12.31.17

Abbreviated Jury Thoughts

Posted in Life, السياسة at 11:53 pm by

I was on jury duty for a week and a half beginning at 8 AM on the Monday following Thanksgiving, serving on a jury in a complex, multiple-felony case. I posted on Facebook a lengthy series of thoughts and other interesting things as I recovered from the experience and reconnected with the world (between Thanksgiving pretty much offline in the mountains of western North Carolina and then jury duty, it felt like I’d been disconnected and out-of-sync with the rest of the world for quite a while). Many of the thoughts were more personal than I like to post here, so rather than rewrite them or post the entire, very lengthy series, I’ll include only the most interesting or important items here.

  • The worst part of jury duty is the part that everyone has to experience (endure) over and over and over again, showing up at 8 am and waiting, waiting, waiting during jury selection. And, in some cases, wash, rinse, repeat on day 2 and day 3. (As a fellow juror said, Tom Petty provided the official anthem of jury duty: “The waiting is the hardest part”)

  • Gwinnett County is now a so-called “majority minority” county. It was hard to get a grasp of the entire panel (both Monday’s original 60 and then the combined panel once 60 more prospective jurors had been called in on Tuesday), but in the end the final jury was reasonably diverse: 8 women, 6 men (both alternates were women); 8 whites (4 women, 4 men), 4 African-Americans (3 women, 1 man), 2 Hispanics/Latin(a|o)s (1 woman, 1 man). Given Gwinnett’s large Asian communities, I’d have expected a couple of Asians; I noticed there were at least a few on the original Monday panel. I doubt a “representative racial/ethnic balance” was one of the goals of the attorneys when picking the jury, but I was pleased that the result was at least in the ballpark of representing Gwinnett.

  • I mentioned earlier that this was a complex case; there were 2 defendants on trial (of the 4 named in the indictment), 2 separate “crimes” (one in 2011 and one in 2016), and 18 counts per defendant in the indictment. So not only did we need to take notes, but we needed to have extensive notes, although we did not realize that initially. We had no idea at the outset which little piece(s) of testimony would be the points on which the case (and later our deliberations) turned, so our notes were always lacking (I filled up most of a notepad and still was missing far too much—sometimes because I couldn’t keep up and other times because something that didn’t seem noteworthy at that point later became important). Luckily between the twelve of us, we squeaked by, but we all wish we had taken more/better notes.

  • At the end of the trial, it was interesting to me that the Assistant District Attorney had presented the absolute minimum of evidence needed to obtain guilty verdicts (there was no “smoking gun” and I’m sure he would have presented more evidence had it existed; this was a cold case where law enforcement had ultimately gotten lucky to end up with anything at all—those who committed the crime were good). On the one hand, the case likely never would have made it to trial if the State did not think it had enough evidence to obtain convictions, but it was certainly touch-and-go for a while during deliberations. Every single item and piece of testimony (besides the dozens of photos of the 2011 crime scene, establishing that there had been a crime), even things that seemed not entirely relevant at various times, ultimately came back into play during the deliberations and was necessary to one or more of us reaching a verdict. The bulk of the case (the 2011 crime) was a logic puzzle—like an old Mindbender on steroids—where some of the pieces were connected only by the thinnest threads.

  • Deliberation, like the trial, rarely felt like was dragging; mostly it flew by. We handled the 3 2017 charges (counts) in about 2 hours. It took roughly 8 hours over 2 days to reach a consensus on the 15 counts related to 2011. We all took the presumption of innocence until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt very seriously, but we also handled our differences with respect, compassion, and appreciation. (I wish Congress could have spent two days watching us deliberate.) As one juror said, “This is the most important thing that I have done this year, maybe even this decade.” Even though we all wanted to be done after a week-plus of jury service, we all appreciated our fellow jurors who had not agreed with us and who, by that, made sure we examined and reexamined every bit of the case to reach the correct verdict (some of the things that people raised midway through deliberations to help remove reasonable doubt in themselves and others, that I had not previously thought of, made me feel more strongly that I had arrived at the right verdict). We were also fortunate in that everyone who was not initially in a place to vote guilty either believed the evidence suggested the accused committed the crime or were unsure; no one believed it was impossible for the defendants to have committed the crime, or else we would either still have been deliberating after two weeks of jury service or the judge would have had to declare a mistrial.

  • When we were read the indictment on that very first Monday morning, when I heard the long list of charges and the two different years, I was highly skeptical of the State’s ability to prove its case. It seemed then like the State knew it had a very weak case and was alleging all sorts of things in the hopes that something would stick (in fact, this was one of defense counsel’s main arguments). I went into the trial with the same skepticism, with the presumption that the two defendants sitting over at their table, taking notes and paying attention to every word, their fate in our hands, were innocent. The State easily proved a crime had been committed in 2011; their strongest evidence implicating the defendants as participants in that crime came from other criminals turned state’s evidence. At one point, though, I realized all of the testimony matched, even in places where it would not make sense to do so if all of the men were not telling the truth, and that testimony was backed up by the little bits of electronic evidence the State had. I was in full logic mode, trying to solve a puzzle, and remained so throughout our deliberations.

  • After deliberations concluded, as we took our final votes, and especially as I began to fill out and sign the verdict sheets, the emotional weight of what had transpired finally hit me. We had brought justice to a family that was a victim of a terrible, scarring home invasion robbery and assault 6 years ago. But we had also convicted 2 men, at least one of whom had a family per some testimony, and who had a couple of people sitting in the courtroom for them, of 18 counts each that will likely result in decades of incarceration. We had done so without “smoking gun” proof—proof beyond a reasonable doubt, yes, but not to a mathematical certainty, and now that “non-reasonable doubt” was creeping in to my mind and heart (for those like me who haven’t studied law or served on a criminal jury before, “reasonable doubt” was defined for us, roughly, as a doubt for which a reason can be given, based on evidence, lack of evidence, or a conflict in evidence). At one point in the deliberations, someone said that we were trying to reach a verdict that we could be able to go to sleep with at night after reaching it; another replied, “No matter what verdict I reach, I won’t be able to sleep with it”, and that is how I feel. I believe I (and we) reached the correct verdict based on the evidence we had, beyond a reasonable doubt, but I will wonder for the rest of my life because we will never have 100% certainty. Once we returned to the courtroom, I had to answer perfunctory questions from the judge and hand over the verdict, and then we all had to listen as the judge read 36 charges and 36 guilty verdicts. Then the defense counsel insisted the judge “poll the jury”, asking each one of us in turn if that was the verdict he or she had reached in the room, if that verdict was reached of his/her own free will, and if that was still his/her verdict now. Our bailiff had warned us that might happen, but that did not make it any easier. Thankfully, the judge then set sentencing for right after our dismissal, so we didn’t have to contend with being approached by the lawyers as we left the jury area (although some of us still were “ambushed” by the FBI agents who helped on the case—one of whom was the Gwinnett detective originally assigned to the case in 2011—asking if we had any questions).

  • I didn’t leave with any sort of awe or transformative experience like the orientation video suggested, but (all the waiting during jury selection aside) it was a good experience. I’m happy I got to experience it and that the case was not worse (I remain happy I was excused from the child sexual assault case that I was on a panel for 5 years ago, and that I was called the Monday after Thanksgiving instead of the subsequent Monday, when a murder trial was beginning). Getting to actually go through the whole process makes the pain and suffering of jury selection worthwhile, so in that regard I hope everyone gets to do some sort of trial at some point—hopefully one that doesn’t run as long as this one did.

  • One of the things that struck me the most is that when good people from all viewpoints and walks of life are committed to doing their job correctly and well, even when we disagreed, there was no need for rancor or ridicule or raised voices. How can this microcosm work so well, and our elected representatives be so dysfunctional? And, like any people who survive a harrowing situation, we all have a special bond, even though we’ll likely never see each other again.

  • One of my fellow jurors remarked that it was nice to see where our tax dollars went—not just in our $30 per diem and our “free” lunch the 2 days we deliberated, or all the various court staff, but also the various Gwinnett law enforcement personnel and the resources the US Attorney (transferring federal prisoners across the country) and FBI (hidden cameras, hidden microphones, phone call recording systems, an airplane with IR camera, and an army of SUVs used during the takedown) contributed. Everyone spent a lot of money in order to close this case—and it’s not over yet, because I imagine there will be appeals.

  • Jury duty is a real burden financially for anyone who is not salaried (or who does not get paid for the time). We were tied up for 8 workdays; one of our members, a motorcoach driver, assuming he was scheduled to work at least some hours each one of those days, missed a week-and-a-half of income (they do not pay him when he is on jury duty) and got $240 in return from Gwinnett County for his jury service. It’s not at all a fair trade for him, but I wouldn’t have wanted to be without him on our jury, because he made crucial points and acted as the voice of reason several times; he was a key player in our long, slow climb to unanimity. There have got to be some changes, maybe even little things to start, to make jury duty not such a financial burden for part of our citizenry.

  • We had a tag team of bailiffs taking good care of us. Husband-and-wife duo of Leon and Mandy (married for 60 years) have been doing it for 20 years now. On the final Wednesday, their fourth great-grandchild arrived, so Mandy tagged out and Joe, who was filling in for Leon the first week, tagged back in. Leon is 82 and every year on his birthday does a one-handed pushup for a certain judge. The three of them helped guide us through the process and kept us in the right place and in good humor; we couldn’t have done it without them.

  • I realized when filling out the juror questionnaire that one of my earliest memories was of being a witness to a hate crime. I realized I had sort-of locked that away for a long time, but with everything that’s happened in the past few years, it’s not locked away so much anymore.

  • The Wednesday night after we had finished, I was so happy to be done but also so exhausted from the deliberations and emotions thereafter that I slept like a rock. The next night I had my first nightmare about the trial/verdict.

11.17.17

Friday links, mid-November edition

Posted in History, Links, السياسة at 5:00 pm by

  • The Biggest Story Nobody’s Talking About: The Recall Of Brian Kemp [Huffington Post, via Jill]

    Our Secretary of State here in Georgia has been terrible—at best incompetent, at worst, criminal—on his watch, state elections data has been hacked twice, and his office has also leaked voter data twice. We’re still using the same voting machines that were introduced after electronic voting was made mandatory, they’re easily hackable, and his office has refused to ask for funds to replace them. Key evidence in a lawsuit to force him to replace the voting infrastructure was wiped 4 days after the lawsuit was filed, and the Attorney General recently announced he was not going to defend the Secretary/the State in the lawsuit.

    The non-partisan A Voice for All Georgia has begun a recall effort; it needs to obtain signatures of nearly 800,000 Georgians who were eligible to vote in 2016 before December 15 in order for the recall to proceed.

  • I, Claudius (TV series) [Wikipedia]

    Noted blogger/software developer Dave Winer recently started a new project to list “bingeworthy” television programs; in a report Wednesday on the early ratings, which included the the classic BBC program, he notes he has never heard of it (it also aired on PBS here in America). I found that a little shocking (we watched parts of it in Latin class in high school, though it was one of the signature public television drama series I was aware of even though I had, until then, never seen it), given the fame and critical acclaim achieved by I, Claudius. One of the interesting tidbits I learned from the Wikipedia article is that the creators of the popular 1980s evening soap opera Dynasty intended their show to be a modern-day version of the series. (And Dynasty itself has now been remade in a more modern version, airing this fall on The CW.)

  • Chinua Achebe’s 87th Birthday [Google]

    On Thursday, Google ran a doodle in honor of what would have been the 87th birthday of famed Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, considered the father of modern African literature. His 1958 novel Things Fall Apart is one of the first examinations of colonialism from the point-of-view of the colonized, the people of Africa, and is widely read worldwide. The book portrays, as the title alludes to, how African lives and societies fall apart with the arrival of Christian missionaries and white/European colonial governments. (It is one of the most significant books I read as an undergraduate.)

10.27.17

Friday links, late October edition

Posted in Links, السياسة at 5:00 pm by

  • Local vandal caught “red-headed” [WSB Radio]

    There is a pileated woodpecker that lives around here, too; he once spent some time on the screen on my bedroom window, but thankfully he didn’t start attacking it!

  • Lego Announces Women of NASA Legos Set [Fortune]

    Very cool! Way to go, Lego. (I think I still have my late 80s or early 90s era Space Shuttle Lego set down in the basement somewhere, just waiting for Sally Ride and Mae Jemison to take a spin.)

  • Republicans Have Stockholm Syndrome, and It’s Getting Worse [Foreign Policy]

    While there are a few reasonably-high profile Republicans who are publicly “waking up” to what is happening to our democracy (Sens. McCain, Corker, and now Flake), the author argues the rest of the Republican Party is doubling down on accepting—and even asking for!—more abuse from a president who is using them for his own ends.

Also, in case you missed it, I have some (many!) thoughts on last Sunday’s Pittsburgh episode of “Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown.”

10.26.17

On “Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown” in Pittsburgh

Posted in History, Links, السياسة at 12:18 am by

I originally had this piece set to be one item in the weekly “links” post on Friday, but as I continued writing it, the piece took on a life of its own and became far too long for a simple links list—and important enough to live in a post of its own.

Last Sunday, CNN aired Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown visit to Pittsburgh1, which was required viewing at the Ardisson household. As a child of a family whose roots in the Pittsburgh exurbs (today probably considered suburbs) and the city itself run back four generations on one side and generations, even to the dawn of our Republic, on others, who made annual trips back there for many years to visit grandparents and cousins, and who still has family there, but who was born and grew up in the South, a product of rising education among the Baby Boomers and of the Steel City diaspora, the program was both personal and fascinating. Though Pittsburgh (and the surrounding area) is not part of my identity, it nevertheless is part of who I am, so I watched as someone who had some familiarity with the city and its general narrative, yet who is still an outsider to the situation, watching from a distance—not impartial, but also not intimately connected.

Although not universally popular in the ’Burgh, the episode raises a number of important issues that are generalizable to our entire country and, as The University of Pittsburgh’s student newspaper The Pitt News argues, challenges the established narrative. I wish my grandparents—especially my grandfather, in this case—were still alive so I could discuss the episode with them. Still, here are a few of my thoughts:

  1. The episode begins with a local historian mentioning that Pittsburgh was the city that made the steel that defeated the Confederacy, built the railroads west and the skyscrapers up, defeated the Kaiser, and defeated the Nazis—and the episode ends with a couple of people (just a couple among many people in a reasonable-sized crowd) wearing Confederate Battle Flag headscarves and blankets at a demolition derby in New Alexandria (pronounced “New Aleck” in Pittsburghese, by the way), a small town 30 miles east of Pittsburgh and about 15 miles east of where my dad grew up and my grandparents lived nearly their entire lives. This is one of those contradictions that are part of America—and, specifically, white, working-class America—today, the adoption of symbols of racism and hate that their ancestors would have taken up arms to defeat.

  2. Bourdain also obliquely points out the often-racial undertones of mid- and late-twentieth century urban renewal: bulldoze an economically depressed area of a city—often one that is predominantly African-American and with little political clout—displacing the current residents, and build something new, perhaps (as in the Pittsburgh case, with the old Civic Arena hockey stadium) something that brings people from other areas of the city or outside of the city in for a few hours on weekends or evenings. The parts of the neighborhood that were not demolished find themselves fragmented due to population displacement and perhaps cut off from each other or the rest of the city due to the new development, but that new development does not bring real economic revitalization or opportunity to the area, just more traffic and parking lots. Look in any major American city and you will likely see something similar—I don’t know all of the specifics, but I’ve seen some of it in both Washington, DC and Atlanta.

  3. The flip side of that is that revitalization often takes the form of gentrification, where new, more-well-off residents come into a neighborhood and begin buying up homes and storefronts and begin to price the long-time (working-class) residents out of the area. New, trendy restaurants and boutiques replace the former bread-and-butter businesses, and fancy cars from outside the neighborhood begin taking up the neighborhood’s parking spots when their owners come to shop and eat. In Pittsburgh, this process has been facilitated by the boom in high-tech and medical research that has replaced the steel industry as the cornerstone of the region’s economy. Somewhere there is a fine line that produces a balance between revitalizing a neighborhood and gentrifying it, but the program implies that many people in Pittsburgh think that balance has not been achieved.

  4. When I was young, I remember seeing all of the derelict (and probably closed) mills and buildings of J & L (roughly “jay-nell” in Pittsburghese) and other steelmakers along the Parkway (I-376) as we drove through Pittsburgh on our way home. When I came back around the turn of the century for the first time after about a decade away, those old mills had been replaced by gleaming buildings of glass and steel, housing offices and research centers of the new Pittsburgh. The bust from the collapse of the American steel industry was over, and Pittsburgh was experiencing a renaissance—new, well-paying tech and research jobs, new (re)development, and the like. I remember being so thrilled seeing viable economic opportunity in the city again and replacing the derelict buildings of the steel industry (though of course also a little nostalgic for the loss of the Pittsburgh I knew growing up, because, after all, I am me).

    What I had overlooked then, and what Bourdain and several of his interviewees pointed out, however, is that while these new industries brought new tax dollars, new jobs, and better economic conditions to the city—the political entity—the people filling those buildings are largely newcomers. They’re not from Pittsburgh (although certainly many of them have studied at Carnegie Mellon University—by the way, that’s pronounced “Car-neigh-ghee”, not “Car-nuh-ghee”), not the children of the millworkers and mine workers and life-long residents of Pittsburgh. They’re not the (mostly white, but in Pittsburgh certainly African-American, too, according to Bourdain interviewee Sala Udin, whose father dropped out of high school but still found good work that allowed him to support a family of 12(!) children) working-class Americans who saw the loss of their livelihoods with the collapse of the steel industry, endured the bust and stayed in the city and neighboring towns, cheering on the Steelers and Penguins and Pirates through it all, and then saw an economic recovery that had no place for them, or their children, in it. Politically, these long-time residents of Pittsburgh and the surrounding towns made possible by the steel industry would have voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump in the last election. If you had lived through an economic recovery that had no place for you in it, the jobs in the Hillary Clinton/Democratic Party platform would seem like more of the same, jobs for outsiders from wealthier, urbane coastal cities, and no help—or hope—for you.

  5. I agree with the criticism offered by many Pittsburghers that Bourdain did give short shrift to the economic recovery in technology and related fields, and I think that by almost glossing over that accomplishment, it weakens the critiques (implied or otherwise) of that recovery (e.g., gentrification and the lack of opportunity for the working-class Pittsburghers that did not leave during or after the steel bust—see particularly the penultimate segment on Braddock) that encompassed the majority of the episode. But it is food for thought for those of us thinking about the future of our country (and especially the so-called “urban liberal elites”)—we must have a real plan to address the plight of our working-class neighbors and friends; promising more new jobs in technology and research isn’t a viable solution (certainly not in the short and intermediate term), even if those jobs can be made to appear.

    This backbone of society, the men and women who made the steel that built America and saved the free world, can’t just drop into those jobs. In the Ardisson family, it took four generations to get a college degree and make the move: from the mine (and farm), to the factory (and later a family business), to the military and civil service, to, finally, a college degree and a middle-class office job at the dawn of the computerization of the field. I’m sure it is possible to accelerate that timeline in the twenty-first century, but there is still a generation or two that needs opportunity now, and workable ideas aimed at providing that opportunity seem few and far between (and not at all guaranteed, as seen by the failure of Braddock mayor John Fetterman and Steelers great Franco Harris to obtain the medical marijuana cultivation permit they hoped to use to provide jobs in Braddock). I don’t have the answers (and neither does Bourdain), but it is critical that we have good, compassionate minds working on this problem2 so that we can move our country forward again.

If you care about this country and its future—even if you have no interest in Pittsburgh itself—I urge you to check your CNN listings and catch the episode whenever it airs again. It’s solid and thought-provoking, even with its flaws, and important for understanding today’s America and for figuring out a path forward.

        

1 Having never seen an episode of the program before, I had no idea what to expect and have no idea whether this episode was typical or not. I only knew of Bourdain as one of the “celebrity chefs,” but food, while present, was a background element. ↩︎

2 Coincidentally, on Wednesday morning I got an email from the Obama Foundation about one of the “speakers” at the Foundation’s upcoming summit: Paul Green from eastern Kentucky, whose son wanted to learn to program but had no educational resources available to him. So Green created a program to provide advanced STEM educational opportunities for his area of Appalachia. Programs like his won’t be a silver bullet and solve all of the problems of economic opportunity for working-class Americans, but they are a step in the right direction towards that goal, at the very least providing new outlets for the young, rising generations. ↩︎

10.13.17

Friday links, mid-October edition

Posted in History, Links, السياسة at 5:09 pm by

Once again, just link singular.

  • “On Being White….And Other Lies” (1984) by James Baldwin

    My friend Michael posted this on Facebook earlier this week, and it’s the only thing I’ve read all week that is still bouncing around inside my head. In part that’s because Baldwin briefly touches on the Middle East (with which there are many parallels that scholars in the field are quick to see), but mainly because he offers a compelling argument that what we over a dozen or so generations have constructed is not an American society or identity, but a white one. Sitting here in 2017, in some ways it seems superficially, culturally, less true, but certainly politically and socially more true than in 1984. I wish I would have read this in AP US History, or in American Literature, in high school; it is a mind-opening perspective that was sorely lacking.

09.26.17

Poem 2017-09-25 at 9:15 PM

Posted in Life, السياسة at 2:22 am by

You kicked a pebble,
A speck of metamorphic force,
Off the top
Of a mountain.
It hit a stone,
Jarred it loose,
And they fell.
Soon,
A tiny band
Of pebbles and stones
Fell.
They hit a rock
And broke it free.
Tumbling
Together,
They built up strength.
Now a slab,
Then a boulder,
Then a rock face.
Rumbling
To a crescendo,
Pebbles, stones
Rocks, boulders,
An entire mountainside,
A torrent
Together,
Building,
Rumbling,
Building,
Rumbling,
Building,
Rumbling,
Crashing.
You are buried
Underneath an entire mountain,
A cataclysm of stone
Changing the face of the planet,
Wiping away
Your foolish falsehoods,
All because of your flippant kick
Of a tiny
Pebble.

06.22.17

Thoughts on the Names of the Clooney Twins

Posted in History, Life, السياسة at 2:21 am by

Apparently, the children of noted Lebanese-British international law and human rights barrister Amal Clooney (née Alamuddin) and her world-famous American actor and activist husband George arrived earlier this month. According to the Internet (aka a statement provided by the family to various media outlets), the twins, a girl and a boy, are named Ella and Alexander. (These are, I think, lovely names—in particular, my cousin and his wife named their daughter Ella earlier this year—and I never expected anything “strange”, like “Moonbeam” or “Apple”, from George Clooney.)

I learned of these things via a poignant and thought-provoking article from Duana, one of the writers at the Canadian celebrity gossip website LaineyGossip. The article is a great exploration of the naming (please, read the entire thing—it’s relatively short, and excellent), but the main point really resonated with me:

When all is said and done, this is what breaks my heart a little bit. The babies are half-Lebanese-British by birth and will be citizens of the world. Their names could have been anything, and people would have accepted them because George Clooney said so. […]

But the reason they’re worthy of comment, to me, is because I can’t shake the feeling that choosing such well-trodden ‘normal’ names sends an implicit message that Middle Eastern or Arabic names are not as desirable. That the name their mother has is not something to be emulated. […]

But in a time when we have such a massive lack of understanding of Middle Eastern and Arabic culture, I can’t help but wish there’d been a greater attempt to find the beauty in names from another culture.

[…]

It’s because representation matters. It’s because choosing Anglo names when one parent has a name that is “other” can be interpreted as feeling like there’s something to hide or be ashamed of. Names matter. And they continue to send a message long after the birth certificates have been signed.

(We do not know what, if any, middle names these children have; it’s certainly possible that they’re named “Ella Fairuz” and “Alexander Adil” or something along those lines, names that do mix their parents’ heritages. All we know at the moment is that the children have “normal”/“classic” English first names. Still, Duana’s point stands; the middle names, even if present and known, will not have the same prominence as the children’s first names.)

I will echo Duana from LaineyGossip in saying that it’s none of my business what the Clooneys choose to name their children, that these are lovely names, and that we have no idea what their thought-process might have been. But to someone who spent the bulk of his academic career focused on the Middle East, who is living in 2017, it does feel like a missed opportunity for two extremely high-profile, politically-aware and -active parents to make a quiet but lasting, positive statement about issues close to them.

Moving on, I have two additional thoughts to add to what Duana has already presented. The first is that when Amal Alamuddin married George Clooney, she took his surname. (In addition, she did not keep her birth surname as a post-marriage middle name, as is sometimes done in the Anglophone world.) Again, her choice and none of my business. But (not knowing her, or anything about her beyond what appears in standard short-form biographies of her), it still surprised me when it happened—I had, for no real reason, expected her to emulate 1990s-era Hillary Rodham Clinton and become “Amal Alamuddin Clooney” (as she was very briefly called in the media once her marriage became known but before it became known she was going by “Amal Clooney” instead). She had a reasonably high-profile and established career under her birth surname. Further, on occasion in the Middle East I’d been told that traditionally women did not take their husbands’ surnames on marriage, since the name represented his ancestry and one could not suddenly inherit that ancestry (how common this practice really is/was, I have no idea). It has been interesting—I’m not sure that is the right word—though definitely fruitless to wonder why she made that choice. It certainly was one of the things that popped into my mind, though, when I read the piece about the children’s names.

The second item is a story that my great-aunt Dorothy told during one of our family reunions years ago, about the thought and behavior patterns of immigrants (at least of her grandparents’ era). She said that the immigrants insisted that their children (her parents, in this case) were/be Americans; the immigrants did not teach their children (nor let them speak) Italian, and many things from the “old country” disappeared in favor of assimilation. Indeed, in our family, Stefano Serafino became “Steve S.” upon arrival in the United States, and his and Maria’s children were Katherine, Jennie, John, Clement, James, Marie, Adam, and Steve, “abandoning” family names like Domenica, Theresa, Giovanni, and Stefano. (Then, Aunt Dorothy continued, in the next generation, there was a reaction against that suppression of ancestry and culture; she and her siblings and cousins sought to learn about their heritage, where they were from, and so on, though by this time some things—including the ability to speak Italian [Piedmontese]—were lost altogether.)

The Alamuddin family were immigrants to the United Kingdom, fleeing the Lebanese Civil War when Amal was very young. I wonder if her immigrant experiences—whether like my great-great-grandparents’ or something unique to her time and place—came into play when thinking about naming the children? At the end of the day, all we can do is speculate—and waste our time writing about our thoughts and speculations—until one of the Clooneys one day (if ever) addresses the subject directly. Still, though, in today’s world, representation matters, and for billions of non-Anglo-European or part-Anglo-European adults and children (and the hundreds of millions of them living in traditionally-Anglo-European societies), the Shireens and Hishams and Laylas and Iskanders, it may feel like still “there’s no one on TV like me” when this month there easily could have been.

01.29.17

Reply of the New Colossus

Posted in Life, التصوير, السياسة at 11:55 pm by

Reply of the New Colossus

Your fear has made you tiny,
Your hate has made you weak;
Our love has made us stronger,
Our hope stands tall and defends the meek.

Your days are cloaked in darkness,
But in your nights, you will not sleep;
Our light shines the brightest;
It penetrates the deepest ratholes of your keep.

You have betrayed our birthright,
Sold our future to meet the mortgage on your debts.
We will not be silent;
We will rise with the truth to meet your threats.

Your lies are become baldfaced,
Your crimes recorded to be reaped;
The deluge of History is coming,
And in triumph, Justice will sweep.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Venus and the crescent moon at sunset, Lawrenceville, GA, January 29, 2017
Venus and the crescent moon at sunset, Lawrenceville, GA, January 29, 2017

01.16.13

جامية حلب

Posted in Life, السياسة at 5:16 pm by

If you look at my undergraduate transcript, you will see from the summer of 1997 two course credits from the University of Aleppo. While in Aleppo (as part of the since-discontinued “Summer in Syria” program of the National Council on US-Arab Relations), we resided on campus and lived in the university dorms.

My anger is seething at those responsible for the cowardly act of targeting a university, and, worse, doing so during final exams yesterday.

My heart is weeping for the students and people of Aleppo and their families.

07.23.12

Reasonable People

Posted in Life, السياسة at 1:45 am by

But this is not the time for reasonable people, on both sides of this issue, to be silent.
          —Jason Alexander

(via John Gruber)