On Jefferson’s legacy

Cavalier Daily: Professors ask Sullivan to stop quoting Jefferson: Faculty, students believe Jefferson shouldn’t be included in emails. This letter has blown up, so a few words about what happened:

  1. University president Teresa Sullivan sent an email after the election to the student body after the election, noting that UVa students had the responsibility of creating the future they wanted, with these words: “Thomas Jefferson wrote to a friend that University of Virginia students ‘are not of ordinary significance only: they are exactly the persons who are to succeed to the government of our country, and to rule its future enmities, its friendships and fortunes’ … I encourage today’s U.Va. students to embrace that responsibility.”
  2. Assistant psychology professor Noelle Hurd drafted a letter, signed by 469 students and faculty members, to Sullivan, arguing that in light of Jefferson’s status as a slave owner and other racist issues, he should not continue to be held up as a moral compass: “We would like for our administration to understand that although some members of this community may have come to this university because of Thomas Jefferson’s legacy, others of us came here in spite of it… For many of us, the inclusion of Jefferson quotations in these e-mails undermines the message of unity, equality and civility that you are attempting to convey.”
  3. Predictably, the right wing of the Internet lost its mind. I’m not going to link to that, but you can get a flavor of it in the comments to the CD article.

If you’ve been reading my blog this year, you probably already know how I feel about this. I tried to express it in this post about appreciating Edgar Allan Poe’s art while rejecting his racism, but I don’t think I was clear enough.

This country may have been founded out of a desire for religious liberty and economic opportunity, or just for economic opportunity. But, as far back as 1640, our colonial forebears gave a legal basis to slavery, and by 1750 even colonies that rejected slavery on moral grounds (like Georgia) embraced it because of a shortage of workers. And ever since that tradeoff of morality for economic benefit was made, slavery and its corrosive effects have been at the heart of the history of this nation.

You want to knock Jefferson for being a slave owner? Here’s one worse: the economic growth, largely agricultural, that enabled this nation to come into being in the first place, that allowed it to grow strong enough to fight for and win its independence, was driven largely by the labor of chattel slaves.

You cannot uphold the ideals of American democracy and inclusiveness on the one hand while denigrating the intellectual contributions of a Thomas Jefferson on the other. Indeed, you have to acknowledge that both Jefferson and America were, and are, imperfect, are in fact stained with the same original sin.

But that cannot be a reason to stop being inspired by the ideas that Jefferson created and the hope that he gave the world. Jefferson’s great genius was that his intellect led him to ideas that had far greater implications for humanity than even he originally intended; that carried far greater moral authority than he could ever claim. The rejection by the young United States of the inherent inequity of the class systems of Britain, of the monarchical inequities of Europe, and the embrace of the idea that a people have inherent rights and should determine its own destiny, are all ideas that were far bigger than their limited implementations in 1776, or 1787, or 1863, or 1920, or 2015.

I recognize that I write this from a place of privilege, that I cannot in fact have any idea what Jefferson’s hypocrisy, his endless contradictions, and his inhumanity to his fellow man feels like to an African-American, or to anyone else. But to me, to demand that we silence Jefferson seems like the wrong response, now more than ever. We are all of us imperfect strivers toward an ideal we cannot possibly uphold. We should seek to hold a clear eye on the failings of those that came before us, while still acknowledging that their vision and ideas put us on this path in the first place.

Travel day: London to Seville

The unspeakable luxury of a sit down dinner last night. The even more unspeakable luxury of awakening at a reasonable hour this morning. 

A gray and lukewarm day today, at least by Massachusetts standards. I relearn the importance of taking trains where possible, after an hour long cab ride at London rates out to Gatwick. 

The bar in the terminal has lunch and American microbrews. I fly British Airways; the language is a shock when I land. 

But the cab from Seville Airport is fixed rate to the city center and the cab driver plays “All Blues.” And the hotel restaurant makes a mean Negroni, which comes with a dish of complementary olives. 

I think I’ll survive this trip. Though it is, once again, making me regret my decision to only study dead languages in high school and college

Good travel planning

Here’s what I had queued up in my Fresh Cuts playlist for this trip:

  • De la Soul “And the Anonymous Nobody”
  • Donnie McCaslin, “Beyond Now”
  • Hoops, “Hoops EP”
  • Jungle Brothers, “Done By the Forces of Nature”
  • Mark Hollis, “Mark Hollis”
  • Sting, “57th and 9th”
  • A Tribe Called Quest, “We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service”
  • XTC, “Nonsuch”

You’d almost think I was planning ahead. 

Travel day again

Another Monday, another international flight. Itineraries are getting harder to construct the more I do this. This time I have an overnight stay in London en route to Seville. 

I’ve never been to Spain. I hope it lives up to the billing. I don’t think I’ll have the same reaction Sylvia Plath apparently did. For one thing, I won’t be going to any  bullfights, though an open source conference might amount to the same thing. 

Could be, should be, won’t be

New Yorker: Making the Hopewell Baptist Church great again. I love this piece. Partly I love it because it provides the punchline to a story that I had briefly heard about and then lost track of: the destruction by arson of a predominantly black church in Mississippi, accompanied by graffiti reading “Vote Trump.” The good news: a GoFundMe page with a goal of $10,000 raised over $250,000 for the church.

But partly I love it because it expresses in very clear terms what we expect of a president in these times, and by implication highlights how far we’re going to have to go to get there. Yes, Trump should get credit for giving a speech after the election calling for reconciliation, guidance and help. But he should also go and send a clear message that actions like the arson at Hopewell Baptist are not OK. I don’t think it’ll happen, but I’m willing to be pleasantly surprised.

What to do for the next four years

I feel oddly lucky this morning, in a very specific way. I feel lucky that, this year, I didn’t let myself get totally consumed by the election, as I did in 2004 and 2008, or this morning, in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election as our 45th president, would feel even worse than it does. 

I also feel lucky to have lived through eight years of George W. Bush, and before him, eight years of Ronald Reagan. Because I know I can live through the next four. (Punk rock should help; it did before.)

But not the way I lived through the last eight. If last night taught me anything, it’s that we will never survive as a nation if we continue to allow ourselves to be divided. To that end, the first thing I intend to do differently, and suggest you consider, is:

Listen. You know those people you unfriended on Facebook because of their political leanings? You might want to start talking to them again. And it might be a good idea to find a media site that’s not slanted toward your biases and read that too. 

And, by the way, you can’t listen if you dehumanize, or demonize, the other side. Now is probably a good time to de-install Detrumpify. 

But I don’t mean just listen to what people on the other side of the aisle say; listen for why they’re saying it. Both sides have been saying some hateful things this election (some more than others), but that doesn’t mean they’re hateful people. They have real concerns too, though they may not always express them in ways we are ready to hear. And not all of their concerns are racist and bigoted. Some of them just want to feed their families.

That doesn’t mean you don’t call out bad behavior, which is why my second thing is:

Speak up. There are going to be a lot of actions and words that are going to anger us in the next few years. I don’t counsel silence. I do counsel raising our voices in protest—against behaviors, not people. If the blatant racism that we saw in the last twelve months continues, silence is not the right response. 


Get active. There will be a lot of people who get hurt in the next four years, but there are also a lot of people who are hurting already. Volunteering is a good way to make a difference.  Volunteering for a campaign, say for Congress, is a good path too. And for God’s sake, vote. 

Crosby Forrest Seafood Restaurant

We live in an odd time in which the transient leaves lasting traces. Photos linger for years online that would have moldered in shoe boxes thirty years ago. And even the smallest of businesses leaves traces—in reviews, websites, photos. But businesses and restaurants that closed before the dawn of the Web linger in obscurity, with no digital record of their existence.

I was reminded of this last night when I told my son the story of my first seafood dinner. “Grandma and Grandpa liked to go to a seafood restaurant in Poquoson, at the edge of the wetlands,” I told him, and then had to explain about what that meant. “It sat at the edge of a dock and was run by a man named Crosby Forrest. And it had a huge swordfish on the wall, and the biggest oyster shell I’ve ever seen.” I held my arms out as wide as I could to show him how big it was. “Anyway, I was probably about two or three, and they brought me to Crosby Forrest’s restaurant.”

“What kind of food did they have?” he asked.

“Oh, they had clam chowder.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s a soup with clams in it.”


“No, you’d like it. There are different kinds; here in Massachusetts they make it with milk—”


“—and in New York they make it with tomatoes, but in Poquoson they make it with broth. They call it ‘Bull Island clam chowder.’ And then they ordered some fish for me. It was flounder, and I ate the whole thing.”

“Did it have eyes?”

“Well, flounder have both eyes on the top of their head. But they took all the meat off the bone for me. They had to, because they didn’t want me to swallow a bone by mistake.”

“Was it good?”

“Yes, and I ate the whole thing.”


“And then I got cranky, and Crosby told Grandma and Grandpa that I could sleep on the sofa in his office. And I remember waking up and seeing him and then Grandma and Grandpa came and took me home.”

“I wanna go to Crosby Forrest!”

“I wish we could. Crosby died many years ago, and his wife died about eight years ago. But I think the family runs a seafood store now. Maybe we’ll go there one day.”

“Yeah! I want flounder.”

I wish I had pictures of the restaurant. But apparently it met its demise before the earliest date of the digital archives of the Daily Press. And Google Image Search only turns up pictures of Bill Forrest Seafood, which is a distribution business. Still, the exterior of that business looks awfully familiar; I wonder if he took over the location of the original restaurant. I guess I’ll have to go back home and figure it out.

Friday bootleg time

An assortment of selections from Doom and Gloom from the Tomb that I’ve been meaning to check out for a while. In reverse chronological order (of posting, not of recording).

Sonic Youth, Cat’s Cradle, Carrboro, North Carolina, August 5, 2000 – falling neatly in between the first show I saw of theirs and the next two, squarely in the middle of their NYC Ghosts and Flowers period. Be ready for beat poetry.

Pharoah Sanders – Festival de Jazz de Nice, Nice, France, July 18, 1971  – Live Pharoah? Yes please.

Bill Evans Trio – Pescara Festival, Italy, July 18, 1969 / Vara Studio, Hilversum, Holland; March 26, 1969 – two live Bill Evans dates that sound worth checking out.

Yo La Tengo Does Dylan  – of course they do. Curious about the cover of “I’ll Keep It With Mine,” which is on the short list of Dylan songs that I’d consider singing in public.

Leonard Cohen – The Paris Theatre, London, March 20, 1968 – OMG.

The poppy appeal


Traveling on the Great Western Railway along Brunel’s line from Bristol to Paddington, my trip was bookended by brass bands. My Uber driver dropped me off near the front entrance of Bristol Temple Meads, and I noted the red-coated soldiers near the door at about the same time I realized they were holding brass instruments. They began playing a soft ballad as I walked inside to sort out my ticket.

A few minutes later, as the trumpet’s line climbed up to a surprising apex, it became clear: this was no ballad. This was Bowie’s “Life on Mars?”

As I stepped back to the door of the station to listen I realized that the band was surrounded by blue-coated men and women holding poppies and donation boxes. And the context clicked into place for me.

In America, the reason for the association between veterans and the cheap paper poppies on Veterans Day is not top of mind for most. Here, where so many young men died in Flanders Fields almost 100 years ago, it’s never been forgotten. This was the way the British veterans kept the memory of that awful sacrifice alive.

At the other end of the Great Western Railway line in Paddington Station was another brass band in red coats, these wearing the bearskin hats of the Queen’s Guard. They were playing a theme from a TV western. The music lacked the yearning of “Life on Mars?” but it didn’t matter; travelers were donating anyway.

Travel day


Today was a travel day. I flew from Boston to Halifax to London on Tuesday night and spent much of Wednesday in trains, finishing in Bristol. That’s a stretch of countryside between Reading and Bristol above.

The Bristol Temple Meads railway station is the end of the Great Western Railway line and was my destination for the trip. When I exited, I was struck by the plaque of dedication (below) referencing the founding genius of British railways, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. I was also struck by the immense stone façade of the station, looking for all the world as though someone had dropped a passenger terminal into an old church.

As for Bristol itself—I won’t have much chance to explore, which is unfortunate. It feels a little like Boston: the same unplanned maze of streets, the same interesting mix of university, industry and technology. Looking forward to speaking at Bristech.


I guess the FBI isn’t with her

Talking Points Memo: Odd Timing: FBI Releases Closed Case Files on Bill Clinton Pardon of Marc Rich. In addition to the Clinton Foundation investigation, the full set of documents dumped also includes a set of videos from aerial surveillance footage of protests in Maryland from April 29 to May 3, 2015; the report on the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state; J. Edgar Hoover era records on Nikolai Tesla; and an inquiry into Fred Trump.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that, the other records posted to the contrary, the combination of the two Clinton disclosures strongly suggests that someone at the FBI has decided they aren’t going to take any chances that Hillary might be democratically elected President.

Viewing the mysteries

Hot Feet crown, courtesy UVA Magazine.
Hot Feet crown, courtesy UVA Magazine.

Hyperallergic: Folk art relics from the Golden Age of America’s Secret Societies (via Boing Boing). Interesting exhibit of artifacts from the Freemasons and Odd Fellows.

It made me think of some of the few artifacts that have surfaced from the University of Virginia’s secret societies. Most of them have left behind only their rings or ribbons, but a few other items of stranger affect survive, particularly from the Hot Feet.

My favorite is the crown of the Hot Feet, pictured above and worn by James Rogers McConnell, among others. Though the crown was updated by the time that Lewis Crenshaw wore it, it is still a fascinating reminder of this intersection between UVA mythology, folk art and the American tendency toward the borrowed ritual image. It would be fascinating to see if any of the other … intriguing artifacts pictured below from 1906, showing the coronation of Charles S. McVeigh outside the East Range, survive.

Hot Feet coronation, 1906, courtesy UVA Magazine.
Hot Feet coronation, 1906, courtesy UVA Magazine.

Cocktail Friday: the Chauncey 

Welcome to Cocktail Friday! Today’s cocktail is a relic called The Chauncey.

First, a note: how do I pick the cocktails to feature on Cocktail Friday? Sometimes it’s a cocktail I’ve known for a while and just haven’t got round to featuring. Sometimes it’s something I’ve tried in my travels.

And sometimes I’ve added something to my bar and I’ve gone looking for a cocktail to feature it. That’s this week’s cocktail, The Chauncey. It’s a great example (if not a classic per se) of pre-Prohibition cocktails’ tendency to break the rules and combine liquors that we would never dream of combining today, like rye and gin. For good measure, it adds red vermouth, brandy, and orange bitters, which round out the flavor profile and add up to something unusually complex and good.

Aside: Bernard DeVoto, author of the cocktail classic The Hour, would have hated The Chauncey. In addition to adding something to gin besides dry vermouth, he hated mixed drinks made with rye or bourbon (“the Manhattan is an offence against piety”), non-Angostura bitters (“all others are condiments for a tea-shoppe cookbook”) and—even worse—orange bitters (“Orange bitters make a good astringent for the face. Never put them into anything that is to be drunk”). Very odd for a man who fondly remembered drinking at the Knickerbocker, no bastion of drink purity, in its heyday! So drink this with pride, and a certain defiance.

As always, if you want to try the recipe, here’s the Highball recipe card. Enjoy!