetus has a growing chance of surviving premature birth, therefore the full focus of the law is on the civil rights of the fetus.

Certainly there is room for discussion on each of these stages, but with my proposal, neither side gets everything they want but we get everything we need to know we did our best to govern wisely.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Where have you gone, Atticus Finch

Mississippi turns it's lonely eyes to you.

This business with Dickie Scruggs breaks my heart and who knows where all the tentacles of this debacle will end.

The story emerging from this case is one of a pin-striped gang of street thugs, running Mississippi like their own private turf, extorting millions, both legally and illegally from anyone stupid enough to do business in Mississippi.

It would make a great plot for a John Grisham novel. Don't expect one though, John's pretty friendly with the principals.

One thing that particularly bothers me is that I really admired Ed Peters and Bobby DeLaughter before learning that Scruggs and his cohorts lured them into their web.

The thing these guys don't seem to get is that we mere mortals depend, desperately depend on the law to be true and honest and most of all, just. For us, for "we the people", the law is much more than just an opportunity to make millions like a football star. It is the whisper thin barrier between our simple lives and abject chaos.

What they did, what we have to suspect they have been doing for thirty years, is very close to treason. Robin Hood and Atticus Finch never made a billion dollars.

Official Ted Lasso