Retiring the Colors

July 10, 2015

When applied to the Confederate battle flag, the “heritage not hate” slogan all too often seems to be spouted out of only one side of a Southern drawler’s mouth, while the other side, given the proper audience and circumstance, may be saying something altogether different. That said, there is some truth to the notion of a Southern regional pride that, to me at least, is as inescapable as the humidity of a summer south of the Mason-Dixon.

When I was a boy, I had a Confederate battle flag tacked up on the wall of my bedroom. I don’t recall when or where I got it. It was likely a gift shop souvenir from one of the many Civil War battlefield site tours that my Dad took our family on after we moved to Virginia in the late ’60’s. All I remember is that the flag was a constant presence on my wall as I passed through boyhood, into my teen years, and then on to college.*

Some of you who are reading this are likely aghast at my flag revelation. “I thought I knew him! How could he be one of … them? How could he have displayed that symbol of treason, and prejudice, and hate?”

The thing is, I did no such thing. Though they looked the same, the flag that I had tacked on my wall was not the same as the flag of the KKK, George Wallace, and Dylann Roof. It was, indeed, a symbol of heritage – a nod to the place from whence my people came. Just as my grandmother’s United Daughters of the Confederacy membership certificate was prominently displayed in a frame on her wall, my Confederate battle flag held a prized spot on mine. Not unlike my grandmother, I bought into the Lost Cause narrative to a certain extent. I displayed the flag because it conjured up ineffable notions of duty, loyalty, chivalry, tradition, and family – with perhaps a bit of adolescent rebellion thrown in for good measure. Slavery, prejudice, and oppression didn’t enter into my thinking. In later years I did come to wrestle with the knowledge that the awful institution of slavery had existed under that flag. But, I knew as well that the Stars and Stripes had flown over the United States’ mistreatment of Native Americans in the 19th century, and of Japanese Americans during World War II, and nobody was suggesting getting rid of Old Glory.

In fact, few seemed to be suggesting getting rid of the Confederate battle flag, either. It was everywhere when I was growing up – bedroom walls, keychains, t-shirts, beach towels, bumperstickers. It was even on prime time TV, on the roof of the General Lee on “The Dukes of Hazzard” – and nobody ever called Bo and Luke Duke racists!

That has all changed, however. No amount of Southern hospitality and gentility can overcome the fact that the bad guys have won this battle. And no, I’m not talking about Sherman’s army and its scorched-earth campaigns, or opportunistic Yankee carpetbaggers. I’m talking about hate-filled racists like Dylann Roof. I’m talking about white supremacists of all stripes, whether they are driven by mental illness or plain and simple ignorance. Just as Hitler co-opted the sacred religious symbol of the swastika for his Third Reich, Roof and his ilk have co-opted the Confederate battle flag for their own vile purposes. It has no business flying on government property, and I congratulate South Carolina for taking it down.

As for the rest of us, it rightfully comes down to an individual decision. Those who advocate making it illegal to display the Confederate battle flag are off-base and need to read the 1st Amendment. No, we are all free to fly the flag – or not – as our conscience dictates.

And, it’s important to remember that anyone who chooses to fly it, or wear it, or sport it on a car bumper, may not mean any harm by doing so. But, it’s important to recognize as well that the choice to do so is probably causing harm, intended or not.
*The flag stayed on my wall until one night when some of my fraternity brothers snuck into my room, cut it into 4 pieces, then re-tacked the pieces to the wall, together with a note questioning my patriotism, fraternal allegiance, and probably my manhood as well. My midwestern roommate was probably relieved, though I think he was still a bit unnerved by the Blue Oyster Cult and Jim Morrison posters that remained unscathed.

Understanding the Legalities of a Tragedy

February 9, 2012

With the trial of Commonwealth v. George Huguely V finally under way, Charlottesville is abuzz with news reports and water cooler gossip about what is doubtless the city’s most-discussed homicide since its ex-mayor was tried (and convicted and hung) for the murder of his wife in 1904. Factual details, rumors, and opinion abound.  Some of it is informed.  Much of it is not.

On occasion, particularly when I happen to be the only lawyer in the room, I have been asked for my thoughts on what will happen with the trial.  I always preface my response with the caveat that I spent most of my time in practice handling civil litigation and bankruptcy matters.  With the exception of some court-appointed work and the occasional retained traffic matter, I handled lawsuits, not criminal cases.

With that said, I have usually done my best to explain the basic framework of how the criminal justice system works, and what the possible outcomes of the trial might be.  As I have always felt a bit out of my depth when doing so, I was very pleased to see this article, which does a good job at laying out the basic landscape of what the trial is about.  If you want a more detailed analysis, written by an experienced and well-regarded local criminal defense attorney, check out Lloyd Snook’s blog.

I commend both of these articles to anyone who has questions about the issues that will be presented to 12 Charlottesville jurors in the next couple of weeks.

There are a couple of additional points that I’d like to add.

First, I know the four attorneys involved in the Huguely case, as well as the judge.  They are all well-respected in the legal community.  They are all intelligent, talented, ethical, and committed to a fair trial.  However, regardless of the trial’s outcome, there will doubtless be those who will second-guess the lawyers’ trial strategy.  Please ignore the armchair lawyering, unless it comes from someone who makes his or her living in a courtroom.  Both the Commonwealth and George Huguely are being ably represented.

Second, barring a mistrial, this case will have one of two possible outcomes on each charge – guilty or not guilty.  Contrary to popular belief, the concept of being “proven innocent” does not exist in our legal system.  The prosecution must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a defendant is guilty of a given charge.  If the prosecution meets this burden, the jury should return a “guilty” verdict.  If it does not, the jury should return a “not guilty” verdict.  The concept of “innocence” does not enter into the picture – despite what you might see in in movies, television, and even on the occasional news story.

Regardless of the trial’s outcome, this case will remain a tragedy that no verdict will repair.  One life has been lost, another likely ruined, two families have suffered unimaginable loss and sadness, and many others have been affected as well.  None of that will change.  We can only hope for a fair trial and a just result – whatever that may be.  If you read the articles that I’ve cited, and others like them, you will be in a better position to make an informed judgment about whether that hope has been fulfilled.

Tea Partiers are closet Darwinists

September 14, 2011

Here’s the evidence: (Click for link)

In fairness, there only seemed to be a few boors who were cheering at the thought of leaving the uninsured to die without medical care.  There was a good deal more audience support for Rep. Paul’s suggestion that neighbors, friends and churches would pay for care in the absence of government assistance.  That might be true in Paul’s case, and in the case of most of us reading this post.  But, what about those without such a safety net? 

I guess that’s why the “virtue of selfishness” espoused in Ayn Rand’s writings seems to resonate more with this crowd than do the teachings of Jesus – despite their claims to the contrary.  While they may not want it taught in schools, it looks like they are rather fond of Darwin’s idea that only the strong will (should?) survive.

Talking Points vs. Policy

June 2, 2011

You don’t hear much about bomber pilots suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder due to the death and destruction wrought by the bombs that they dropped at 20,000 feet, or about sailors with PTSD due to the devastation caused by missles launched from far out at sea. Similarly, those who perform their military service in the rear or at the Pentagon, where many of the decisions about where to drop the bombs and launch the missles are made, don’t tend to be plagued with nightmares, flashbacks, and constant anxiety . While pilots, sailors, Pentagon staff and REMF’s (sorry, look it up) all contribute to the horrors of war, it is the front-line grunts – the soldiers and marines on the ground – who see the carnage and suffer the consequences. Generally speaking, those who plan the battle see things differently than those who actually carry it out.

The same may be said for political philosophies. Considered in the abstract, some of the writings of Karl Marx or (on the other end of the spectrum) Ayn Rand might resonate – but putting them into practice leads to disaster. Moving to less extreme examples, the talking points spouted by those on either side of the modern-day American political fence may sound good to us – who actually likes taxes or pollution, anyway? – but the consequences of converting those talking points into policy may be something else again.

All of which is an over-long introduction to this article, to which I can add little, other than a request that you read it.

I have dear friends and blood relatives who are staunch conservatives. Our neighbor down the street is a sweet lady – and a sign-carrying Tea Partier. While I don’t think much of Eric Cantor, there are conservatives who I do respect as decent and intelligent people. How can something that is so obvious to me be so invisible to them?

Or, is it me that is missing something?

The Conservative Constitution

January 6, 2011

Everything funny has at least a shade of truth behind it. This piece from the Washington Post has a shade and then some.


June 29, 2009

Until I can come up with something blog-worthy on my own, here’s something to think about.

Bring Back the Old Cheney

August 15, 2007

I’m not sure why this 1994 interview with Dick Cheney hasn’t received wider coverage, or if it has, how I’ve managed to miss it until now.

I do know that I’m a lot more comfortable with the 1994 Dick Cheney than I am with the current model.

Thanks to Waldo for bringing this to light.