Thursday, March 25, 2010

Countin' noses

It's time for the census. Something our forefathers decided would be a good idea when they wrote the Constitution lo these many years ago. Counting noses has been around for a long time before that document was written. Of course, counting noses was primarily for taxation purposes -- e.g. Joseph & Mary wandering into Bethlehem, or the Domesday Book that Willie da Conqueror had done in England.

It's a lot simpler this year than 10 years ago. Of course, they still want to know my race. And here I feel discriminated against. Our Hispanic folks have a lot of choices about WHO they are. So do the Asian group. The Native Americans (i.e. them who watched the Pilgrims get off the boat) get to enter their tribe. But 'white' and 'black' folk just get 'black' or 'white'. Africa is full of tribes -- Zulu, Tonga, and a whole lot more. And us white folk aren't homogenous, either. Scandinavian; Anglo-Saxon; Franks; Teutonic. And no category at all for those of middle east ancestry.

The good news is there's a checkbox for "Some Other Race" and a blank at the end of Question 9. I'm entering "Celtic" for my Scottish ancestry. Remember, in an earlier blog I claimed descent from Rob Roy McGregor, who pissed off the English Crown so much that simply to use the name McGregor was punishable by death for over 70 years.

Now THAT's being 'rossiferous'

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

To Kill a Mockingbird

In her blog, one of my oldest friends commented about the current Roanoke City Council race. One of the candidates is a lawyer who recently defended an infamous white supremacist and did a really good job. My friend thinks this defense disqualifies the lawyer from serving on Council; I disagree.

I mentioned To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee, 1960; film starring Gregory Peck, Universal Pictures, 1962) to her and she said that's different - that Mockingbird was about racial inequality. We both grew up - came of age - in the 60's. She in the Chicago area, me in Roanoke. We both remember the struggles as our country worked to get away from the shame of racial inequality, and those struggles were front page news then. But To Kill a Mockingbird was much more than about race. It's about guaranteeing a fair trial for an unpopular defendant.

The time is 1936 in Maycomb, Alabama. Atticus Finch is appointed by the court to defend a black man accused of raping a young white woman. Although many of Maycomb's citizens disapprove, Atticus agrees to defend him to the best of his ability. The community backlash and personal attacks on Atticus and his family, and how they stand up to it, form the story.

The United States Constitution provides a number of guarantees. Relevant are the Freedom of Speech and the Right to a Fair Trial. The supremacist is, in my polite opinion, an asshole, but this isn't about him it's about his right to share his disgusting views. It's about the right everyone, including supremacist assholes, rag-head terrorist assholes, assassins and other scum-of-the earth have to a fair trial.

I've known and admired the attorney candidate professionally for years and am very proud to call him a personal friend. There is no way in hell he agrees with the views of his client -- in fact, the attorney's heritage has been a target of his clients venom. But the government must prove its case, beyond a reasonable doubt, according to the rules of law. And the attorney did his job.

A number of years ago I was representing an individual who (against my advice) began doing illegal "Straw-man" loans. The government caught on, there were grand juries and a media frenzy. I got interviewed, and one of the questions was how his misdeeds impacted me. My response: "One of the risks of practicing law is when your client does a belly-flop into a pool of crap, you're gonna get splashed." Many of my colleagues -- who had been "splashed" -- called to say they wish they'd thought of that line.

In the spirit of Atticus Finch, we've got a job to do and sometimes it's unpopular. But that's why most of us chose this profession.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Mayor Bowers is Right

Our nation, our commonwealth and our local governments are facing a financial crisis unlike any seen since the Great Depression that most of us only know from history books or (as in my case) stories told by our parents. Budgets aren’t only being cut, they’re being mangled. And in Virginia, it’s those who can least afford any cuts that are being crucified the most – which makes sense if you understand that Virginia Hates the Poor.

But the cuts go further than hurting the poor. Our schools are being forced to close, fire teachers and increase class sizes to ridiculous levels and cancel programs, many of which are geared to increasing the abilities of the disadvantaged (i.e. poor) so they can compete in the job world.

The most interesting and best comment I’ve seen to date comes from Roanoke Mayor David Bowers.  I’ve known David for over 40 years – since Patrick Henry High School days and regularly give him grief. Here he’s dead on and deserves credit for what he said.

The Roanoke Times today reported the following:

Bowers said that when every locality faces budget problems, it becomes a state issue and one that should be addressed by the governor and General Assembly. He said a failure to do so would be on par with Massive Resistance – the push by state officials in the 1950s to resist federally enforced integration of public schools.

“It was the wrong decision then and we paid for it over the years,” Bowers said. “I submit to you, ladies and gentlemen, this is a massive resistance in our time. This is a reckless adherence to ideology by our governor and by our General Assembly in the face of reality and dire consequences and the crisis for Virginia schools.”

Ideology that continues the “Car Tax Relief” abomination instead of providing money to go to the schools.

Right on, David.