I'm an unpopular figure among a certain swath of media professionals. Newspaper folks, mostly, or people who started their careers working for newspapers. They don't like me because I've spent a good chunk of the past decade arguing that it's bad when old establishment media folks coast on their reputation, credentials and presumed authority and that the old media companies are flawed to the extent they are unable to quickly adapt to new information or ways of thinking, causing them to roll forward on inertia.
In other news, the former Executive Editor of the New York Times has written a book largely about how new, online-based media is bad and irresponsible and will lead to the ruination of society. The book has been found to include multiple, significant plagiarized passages and a plethora of errors that were likely overlooked because the author was deemed too important and established to edit and fact-check. Meanwhile, the book's old school publisher is standing behind the author, saying it'll fix what can be fixed. It's hard not to see that as an admission that, plagiarism and errors notwithstanding, it's simply not practical or viable for them to stop publication at this point.
A couple of years ago I wrote about my seven favorite movies in this space. Number one on that list was "The Conversation." It's still number one. I'm having a hard time imagining it will ever not be number one.
It's not a movie that, when you finish it, you say "ah, that was fun." It's not at all uplifting and there's very little action in it. Many people find it boring. I understand that. I don't blame those who don't like it for "not getting it" or whatever. Slow burns and character sketches are not for everyone. Most people watch movies to enjoy themselves and be entertained. They should, too. That's kind of the point of a movie, even if I like to torture myself with bleak, contemplative stuff like this on occasion.
Its lack of action and lack of feel-good appeal notwithstanding, aesthetically it's just a beautifully-shot and perfectly-acted movie. There isn't an ounce of fat on it. Gene Hackman is, if not my favorite actor of all time, in my top three, and this is his greatest role. And, as you can tell by our shared taste in eyewear, I like Harry Caul's personal style.
More deeply, I identify with its themes.
I've spent a lot of time in my life trying to find the right balance between observing the world with objective detachment and actively participating in it. When I was a lawyer I'd often find myself keeping myself too far removed from my clients when I found them or their interests objectionable or getting too close to them, sometimes losing my objectivity, when I did not. Since I've become a writer -- working at home, not interacting with many people in person on a daily basis -- I've felt like more of a voyeur than a participant in the world on occasion, with a tendency to disengage. This tendency is far more pronounced when I'm under stress or when I'm unhappy. It's not a good quality, and it's something I've worked hard to notice and head off when I slip into it, but I'll likely always have to work on it. To not become a low-tech version of Harry Caul, letting life simply happen to him. Either not caring to participate in the business of living beyond watching others do it or not knowing how to participate in it until it's too late.
I write all of this today because a friend of mine just pointed out a great interview of Francis Ford Coppola -- conducted by Brian DePalma of all people -- about the making of "The Conversation." It's from 1974, just as the movie was being released in theaters, so there is none of that reverent, "talk about your classic movie" stuff. You can tell Coppola knew he had a good movie on his hands -- it was nominated for Best Picture several months later, in a year that was stacked with amazing films -- but he freely talks about its flaws too, in a way I bet he wouldn't now if you asked him. It's also interesting because (a) there's an exchange in there in which I suspect DePalma got the seed for making the excellent "Blow Out" seven years later; and (b) based on stuff he says about his movie making style, you can see the hell Coppola would go through making "Apocalypse Now" a few years later coming straight down Market Street.
There are a lot of great technical details in the interview too. How Coppola went about filming the opening segment in the park, the choice of lenses to give it that voyeuristic feel and all of that. I've read a lot about that stuff before, but there's a new bit in there I hadn't read about the sound editing which kind of blew my mind. There are a lot of jarring transitions from loud to quiet in the movie and I used to think it was just because it was poorly mixed like a lot of 1970s movies are, but Coppola talks about how that was intentional and explains, quite satisfyingly, why that is so. It's one of those things that makes perfect sense and which I'm somewhat embarrassed I didn't think about while watching it, oh, 10 times.
It's been a year or two since I last watched it. After reading this interview, I'm going to have to make it 11 soon.
A couple of Twitter friends recently told me about how, as a fun exercise, they identified the number one song on the Billboard charts on their birthday for every year they were alive. It sounded like a fun idea.
And it was a fun idea until I remembered that I'm older than them it takes me a lot more time to do this sort of thing. Which is fine. I got a lot of time. It's what I have most of, actually. So let's do this thing.
Per the Billboard Hot 100 chart archive, here is the number one song on July 14 of every year since I was born, along with a thought or two about each song or, short of that, a tangential thought or two each song inspired in my too-much-time-on-its-hands brain:
1973: "Will It Go Round In Circles" -- Billy Preston: Preston is one of many who has been called "The Fifth Beatle." In related news, just before this one took the top spot, a George Harrison song and then a Paul McCartney Song hit number 1, so he was the third "Beatle" to have a hit that summer. Note: I do not think he was the fifth Beatle. That was Clarence Walker.
1974: "Rock Your Baby" -- George McCrae: The second of three "rock" songs to hit number 1 in 1974, along with "Rock the Boat" by The Hues Corporation and "Rock me Gently" by Andy Kim. This one was the best of the three. In other news, I was baptized on my first birthday, so this is a fairly appropriate song.
1975: "Love Will Keep Us Together" -- Captain & Tennille: They actually divorced eventually, so this song was a lie.
Over at NBC Sports I wrote about the massive disconnect that exists between the stuff that wins baseball games and the stuff that makes baseball teams money. At present, the business arrangements of the league mean that teams can stink on ice yet still rake in cash while winning doesn't do that much for the bottom line.
It's an out-of-whack incentive structure that is bad for the game in both the short term and the long-term.
Last year I wrote a long true crime story that hit close to home. Like, really close to home: my great-great grandmother killed my great-great grandfather with an axe one snowy December morning in Detroit back in 1910. You'll be happy to know that she did this after my great-grandfather was born, thus allowing me to exist. Thanks for holding off on that, Nellie. I owe you one.
I had published all of this as a short ebook on Amazon and many of you bought it. Thanks for that! It's been out a while now, so I figured it was worth publishing the whole thing for free here, so here it is, in all of its dysfunctional family glory. Feel free to share it with family members who annoy you. It will really creep them out and, I suspect, treat you more kindly in the future.
If you paid $2.99 for the ebook and feel ripped off now that it's free, well, sorry. I'll make you a deal though: if someone important and powerful reads it and decides to option it for a Netflix movie or something fun like that, I'll invite you to the screening and/or buy you a beer at some point.
In September I wrote about Kenan Memorial Stadium at UNC Chapel Hill and its namesake, William Rand Kenan Sr., who murdered scores of blacks in the 1898 Wilmington Massacre.
This week I hosted NPR's sports show, "Only a Game," and produced a story about it.
The results of yesterday's midterm election defy hot takes and easy narratives. On one level -- in terms of just how overwhelmingly voters, in raw numbers, voted Democratic and/or anti-Republican -- it was a Democratic wave of historic proportions. The sort of wave which puts to lie the common Republican and media talking point that America is "a center-right nation." No, in terms of the sentiment of the people of this country as of November 6, 2018, it is certainly not.
That sentiment was clearly blunted in terms of results, however. Given that massive lean towards Democrats in overall vote totals, fair elections would have given them far more than a majority of a couple of dozen House seats. Indeed, in the past, a lean like we saw last night typically has given the majority party twice as much if not more of a gain in the House. That that's all Democrats got is clear evidence that Republicans' craven agenda of gerrymandering has benefitted them greatly.
But while that's disappointing -- and while a few specific, notable races did not go in Democrats' favor -- there is no way whatsoever to honestly spin last night's results as good for Republicans or bad for Democrats. To do so requires one to lose sight of how political tides turn in a lasting way in this country, just how badly things have gotten over the past several years and just how much work it takes, and was always going to take, to effect real change.
Anti-democratic forces and illiberalism did not spring up, fully formed, with Donald Trump's election in November 2016. As I have written many, many times in this space, we have experienced years and years of these corrosive trends. Just as Republicans' program of court-packing, tax cuts, deregulation and disinvestment in our nation's future has taken decades to bear the rotten fruit it is now bearing, so too has the erosion of campaign finance laws, the evisceration of the Voting Rights Act and the enactment of widespread gerrymandering. Republicans began making it their explicit agenda to deconstruct civil society, to benefit and protect the powerful and to cast the vulnerable aside in the 1960s, accelerated these efforts in the 1980s and accelerated them even more in the years since the 1994 Contract with America election. They likewise made it their agenda to rig elections many, many years ago. That agenda was not going to be stopped in a single midterm election.
That agenda was, however, chipped at in real and substantive ways last night:
It took years for Republicans to bugger up this country and a handful of big time superhero candidates were not going to fly in and fix things in a single night. Do not lose sight of the fact, however, that a lot of street level superheroes are starting to get results. In the past two years a hell of a lot of people have done the work to start the process of fixing things. They have knocked on doors, registered voters, and have persuaded millions that there is a better course than the course our nation has been on for so long. That work paid off in many, many positive ways last night, even if it did not do so in 100% optimum ways.
It's easy to break things. It's way harder to fix them. You do so by putting your head down and doing that work. Continuing that work. You make some progress in 2018 and you make more progress in 2020. You win some elections. You take stock, get back to work and then you win some more in 2022, 2024 and beyond. The work is never done. But if the work is done right it can pay off, slowly, over time.
It began to pay off a little last night.
For three years, Donald Trump has courted and enjoyed the support of the "alt-right," which is a euphemism for white supremacists, anti-Semites and neo-Nazis. They played a very large role in his election, with their temporary, barely sanitized public image providing putatively respectable cover for base racism, anti-Semitism and fascism.
After his election, torch-carrying neo-Nazis marched, chanting their racist and anti-Semitic intent in no uncertain terms, and even murdered a woman. Trump refused to condemn them. To the contrary, he embraced them.
Since taking office, Trump and his supporters have rationalized, normalized and praised white supremacists and neo-Nazis. Just yesterday the president himself employed blatantly anti-Semitic rhetoric at a rally, scapegoating a wealthy Jewish man as a political enemy and joining a crowd which chanted its desire to "lock him up."
This morning, a man rushed into a synagogue, declared that "all these Jews must die," and murdered at least eight people.
Donald Trump is not legally responsible for the criminal actions of others. But as the President of the United States and the leader of a major political party, large swaths of which have embraced neo-Nazism, white supremacy and anti-Semitism, he and his supporters are damn well morally responsible.
We are what we do and what Donald Trump has done is well-documented. Our president is a white supremacist. Our president is an anti-Semite. Our president has no problem with political violence as long as it is used as a weapon against those he calls his enemies. This is not an opinion, it is documented fact. Our nation is under attack from white supremacist terrorism, our president has done nothing to even remotely condemn it, let alone do anything about it. To the contrary he has encouraged it. As such, our president bears a large amount of moral responsibility for it.
To suggest otherwise is to be willfully ignorant of history.
To suggest otherwise is to be willfully ignorant of how political, racial and religious violence is fostered and inspired.
To suggest otherwise is to be willfully blind to that which is going on before our very eyes.
To suggest otherwise is to be complicit in the ugliness and horror which has overtaken this country.
An awful lot of journalists were fired between 2015-17 because their companies went with a "video strategy" influenced strongly by Facebook's claimed video ad revenues and Facebook's direct encouragement of their media partners to pivot to video and away from a written product.
That didn't pan out the way anyone expected, however. Video engagement was far lower than expected and revenues followed suit. As a result of all of this a lot of video editors and producers were fired, joining their print journalism colleagues on the unemployment line. Online media, in many respects, is a flaming hole in the ground at the moment.
Why did the video strategy -- which Facebook claimed was the Way and the Truth -- not pan out?
Facebook knew by January 2015 that its video-ad metrics had problems, and understood the nature of the issue within a few months, but sat on that information for more than a year, the plaintiffs claimed in an amended complaint Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Oakland . . . Facebook in 2016 revealed the metrics problem, saying it had “recently discovered” it. The firm told some advertisers that it had probably overestimated the average time spent watching video ads by 60 percent to 80 percent. Tuesday’s filing alleged that Facebook had instead inflated average ad-watching time by 150 percent to 900 percent.
To be clear: the current state of affairs in online media is largely the fault of media companies for desperately and stupidly chasing trends that even a moment's reflection should've revealed were idiotic (note: NO ONE prefers video news content online over print), but it sure as shit doesn't help that Facebook, allegedly, was lying to everyone about user behavior and ad revenues.
There's a column at the National Review today which provides a good look into how blinkered and deluded conservatives are and how deeply buried in their ideology they have become.
The premise is not a bad one: "We're all in this together! What's good for my brother is good for me! Shared prosperity makes life better for everyone and brings forth harmony and not division!" It's a riff on Alexander Hamilton's understanding of what our nation was and could be.
I'm not the biggest Alexander Hamilton fan in the world but, generally speaking, I agree with that stuff. Shared prosperity is important, as is our sense of community as a nation.
There are just a couple of problems, though:
My conservative friends: there is absolutely nothing wrong with believing that "mutual economic gain is the keystone of The Union." If you do believe that, however, try advancing at least a single, solitary economic initiative that promotes mutual economic gain as opposed to the massive number of policies you support which serves the interests of business and the wealthy alone, does harm to the poor and to working people and fosters vast and, eventually, destabilizing economic inequality.
Until you do that, you're spewing empty ideology which flies in the face of the reality which you conservatives have created.
Two weeks ago I wrote a story about the history of the namesake for the University of North Carolina's football stadium. The upshot: in 1898, William Rand Kenan Sr. -- for whom Kenan Memorial Stadium is named -- led a white supremacist paramilitary force which rode through Wilmington, North Carolina on a horse-drawn wagon, massacring dozens and possibly hundreds of black citizens with a machine gun. The aim: to commit a coup d’etat overthrowing the local government, led by blacks and their white Republican allies.
My aim in writing that story was to bring to light a dark chapter of American history the specifics of which had been long-buried, but the reverberations of which have lived on for 120 years. History has whitewashed the Wilmington Massacre itself, but a direct result of the massacre was full and thorough ushering in of the Jim Crow era, the effects of which are still felt socially and economically to this day. What's more, many of those responsible for Wilmington -- while having their crimes either excused or forgotten -- went on to fame, fortune, greatness and, in the case of Kenan, were immortalized in monuments to their memory.
When I wrote that story, I hoped that it would start a conversation that might lead to a greater awareness of just how much of modern American society rests on a foundation created by slaveowners and white supremacists. I hoped that, eventually, someone might ask whether or not a giant college football stadium, for example, should stand as a memorial to a guy like William Rand Kenan Sr.
I didn't think, however, that the conversation would last only two weeks:
UNC-Chapel Hill will change the name on a plaque at Kenan Memorial Stadium to distance the university from William Rand Kenan Sr., who was involved in the Wilmington racial violence of 1898. The plaque on the stadium will be altered to honor William Rand Kenan Jr., Kenan Sr.’s son . . .
While it's being couched as merely changing the plaque, the fact is that the place is "Memorial" stadium, with said memorial being the plaque. If you change who is being memorialized I think it's fair to say that, technically speaking, you are changing the name of the stadium. Or certainly the purpose of its name.
I likewise think that while changing the memorial to Kenan's son is something of a cute move by the university -- no new signs or letterhead or anything else needs to be ordered -- it is, in this case, significant enough.
As the university's chancellor noted in her official statement on the matter, the son -- William Rand Kenan Jr. -- is a far more important figure for the university. His multi-million dollar bequest to the university in the 1960s led to a $300 million+ foundation that continues to benefit the university in countless ways. While some of his money was, in fact, family money inherited from the Kenan's slave owning past, it was only a small fraction of it, earned at least a couple of generations before him. He built the vast majority of it through his work as an industrialist and inherited a great deal more through his sister who had married the oil man Henry Flagler who predeceased her.
To be sure, the slave holding past of the Kenans is significant and should be noted by the university (efforts are being made to do this) and, as I wrote in my story, Kenan Jr., like so many men of his time, chose to overlook and minimize what happened in Wilmington specifically and in America at large. They should not be absolved of that. It's the case, however, that Kenan Jr. was born after the Civil War, was not involved in Wilmington and does not have any documented history of active participation in white supremacist organizations, white supremacist history or white supremacist acts. Yeah, I realize that's a pretty low bar when it comes to memorializing someone, but in light of that and in light of his undeniable impact on the university during his lifetime and in the decades since his death, it does not strike me as inappropriate to memorialize him if UNC thinks it appropriate. Especially given that the alternative would be either keeping the current monument to a murderer or mounting a long and 100% certain-to-fail challenge to get any reference to the Kenans removed from the stadium.
Being satisfied with the move from Kenan Sr. to Kenan Jr. is not just a matter of pragmatism, however. I think there's a benefit to be had in doing it this way.
As a result of the removal of the current monument and the stadium's re-dedication, the university is committing to working with UNC's "history task force," which is charged with contextualizing the university's past. If they were to simply change the name of the place to "Tar Heel Stadium" it'd be pretty easy to paper over the Kenans and their history and pretend it never happened. By changing it to William Rand Kenan Jr., one holds out hope that there will be a bit more room, in the new memorial, to explain both his history and the history of the stadium's name change. That's what "contextualization" is, after all. William Rand Kenan Sr.'s actions in Wilmington were completely and utterly unknown by almost everyone before now. By keeping it Kenan, it'll be a lot harder to bury that uncomfortable history.
And that should make everyone happy, right? So many people who dislike the revisiting of our country's slave-owning and white supremacist past decry that to do so is to "erase" history. They should be pleased then, because this does the exact opposite. It brings history that had been intentionally obscured by darkness back into the light.
Good job, UNC. You have a long way to go to fully contend with your past, but at least in this instance you got it right.
Last week I wrote a rundown of some of the many, many lies Brett Kavanaugh told under oath during his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. An NBC News report from last night reveals that he may very well have told another one. A pretty damn serious one, in fact.
The story surrounds the claims of Kavanaugh's college classmate, Deborah Ramirez, who says that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her. Her claims were first made public in an article in The New Yorker in late September. Kavanaugh claimed under oath that the first time he heard of her claims was in the New Yorker story, which he suggested blindsided him and which he characterized as "an orchestrated hit to take me out.”
The NBC story claims, however, that based on text messages exchanged between Kavanaugh, his nomination/legal team and old colleges friends, Kavanaugh and/or his surrogates were working behind the scenes to head off Ramirez's allegations at least two months before the New Yorker story broke:
Further, the texts show Kavanaugh may need to be questioned about how far back he anticipated that Ramirez would air allegations against him. Berchem says in her memo that Kavanaugh “and/or” his friends “may have initiated an anticipatory narrative” as early as July to “conceal or discredit” Ramirez.
If he and/or those working with him were trying to get people's stories straight about Ramirez's allegations in July it was, quite simply, a lie for him to say last week that the first he heard about those allegations was in the New Yorker story. A lie aimed at hiding the fact that he knew of a serious allegation beforehand and suggesting that an effort to suppress the allegation -- to craft "an anticipatory narrative" -- was undertaken. This would stand as a lie, by the way, irrespective of the truth of Ramirez's claims.
If the text message bear this out -- and all it would require would be for them to show that, at some point before the New Yorker story, Kavanaugh and/or his team were texting people talking about Ramirez's allegations with at least some degree of specificity -- there is no defense for his testimony last week. It will stand as perjury and it should be disqualifying. More than that, it's the sort of thing that, in almost any other circumstance, would cause his state bar to investigate him with the eye toward a license suspension or disbarment.
Yet, it still seems, Republicans will attempt to ram him through and onto the Supreme Court.
I came from a couple of small and disadvantaged towns that did not have some prefabricated assembly line of future leaders. The people who came from those places and who did, in fact, accomplish things did so because they sought to transcend geography or race or socio-economic status or family history. They had to. They needed to break the mold of their surroundings or their ancestry in order to do good things in life because falling into the common expectations and routines of their environment meant doing less than they aspired to do.
Later, when I went to college and especially when I went to law school, I began to encounter Brett Kavanaugh types. The ones I met were angrier and jerkier than most because George Washington was their safety school and they were disappointing dad by not getting into Yale, but they were of that mold. A lot of them, actually, came from Bethesda and prep-school-laden suburbs like them.
I never heard of Brett Kavanaugh until recently, but I've spent my entire adult life thinking about guys like him. The ones for whom trying to transcend anything would be bad for them rather than good, because everything had been set up for them to succeed and they had better not fuck that up.
Most of them did succeed, of course, but almost all of them are boring, average and pathetic people, no matter their station, wealth or power. Pathetic because they never had to do a damn thing. Because they never once, in their entire lives, had to dream or to work particularly hard. Because they did not, in fact, ever consider the possibility of doing so.
Over at Jacobin today, Megan Day writes about Brett Kavanaugh, men like him and their sheer, mediocre banality. In doing so, she puts her finger directly on that which I've been feeling about guys like him my entire life. It's a feeling that is often claimed by others to be envy, but it's anything but. I feel sorry for these men. I feel sorry for those who have been handed everything in life and, thus, appreciate nothing.
I feel sorry for men who never stop to think of how far they have come because, really, they never went anywhere.
As an attorney with 11 years of trial experience, I found Christine Ford's testimony about her alleged attempted rape by Brett Kavanaugh to be convincing and compelling. Any lawyer with even half that experience would, if they were not being nakedly partisan, agree.
Contrary to what random people on the Internet will tell you, this is not a matter of everyone's opinion being of fair and equal weight. Experienced legal practitioners know that there are basic criteria for what makes a witness believable. Ford met virtually all of them. If a lawyer tells you otherwise, they are lying for partisan reasons.
I'm less interested this morning in her credibility, however, and more interested in the credibility of Brett Kavanaugh. Based on yesterday's hearing that, likewise, should be pretty uncontroversial. He's a liar. He lied repeatedly about things big and small, both yesterday and while under oath several years ago. To wit:
Some of these matters may seem, in isolation, to be trivial. In context, however, they are anything but. The sort of person Brett Kavanaugh was as a high school student has direct bearing on the very serious and heinous act of which he is being accused and his lies about such matters -- his drinking, his attitude toward and treatment of women -- have a direct bearing on his credibility. That he would blatantly lie about such matters is damning and utterly destroys the credibility of his denials. While there is not enough evidence to bring criminal sexual assault charges against Kavanaugh, there is plenty of reason to believe he lied repeatedly in an effort to get out from under the accusations, suggesting that he did, in fact, do what Christine Ford said he did.
Even short of that, however, his lies are disqualifying in and of themselves. He's a lawyer. He's a judge. He's poised to become one of the nine most powerful jurists in the nation. A single lie about even a trivial matter under oath would place any attorney's license in jeopardy and say damning things about his credibility and ethics as an attorney. Multiple lies from a man who wishes to serve on the Supreme Court are inexcusable and would, at any other time in out nation's history, ensure the failure of his nomination.
Yet Kavanaugh will likely be confirmed. He will be confirmed because Republicans do not care that he lied. They do not care about anything other than a political victory and control of the Supreme Court and they will countenance perjury and, it seems very likely, attempted rape, in order to get it.
I defy any person -- especially any lawyer -- to make a case for Brett Kavanaugh's credibility and fitness to be a Supreme Court justice in light of his lies and, yes, his perjury. I defy them to do it without reference to broad political talking points, ends-justify-the-means rationalizations and tu quoque reasoning. I do not think it can be done. At least not if one is being intellectually honest. Even the Republicans with whom I engage on social media and who, normally, will make an effort to argue that white is black until the position is no longer tenable are not even making the effort, likely because they know they cannot do so.
You will likely get your Supreme Court justice, Republicans. But you are getting it at the price of your soul. And you are certainly getting it at the cost of my respect for you. Now and forever going forward.
Most people will watch the Brett Kavanaugh hearing today in order to see whether Christine Ford or Kavanaugh is more believable as they testify about the alleged sexual assault that has led us here. As they weigh the witnesses' credibility, they should remember that they need not rely solely on the "he said, she said" aspects of all of this.
Brett Kavanaugh's boyhood friend, Mark Judge, was named by Christine Ford as an eye-witness to the alleged sexual assault. If what Kavanaugh and all of his supporters says is true, and that it did not happen, Mark Judge should be able to DESTROY Christine Ford's testimony, corroborate Kavanaugh's testimony and end this definitively. He should be able to say "yes, I read what Dr. Ford said about this, but it is simply untrue. This never happened." It would constitute at least some -- perhaps a lot of -- corroboration for his denial.
Instead, Judge literally went into hiding and the GOP is refusing to subpoena him.
This is a farce. it is an instructive and illuminating farce, but the outcome is preordained. Republican Senators will listen to Christine Ford today, but they will not hesitate to confirm Brett Kavanaugh because they do not think that backing an attempted rapist is as bad as not getting their first choice confirmed to the Supreme Court before Election Day.
On Saturday the University of North Carolina football team will host the Pitt Panthers in their home opener, kicking off the Tar Heels’ 92nd season in Kenan Memorial Stadium in Chapel Hill. Almost none of the 40,000+ fans who will show up have any idea who the stadium is named after, and even those who think they do probably have it wrong.
They've likely heard the name Kenan, as it is an extraordinarily prominent name in and around UNC. One of the university’s founders was a Kenan. The business school is named after a Kenan as is a charitable trust that endows dozens of professorships and distributes numerous grants benefitting literacy, the arts, science, technology, and secondary school education. A Kenan is currently on the Board of Trustees for the UNC School of the Arts.
Almost all things Kenan at UNC are named after chemist, industrialist and developer William Rand Kenan Jr., an 1894 UNC graduate who, after teaming up with his brother-in-law, the oil man Henry Flagler, built railroads and made a fortune developing Miami and the Florida coast. When he died in 1965 he bequeathed most of his $95 million fortune to his alma mater. Today the trust that bears his name is worth over $300 million.
The football stadium is not named after William Rand Kenan Jr., however. Rather, at his request, and following a generous donation, it was named after his parents, William Rand Kenan Sr. and Mary Hargrave Kenan. It is they, according to a plaque affixed to a freestanding monument inside the stadium, who Kenan Memorial Stadium is intended to memorialize and continues to memorialize to this day.
Most fans entering Kenan Stadium probably don’t pay much attention to the plaque and, as a result, don’t know the first thing about William Rand Kenan Sr. Even if they did read it, though, they would not learn the most notable thing about him.
William Rand Kenan Sr. was the commander of a white supremacist paramilitary force which massacred scores of black residents of Wilmington, North Carolina on a single, bloody day in 1898.
For nearly a century the events which took place in Wilmington on November 10, 1898 were known as “The Wilmington Race Riot.” That very name, however, was a lie intended to obscure what really happened.
Long portrayed as a violent uprising of black instigators put down by heroic and noble white citizens fighting for law and order, it was, in fact, a massacre. It was simultaneously a coup d’etat in which a white militia, led by a former Confederate officer and a white supremacist named Alfred Moore Waddell, killed black residents in the streets and in their homes, chased even more out of town, burned black-owned businesses to the ground and overthrew the local government, led by blacks and their white Republican allies in a coalition born of the briefly-ascendent Fusion Movement, which had just been legitimately elected.
History has tended to portray the massacre as spontaneous. It was anything but. It was preceded by months of racial and political tensions, stoked by red shirt-wearing white supremacist Democrats who were aggrieved that in Wilmington, then North Carolina’s largest city, a Fusion government sought to protect the gains freed blacks had earned during Reconstruction. On election day in 1898 the red shirts attempted to steal ballots and drive black voters away from polling places. Those efforts failed and the black-Republican coalition held power.
That night a group of over 450 white men met at the courthouse and signed a so-called “White Declaration of Independence” which specifically called for the repeal of black voting rights and the banishment of black political and business leaders from the town. The following morning signatories to the Declaration burned the offices of the Wilmington Daily Record, — the town’s black-owned newspaper — to the ground and threatened its publisher with lynching. The massacre, planned out in advance and undertaken with deliberation, had begun.
History has likewise portrayed the violence in Wilmington that day as being carried out by an unruly mob. This is also a lie. The massacre was an organized paramilitary action in which the Wilmington Light Infantry, a state militia unit which had just returned from duty in the Spanish–American War, spread out over the city, taking it over street by street, killing black citizens in the process.
The most intimidating — and the most deadly — component of the Wilmington Light Infantry was was its machine gun squad, which commanded a rapid-firing Colt gun mounted on a horse-drawn wagon. The gun, capable of firing 420 .23 caliber rounds a minute, was not property of the United States Army or the state militia. Rather, it was purchased by local businessmen who, according to contemporary accounts, believed that the gun would “intimidate into quietude” those who saw the weapon and “overawe Negroes.” The machine gun squad was likewise itself not a military force. It was led by a Civil War veteran and local businessmen named William Rand Kenan Sr., with other local business owners under his command.
The bloodshed began when foot soldiers shot and killed blacks who had gathered on the street following the burning of the Daily Record’s offices. The massacre grew much deadlier when Kenan’s machine gun wagon crossed the Fourth Street Bridge into the predominantly black part of Wilmington known as Brooklyn. Its first fusillade came in response to what witnesses claimed to be sniper fire, though no sniper was ever found. According to eye-witnesses, the gun’s volley killed 25 blacks in a matter of seconds. Later, as Kenan’s machine gun squad proceeded past an area known as Manhattan Park, it was witnessed firing into a house where three black residents were killed. The gun was later used to threaten black churches into opening their doors to be searched for weapons whites believed blacks to be stockpiling and individuals white leaders deemed to be dangerous or subversive. No weapons were found but many black residents were marched out of hiding. Some were thrown in jail. Some were never seen again.
As the morning wore on, Kenan’s forces and other units of the Wilmington Light Infantry conducted house-to-house searches, intimidating residences into compliance, arresting blacks by the dozens and shooting those who gave even the slightest hint that they might resist. Some blacks who were specifically identified as influential in the community were hunted down and killed. As shots rang out, hundreds of black men, women and children fled town, some permanently, some to take shelter in nearby cemeteries and swamps until the violence subsided. By sundown, buildings in Wilmington’s black neighborhoods were pockmarked with bullet holes and anywhere from 60 to as many as 300 blacks had been killed. The exact number is lost to history due to white leaders’ hasty burial of bodies in mass graves and due to black witnesses either having fled town or having been intimidated into silence.
The next morning white leaders, with the backing of the Wilmington Light Infantry, forced the Republican Mayor, the board of aldermen, and the police chief to resign at gunpoint after which they and black leaders which had not been killed or who had not fled were marched to the train station and forced to leave the state under armed guard. That same day Alfred Moore Waddell — the white supremacist leader who orchestrated the events which led to the massacre — was named mayor, an office he would hold until 1905. The coup d’etat completed.
Within a year of the massacre the North Carolina legislature — determined to prevent blacks from holding political power like they did for a time in Wilmington — passed a new constitution which made it close to impossible for blacks to register to vote and imposed poll taxes and literacy tests that effectively disfranchised black voters completely. Nearly every other southern state would model laws on these North Carolina statutes. The “Solid South” of the Jim Crow era was secured and would remain in place, officially, until the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Unofficially, efforts to discourage blacks from voting continue to this day.
William Rand Kenan Sr. was hailed as a hero for his role in the massacre. The white-owned Wilmington Messenger newspaper lauded the Wilmington Light Infantry and Kenan personally, writing “[i]n the Revolutionary War, in the Civil War and in this race war, a Kenan was the bravest of the brave.” A few weeks after the massacre it was reported that Kenan held a massive barbecue for all of those who participated, after which the assembled men gave Kenan a vote of thanks for his service in the massacre. In February 1903 Kenan was named to the University of North Carolina's Board of Trustees. He died two months later.
For the next several decades the Wilmington Massacre was invariably branded a "riot," "insurrection," "rebellion," "revolution," or "conflict," necessitated by an unlawful uprising of black aggressors, with the violence of it all dramatically downplayed, distorted or cast as unavoidable. A typical example of this can be seen in Incidents by the Way, the 1958 memoir of William Rand Kenan Jr., the UNC benefactor, who wrote of his father’s actions thusly:
“As a small boy I was much impressed with the following: There was a riot of colored men in Wilmington and my father organized a company of men with all kinds of rifles together with a riot gun on a wagon and they cleaned up the riot very quickly, although they were compelled to kill several persons. My father rode the wagon and directed the operation.”
William Rand Kenan Jr. was, in fact, 26 years-old at the time and was working as a chemist for Union Carbide. He was almost certainly well-aware of the circumstances of the massacre and likely distorted the timeline of it, casting himself, erroneously, as a “small boy,” in order to distance himself and his family from its horrors as time passed.
It is highly unlikely that any of the thousands of football fans who come to Kenan Stadium each fall or any of the dozens of young men who play for the Tar Heels — a great many of whom are black — are aware of the infamy of the stadium’s namesake. Indeed, even those most familiar with the university and its connection to the Kenans know little if anything about it.
“The Kenans are an enormously generous family of benefactors to the University of North Carolina. Everybody knows that,” UNC history professor Harry Watson told me when I interviewed him recently. “The average undergraduate would say ‘oh, yeah, the Kenans, they’re a pretty important family who have given us a lot of money’ but the biographical details are not likely well known as even that,” Watson said. “Kenan Sr.’s role in the violence of 1898 is not widely known at all.”
“There are probably a couple of people on campus who know,” said UNC history Professor William Sturkey, who specializes in the history of Jim Crow and the New South. “I think a lot of people would be quite shocked. It’s just something that’s been buried and forgotten.”
It’s not the first thing that has been buried and forgotten about the history of the Kenans.
A plaque on Kenan Memorial Stadium refers to the Kenan family's wealth as coming from “chemicals, power, railroads and hotels.” That is true so far as William Rand Kenan Jr.’s adult fortune was concerned, but the Kenans were already wealthy thanks to plantation slavery. Indeed, according to an 1850 slave census, the Kenan family owned 49 people, including 23 people aged 10 or under. This would be the household in which William Rand Kenan Sr., who manned the gun in Wilmington and for whom the stadium was named, was raised.
Last February Sturkey, a member of the school’s Faculty Athletics Committee, introduced a motion recommending that the athletic department take steps to place a new plaque on the stadium to note the family’s slaveholding past. His intention was not to cast the Kenans in a bad light — he did not know about Kenan Sr.’s role in Wilmington at the time — nor was it his intention, as so many people are accused of doing when such matters arise, to “erase history.” To the contrary, Sturkey said, it was the history of the slaves owned by the Kenans that was erased. As a historian, Sturkey said, he just wanted the full story to be told.
“[Slaves’] presence and their lives were omitted. And not just omitted, but intentionally omitted.” Sturkey said. He said that, via his motion, he was suggesting that the Faculty Athletics Committee ask the athletic department to “take steps to recognize the existence of these people whose lives were so crucial to compiling the wealth which built the university . . . it was about simply telling the truth and not misleading people.”
Sturkey’s motion was unanimously passed but it has not been acted upon and the athletic department has given no reason why it has not done so. Not that the athletic department would be the first department which has chosen to ignore the slaveholding history of the Kenans. Over at the Kenan-Flagler Business school website there there appears a timeline of the Kenan family's history. It conspicuously jumps from 1793 to the 1880s, with no mention whatsoever of what the Kenan family was doing, and how it was making its money, during the intervening years.
“Kenan is a name that’s all over our campus, but in terms of how we’ve approached history, we’ve let the greatest benefactors tell their own history,” Sturkey said. “But by doing that, of course, we’ve allowed them to have the complete say in what that history is.”
Based on recent events at UNC, it would appear that, if the Kenans and the university continue to insist upon complete say in how history is told, they will do so at their peril.
Like so many other places in the south, North Carolina is no stranger to the ongoing controversy surrounding memorials and monuments of the Confederate and Jim Crow eras. It is unique, however, in not only its opposition to doing much if anything about them, but in its affirmative protection of such monuments.
For 105 years, a statue called “Silent Sam” sat on a prominent quad on UNC’s campus, facing the main street which passes the university. While ostensibly intended to commemorate the Civil War and its fallen soldiers, Silent Sam, like so many other Confederate monuments erected in the late 19th and early 20th century, was in fact a monument to the Jim Crow Era. If there was any doubt of this, one need only read the speech given by industrialist, philanthropist, and white supremacist Julian Carr at Silent Sam’s dedication ceremony in 1913.
Carr, who advocated for taking voting rights away from blacks and who referred to the Wilmington Massacre as “a grand and glorious event” after it occurred, did not mince words on the afternoon Silent Sam was dedicated. He talked openly, and with no small amount of pride, about how Confederate soldiers saved “the very life of the Anglo Saxon race in the South,” adding, “to-day, as a consequence the purest strain of the Anglo Saxon is to be found in the 13 Southern States — Praise God.” He added that, in the days after the end of the Civil War he had, on the very spot where the statue now stood, “horse-whipped” a “negro wench” for speaking disrespectfully to a white woman. Given how it was spoken of at its very dedication, there is no question that the statue was not intended to memorialize fallen soldiers but, instead, to stand as a monument to white supremacy.
Silent Sam had been a source of controversy for years, but in the wake of 2017’s Unite the Right march in Charlottesville which, among other things, cast more light on Confederate and Jim Crow-era monuments, protests had increased significantly. The university listened to protesters’ arguments but claimed it could do nothing about Silent Sam because its hands were legally tied.
And, to a very large degree, they were. By both a university bylaw adopted in 2015 and by a state law passed in 2015 which prohibit the renaming or buildings and removal or relocation of monuments under all but the most narrow of circumstances. Given the timing of the passage of these laws and the events which inspired their adoption, they were, without question, aimed at heading off protests of monuments to the Confederacy and Jim Crow before they began. Absent those laws, the sign makers would be pretty busy: UNC has no fewer than 30 buildings named after figures tied to white supremacy.
Not that those laws are the only thing motivating UNC officials and donors. Some seem quite eager to protect monuments to the Confederacy and Jim Crow on their own terms.
Last month a series of emails were leaked and published in which one member of the UNC Board of Trustees called for cameras with night vision to be installed around Silent Sam in order to protect it and called protesters “criminals” and “entitled wimps” who should be arrested as a deterrence measure. In another email the university’s Vice Chancellor referred to university leadership’s interest in “preserving a piece of our history,” and defending the statue from “outside parties” who may protest it. Wealthy donors threatened to withhold six-figure contributions to UNC if Silent Sam was removed, with one calling protestors “spoiled intellectuals.” Whether it was because of that direct pressure and the interests of UNC officials in protecting the statue, or whether it was because university bylaws and the state law prevented them from taking action, in early August the UNC Board of Governors announced it had no plans to remove Silent Sam.
If UNC officials thought that would be the end of the matter, they were sorely mistaken. In the wake of the decision to take no action, protests intensified. On the evening of August 20 — the night before the fall semester began — hundreds of protesters gathered around the statue, threw ropes around it and, in less than ten seconds, brought Silent Sam crashing to the ground. What was left of Silent Sam was taken to a university warehouse in the back of a dump truck. His fate is as of yet unknown, but at the moment the University seems intent on re-erecting the Jim Crow relic.
While a statue can be toppled, a 60,000-seat football stadium cannot be razed by a few hundred protesters. Unlike what has happened with troublesomely-named buildings and monuments at Duke University, the University of California at Berkeley and what will soon happen at Stanford University, it cannot be removed or renamed, at least without the sort of political and legal action which no one in a position to do so seems at all willing to undertake. Which leaves UNC -- which did not return a call or email seeking comment -- in a precarious position. Indeed, the university would seem to have only two choices.
The first choice would be to acknowledge the role of William Rand Kenan Sr. in the Wilmington Massacre and to find a way, via additional plaques or interpretive materials, to tell the full history of that dark chapter of the Kenan family. In so doing it might, as Professor Sturkey suggested, begin to recognize the totality of the history upon which UNC was built and begin to remember those who have been intentionally erased from that history. Given the Silent Sam pushback and based on how even a modest motion to amend the misleading historical plaque about the Kenan family at the stadium was already ignored, it seems unlikely that the university would do such a thing.
Which would leave the only alternative: to do nothing. To continue to bury the history of its stadium’s namesake and his role in one of the darkest atrocities of the Jim Crow era, thereby allowing the largest and most prominent building on campus to memorialize a man who should, by all rights, stand in infamy.
Will the university do nothing? Better yet, will the people who toppled Silent Sam and those who supported them stand idly by if it does?
Special thanks to LeRae Umfleet, author of A Day of Blood: The 1898 Wilmington Race Riot (2009), published by the North Carolina Office of Archives and History, which served as an important source for this article
Judge Brett Kavanaugh is nearing confirmation to become the next Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. As you likely know by now, he has also been accused of sexual assault when he was in high school. The story of his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, can be read in The Washington Post.
The short version: during a drunken high school party, Kavanaugh allegedly caught her in a room, held her down and attempted to take her clothes off in what was likely an effort to have sex with her. An effort which would've been rape, because Blasey Ford did not consent. Indeed, she claims that she tried to fight off Kavanaugh and tried to scream, but that he placed his hand over her mouth to prevent her from doing so. Thankfully, however, she managed to escape in part due to Kavanaugh's drunken state and the drunken state of one of his friends who was also in the room. The incident has traumatized Blasey Ford for years, she says, and she suffered from post traumatic stress disorder. Kavanaugh and the other man who was allegedly in the room at the time deny the accusations completely.
Now that Blasey Ford's story is out, you will hear a few things, over and over again, from Republicans and those who want him to be confirmed:
Those things are all true. But they also don't matter when a lawyer or a judge is involved. The bar is nowhere near that low.
All lawyers, before being admitted to the bar, are subject to a test of "character and fitness." This involves background checks and interviews. If you do not pass your "character and fitness" test, you are not admitted to the practice of law.
The thing about the character and fitness test is that it specifically deals with stuff that happened a long time ago, before you were a lawyer. It often deals with stuff that never resulted in criminal charges. It does not matter if you denied, because the test is your candor. Indeed, someone who has been arrested and has gone to jail and has done their time, has atoned and is frank about it all has a BETTER chance of being admitted to the bar than someone who wasn't charged with anything but offers sketchy denials when asked about a given incident that had otherwise gone un-investigated.
(It's probably also worth noting that a history of financial irresponsibility is a relevant subject of inquiry and that getting into non-criminal financial trouble in such a way that raises questions about your judgment can also keep you from getting your law license. That could also be relevant for Kavanaugh too, but we'll let that go for the time being)
The key to all of this is that the test -- contrary to what Republicans will say for the next few days -- is not "his word against hers" or how long ago it was or whether there was anything criminal that arose from it. It's about his character. It's about his candor. It's about his integrity.
That's a high bar, not a low one. And it's that high a bar SIMPLY TO GET YOUR LAW LICENSE. Now think about how high that bar should be to get, literally, the highest possible legal job in existence: Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States of America.
Non-lawyers may think it's silly or overstating things, but lawyers know: if bar examiner had been made aware of these allegations when Kavanaugh graduated law school, he would have, at the very least, been subject to greater investigation on the matter. Depending on how he answered those questions -- if he was evasive or incomplete in his answers, even if he stuck to his denial -- he may have had his license withheld. People have had that happen to them for far less.
Against that backdrop, it is not at partisan to say that the allegations against Kavanaugh should, at the very least, result in far more inquiry and questioning of him. It should also go without saying that, if he sticks to what are starting to become less-than-satisfying or less-than-illuminating denials, he shouldn't be confirmed.
It's not partisan to say this because the standards to which all lawyers are held are directly invoked here. It is a matter for his chosen profession which, the reputation of lawyers notwithstanding, demands high moral and ethical character of its practitioners.
To become the next Justice of the Supreme Court, Kavanaugh should be obligated to show that he has cleared that considerable bar.
This story was originally written for Bloomberg BusinessWeek over the summer. Instead of running it they turned it into a highly-truncated cartoon thing that, being honest, was pretty darn clever and probably more appropriate for the subject matter than a 3,000-word story.
Still, I'd like to have the words I wrote for it all preserved someplace, so here they are.
On March 11, 2015, an anonymous tip was texted to the Franklin County Kentucky Sheriff’s Department that Gilbert “Toby” Curtsinger, a longtime employee of the Buffalo Trace distillery had some stolen barrels of bourbon on his property. A search warrant was executed and deputies drove out to Curtsinger’s house on a winding country road west of Frankfort. Stolen bourbon is not unusual in bourbon country, but Franklin County Sheriff Pat Melton believed that this tip was about something more than your typical bootlegger. He believed that it might be leading him to the Pappy Van Winkle Bandit.
If you’re even a casual consumer of bourbon, chances are you’ve heard of Pappy Van Winkle. It’s the rarest of the many varieties of bourbon made by the Buffalo Trace Distillery and, indeed, the rarest bourbon variety of them all. Pappy, as it is known colloquially, is extraordinarily hard to find. Just 8,000 barrels are produced each year, compared to the millions of barrels of mass market brands like Jim Beam or its Tennessee cousin, Jack Daniel’s. Bar patrons pay upwards of $100 for a single pour. Aficionados who are lucky enough to win lotteries for the privilege of buying it at retail snap up bottles for as much as $300. Those not so fortunate, but who still want the stuff, routinely pay thousands for a bottle on the black market.
On October 15, 2013 Buffalo Trace reported that a little over 200 bottles of Pappy, with a market value of around $26,000, had gone missing. Sheriff Melton characterized it as a “heist,” and characterized the stolen product as “The Mac Daddy” of bourbon. The theft made international headlines, with bourbon enthusiasts inside and outside of the industry speculating about who did it, marveling at the audaciousness of it all and, perhaps, wondering if the theft made it more or less likely that they themselves could get their hands on a bottle. When that tip came in, pointing a finger at a man who had inside access to the place where Pappy was born, Sheriff Melton believed he was about to crack the bourbon crime of the century.
A drug company CEO raised the price of an antibiotic 400%. He justified it by saying the following:
I think it is a moral requirement to make money when you can . . . to sell the product for the highest price . . . I agree with Martin Shkreli that when he raised the price of his drug he was within his rights because he had to reward his shareholders. If he’s the only one selling it, then he can make as much money as he can. This is a capitalist economy, and if you can’t make money, you can’t stay in business.
All y'all who think that you're not paying for that 400% price increase because it's not coming in the form of a tax increase don't understand how economics work. All y'all who think nationalized healthcare is godless socialism are on this guy's side.
Hunter S. Thompson had long since lost his fastball by 9/11. Within three and a half years he'd be dead. But what he wrote on 9/12/01 -- like so much of what he wrote when the stakes were truly high -- was dead on the fucking money.
The towers are gone now, reduced to bloody rubble, along with all hopes for Peace in Our Time, in the United States or any other country.