Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Even when it's time to grieve, a journalist often feels detached

Beautiful Minds

Posted by Chris Haire on Tue, Jul 5, 2016 at 10:58 AM

Everyone in the City Paper's editorial department has a routine they follow from one issue to the next, certain tasks that they perform on set days, sometimes even at set times, as the next week's issue begins to take shape. Our week begins on Wednesday, the day we publish and the day after we upload all of that issue's copy to the printer. My week generally begins with an email to Ken Hanke, the Mountain Express cinephile who has supplied us with capsule movie reviews since well before I started working at the City Paper in 2007.

This hasn't always been the case — emailing Ken first thing on a Wednesday morning. Depending on the size and makeup of the City Paper's staff, I've served as the Screen section editor some years, while others I haven't. The section has always been something of an afterthought, an odd-duck collection of pages in which the paper deviates from our Charleston-centric focus. And rightfully so.

We're still at heart an entertainment publication, and, well, the filmmaking scene in town just isn't big enough to generate copy week in and week out. Of course, our readers want to know what's playing at the local cinemas or streaming or might one day make it to this cinematic backwater, and so we run reviews, in particular capsules. Enter Ken. 

Despite reading and editing Ken for years, it wasn't until recently that I learned that Ken was a horror buff, something that had established a bit of a kinship between us over the past year or so. Whenever I saw a preview or got word about an indie horror flick that was scoring big on the festival circuit, I sent Ken an email to find out if he had seen it or if he wanted to get a screener and review it for us. Sometimes it worked out, sometimes it didn't. It didn't matter if it was It Follows, The Green Room, or Goodnight Mommy, I always tried to check with Ken first. He was the fright flick authority in our stable of freelancers.

But this was Wednesday, and the only horror movie in sight was The Purge: Election Year, and I wasn't about to bother Ken with that. Two films in, we both know what to expect from that franchise — yet another intriguing premise hobbled by poor execution. So, all I really wanted to know from him was which movies he intended to review that week. I generally passed on the inspirational movies that plague the megaplexes, not because of some religious bias, but because, like Ken so often said, they were poorly scripted, low-budgeted, horribly acted messes. Except for Risen, starring Joseph Fiennes as a Roman solider investigating the disappearance of Jesus' body. Ken liked that one. 

On Monday, Ken had turned in capsules for Free State of Jones, Independence Day: Resurgence, and Our Kind of Traitor. The week before it was Central Intelligence, Finding Dory, and Weiner. This week, I fully expected to get reviews for The BFG and The Legend of Tarzan, among others. But Ken didn't respond. 

This was out of the ordinary, of course. Ken was an almost instantaneous replier, a trait I admired in him. A few hours ticked by. At one point it even occurred to me that I hadn't emailed Ken, although I had, a testament to Ken's promptness, my poor memory, and the power of routine. It was only by chance that I learned that Ken had died the night before. 

It would be a lie to say that I was feeling anything even approaching the turbulent swell of emotions that Ken's family, friends, and long-time readers in Asheville were feeling. But I did feel something — sadness yes, but a type of sadness that felt like a sigh, knowing but detached.

In a way, this is the curse of being a journalist. When tragedy strikes or the community suffers a loss, we don't have time to mourn. We instantly have to begin thinking of how we are going to cover it, if we are at all. Even in the case of the Emanuel Nine, I woke up the next morning and immediately began formulating how we would report on the horrible news. I wish I hadn't. In fact, I feel ashamed admitting that I did. But it is my job.

Regardless, we do — I do — grieve. And in the case of Ken Hanke, I will miss him, and I will miss reading him. He was a unique voice, often cranky, almost always right on. My heart goes out to his loved ones and his fans.

Sadly, Ken's won't be the only voice that will no longer be in the City Paper. If you've read the most recent column by our resident feminist activist, Alison Piepmeier, you know that her battle with cancer is coming to an end, and that she is struggling to find some sort of peace. I hope she finds it. She surely deserves it. Maybelle deserves it.

As Alison's editor, I've been in a unique situation. On the one hand, my heart aches, but on the other, I still have a paper to put out and sometimes putting out that paper means editing one of Alison's columns on her ongoing fight against her brain tumor.

An academic by trade, Alison's columns have always required a little bit of finessing. Often full of passion, sometimes even fury, her words still needed a little assist. This isn't a slight; we all need editing, myself included.

Like the best of us in this business — and Alison is one of the best — she has never taken any edit, any tweak, any clarification negatively, at least as far as I'm aware. As with all my writers, I try to make each and every one of their works to be the best they can be, even when I disagree with them, whether it's Mat Catastrophe today or Jack Hunter years ago. 

To do that, you've got to try to get into their minds. You have to think long and hard about what it is that they are saying when sometimes it's not quite so clear what they're saying — and you have to do it in their voice, as much as possible. And so a quasi-mind-meld is created. You try to absorb their personality, or at the very least the personality that they adopt when they write a column. They're not always the same thing — this public persona and the real person.

Even though you end up spending so much time trying to think like someone else, to think like a fellow writer, the end result is not exactly what you expect. You don't grow closer. You don't become more alike. In fact, a detachment begins to settle in. Regardless of how a story might make you feel, you still have to make sure the subjects and verbs agree. You have to make sure that "it's" isn't "its." You have to make sure that the column has the impact the author intended or it needs or else its a failure. See, there I go. Mistakes are easy.

But regardless of how much time I've spent getting into the beautiful mind that is Alison Piepmeier, her struggle is not my struggle, her pain is not my pain. And I don't want it to be. I may have to know these things, but I don't want to experience them. Nor do I wish for my friends and family to either.

When I think of Alison, I think of the person and I think of the writer. I think of the living breathing soul and I think of her words. I think of what she is going through and I think of what we at the City Paper will do to honor her. I don't know what that is yet, and I wish I didn't have to think about these things, but the copy can never stop.

And so, in the minutes just after I heard that Ken Hanke had passed away — a long-time contributor to our paper, a husband, a father, a man who was passionate about his craft and wrote reviews up until the very night of his passing — I picked up the phone and called Ken's associate Justin Souther, one of the writers who Ken had enlisted to help him with the capsule reviews that run in the City Paper. I offered my condolences, and then I let him know that we would like for him to continue to write for us. I didn't need an answer then, I didn't need an answer the next day, but I needed one soon. It doesn't matter that a man I admired just died or that a writer I adored and worked closely with is at the very the end of her life. Another week is coming up and another paper has to come out.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

If you like the idea of public floggings, you'll love Nehemiah Action

Profiles in Discouraging

Posted by Chris Haire on Wed, Apr 27, 2016 at 4:53 PM

Approximately 2,000 people from 30 congregations gathered for the Nehemiah Action Assembly this year - DUSTIN WATERS FILE PHOTO
  • Dustin Waters file photo
  • Approximately 2,000 people from 30 congregations gathered for the Nehemiah Action Assembly this year
In 2007 the city of North Charleston received a dubious honor: it was named the 7th most dangerous city in the U.S. And the news couldn't have come at a worse time.

North Charleston was on the cusp of a renaissance. With the rapid revitalization of Park Circle and the opening of the Tanger Outlets and the Coliseum and Performing Arts Center, the north area was finally beginning to turn it around after the closing of the navy base in 1996. Something had to be done. 

While there's no doubt that Mayor Keith Summey and his crew tried to bring down the crime rate, whatever they were doing wasn't enough. The next year, 2008, North Charleston was still one of the Top 10 most dangerous cities in America. Not long after, the North Charleston Police Department began ramping up efforts to combat crime in the most trouble-plagued areas of town. A key component: an increase in investigatory stops, in particular in African-American neighborhoods. The plan worked.

Then Police Chief Jon Zumalt noted that the city had experienced "a more than 30 percent drop in violent crime over three years," according to a 2010 Post and Courier report. By 2013, the city had fallen to 126 on the most dangerous list. However, many in the African-American community criticized the new policy, proclaiming that it was based on a policy of racial profiling and unwarranted stops — after all, blacks were pulled over far more than whites when it came to stops in which no citation was written and no arrest had been made. According to a document from the Charleston Area Justice Ministry, a nonprofit activist group comprised of members of 30 different church congregations, the S.C. Department of Public Safety reports that 67 percent (85,079) of all stops were for African-Americans, who, as a group, make up a little less than half of North Charlestonians. At 41.6 percent of the population, whites only made up for 32.9 percent of all stops (42,924).

But despite this obvious imbalance, few outside the African-American community cared that drivers in Chicora-Cherokee, Union Heights, Charleston Farms, Liberty Hill, and other black-dominated neighborhoods were being pulled over more often than their white counterparts. Why? These neighborhoods are some of the most crime-plagued areas in North Charleston — and still are — so, following this line of reasoning, the city should focus its attention there.

That attitude changed after the April 2015 killing of Walter Scott by NCPD Officer Michael T. Slager following a run-of-the-mill traffic stop. Shortly after that tragic incident, amid accusations that Slager and other officers had been subjected to a daily quota requiring them to pull over three cars for minor violations per shift, the public seemingly turned against North Charleston's investigatory stop policy, and if they didn't turn against it, they at least began to acknowledge that the department's get-tough approach may have led, in part, to Scott's death.

At the same time, the City of North Charleston more or less admitted something was amiss, as the number of no-arrest, no-citation traffic stops per month dropped from 2,000 in March 2015 to 500 in January, according to CAJM. Mayor Summey has also asked the U.S. Department of Justice to conduct a three-year examination of the police department to determine what its failings are and how to correct them. You can take that as an admission of guilt or not. Either way, it doesn't matter. The city's much-maligned approach to fighting crime has more or less come to an end.

But for the men and women of the Charleston Area Justice Ministry, that wasn't enough. It still didn't solve the problem of racial profiling.

At their recently held Nehemiah Action at Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston, CAJM called upon local leaders to address this very issue. Mayor Summey and Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg were invited, as were their respective police chiefs, Eddie Driggers and Greg Mullen. Of the four, only Tecklenburg attended, a move that was heavily criticized by CAJM. But for most anyone who is familiar with the Nehemiah Action events of previous years, it's easy to understand why Summey, Driggers, and Mullen failed to turn in an RSVP.

On paper, the Nehemiah Action is a great idea. Take this year's event for example.
Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg faced questions presented by the Charleston Area Justice Ministry during the 2016 Nehemiah Action Assembly - DUSTIN WATERS
  • Dustin Waters
  • Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg faced questions presented by the Charleston Area Justice Ministry during the 2016 Nehemiah Action Assembly
During the talk, several local leaders, including Tecklenburg and members of the Charleston County School Board, took the stage to answer questions from CAJM members about investigatory stops and school disciplinary policies which have led to a disproportionate number of African-American students being arrested. I'll be the first to argue that our elected officials should be held accountable for their actions. More importantly, the public should have a forum to address them. While our leaders' strengths come from the offices they hold, the people's strengths come from their numbers, and it takes great numbers for the public to force a sure-minded official to rethink, much less change, their position, no matter how bad that position is.

But CAJM takes that great idea, makes it dig its own grave, hits it over the head with a shovel, pisses all over it — and leaves the urine-soaked corpse in the open air for the coyotes and buzzards to feast on. What would Jesus do? Not that.

Instead of hosting a town hall or forum where the public can ask their leaders questions about the most vital topics of the day and hear their responses, the Nehemiah Action format refuses to give its guests a chance to respond with little more than a yes or no answer. To make matters worse, the CAJM members tasked with asking questions can speak and sermonize as long as they like, a condition that not only puts all the power in their hands but is an affront to our democratic notions.

The CAJM speakers can also ask the same question again and again and again, a tactic, I suppose, that is designed to hypnotize the official into changing their minds or pressure them into having a sincere change of heart. After all, no one has ever stood before a room of angry people and flip-flopped on a position out of anything other than genuine reflection, a sudden realization that they were absolutely wrong and that it took 2,000 grumbling voices to make them see the error of their ways. With that said, there's no doubt that Nehemiah Action is less a town hall and more of a sideshow in which the holy men and women of CAJM do their part to address our city's woes by publicly guiding the masses in a collective airing of grievances that would make Frank Costanza clutch his fist and shout, "Serenity now," before his head explodes like a tennis ball filled with match heads.

All of which is why folks like Summey, Driggers, and Mullen refused to show up to the recent Nehemiah Action event at Mt. Moriah. They are well aware that this isn't a dialogue. It isn't a debate. It's a public flogging, and it does nobody any good, especially the men and women in the audience. 

See, beyond the decidedly undemocratic nature of this event, Nehemiah Action is at heart a form of kabuki theater. The leaders of CAJM know full well that many of their demands can't be met, at least not in the way that they pose them. Sometimes the constraints are temporal, other times they're budgetary, and occasionally they're just against the law. 

Take for example this question posed to Mayor Tecklenburg: "Will you, by June 1, 2016, contract an external, independent police auditor from the OIR Group for a one-time audit of the Charleston Police Department around bias-based policing, specifically stops, questioning, frisks, and searches, with the audit to begin July 1, 2016."

The thing is, Teck can't legally agree to this. The city has to send out an RFP (a request for proposals), they have to wait for those proposals to be submitted, they have to consider them, vote on them, etc., etc., etc. Mayor Tickling the Ivories can't simply award the OIR Group a government contract paid with public funds. If the folks at CAJM don't know this, they are rubes. If they do and still ask such a question, they are charlatans whose only goal is to increase their standings as social justice warriors and/or populist firebrands.

Equally as telling, the questions that were specifically asked of Tecklenburg and which would have been asked of Summey, more or less, establish CAJM as a quasi-government agency that appoints task force members and helps crafts city ordinances. I don't know about you, but I didn't elect CAJM's board, and I seriously have my doubts that you did. (Editor's note: If you did, then get in touch with me, because Diebold is even more nefarious then we previously thought.)

As for the CCSD board members, they were asked whether or not they would visit a school district in Jacksonville, Fla. to observe how the district handles student discipline using restorative practices. I could go into more detail about the concept — and it's a good one — but let's just simplify it and say that instead of calling the cops and arresting students every time they get into a fight with each other or, I don't know, refuse to get up from their desks, educators make the decision not to call for the school resource officer. Why? These students are kids, not criminals, and kids do some stupid shit — I know I sure as hell did.

Now, it doesn't matter that visiting the Jacksonville district would be insightful — like I said, it would be — but that kind of trip costs money, and right now, that's something CCSD doesn't have. While these board members get stipends, they only have so much money to spend. And when it comes to out-of-state travel, this isn't a decision that one person makes on their own; the board has to vote on it. In other words, these school board members can't rightfully say yes to CAJM's question. At best, they can say they'll try. Then again, I'm not a minister, so my understanding of how government bodies work is just a wee bit shaky.

At this point, it's worth pointing out that state Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman has already called on school districts to change the ways in which they use school resource officers as disciplinarians. In fact, the state Generally Assembly is looking at two bills dealing with the matter, although those may not go anywhere.

When it comes down to it, Nehemiah Action is not the tool that it was designed to be. It doesn't serve the public by helping them engage with their elected officials. It only disenfranchises them. By putting our leaders in a position where they can only answer "yes" or "no" to questions that they sometimes rightfully can't answer "yes" to or "no" to, the folks at CAJM succeed in pointing out the apparent ineffectiveness and fecklessness of our leaders. The end result: Nehamiah's ultimate accomplishment is to further illustrate that the system is fucking broken — and what sort of lesson is that?

Today, the belief that the system is broken is at an all-time high. We wouldn't have either the Trump or Bernie campaigns if huge swaths of the American voting public didn't feel as if our elected officials continue to refuse to hear their concerns or address any of the problems that our great nation currently faces. It doesn't matter if we're talking about gun control, immigration, LGBT rights, abortion, global warming, Elon Musk's army of sentient AIs, the American public repeatedly falls victim to politicians who promise sweeping reforms and yet never produce. Meanwhile, the grownups in Washington, Columbia, and elsewhere continue to engage in the dirty, thankless work of governance where change generally only comes in tiny, incremental steps.

The Republican Party is an example of a group that promises big moves but never makes them. For decades the GOP has courted Southern evangelicals by vowing to overturn Roe v. Wade — something any sensible person knows is an impossibility — and they've failed so spectacularly that these very same holy rollers have lost their faith to such a degree that they're willing to abandon their principles and vote for a noxious, prideful, gluttonous, crude, and cowardly man like Donald Trump because, get this, he promises to get shit done. The worst part: They believe him. And as such, they set themselves up for another go-round on the disenfranchisement tilt-a-whirl.

Make no mistake, once the ride is over, they'll be queasy, whether the GOP nomination is "stolen" from Trump in July or The Donald loses to Hillary in November or the New York City blowhard actually pulls off the seemingly impossible and ends up not only overseeing a Congress that refuses to bend to his wishes, but a system that was designed to prevent would-be despots from exercising power in the first place. Election Day may be a celebration for the victors and their supporters, but the next day is an emasculation. Snip, snip, hand me a barf bag.

If you want sudden and complete change, democracy isn't for you. Fascism or totalitarianism or authoritarianism, on the other hand, those might be up your alley, that is if you aren't drowning in the gutter as a subject or a serf or slave or some untouchable cast-off who competes with rats in the never-ending battle for their next meal and a dry place to sleep.

The truth is, the system isn't broken. It's just hobbled by bureaucracy and regulations and discussions and amendments and parliamentary maneuvering and votes and blah, blah, blah. While I wouldn't go so far as to suggest that this is exactly how the Founding Fathers intended it — I don't have the late Antonin Scalia's ability to leap into the minds of Madison and Jefferson like a Supreme Court Sam Beckett — the system has worked just fine for over 200 years. OK, not always and not for everybody, but the core OS is strong and the subsequent versions have only made the platform more robust.

But no one wants to hear this. Like the folks at Nehemiah Action or the one-time supporters of Ron Paul's revolution, the Fair Tax, or any number of right-wing pipe dreams, far too many believe that change happens easily and quickly. Instead, these true believers are crippled by idealogical purity. They believe in one mind, one mission, and total victory — in other words, complete horseshit. And it's a mind-set that far too many activists and grassroots ground troops have adopted. In this world there is no room for dialogue. There is no need to ever listen to the other side.

Some politicians use this tactic quite favorably. Take our own Nikki Haley for example. For years, Gov. Haley has refused to meet with the press, to take phone calls from the media about whatever topics of concern are of importance at the time. Instead, she puts out Facebook posts. She's crafted a bubble in which she never has to address criticism, she never has to meet defeat, and she can always proclaim, "It's a great day in South Carolina." And while Haley has made several good decisions as of late, she remains a vane cheerleader who cannot face her critics face to face.

Today's activists and social justice warriors are also fans of this one-way approach to advancing their agendas. Consider the various social justice actions that have taken place across the nation over the past year, in particular the one at the University of Missouri, where a journalism teacher of all people advocated the forceable removal of a student photojournalist from a protest in a public space. While yesterday's activists longed to speak publicly about their cause, today it's common for protestors to refuse to talk to the press — like Nikki Haley or Donald Trump or Sarah Palin, they turn to social media to deliver their messages to their loyal supporters — and the adoption of this autocratic tactic has the potential to damage the very nature of public debate.

To make matters worse, many of today's college students support limiting free speech. According to a recent Knight Foundation study, 41 percent of African Americans and 33 percent of women believe that schools should be able to restrict "political views that are upsetting or offensive to certain groups," compared to 24 percent of whites and 21 percent of men. When it comes to allowing an open environment in which all viewpoints can be expressed, only 72 percent of women, 70 percent of blacks, and 72 percent of Democrats supported it, while 83 percent of men, 80 percent of whites, and 84 percent of Republicans do.

The media fares even worse. The study found that 32 percent of African Americans and 37 percent of women support banning the press from covering student protests, a view that is shared by only 19 percent of men and 24 percent of whites. Meanwhile, a whopping 53 percent of women and 54 percent of African Americans believe that it's OK to ban press coverage so that protestors can tell their stories exclusively through their own social media accounts. 

Based on all of this, it's obvious that we need to teach everyone a lesson in free speech and its importance in the governance of our country, our states, and our cities. Our public forums should be arenas filled with competing and contradictory ideas and political philosophies, and in this area the most rational argument, not the most emotional or the less offensive, should win the day.

In the end, all of our leaders — whether it's Nikki Haley or Keith Summey — must be willing to be challenged by the press and the public; they must be prepared to defend their positions. The same goes for the activists who are fighting to bring about societal change, no matter how much they believe the powers-that-be have secret plans to send them to the FEMA gulags. Their paranoia may play well with their supporters — and there's no doubt that it does — but to the rest of us, it just makes their arguments and their organization look weak, no matter how righteous their causes may be.

And when it comes to the Charleston Area Justice Ministry, there is no doubt that their cause is just. But if the group ever hopes to do more than publicly scold elected officials and local leaders, they'll remember that sometimes you have to listen to be heard.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Gullah cuisine, genetics, and Michael Twitty's beef with Sean Brock

Bolognese and Blarney

Posted by Chris Haire on Sat, Apr 2, 2016 at 10:06 AM

If you follow the food news in Charleston, you know all about the events of the past two weeks, the calculating hit that Eater fired at the Holy F&B scene, the horrific Twitter fight that left scores bloodied and broken, the replies and rebuttals and revisionary revisits that ended in cities aflame, crops burnt, and a whole helluva lot of butt hurt. Hey Kinsey, can I have that ice pack when you're done?

Yes, it was a battle for the ages, one in which no one won. In part, this is because no one could agree on what the fight was about, and in part because no one knew what the terms of victory were. And so whatever I say here will only be the start of another senseless battle between those who live and breathe the Charleston food scene and those who don't and who want to use the Holy City to further advance their noble but narrow, and often misapplied, point of view. 

Through the smoke and the haze of battle, it's hard to think back to Tues. March 23 when Eater, a content farm with journalistic pretensions, published a think piece about the Charleston food scene entitled "How Gullah Cuisine Has Transformed Charleston Dining." In it, the article, and its primary interview subject, food writer Michael Twitty, argued that Lowcountry chefs have not only refused to acknowledge the debt they owe to the Gullah-Geechee people, but are guilty of cultural appropriation, that is, in this case, stealing Gullah cuisine and claiming it as their own. 

I for one took issue with the core assertion. After all, having edited food stories at the City Paper for nine years, I've read countless articles from our writers highlighting the origins of various Lowcountry dishes and mentioning, if not honoring, the enslaved African-Americans who created many of them. These authors include barbecue historian Robert Moss and the James Beard award-winning cookbook author Jeff Allen, two guys who have built writing careers examining Southern foodways. Sadly, Allen may have tarnished his reputation thanks to comments that many saw as racist which he made to Twitty, a Gullah descendant. Like Moss, Allen wrote for the City Paper for a long time, and he currently has plans to meet with Twitty and have a discussion. While we all make mistakes, some words are more difficult to walk back than others.

I also knew that many of the Holy City's finest chefs have repeatedly paid humble homage to the previously unheralded creators of the very cuisine that first put Chucktown on the map more than a decade ago — I'm talking about shrimp and grits and she-crab soup and whatever other Charleston contributions you'll find today at local tourist hotspots and upscale-meets-downhome pan-Southern eateries across the nation. Most notable among these chefs is Sean Brock, a one-time mad food scientist-turned-history nerd hellbent on sourcing local ingredients, saving heirloom animals, and bringing the South's forgotten culinary history back to light. That this history was actually forgotten is up for some debate, I suppose, but make no mistake, both the black and white communities in Charleston had largely forgotten about Jimmy Red corn and Carolina Gold rice and Ossabaw hogs.

All of this is to say that I disagreed with one of the core premises of the Hillary Dixler's Eater piece.

However, much of the article rang true — the lack of black chefs at Charleston's star restaurants, the dearth of black-owned restaurants, the financial barriers that some future black chefs may have entering the world of fine-dining — sometimes the very arguments the Eater article put forth were paradoxical.

On the one hand, the Eater article suggests that Gullah-focused restaurants are about to explode on the Holy City scene when the number of Gullah restaurants in the area is actually dwindling, a troubling trend the City Paper has covered.

The article also asserts that Gullah cuisine is inexpensive fare, but then counters with a quote from local Gullah Chef BJ Dennis that this type of cuisine is too labor intensive, i.e. costly, to win over the lovers of deep-fat fried soul food, both African-American and white, but in the context of Dennis' argument most likely largely black.

I was also perplexed whenever I saw an instance where Eater, or one of its interview subjects like, say, Michael Twitty — more on him, much more — proclaim that certain ingredients or dishes were, in some ways, the sole providence of the Gullah people and their descendants. The reason: These dishes or ingredients came from Africa, brought here by the men and women and children who were shackled and shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to work in Charleston's field and kitchens — the very souls whose blood and sweat and tears built this city. 

Except there is a problem: assigning ownership to certain dishes and ingredients is problematic. Okra comes from Africa — there's no doubt of that. Carolina Gold rice, field peas, and peanuts too. But many of the central staples of Gullah cuisine have other origins. Squash came from Central America, as did tomatoes, the latter a key ingredient in the Gullah dish, okra soup. Sweet peas are another item the Eater article attaches to the Gullah people, but as everyone knows, peas are found around the world. 

What's most interesting, perhaps, is not who owns what dish or ingredients, but to realize that the culinary world, much like pop music or religion, is built on cultural appropriation. In fact, the Eater article notes that one of Dennis' Gullah dishes, smoked chicken and yellow rice, uses turmeric, the spice that gives the yellow rice its distinctive color, came to the United States via the British, who took the dish from the Indians.

Even a Gullah dish like pirlou can find its counterparts elsewhere, let's say in pilaf or paella or biryani. Yes, the techniques are different, but at the core, nearly every culinary culture has taken rice and mixed it with whatever other ingredients are around. In fact, it's this universal element to cuisine, not a battle over origins, that truly speaks to the human soul.

Around the world, people take starches and either mash them down or grind them up, they take greens and boil the living hell out of them, they fry chicken and barbecue pork or beef. So much of it is a variation on a theme and an indication that contact between nations and cultures has been going on for several thousands of years, long before the first Africans arrived in shackles on the shores of Sullivan's Island.

Mind you, this isn't to discount the suffering of America's slaves or to suggest that the quest for culinary origins is misguided. Not at all. It's just that our culinary heritages are more similar than different and assigning ownership to any ingredient or technique can be problematic because of thousands of years of human migration and trade, not to mention political agenda. Make no mistake, the world is truly a small place, and it has been for a very, very long time.

However, in Charleston the world is often too small. Sometimes, it's so small its white citizenry fall victim to a provincial myopia.

For much of the 20th century, the Holy City has positioned itself as a bastion of the grand Old South, that mythological monstrosity that so many both here in South Carolina and around the nation worship like a Golden Calf, which has died of dereliction and starvation and is rotting in the fields in the hot summer sun, while its putrid innards provide sustenance to white-hooded maggots and Lost Cause vultures. For far too long, Charleston as a whole, and the Holy City culinary scene in particular, refused to acknowledge the contributions of African-American slaves. Some still do to this day. You know who they are, the landmarks and tourist spots that avoid all discussion of slavery, the restaurants that traffic in a folksy facade in which black contributions are either praised in a condescending manner or ignored altogether in favor of white-washed idea country cooking. For these places, Charleston offers a Rainbow Row-colored glasses view of the world, one that champions the Holy City's majesty without acknowledging that our famous downtown mansions and cobblestone streets were built upon broken bones and blood. All you have to do is open your eyes to see it. And I believe our town's best chefs, most notably Sean Brock, do.

With all of that in mind, it's time to address the Eater article's strongest point: that the number of black chefs and black-owned eateries in town is far too small.

While some white chefs have succeeded serving Gullah-inspired and local ingredients, offering up the stories behind them as a mouth-watering bonus, the same hasn't been as true for African-American chefs. Yes, BJ Dennis is regularly spotlighted by national food publications, but so far his meals have been limited to pop-ups and special events; he doesn't yet have a restaurant. We hope that soon changes.

And then there is Martha Lou Gadsden, of Martha Lou's Kitchen. Despite Twitty's claim that no African-American-owned restaurant is a you-gotta-go-there tourist mecca, her restaurant is a first-stop shop for foodie tourists in Charleston. I know this because I can look out my window every day and see the out-of-state SUVs filling her parking lot. Sadly, Martha Lou's is something of an anomaly — although Bertha's Kitchen in North Charleston is regularly packed, albeit with locals. However, Martha Lou's wasn't always a celebrated spot. In fact, way back in 2009, the City Paper wrote an article encouraging diners to visit the restaurant because it was experiencing perhaps its worst year ever, thanks to the Great Recession. We like to think we helped turn things around for Ms. Gadsden and got the empty spaces filled; however, far more credit goes to Sean Brock, who used his celebrity status to plug her restaurant. It's a pity that it took a mention in the New York Times from a white celebuchef to convince moneyed white out-of-state diners to dine on Martha Lou's fabulous fried chicken and soul-stirring lima beans to convince — the shame is yours not ours. You were reluctant to venture out of the safe confines of historic downtown Charleston.

So what do we do to address the problems of a lack of black chefs and African-American-owned restaurants? Do we start to institute quotas? In a way, yes.

I don't see why some of downtown's top eateries shouldn't begin cultivating young African-American chefs by offering a program of scholarship stages, cooking internships if you well — perhaps some already are. Also, it would be nice if some of the bigger restaurant groups could join forces and offer actual true-blue scholarships to the Culinary Institute of Charleston to aspiring African-American chefs. Of course, Mickey Baskt of Charleston Grill has already begun to address this need through his Teach the Need program, which instructs students in Title I schools in the ways of the professional kitchen, while the Lowcountry Food Bank, Charleston County Schools, and the Palmetto Youth Connections offer culinary training to high school students with their Foodworks Culinary Training Program. Of course, we also have to mention all the locals who teach students at low-income schools about gardening and good dining habits. I know this because my daughters attend a Title I school with a largely African-American population where the students not only maintain their own gardens — it's an impressively large setup — but have partnered with the African-American-owned Joseph Fields Farms to bring fresh veggies into the homes of the school's students at a discounted price. I can also tell you from experience that a $25 box of food can help feed a family of four for three weeks. 

And since reparations are most likely off the table, perhaps our nation as a whole could do a small something to repair some of the damage done to the descendants of African slaves by offering free college scholarships to qualifying students. Then again, that's perhaps too much to ask from a system that just might elect an open bigot as president.

There are solutions here to address the lack of African-American chefs in the world of Charleston fine-dining, and fine-dining elsewhere. There are. But sadly, you won't find them in the Eater article or in the words of Michael Twitty. All you'll find is a litany of complaints, sometimes vague and sometimes clearly designed just for show, the latter of which is Twitty's stock and trade.

Twitty as you may know is the self-proclaimed Antebellum Chef who dresses in antebellum-era slave garb and cooks in the style of his enslaved African-American forebears, albeit with some reservations — some of the ingredients that the slaves used are just too icky for Twitty.

He's also a prodigious blogger, a Ted talker, the go-to guy when it comes to the contributions of African-Americans to Southern cuisine, and the author of the forthcoming book The Cooking Gene. And judging by his quotes in the Eater article and his own 3,000 "Dear Sean, We Need to Talk," a man whose stock in trade is a bombastic rhetorical style, something that I admire. We're alike in that regard. As a rabid ranter myself, I applaud his trash-talking, as well as his penchant for saying all those things that some folks wish would never be said. I mean, you have to applaud a guy who can say that food "is a part of our culture that couldn't be beaten out of us." He's got balls. 

But it's that type of rhetoric, albeit necessary, that more than hints at his central argument: the white population of the South, Charleston in particular, have stolen the ingredients, techniques, and dishes that are rightfully owned by the descendants of slaves, primarily the Gullah people. And the biggest thief of all: Sean Brock. 

In some ways there is a validity to his argument. As previously stated, Charleston's star status in the culinary world was initially launched by a handful of white chefs who took local dishes — shrimp and grits, she-crab soup — and elevated them by simply putting them on the menu at fine-dining restaurants. For most of the latter part of the 20th century at least, French cuisine was the go-to fine-dining cuisine in the Holy City, but with the inclusion of these dishes, a more local focus began to emerge.

As for why such Southern dishes weren't always on the menu at top-dollar restaurants, some would argue that there's always been a bit of shame surrounding Southern food, at least among those in the culinary world, not, I would say, at home in both black and white kitchens. For me and scores of other Southerners, these dishes — many of them covered in gravy, many of them fried, and nearly all of them featuring rice with some sort of canned vegetable on the side — this was simply food. It was what we ate. And it was delicious.

But for the chefs in the fine-dining world, I suppose, it was much different. Outsiders dismissed Southern cuisine, mocked it even. And so kudos to the first person who put Southern food on the menu, acknowledging that it had value, that it deserved respect. Thanks to them, the culinary world took its first steps toward an exploration of the South's foodways, a world in which the cooking traditions of Africa, Europe, and the Americas came together. 

However, in today's Charleston, we've moved well beyond those tentative first few steps. Following the rise of Lowcountry cuisine, we've seen the rise of the Charleston celebrity chef, one who isn't beholden to historic dishes, Gullah or otherwise — I'm talking about the chefs at FIG, The Ordinary, Fat Hen, The Obstinate Daughter, The Macintosh, Oak, Chez Nous, Xiao Bao Biscuit, and scores of others. Even Charleston Grill, where Chef Louis Osteen started the Lowcountry cuisine phase, Charleston-inspired dishes only make up one-fourth of the menu.

And then there's Husk, Sean Brock's farm-to-table, local ingredient-focused, history-obsessed, seasonally-inspired, Southern restaurant. When Husk emerged on the scene in 2011, it was roundly heralded as a ground-breaking restaurant for its adherence to traditional and local ingredients and Brock's back-to-basics approach, an approach that involved lots and lots of canning. Before the launch of Husk, Brock threw himself into farming and studying traditional Southern foodways, using forgotten ingredients and heirloom livestock. He was widely praised for it and rightfully so. The guy is a great chef and he had a great idea. Today, you'll find scores of restaurateurs who have adopted his very same approach. And that seems to be a source of bitterness for some, including Michael Twitty.

For Twitty, many of these ingredients and dishes that you'll find at Husk and elsewhere are the property of African-Americans. And so the Antebellum Chef calls for culinary justice, a concept that is only vaguely ever explained. 

As Twitty told the New Haven Independent in 2014:

“There are certain personalities, certain chefs ... they shall remain nameless ... but there are these figureheads in Southern food who have no problem promoting the idea that they are rescuing, they’re renewing,” he explained.

“And they will say, ‘God bless those slaves for their contribution’ – you hear the same thing in every book – ‘for their okra, rice, and black eyed peas.’ And they think they’ve done their duty. They don’t tell you about what it feels like to get up at four in the morning, and what it feels like to lift cast iron pots, and what it feels like to burn all the hair off your arms. What does it feel like to get cut? What does it feel like to have all this glorious food in front of you, and not be able to take a seat because to do so would be considered death?”
Later Twitty told Forward.com more about culinary justice, this time calling out Sean Brock by name:
“I saw people using the food culture in ways that were inappropriate. Taking everything but the burden; everything but the part of the story that deals with complex issues, [saying,] ‘This is ours.’ No, it’s not yours to take and to do whatever you want with it. The Italians have control over their cheeses and meat, the French have control over their wines, what do we have control over? Nothing. The people in Peru, saying, ‘We want our potatoes back, we want our quinoa back.’ What do we [blacks] have? Nothing. So we have to really begin to look at marketing a people’s heritage and what that means. When Sean Brock [a successful white Southern restaurateur] runs around saying he discovered the African roots of Southern cuisine, like nobody before him, that’s wrong.”
Of course, Brock never claimed he did, but I'll get to that in just a bit.

Although Twitty routinely points the finger at Brock and, in the Eater article, his Charleston counterparts, he seems to be of two minds when it comes how African-Americans lost their culinary heritage. In fact, Twitty himself notes that it wasn't stolen as much as it was abandoned, as six million blacks left the South during the Great Migration for life in the big cities of the North, Midwest, and West. He tells Forward:

... the tables got turned and we became ashamed of our roots in the South. We told ourselves we want to be urban people. We lost land, we lost money, we started to get sick and stressed out and we started to lose the connection to nature. What is West African dance about? The connection of the body to earth, to the universe. You can’t have it if you’re not on the land or connected. For me the food part is very touching.

Twitty adds:
“When Elijah Muhammad founded the Nation of Islam, he told his followers, ‘Don’t touch potatoes and greens, it’s slave-master food. It’s not healthy for you, don’t eat black- eyed peas.’ Actually it was healthy for us and it was part of our heritage from Africa. But the whole thing about the food being imperialist and colonialist was wrong."
Of course, it's worth noting that African-Americans did bring their cuisine with them to the big cities. There are plenty of soul food restaurants around the country that prove that.

But Twitty is right about the disconnection from the soil, from the garden. It's a problem that affects all populations in the United States. So many of us have never maintained a garden. So many of us have never stepped foot onto a farm. So many of us have never borne witness to the deaths of the very animals we eat. Instead, so many of us feast on fast-food fare and microwavable meals — or, if we're lucky, a regular routine of Yelp-approved restaurants — and we've grown very fat in the process. Twitty should be applauded for encouraging African Americans to once again return to growing their own foods, to cooking their own meals from scratch, to embrace their culinary roots. 

With all of that in mind, it seems that Twitty is as upset that African Americans lost touch with the soil and ignored the terroir of their genes — more on that in a bit — as he's angry someone other than African-Americans began talking about the history of southern African-American foodways. Once again, Brock is the culprit.

In 2015 Times-Picayune piece, Judy Walker writes:
And, in the food game, somebody else can research your history and sell it at a higher price, [Twitty] warned, then added, "I'm looking at you, Sean Brock." He called out the wildly popular chef for writing "We saved Southern food" and "Southern food has lost its soul."
And indeed Brock has said that Southern food lost its soul. It's all right there in the Food + Wine article "The Senegalese Roots of Southern Cooking." F+W's Jody Eddy reports:
Throughout his visit [to Senegal], Brock was scribbling down notes in a red book and communicating with the cooks in his kitchens back home, sending them changes to menus in real time. At one point, as he watched Ly steam rice over a pot of aromatic broth to infuse it with flavor, he cried out, "Genius! Why don't we do this?" He then promptly emailed his sous chef to tell him about it. "I would love to see what I've learned here not just on my menus, but on Lowcountry menus everywhere," he says. "Western African traditions have shaped one of the oldest cuisines in America, but as we modernized these dishes, they lost their soul. We owe it to both Southerners and Western Africans to find it back again."

The subhed for that article is worth noting. It reads: "Visionary Charleston chef Sean Brock traces the origin of Lowcountry dishes like hoppin' john and gumbo back to Senegal, emailing his restaurant cooks from Dakar so they can update his recipes in real time." Judging by the subhed for Eddy's article, this could possibly be how Twitty came to the conclusion that Brock claimed to have "discovered the African roots of Southern cuisine." 

While I could go on about Twitty's apparent focus on Brock, I'd like to take this time to bring up one of the more curious aspects of the Antebellum Chef's oeuvre since it's mentioned in Eddy's piece: he's a mystic with a fascination with strange ideas about genetics. Once again, Eddy writes:

...[Twitty's] a dynamo of a speaker, addressing the crowd without a microphone in his "preacher and rabbi" voice, as he called it.

He urged the students to own their heritage, to say "us" and not "they" when talking about ancestors.

"Our ancestors were the first people to cook. They were the first to hunt. The first to plant seeds, to domesticate cattle. There is no history of food without us," Twitty said. "If you're African American, you come from the first branch of the human race to split off, with the strongest genes in humanity [emphasis added]. It takes strong genes to keep you looking black. I say this as a person who is 28 percent white."

Twitty pulled his beard. Look at this, he said. This didn't come from Africa.

Slavery has existed throughout world history, he added. But Africans are the only group to revolutionize everything about their enslavers, to change the entire culture — the food, the music, traditions and much more.
Twitty's fascination with genetics is also touched upon in this 2015 Garden and Gun profile. In it, author Randall Kenan writes:
Twitty humorously addresses the idea of how complicated issues of food and health are among African Americans, and why their physical welfare is distinct from that of both white Americans and West Africans. He talks about theories of a genetic clue to the plight of diabetes and high blood pressure among American black folk, something perhaps even linked to the experience of the Middle Passage and how individual slaves were chosen. Complicating the matter even more was the mixing of African and European DNA. The result being “African butts, European guts.”
And then there is this, one of the more curious passages in the Garden and Gun piece in which the more mystic side of Twitty emerges. Again, Kenan writes:
[Twitty] wears at his side, from his belt, what he calls a ditty bag. A black leather pouch that dangles. Some once called such a thing a nation sack. It is a custom Twitty learned about while working at Colonial Williamsburg.

What’s inside? Odds and ends, he says. Eighty or more things. He’s not supposed to say what’s inside. Special objects. Medicinal things. Good luck things. Healing things. Different parts…the claws of one of his late dogs…effluvia…ceremony and mystery and talismans…

“You can cook the food all you want, but you don’t know the spells that go with it,” he says. “Black folks could talk to objects, we talk to fire, we talk to spoons, we’ve been known to pray over things. Cooking was timed to the singing of spirituals. That’s imparting ase [Yoruba spiritual force] to the food. You ain’t nothing without the spirits that gave it to you. You have to have reverence. If it doesn’t have reverence, it ain’t got no flavor, it ain’t got no spice, it ain’t got no soul.”
And then there's this anecdote Twitty shared on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show":

My South Carolina family went all over the country. One branch went to Detroit and they came from the brother of my great-grandmother. I asked them, what was the best thing your grandfather, my, I guess, great-great-uncle cooked. And he said he made this sauce with tomato and meat and had it with pasta. And they didn't know at the time that when I had done my grandfather's DNA, I found a substantial Italian component and I traced it to one of our family's slaveholders who actually came from a family that was mixed English and Italian ancestry. And they were just floored because I said this cooking gene is for real. I said, the dish you remember most wasn't dandelion greens or fried chicken or peach cobbler. It was basically a bolognese sauce. And this is somebody who was born right after the Civil War. So you think from the Piedmont of South Carolina, how many Italian restaurants did you have back then, so it was really something. I really started to see my own story, not just in the villages and cities of pre-colonial Africa, but in ancient Rome and in the ancient Middle East and Genghis Khan and all these other narratives, and Vikings, I'm mostly Viking by the way, I know you can't tell.
Reading those four passages back, and coupling it with Twitty's claims that "terrior is in the genes" and the title of his forthcoming book, The Cooking Gene, one begins to question the very nature of the Antebellum Chef's ideas about genetics and culture.

On the one hand, he seems to be advancing the argument that Africans are more in touch with the natural and spiritual worlds than other races, while on the other postulating that culinary inclinations are passed down through DNA from parent to child, parent to child. In part this is troubling because it harkens back to the idea of the noble savage, a tired trope that recently landed Harry Potter author JK Rowling in hot water for her depiction of Native Americans. It's equally as troubling because it offers up the same tired talk that cultural characteristics are linked to biology, a flawed line of thinking that National Socialists and other white supremacists have long adhered to. Twitty is certainly not either of those two things, but it's disconcerting to see a public intellectual support flawed genetic theories and dangerous beliefs that society has struggled to quash for a long, long time.

Speaking of genes, it's worth noting that Twitty at one time had a side gig offering "crash courses or multi-session courses on how to trace your roots back to Africa," according to his Afroculinaria website. While I have little knowledge about the courses Twitty apparently offered, I can tell you that geneticists cast doubt that DNA can determine exactly which groups you come from at a specific time period. For starters, race is a human construct, not a genetic one. And two, genetically every single person on this planet is a descendent of the same person 3,500 years ago; for Europeans, it only goes back 1,000 years. The result: mankind has so greatly intermingled that pin-pointing people, whether Vikings or Zulu is not likely. Geneticists can tell you if you are related to someone, but they apparently can't tell you if you are related to someone at a specific time or place. However, they can tell you that "you are related to the Queen of Sheba or Napoleon," as the non-profit Sense in Science says, "because we almost all are." 

I don't know if Twitty still offers these genetic services, I really don't. I've reached out to him several times via a combination of email, Facebook, and Twitter, and I've yet to receive a response from him. Oddly enough, I think Twitty may know exactly how I feel. Someone in the Charleston culinary world once apparently ignored his requests for a conversation: Sean Brock.

In Twitty's "Dear Sean" letter he writes:
I do not know why you chose not to introduce me at MAD [a symposium] at the last moment or why I have seen you multiple times since and yet you have not spoken to me. I have eaten your food — and your Mother’s food — supported your restaurant in Nashville, I even reached out to you in 2012 when I was a nothing — a nobody — looking to dialogue with you about a little project I was doing called The Cooking Gene. I never heard back after an initial email exchange brokered by a mutual friend. I saw you make jokes on social media — but I desperately wanted to sit down with Sean Brock — to see if you were my blood, my cousin, my kinsman. I have tried to reach out, and my intentions are to squash these feelings of mistrust I am trying to shake.
But despite Sean Brock's apparent history of giving Michael Twitty the cold shoulder, and despite Twitty's long history of bashing Brock, you want to know what the Husk chef did shortly after the letter went live? Sean Brock reached back out to Michael Twitty and said let's meet. More importantly, he said let's cook together.

That to me, speaks volumes about who Sean Brock is.

I'd also like to think it speaks to who Brock's fellow chefs in the Holy City are too, as well as rest of us in Charleston who felt the need to speak up about the erroneous claims in Eater's story and Michael Twitty's false assertions.

And because we took issue with his claims, Twitty asserts that we declared "war" on him, repeatedly sending out social media salvos composed of middle-school subtweets, schoolyard taunts, and a shade-throwing gif of a disheveled Scarlett O'Hara — he also posted this Tweet in response to a sympathetic post from Matt Hartman, a white writer who attended the University of South Carolina and who wrote a recent article dealing with authentic Southern food: "I won't speculate on why they seemed to come at me much harder than you for having a similar message." Of course, many reasonable readers will infer that such a statement is disingenuous. (Psst. For one, I didn't initially read Hartman's piece because it wasn't about Charleston, and, two, Michael didn't write Eater's Gullah piece ... Hillary Dixler did and, gasp, she's not black.) There is no debate with Twitty, only conflict and a cult of personality that will rally around him and go into battle for him on Twitter. Seriously, man, Twitter. For the love of God, you're about to be a published author, not some two-bit alt-weekly journalist with a potty mouth and penchant for bourbon.

That childish tendency toward overstated drama can also be found in his letter to Sean Brock, and it offers another side of Antebellum Chef: the martyr. In "Dear Sean" Twitty writes:
"The research, recreation, and interpretation of enslaved people’s food is not personally or communally easy — and it goes beyond creativity and taste — it is in many ways a willed descent into hell. I assure you it is taxing, painful, and revelatory — but I have no choice — as you have no choice but to be who I was created to be."
And the suffering continues. Twitty adds, this time noting a revelation he had while on Sullivan's Island front beach, a message that came to him from his ancestors who arrived in America at this very spot:
"It was at that moment, 10 years ago I sank to my knees in the wet sand, fully clothed and guaranteeing my jeans would be stained—and humbled myself before my dead. At the time I did not know where they came from or who was there — I just knew this was where I had to start. ... When I kneeled — I was told I had to work in the fields, I had to stir the pots, that it was not enough to sit in an armchair and pontificate or grow things as a hobby — these things — you well know — have been done — and often not well — and they don’t serve any of us to any real end. What I endured for their sake — at their command — compares not with five minutes in their lives — and I can honestly say — I would refuse five minutes in their hell."
And then oddly enough, he turns to Sean Brock, the man he has mocked and criticized for years, and asks him for help:
My burden is in some ways heavier than yours — and that’s not your fault, but if you care so deeply for this food and where it comes from— and I know you do, you will help me lift a corner of this burden. I know you already do some of this locally — I want to seek a way to do this on a larger scale.

But the burden isn't just Twitty's or Brock's. It's a burden that everyone in Charleston bears. I, like the chefs and writers who follow the food scene in the Holy City, believe that Charleston must own up to its past, it must attempt to atone for its sins; it must try to heal the wounds between blacks and whites. And living here in this beautiful town built on the scared and broken backs of an enslaved population and dipped in an unholy baptism of blood, I know that so many are trying — they are trying. 

I'm not going to accuse Twitty or an Eater article of thwarting that. They couldn't. They can't. But some words are more difficult to walk back than others.
P.S. It's worth noting that on April 1, Eater's Hillary Dixler posted an article on Robert Stehling's Charleston Nasty fried chicken and gravy biscuit. Despite the fact that Dixler previously bemoaned the "black erasure from the American culinary narrative" as applied to the origins of the fried chicken sandwich, she apparently falls prey to the same error as other writers in her article on the Charleston Nasty — ignoring black contributions to the fried chicken sandwich.

Monday, March 7, 2016

I don't know about you, I'm voting for Trump's penis

Jenny Horne defends Trump

Posted by Chris Haire on Mon, Mar 7, 2016 at 4:39 PM

  • Flickr user Gage Skidmore
I don't know about you, but I'm glad that Donald Trump's penis is now a central character in the 2016 presidential race. The appearance of the original Don Junior is an unexpected but welcome addition to the political arena, where the previously agreed upon rules of decorum have been discarded in favor of a no-holds-barred bukkake royale in which a lot worse than mud is being slung by the candidates.

The truth is, I can't even begin to fathom exactly what will come next, but I know where it's going to land — everywhere.

In the next GOP debate, will Wolf Blitzer make Ted Cruz watch "2Girls, 1Cup" and post the reaction video to Youtube? 

Or will Gwen Ifill turn to John Kasich and ask him the following question: "Is waterboarding a nature extension of water sports in the 50 Shades era?"

Will Megan Kelly look at Marco Rubio standing behind the podium and ask him, "What is your favorite brand of lube?", to which the Florida senator will fumble around until he gives his stock answer to any and all questions: "Let’s dispel this notion that a man buggering a blowup doll doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing. He is trying to complete his Barbie holiday collection. I'm not just pro-life. I'm pro-plastic. Life begins at Mattel."

Think about it folks. We are one step away from talking about Santorum on the debate stage and the former Pennsylvania senator will not be standing there beside his fellow GOP also-rans. He'll be at home exercising his Kegels, and he'll do it while wearing a sweater vest. Oh the perversity.

The truth is modern politics is no different than prostitution, except that hookers have the good sense not to fellate the entire state of Iowa without getting paid a sizable sum for their services. 

But as foul and nasty as it to have Donald Trump's penis a part of the national political conversation, it pales in comparison to what Summerville's Jenny Horne did last week. 

Maybe you've heard, maybe you haven't, but Horne bashed Mark Sanford for, well, bashing Donald Trump. Sanford's not alone, of course. Lindsey Graham, Tim Scott, and Nikki Haley have been dissing The Donald for ages now — hell, Lindsey has practically turned it into a new spectator sport, the likes of which the world hasn't seen since the age of the gladiator, but in Graham's case, every bon mot is the equivalent of the emperor pointing his thumb down.

Now, Horne didn't endorse Trump necessarily, but her comments were surely designed to send a signal to Trump's Palmetto State supporters that her views were simpatico with theirs. 

But what's particularly shocking about Horne's non-endorsement endorsement is that this is the very state representative who stood on the floor of the House chambers and shamed her Confederate-flag lovin' compatriots who were trying to block a bill removing that shameful relic from Statehouse grounds. This was a Horne who stood for unity, who stood against oppression. Today, however, that very same person is defending a hotdog cart Hitler who bristles at the suggestion that his footlong hotdogs are nothing more than little smokies. Clearly, this doesn't make sense, right?

Sadly, it does. 

Horne is tired of Statehouse politics, and she wants a promotion. Right now, her eye is on South Carolina's First Congressional District seat in the U.S. House of Representative. And guess who currently has that job? Mark Sanford. 

I guess when it comes to big-time politics principles are the first thing to go.

Monday, February 29, 2016

The P&C's editorial board is cowardly at best, complicit at worst

The Timidity Times

Posted by Chris Haire on Mon, Feb 29, 2016 at 3:22 PM

You may not know this, but I'm a fan of The Post and Courier, and a fairly vocal one at that. On a certain level they are our competition — both in terms of ad revenue and reporting the news. But they are also our fair city's daily paper — the one that has the resources to cover nearly every single aspect of our society, the good and the bad. More importantly, they do it well. I mean, they won a Pulitzer for a reason. However, over the years I've come to see that there is a stark difference between the P&C's lineup of all-star reporters and its editorial board.

On the one hand, you have a news team that is the very definition of a compassionate watchdog press, one that uses its editorial power to tackle the state's shameful domestic violence laws, the shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later behavior of some South Carolina cops, the misuse of campaign funds by our legislators, and the scourge of racism that still haunts us today, especially here in Charleston.

On the other hand, you have an editorial board that regularly takes milquetoast positions on important issues, in particular ones that challenge the status quo. And when they're not doing that, they're authoring apologies for a regressive, authoritarian-loving, arch-conservative world view. The latter, of course, is something of a shock considering Charleston's deep-blue leanings.

Normally, I skip the editorials for these reasons, not because I don't like to have my own points of view challenged, but because there are other conservative minds that do it far better with an approach that is both bold and intellectually honest.

Last week, however, I did read what the editorial board had to say, and quite honestly, it sent me off on a rant the ferocity of which was neither quenched by beer or bourbon. Needless to say, at this moment I'm deep in the throes of a hater hangover that I have yet to recover from. And it all began with two sentences in an editorial defending the continued detention of terror suspects at Gitmo: "Mr. Obama contended Tuesday that 'Guantánamo Bay does not advance our national security — it undermines it.' But in a world that has given rise to the Islamic State, it is hard to credit the argument that the existence of Guantánamo incites terror."

Clearly, the P&C editorial board hasn't done their research, because if they had, then they would have quickly discovered that Gitmo has long been used by Islamic militants to recruit would-be terrorists. From the Taliban to Al-Qaeda, our enemies repeatedly reference the Guantánamo Bay detainees in speeches and the press and on social media. Now, I'm not sure what this flub says of the P&C's editorialists — they could be lying, they could be grossly misinformed, they could be lazy, they could be trying desperately to fashion reality into what they want it to be — but the fact that they don't even bother to provide an argument to back up their statement hints that it could be all four possibilities. 

My troubles could have ended there, but they didn't. Two days later, the editorial board penned not one, but two pieces that forced me to direct my attention to the Great Bartender in the Sky, wave a $20-spot, and shout, "I'll have another, and this time, make it a double." The first concerned Saturday's Democratic presidential primary, the other the Confederate Relic Room.

As people who are duty-bound to cover politics — it's the primary purpose of the American press after all — you would think that the P&C editorial board would be invested enough in the future of our great nation to select the best candidate on the Democratic end of the spectrum simply because they want the two best candidates facing off in November. I know, that's how we would have done it if we endorsed candidates in primary contests. (For the record, I would have picked Marco Rubio.) The point is, you don't simply want your team to win, you want to make sure the U.S. is always in good hands, regardless of which party wins, because sometimes, your guy loses. But not The Post and Courier

Instead, the editorial board refused to offer an endorsement, and in fact, spent much of the article talking about Donald Trump and the need for the GOP to find a candidate that can beat him. (Again, Rubio.) Quite simply, they were unable to argue against or for either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders; beyond a pithy dismissal of Bern's promises of "free" government benefits, they skipped any serious discussion of the two candidates qualifications or lack thereof. I mean, we're talking about a former Secretary of State and a long-time senator. Isn't there something on their resume that is worthy of qualification or disqualification?

As much as those two editorials got my blood boiling, it was a piece criticizing Rep. Chip Limehouse's proposal to move the state Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum to the site of the H.L. Hunley that sent me clamoring for a plate of Nana's Nashville hot chicken to cool down.

While they were right to note that the Hunley attracts enough visitors as is and the current relic room rehab plan is too expensive, it's what they didn't say that stands out. They wrote: "Charleston Branch NAACP President Dot Scott opposes [the Relic Room] being brought here, correctly saying, 'The last thing we need right now is a reminder,'" adding, "The flag was taken down after nine people were killed in a racially motivated attack at Emanuel AME Church last June. The man charged with the murders posed with Confederate flags and guns in photos posted online."

On first read, that sounds so sensible, correct even. But if you read it again, and read the rest of the editorial, you'll see that the board never says why Roof's decision to pose with the Confederate flag was so troubling. They don't explain how or why we were, and still are, horrified by these photos.

Instead of arguing that the South's shameful history of racial oppression — and its chief symbol — inspired Dylann Roof, The Post and Courier puts forth the argument that Roof is to blame for the flag's negative connotations and the ill feelings folks like Dot Scott have toward this relic. It's a sidestep that's as graceless as the one Donald Trump tried to make when he said he didn't know who David Duke was when the GOP candidate was asked to disavow the endorsement of the former Ku Klux Klan leader.

I can't decided if The Post and Courier editorial board actually believes the Confederate flag isn't a racist symbol or if they are simply too afraid to anger the Lost Causers in town. Either way, the P&C's entire stable of writers should be ashamed. At best the editorial board is complicit in protecting this hateful symbol and, at worst, too cowardly to call it out for what it is. Neither one is good for a paper that is trying to prove it's the most fearless news organization in the state if not the nation.

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