Tuesday, June 30, 2015

"Right to work" Reflections

I woke up this morning thinking about "right to work" laws. My earliest memory hearing the term "right to work" was when I was about twelve or thirteen. My father mentioned it in conversation with my mother soon after we had moved from Kentucky to Georgia. I had no idea what it meant but it sounded like a good thing. After all, any "right" must be a good right -- cuz when you don't have a right to do something that can't be a good thing. And everybody needs a right to earn a living.

Only later did I learn that it is about unions and union-busting -- and "right to work" actually means "right to get fired" if you think being in a union is a good thing. It's one of the tools in the union-busting collection.

My dad was a tight-fisted guy. He put a price tag on everything. And anything that cost money could always be got for less if you shopped hard enough or bargained forcefully enough. I think it was his experience in the car business that made him that way. The automobile business, after all, is the modern version of horse trading. And horse trading is synonymous with wheeling and dealing. (Get that? "Wheeling?")

Regarding unions, the idea of bargaining with big-shot bosses appealed to my dad. But he knew that union big shots are usually compensated (or were) as well as those bosses, and the only way they got paid was by collecting dues from union members. And this is where "right to work" comes into play. He liked the idea of bargaining for better working conditions and more pay, but the idea of paying some big union organization a bunch of money was a sticking point. It was like tithing at church. Everybody knew you're supposed to do it, but when the preacher sounds like a broken record always talking about it, it's time to look around to find another preacher (or another church).

Union-organized workplaces are "union shops" and if you work in one your wages have a deduction for union dues and you will be a member of that union. That's the difference between a union shop and a non-union shop. Written rules spell out the rights and responsibilities of workers and the company and any problems are handled through the union, not the person (or persons) involved.

"Right to work" laws make union shops impossible by allowing employees to opt out of union membership (and dues) and continue to keep their job. In short, non-union employees enjoy union benefits without paying for them, What a deal! But that is also why companies and bosses love them. Right to work laws cripple unions.

This is why my dad was not a union man. He didn't feel the need to have anyone speaking for him. Over time I learned to appreciate him as a one-man union. During a career of hard work lasting thirty-five or forty years he only had to tell a boss where to get off three or four times, but when he did, they always listened. He had a way of letting you know -- in a nice way, of course -- that you were about to cross a line he could not tolerate. And you didn't want to find out what would happen if you did. In his work environment he had the respect that only comes to those who are unquestionably good at their job. He was an automatic transmission specialist. What he did every day was work that few people could do. Consequently he was paid well, was never discharged and only had three employers in his entire working life -- even though the dealerships where he worked may have changed ownership a dozen times or more.

Back to "right to work." My dad, like most of his generation growing up in the shadow of the Great Depression, was simply too tight-fisted for his own good. Living and growing up at the edge of poverty shapes one's attitude about money. Those who are careful can live from check to check, and over time they might even save a little for a rainy day. After a few years it becomes a lifestyle. You learn to "do without." If you have enough to eat, are blessed with good health and always have a job -- what more could anyone want? And that is the razor's edge on which most of the working poor live.

One feature of union contracts links the minimum wage of members with the official minimum wages, state or federal, wherever the union operates. Increases in the minimum wage automatically trigger comparable increases in union wages. Otherwise, what's the value of union membership? This is the sticking point for most opposition to increasing the minimum wage -- it increases wages up the scale, driving up "labor costs" which is never, ever good for profits.

It's no accident, then, that "right to work" states have the lowest wages which is the definition of poverty. Wages are subject to the same laws of supply and demand as prices. And if there is no legal safety net for minimum wages, periods of unemployment drive the minimum downward in a feedback loop that only stops when working becomes more costly than being unemployed.

This, in short, is why Bernie Sanders' talking points are receiving such a widespread good response from ordinary people. At some level they recognize that his easy to understand remarks about wealth and wages perfectly describe the American work and business landscape. Listen to what he says and it's all correct. Unfortunately he will not make it into the finals because he doesn't have the backing of seriously big money. At this point in the cycle, most people are not even paying attention. I have spoken with several people who have never heard of Bernie Sanders and probably never will. I could inform them (which I do, of course) but that's just John rattling on about something in the news. He's always jabbering about something. So without an avalanche of advertisements (How do you say "Super Bowl" or "blockbuster movie" or "reality TV" or "March madness"?) there is no way he will be among the finalists.

But Bernie is leaving his mark. He's raising the consciousness of lots of people. He's not as eccentric as Ross Perot and he sure doesn't have that much money. But hopefully as the season progresses, his message (and that of the unions) will reach enough people to pressure their elected representatives to do the right thing and increase minimum wages.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Poem Without a Name by John Ballard

This is a repost from Accidental Blogger, an erudite place where I was allowed to contribute before it went inactive. Recent discussions of Southern history reminded me of this. I wrote it about 1960 and published it when I came across it in 2012.

In a few hours I'm having lunch with an old classmate whom I haven't seen for many years. So last night I was digging through a box of keepsakes from high school and college days and came across something I wrote in high school.

I totally forgot about this poem. It is in my handwriting on notebook paper that I recognize. And as I typed it to make a digital record the scene became vaguely familiar, and reference to “the Chumbley place” meant that it had to have been a product of my imagination. Finally the odd words pinen and pecanen were the clues that made me remember. They were my own invention, made to match oaken as wood types. The characters were Sandra and her husband Cass. Together they spell Cassandra, a name that tells the future.

Since there is no chance it will ever be published by anyone else, in the interest of vanity I'm publishing it myself.
I'm also vain enough to think it has held up pretty well after fifty years.


The fire was not as warm
As it was the hour before.
The two were not the same
As they sat before it, sitting
As it glowed on.
A coal oil lantern
Was on the table,
That rough oaken stand
By the spinning wheel.
The packed dirt floor And open ceiling rafters
And the mud-plastered walls
All were a dark and dark-purple hue
The bricks on the hearth were of uneven lay
They were in great need
To be replaced
As did, in fact, the scene in its entirety.

Cobwebs in the corner were dusty,
Pegs in the chimney were loose.
The furniture was old
A cradle, occupied
A double bed, cold
A stool of three legs, pinen
A split-log bench, picanen
A straight-back chair, Sandra
Another, Cass
And the table, oaken.

She spoke
And when will you get back?
And he It shouldn’t be over six days.
And in the meantime what will we do, me and little Cassy?
You can go up to the Chumbley place and tell them the problem.
They’ll understand; you can get with them and might get a job or something.
They’ll understand.
But you…
I’ll find him as soon as I get there and be coming right back.
He can fix us up to last till next year’s crops get harvested.
The Lord willing.
The Lord willing.
But we have to go to bed.
It’s after ten.

He left the following morning
Afoot he was down the roadway.
And beburdened with a bundle
A piece of dried beef
A tough little loaf
And cheese

She drew a bit of cloth
Soft it was, and stained, her handkerchief.
And put it to an eye
Where it drank up
A warm tear.

Turning to the house…
And catching her breath…
She went to her baby.
Gathering the drowsy infant In her off-pink shawl,
That was old when given her,

She left her home,
That beloved room that was a shack and leaked
And trudged up the road In the opposite direction
That had taken her husband.
The shoes that she wore
Without socks, and formerly brown
Were once those of another
The heels were folded down
The side seams were very weak.
Her dress was black polka dots
Set on a background of red.
A tear from the waist at the side
Was held by a large safety pin.
The checked and faded cloth
Over her ebony hair
Was knotted in the front
Just over her forehead,
And her forehead was the
Color of her shoes.

Posted by John Ballard at 07:47 AM | Permalink

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Kidnap and Ransom Insurance

President Obama's recent tweaks of America's policy refusing to pay ransom for hostages reminded me of something I posted six years ago. I have wondered for some time why the government doesn't either take advantage of a process commonly used by the private sector -- or take measures to make the practice illegal. 
Here's a link to a current resource for lawyers. 

The answer, of course, is that most people never heard of K&R insurance, so here's the result of a little homework on my part. Fortunately most of the links still work. The Wikipedia quote no longer matches but no Wikipedia quote is ever safe from editing by anyone. 

I'm also not reformatting for this blog. It works okay as is except for a mysterious gap toward the bottom. 


Kidnap and Ransom Insurance

Kidnap and ransom insurance or K&R insurance is designed to protect individuals and corporations operating in high-risk areas around the world, such as Mexico, Venezuela, Haiti, and Nigeria, certain other countries in Latin America, as well as some parts of the Russian Federation and Eastern Europe. K&R insurance policies typically cover the perils of kidnap, extortion, wrongful detention and hijacking.

K&R policies are indemnity policies - they reimburse a loss incurred by the insured. The policies do not pay ransoms on the behalf of the insured. The insured must first pay the ransom, thus incurring the loss, and then seek reimbursement under the policy. Losses typically reimbursed by K&R polices are ransom payments, loss-of-ransom-in-transit and additional expenses, such as medical expenses.

The policies also typically indemnify personal accident losses caused by a kidnap. These include death, dismemberment, and permanent total disablement of a kidnapped person. They also typically pay for the fees and expenses of crisis management consultants. These consultants provide advice to the insured on how to best respond to the incident.

The policies may be written to cover families and corporations. Some policies include kidnap prevention training.

That is Wikipedia's current description. Most people have no idea about this elegant feature of American business but it has been around for several years now. I first heard about it a few months ago on some NPR report and thought little about it until this last weekend when the pirate story took a couple of loops in the news cycle. I heard passing reference in some early reports to several hundred other hostages already being held by pirates. My first reaction was amazement that theywere not already in the news. What's going on?

Then the penny dropped: They're probably waiting for ransom negotiations to be concluded. Hostages are part of the pirate enterprise backlog, the criminal equivalent of a high value inventory. I wonder if they keep maintenance records tracking expenses like food, shelter, ammunition and other costs of doing business. So hey, what's the holdup? Wait! I know! They're waiting for K & R insurance claims to be processed! And that's why the story isn't exciting enough to be newsworthy.

Sarcasm aside, it doesn't take much imagination to see that kidnap and ransom insurance feeds a flourishing worldwide enterprise in criminal activity. It's the insurance equivalent of derivatives in the securities trading market. There's no stated law against it, so it must be okay. I know that fire insurance does not pay if arson can be proved. That makes sense. Otherwise, we would all burn down investment property and collect for the damages. What a deal!

But in the case of kidnapping and ransom, there is no such exclusion. In fact, the insurance is created precisely to pay off when (and only when) a criminal activity is proved. And all that indemnity and reimbursement language is all it takes to make the package legal.

Insurance companies can provide this product in exactly the same way they can insure against property damage, injuries, loss of life, or just about anything one wants insured. Like casino operators everywhere, they know the odds and what it takes to play them against premium payments to make a profit. No matter what happens, barring some extraordinary event (which is probably excluded anyway in fine print) the insurer will make a profit.

Client companies simply add the cost of K & R insurance as just another line item in the expense column of doing business.

And the perpetrators, the ones really taking the risk (other than their victims, of course) receive the most. And like the insurance companies and their clients, they are becoming, along with drug dealers and the rest of a swelling global underground economy, opportunistic entrepreneurs in a tax-free scheme now becoming one of the world's fastest growing, recession-proof economies.

Four years ago I picked up on a couple of enterprises in Gaza taking advantage of the unstable situation there. Cigarettes and other everyday items were being smuggled in from Egypt(and still are, btw) duty-free, but that strikes me as a special case. Also special, but similar to this piracy enterprise, was another odd arrangement by which automobiles stolen in Israel were being fenced in Gaza in such numbers that the Palestinian Authority (then in charge in Gaza) was issuing special tags for the stolen cars. That item made part ofanother post.  [This ancillary story is great fun. Come back and drill these links when you get time.]

If piracy were an isolated phenomenon, such as those in Gaza, I wouldn't be concerned. But the the growth of piracy is a world-wide trend. It's getting worse and becoming a growth industry, at least in part, because of K & R insurance. A web search for "kidnap and ransom" insurance returns 78,000 hits. A blog search [no longer a Google feature] for the same term gets over five hundred hits, mostly published in the last few weeks, many in the past few days.

Here is an interesting bit that struck me as bitterly funny.You can't make this up, as they say.
Arguing that piracy is driving up K & R insurance rates is like saying that obesity is hurting the good name of junk food and sugar.
(At the beginning of the Iraq adventure Dan Schorr noted that the Irish Republican Army had stopped bombing innocent people because Al Qaeda was giving terrorism a bad name.)

Posted On: April 09, 2009 3:45 PM CST
Zack Phillips

LONDON—The cost of kidnap and ransom insurance today is 10 times as expensive as it was in October 2008 for ships transiting the piracy hotbed of the Gulf of Aden, according to Aon Risk Services.

More shipowners are inquiring about kidnap and ransom cover, for which a shipper now could pay up to $30,000 in premium for $3 million in coverage for one trip through the Gulf of Aden, the London unit of Chicago-based Aon Corp. said in a statement.

The Gulf of Aden, off the coast of Somalia, is the site of a dramatic uptick in pirate attacks over the last couple of years. Ships in the Indian Ocean must traverse the Gulf of Aden to reach the Suez Canal or steam around the Cape of Good Hope, a longer and much costlier trip around the southern tip of Africa.

In 2008, pirates hijacked 49 ships and took 889 crew members hostage, according to the International Maritime Bureau's Piracy Reporting Center.

Attacks by Somalian pirates dropped considerably in January and February, but they picked up markedly in March. After a total of 14 attacks and one successful hijacking in the first two months of the year, there were 25 attacks with four successful hijackings in March alone, according to the piracy center. So far in April, shippers have suffered at least six attacks with four successful hijackings near Somalia, according to the center.

Security experts say the return of frequent attacks is due in part to the waning monsoon season, which had curtailed pirate activity earlier in the year. Security experts also say the presence of about 15 naval war ships devoted at least in part to combating piracy in the Gulf of Aden has pushed the pirates to operate farther south in the Indian Ocean, where the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama was attacked this week.

"I think the message here is that there aren't any really clear limits on the range and ambition of these groups," said David Hunt, head of research and development at Exclusive Analysis Ltd., a London-based intelligence firm that forecasts political risks. "Clearly any ships routing from the Gulf (of Aden) down to the Cape (of Good Hope) will probably want to be keeping the maximum distance they can from the Somali coast."

Somali pirates have typically returned the ships, cargo and crew unharmed in exchange for ransoms between $1 million to $3 million, according to published reports. Traditionally, ransom has been paid by the hull insurance policy, although marine underwriters say the London market has begun to shift piracy coverage to war risk insurance. Kidnap and ransom policies offer additional cover that can include consultant and negotiator costs and medical care, in addition to ransom payment.

About 70% of shipowners are selecting kidnap and ransom policies specifically for the Gulf of Aden as well as two other piracy hot spots—the Gulf of Guinea near Nigeria and the Malaccan Straits near Indonesia—Aon said in the statement. 

This is not an American problem. This is an international problem calling for an international response. From a business standpoint companies at risk are doing the rational thing. Thirty grand per trip is all it costs. And the insurance people are selling their usual risk management products in response to demand. (We learned the going rate is now from one to three million dollars for the safe return of cargo, crew and ship. It's hard to know what an individual hostage might bring, but probably not much.)

Having K & R insurance for piracy is like pouring gas on a fire.


Addendum, May 13

Somali pirates guided by London intelligence team, report says

The Somali pirates attacking shipping in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean are directed to their targets by a "consultant" team in London, according to a European military intelligence document obtained by a Spanish radio station.

The document, obtained by Cadena SER radio, says the team and the pirates remain in contact by satellite telephone.

It says that pirate groups have "well-placed informers" in London who are in regular contact with control centres in Somalia where decisions on which vessels to attack are made. These London-based "consultants" help the pirates select targets, providing information on the ships' cargoes and courses.

In at least one case the pirates have remained in contact with their London informants from the hijacked ship, according to one targeted shipping company.

The pirates' information network extends to Yemen, Dubai and the Suez canal.

The intelligence report is understood to have been issued to European navies.

"The information that merchant ships sailing through the area volunteer to various international organisations is ending up in the pirates' hands," Cadena SER reported the report as saying.

This enables the more organised pirate groups to study their targets in advance, even spending several days training teams for specific hijacks. Senior pirates then join the vessel once it has been sailed close to Somalia.

Captains of attacked ships have found that pirates know everything from the layout of the vessel to its ports of call. Vessels targeted as a result of this kind of intelligence included the Greek cargo ship Titan, the Turkish merchant ship Karagol and the Spanish trawler Felipe Ruano.

In each case, says the document, the pirates had full knowledge of the cargo, nationality and course of the vessel.

The national flag of a ship is also taken into account when choosing a target, with British vessels being increasingly avoided, according to the report. It was not clear whether this was because pirates did not want to draw the attention of British police to their information sources in London.

European countries have set up Operation Atalanta to co-ordinate their military efforts in the area.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Confederate History Note

A repost from my old blog.  The links no longer work but I copied enough content to retain the messages...


Saturday radio blogging, Writer's Almanac

Garrison Keillor's little five-minute radio spot is one of the few programs that I take a moment to listen to attentively, even in the middle of a conversation. There are few predictable diversions giving so much reward, having a beginning and end in the space of a few minutes.

Today we are reminded that Abe Lincoln's Gettysburg Address was delivered November 19, 1863. Keillor's remembrance and tribute are worth a few minutes of your time as well. If you don't have the time or inclination to read, there is a link to the audio.
It was a foggy, cold morning on this day in 1863. Lincoln arrived about 10 a.m. Around noon the sun broke out as the crowds gathered on a hill overlooking the battlefield. A military band played, a local preacher offered a long prayer, and the headlining orator Edward Everett spoke for over two hours, describing the Battle of Gettysburg in great detail, and he brought the audience to tears more than once.

When Everett was finished, Lincoln got up, and pulled his speech from his coat pocket. It consisted of ten sentences, a total of 272 words. Lincoln did not mention any of the specifics of the war or any of the details of the battle of Gettysburg. He did not mention the North or the South. He did not mention slavery. Instead, he explained, in ordinary language, that our nation was founded on the idea that all men are created equal, and that we must continue to fight for that principle, in honor of those who have died fighting for it.

Unfortunately for Lincoln, the audience was distracted by a photographer setting up his camera, and by the time Lincoln had finished his speech and sat down the audience didn't even realize he had spoken. Lincoln was disappointed in his performance, but the next day Edward Everett told the President, "I wish that I could flatter myself that I had come as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes." The speech was reprinted in newspapers around the country, and it went on to become one of the most famous speeches in American history.

It would be tacky to point out the parallels between that tragic time and events of our own time, but the similarities bear thinking about. We are again engaged in a great civil war, but this time it is that of another country. Today's cost in casualties is very small compared with the tens of thousands of past wars. The Battle of Gettysburg alone took the lives of six or seven thousand men. I suppose civilization is creeping along, but there is a long, long way to go.

As an aside, the current debate over torture and atrocities can be put into historical perspective by knowing what has occurred in past wars. Lest we too quickly point the finger at our enemies, it would be wise to take a look at some of our own dirty linen. And I'm not referring to today's despicable but historically unremarkable reports.

Last year Donald Sensing did some research following the release of the movie version of Cold Mountain, coming upon some pretty disturbing history from our own Civil War era.

I am sort of a stickler for historical accuracy in movies that derive the context from history. I found the Home Guard portrayals very offputting. (Other Home Guard detachments of the state hound Inman as he makes his way home.) I had never read of such brutalities being done by during the war by Confederate states to their own people, and reacted to this part of the move - and a major part it is - with scorn. This, I thought, was a fatal flaw of the story. While I had no doubt that Confederate authorities did try to capture deserters, I dismissed the idea that Home Guard "brownshirts" ever had the authority simply to shoot down deserters on the roadside or savage Southern civilian families. So I Googled"confederate home guard" today. And discovered Cold Mountain is accurate. Consider

Allen Lowery was born 1795 in Robeson County, NC. He died 9 Mar 1865 in Robeson County, NC from Shot to Death by the Robeson County Home Guard and was buried in Lowery family cemetery near Pembroke, NC.
... Allen and his son (William) was killed by the Robeson County Confederate Home Guard, because they where believed to have helped Union soldiers during the Civil War.
Confederate deserter Henry Tucker joined the Union forces following bad treatment by the Alabama Home Guard for failing to respond to the "callup" for men to fight for the Confederacy. He made the mistake of coming home for a visit where he was caught...
... arrested by the Home Guard at his home in Marion County and tortured to death. He was tied to a tree, castrated, his eyes removed and his tongue cut out before he was literally skinned alive. He is buried at Hopewell Cemetery, south of Glen Allen, Ala.
But Tucker's vicious death was avenged. Home Guard leader Stoke Roberts who personally directed the torture of Tucker, was eventually caught by a group of unionists near Winfield. They took a long iron spike and drove it through his mouth and out the back of his head and nailed him to the root of a big oak tree.
We can be in denial, but there are apples today (uh, acorns?)that didn't fall too far from that tree.

More links, some now not working.

The Confederate Gestapo

I never read the book Cold Mountain, so I went to the movie last night with an uncluttered mind, knowing only that the story line was of a Confederate soldier who deserts to make a long trek home to his beloved. This man is named Inman, played by Jude Law.

Nicole Kidman plays the heroine, Ada Monroe, who loves Inman and waits faithfully for him to return. The movie opens on July 30, 1864, with the Battle of the Crater at the Union siege of Petersburg, Va., which Cold Mountain accurately presents as an unmitigated disaster for the Union side.

As a result of the battle, his own near-death experience from a nasty neck wound, and of Ada's letters explaining how difficult life is for her, Inman deserts to make his way back to Cold Mountain, NC, and Ada.

There is a lot to like about the movie and a lot I found to scorn, but this is not a movie review post. The dramatic conflict of the movie revolves around the heroine's antagonist, Marshall Teague. Teague heads the local Home Guard, a paramilitary outfit empowered by the state government to deal with Confederate army deserters and civilians who gave them aid, even their family members.

Desertion was the huge problem, especially in 1864 and 1865. More than 13,000 North Carolina Confederate soldiers deserted during the war. The privations of the war on the home front put many soldiers' families in truly desperate circumstances. All in all, tens of thousands of Confederate soldiers deserted to care for their loved ones. (Many returned to their units, however, and were generally forgiven once they did.)

Teague and his small band of enforcers, chartered by the state, ruthlessly track down deserters. For selfish reasons, Teague leans hard on Ada. At one point Teague and his men saber to death a man in his own front yard for suspicion of harboring deserters. They torture his wife, expose the deserters and shoot them down on the spot. Such killings continue in the movie.

I am sort of a stickler for historical accuracy in movies that derive the context from history. I found the Home Guard portrayals very offputting. (Other Home Guard detachments of the state hound Inman as he makes his way home.) I had never read of such brutalities being done by during the war by Confederate states to their own people, and reacted to this part of the move - and a major part it is - with scorn. This, I thought, was a fatal flaw of the story. While I had no doubt that Confederate authorities did try to capture deserters, I dismissed the idea that Home Guard "brownshirts" ever had the authority simply to shoot down deserters on the roadside or savage Southern civilian families.

So I Googled "confederate home guard" today.

And discovered Cold Mountain is accurate. Consider:
Allen Lowery was born 1795 in Robeson County, NC. He died 9 Mar 1865 in Robeson County, NC from Shot to Death by the Robeson County Home Guard and was buried in Lowery family cemetery near Pembroke, NC. ...
Allen and his son (William) was killed by the Robeson County Confederate Home Guard, because they where believed to have helped Union soldiers during the Civil War.
According to historian Milton Ready of the University of North Carolina-Asheville,
To help enforce conscription, find deserters and collect taxes, the "Guard for the Home Defence" was formed. The Home Guard, as it came to be known, is depicted in [Cold Mountain] as a sort of Confederate Gestapo ... "A lot of the people in the Home Guard belonged to extended families and a lot of the people who didn't want to pay or who harbored deserters were in different families," Ready says. "They used the Civil War to settle personal debts that went back years."
And not just in North Carolina. In the northern Alabama hill country there remained strong pro-Union sentiment throughout the war in . (Not just in Alabama, of course; my own state of Tennessee was highly pro-Union in the east.) With the advent of Confederate conscription in 1862, the men there were subject to arrest by the Home Guard for not responding to the callup. Large numbers fled to the hills, leaving their families behind.

But the Home Guard persecuted the families. The family of John Phillips, for example, suffered severely. Phillips related,
“They commenced robbing my family of the support I had left for them, they drove off my cattle and took my horses and mules, also my corn. They event went so far as to pour what meal my family had out in the floor and fill the sacks with meat. They event took their cups, saucers and plates, not leaving anything for their sustenance.”
Such brutalities led many of the men to make their way to Union lines and enlist in the Union Army. One such man was named Henry Tucker, who rather foolishly decided when on leave from Union service to visit his family in Alabama.
Henry Tucker ... was arrested by the Home Guard at his home in Marion County and tortured to death. He was tied to a tree, castrated, his eyes removed and his tongue cut out before he was literally skinned alive. He is buried at Hopewell Cemetery, south of Glen Allen, Ala.

But Tucker’s vicious death was avenged. Home Guard leader Stoke Roberts who personally directed the torture of Tucker, was eventually caught by a group of unionists near Winfield. They took a long iron spike and drove it through his mouth and out the back of his head and nailed him to the root of a big oak tree.
Alabama men who remained hiding in the hills were tracked down and often killed on the spot.
Three sons of Solomon Curtis were all killed in Winston County. Joel Jackson Curtis was killed in 1862 for refusing to join the confederate army. George Washington Curtis, home on leave from the union army, was killed by the home guard in his yard while his wife and three children watched. Thomas Pink Curtis, the probate judge of Winston County, was arrested near Houston by confederate authorities in 1864 and taken to a bluff on Clear Creek where he was summarily executed with two shots to his right eye.
This is a repellant aspect of Southern history that is underreported. I wish a competent historian would undertake a disciplined study of the Home Guard. Some historians estimate that 100,000 white Southerners served in the Union Army; with brutalities committed by the Home Guard against many of their families, it seems that the war was a civil war not merely between North and South, but just as much between Southerners.
Posted 17th January 2004 by Donald Sensing

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Shame and Blame Notes

File under "shaming and blaming."Rachel Dolezal is being twice victimizedHer children and family do not deserve this.
Posted by John Ballard on Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Another Facebook post becomes the springboard for this blog post.
I posted two comments at the same time...

Comment #1 
The source for this link, Homeschoolers Anonymous, is a support group for people whose experience growing up being "homeschooled" has not resulted in, shall we say, the most desireable outcomes. Read the introduction closely and check a few of the links. Being homeschooled is not always a pretty picture, especially when practiced by the fundamentalist Christian lunatic fringe. Read about "blanket training."

Comment #2
ATI is the acronym for American Training Institute.
IBLP stands for Institute of Basic Life Principles.
These are fundamentalist Christian cults.
Don't take my word for it. Do your own homework. Read the arguments and recriminations in the comments threads.
Listen to the backstories and get a sense of conflicted narratives.
Public personas notwithstanding, these are not nice people.
Check these links:

My thoughts at this point are unclear. This blogpost is a way of scribbling notes to myself as I connect dots not yet clearly connected.  One dot involves the growth and impact of public shaming which because of social media have shifted into overdrive. Another dot, which I call victim-blaming, has become a growing trend (also pumped up by social media). It has been around since the Massachusetts Bay Colony and Puritanism, but again, with the help of both social and commercial media has become a gorilla in the room. 

Shame and blame go together like cream and sugar. Something tells me that religious extremism is foundational to both.  And religious extremism is not limited to one faith. The same dynamic driving these trends in America also energizes Islamic extremism so much in the news, and the uncharacteristic violence of Gnanasara Buddhists in Myanmar targeting Rohingya Muslims in that country. This snip from Time (August 2014) describes several violent groups from Buddhist teaching with has historically been famously non-violent.
BBS, or Bodu Bala Sena, otherwise known as Buddhist Power Force, is a Buddhist supremacist group accused of stirring sectarian hatred in Sri Lanka. Led by a monk, Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero, BBS accuses Sri Lanka’s Muslims of threatening the nation’s Buddhist identity, and enjoys support at high levels. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the President’s brother who also serves as Secretary of Defense, has been an outspoken supporter of BBS in the past. 
“BBS echoes the sympathies and the prejudices of the majority Buddhist population,” says Jehan Perera, executive director of the National Peace Council NGO. “So the views have a certain resonance, and the media gives voice to that, and the counter view is toned down or even censored.” 
The Sri Lankan experience is far from unique. In Burma, officially known as Myanmar, just 1,000 miles (1,600 km) across the Bay of Bengal, an extremist Buddhist movement called 969 is waging a parallel war, using identical tactics as BBS. (Both groups rose to prominence around 2012. Its leader is also a monk, Wirathu. When anti-Muslim riots erupted in the central Burmese town of Meiktila in April last year, clashes that killed dozens and displaced thousands, he arrived in the middle of the carnage, although later claimed to have tried to halt the bloodshed. Then, during last month’s communal riots in Mandalay, where Wirathu’s monastery is based, he fanned the flames through an incendiary Facebook post warning of Muslims “armed to teeth with swords and spears” preparing a jihad against local Buddhists.

Tim Hunt will become a footnote in this discussion, but his case illustrates my point.  I want to keep my comment at another Facebook link (below).
Tim Hunt at home in Hertfordshire.
Photo: Antonio Olmos for the Observer
Today's social media vehicles are like all new toys -- TNT, X-Rays, DDT -- and we haven't learned how to keep them in check. Only too late do we discover dangers and downsides. 
This guy is yet another target of public shaming way out of proportion to what he said. Lewinsky's return got my attention. And since then I have become more alert to the unexpected consequences of snap-chat and sexting. Heck, politicians and sports figures screw up with cameras and audio rolling and sometimes let go with far worse than this. Then there are the lyrics of what passes for music these days. 
And I find most anything from the NRA more offensive than this. Gimme a break. This is very small potatoes.
The sin he committed was speaking carelessly in violation of one of today's most politically sensitive subjects, the mistreatment of women.
...Hunt had been invited to the world conference of science journalists in Seoul and had been asked to speak at a meeting about women in science. His brief remarks contained 39 words that have subsequently come to haunt him. 
“Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab. You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them, they cry,” he told delegates.
The reaction was a media explosion dramatic as any plane crash. The reader will have no trouble digging up the details. (Wikipedia is a moving target, but see what it may provide.)


Returning to the original link about Rachel Dolezal, this listicle at Wonkette ledes with a somewhat snarky take on the story. I think of Wonkette as being more sensitive to shame and blame targets but in this case they seem to be on the bandwagon. 
First person with a white dark side.
In our noble and oh-so-exceptional country, panels of men explain how ladies and their parts work, “not a scientist” politicians teach us about science and how it’s all fake anyway, and people who think we’re the U.S. of Jesus tell Jews how to be do Being A Jew correctly. So this sounds about right and exactly what we deserve. Black-but-actually-not Rachel Dolezal — who identifies as black because she really hates whitey (read: her parents, and they’re not the boss of her!) — can’t be president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP anymore, so maybe she can be a reality TV star! It is the career choice for anyone who has failed at reality life. (See, for example, every reality TV star ever.) 
NAACP race faker Rachel Dolezal stepped down from her job Monday, but RadarOnline.com has learned she already has a new gig in the works: Dolezal is fielding multiple offers to film a reality show, and is seeking professional representation after her bombshell interview on the Today show. […]
“Rachel wants to use all of the publicity to raise awareness about race relations,” the source said.  
Wow, if only there were some black woman somewhere in America, willing and able to raise awareness about race relations. Oh well, guess not, so Dolezal, who used to be a white lady who got reverse-racismed, before she became a black lady who got old fashioned-style racismed, will have to do it. For her people. And the struggle, man. Race is only a social construct, after all, but fortune and fame? That shit is for real. And this way, maybe America will at long last be willing to watch a black woman talk about race. As long as she’s white.
That's a new word for me -- racismed. I need to remember that.  I'll add that and race faker to the toolbox of selective snark.


It's no surprise that the homeschool backstory includes a variety of styles, many deriving from faith-based approaches to teaching and child-rearing. Religious foundations come as no surprise, since parochial education has often had an elite status.  The post-secondary level also includes a rich heritage of faith-supported colleges and universities.

The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) is, as the name says, an advocacy group founded in 1983.
Through the years, HSLDA’s primary goal has remained the same—to bring together a large number of homeschooling families so that each can have a low-cost method of obtaining quality legal defense. Today, HSLDA gives tens of thousands of families the freedom to homeschool without having to face legal threats alone. Through many families sticking together, we have been able to keep the cost of a year’s membership close to the rate that a family would have to pay for an hour of an attorney’s time almost anywhere else. 
After a family joins HSLDA, there are no further charges of any kind for defending them in court. HSLDA pays in full all attorney fees, expert witness costs, travel expenses, and all other court costs permissible by state law for us to pay.
Recently a rift opened up between that group and the influential, widespread homeschool ministries of Doug Phillips and Bill Gothard. Comments left at following link are as informative as the main story.
Homeschool leader disavows ‘patriarchy’HSLDA founder Michael P. Farris criticizes the teachings of former ministry leaders Doug Phillips and Bill GothardBy DANIEL JAMES DEVINEAug. 29, 2014 
Longtime homeschool attorney and advocate Michael P. Farris, who founded the Home School Legal Defense Association in 1983 and founded Patrick Henry College in 2000, issued a public statement Wednesday distancing himself from “patriarchy.” Specifically, he criticized the teachings of two leaders formerly popular among homeschoolers, Doug Phillips and Bill Gothard, who both recently stepped down from ministries amid allegations of sexual misconduct 
Phillips, an attorney himself, worked with Farris at HSLDA for six years. He went on to launch The Vision Forum Inc. and Vision Forum Ministries with his wife Beall. Last year, Phillips resigned as president of Vision Forum Ministries after admitting to an inappropriate relationship with a young woman. The ministry closed soon after.
Gothard was a longtime ministry leader who drew thousands of families to weeklong seminars in the 1970s and ’80s, teaching practical applications of biblical principles and warning against debt and rock music. He resigned as president of the Institute in Basic Life Principles in March amid allegations of sexual misconduct with multiple young women. (Gothard admitted to crossing the “boundaries of discretion” with some young women but denied any “sexual intent.”)
This post is focused on shame and blame, not homeschooling. But faith and homeschooling, like shame and blame, also go together like cream and sugar.  There is more at the link. As I said, take a look at the comments for an illustration of blame and shame in action. It's fairly easy to spot, wrapped in a thin tissue of clenched-teeth politeness, although #19 is more homily than argument.

I must admit to personal bias on my part because my views on education in general and private schools in particular prejudice me about homeschools, and not in a good way. That said, let's get back to the subject of blame and shame.


Monica Lewinsky's return caught my attention immediately. A light came on and all at once I began to look at my Facebook and Twitter links through a new lens. I realized that social media are at some level becoming anti-social. The polarization of politics is a natural development. The gap separating rich and poor is symptomatic. Racial and ethnic conflicts fit neatly into the template. Conspiracy advocates, birthers, science deniers -- all these and more are symptomatic of a Second World of perception that dismisses empathy, reflection, nuance or what us old-timers once called common sense.

Recommended reading and listening.Read this first.Then listen to this morning's NPR interview of Jon Ronson.
Posted by John Ballard on Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Listen to this NPR interview with Ronson.  
Another example of shame and blame involves breastfeeding.  Something about social media feeds the misguided notion that breastfeeding should be a universal practice for new mothers, and those who don't do it are falling short of their responsibilities. 

I'm very grateful for being blessed to be able to breastfeed my kids, and still going strong with Corbin. But I admit,...
Posted by Kami Donnelly on Tuesday, June 23, 2015

No list of shame and blame examples would be complete without mention of Kim Kardashian. She illustrates the most effective, perhaps only way to cope with the slings and arrows of celebrity is to make lemonade from what seems to be a volcanic eruption of lemons. 

Here is another figure I only know by name and headlines. She got my attention a couple weeks ago when the NPR game show Wait! Wait! had her for a guest. I happened to be listening and was surprised at what struck me as a rather pedestrian personality, a little self-deprecating, hugely ordinary for someone I expected to be a roman candle of controversy.  Instead she was almost child-like in what came across as a high-school cheerleader level of innocence. A current Facebook link floats in an ocean of shame and blame. I'm confident there will be many more. Look at the endless number of snarky takedowns, most of them shimmering with what my commenter quoted as "a form of sanctimonious judgement [which] spends more time banning forms of social activity that it regards as counter-progressive than it does in enhancing choice or recommending tolerance for the choices of others."