December 16-18, 2014

Been thinking a lot about anarchy lately, spurred on by the recent protests & the inevitable police intelligence reports about the anarchist bugaboo

If you go read the DPD After Action Report from 12/5, and then read the TriAnarchy blog post from the same event, it’s almost possible to synthesize a single accurate account from the two of them, since their competing filters kind of cancel each other out.

Which kind of reinforces the notion that if Scary Anarchists didn’t already exist, the police would have to invent them. The symbiotic relationship is just too perfect.

Of course there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that the police in some jurisdictions are more than happy to put on hoodies & bandannas and play the part.

Anyway. I don’t think my thoughts about anarchy as a political philosophy are even all that salient here. I would love to see capitalism dismantled, or at least severely crippled, but the last thing we need in a nation with 30 million loose guns is a complete breakdown in civil society.

I do wish that more white people would be more willing to listen to people of color when engaging in demonstrations focused on issues that disproportionately affect people of color.

Here are some bullet points I found useful:




I know there are some folks locally who disagree with the premise of those bullet points. I might politely suggest that those folks should go protest in Raleigh or something. Lord knows Raleigh needs a wake-up call.

Tuesday night I read a month’s worth of New Yorker magazines. “read.” At least 15% of each issue.

Wednesday night we watched The Skeleton Twins. Bill Hader is outstanding in it. Kristin Wiig does her best – it’s no Whip It, mind you. It was a definite rental & honestly I’d probably recommend waiting until it hits Prime.

Thursday night we watched Dead Calm, a movie that gooned the crap out of me when I watched it at home alone late one night when I was in college. It had less power tonight, on the sofa with M, pre-10pm. But it’s still a damn tight little suspense/thriller. 

December 16-18, 2014

Letter from Steve Schewel, December 18, 2014

Durham City Councilman Steve Schewel sent this to many folks, and posted it on our Facebook walls. I’d like to amplify it further by posting it here:

Dear Friends,
This email is a work in progress, and there is much more I need to learn. Since I was not present at the demonstrations in Durham downtown on December 5 or more recently on Swift Avenue, I have had to rely on the reports of others—police, demonstrators, reporters and spectators—to come as close as I can to the truth about those events. I’ve talked to a lot of people, watched a lot of videos, read a lot of emails and Facebook posts. Now I’m ready to write about what I know and believe, and I look forward to hearing from you about this.

Here is the most important thing I know: The demonstrations in Durham following the grand jury decision in the Eric Garner case are heartfelt, legitimate and important expressions of grief and outrage. The vast majority of people demonstrating are motivated by an authentic desire to make our nation—and our beloved city—more just. The desire to interrupt business-as-usual, to force people to face the injustices of our criminal justice system, is real, and I admire the people who have taken on this work. This moment demands our attention to racial injustice and our commitment to fight it. Durham can lead this crucial work, and we must.

The second important thing I know is that the charges about “outside agitators” deny a critical truth about these demonstrations: They are homegrown, right here in Durham. I know many Durham people who have been participating. Some are veterans of many political actions; but most of the ones I know are young, first-time demonstrators whose hearts are full to bursting with the injustices they know exist in our society and feel they must make their voices heard. Indeed, it is true that there are people from inside and outside Durham who are on the Internet urging reckless behavior on the demonstrators (more on that below). But these demonstrations are not the product of those Internet posts. They are the product of the ideals, hopes and dreams of Durham’s young people for a society where racial injustice is a thing of the past, where ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬.

To deny the legitimacy and authenticity of these cries for justice is to deny the future that we all need to embrace.

After the death of Jesus Huerta last year, I criticized our police department for what I considered their overly aggressive response to the demonstration on the plaza. I spoke to our city manager about it, to my city council colleagues, and to our police chiefs. I wrote about it publicly.

What I see now in our police department’s response to the demonstrations is a much more complicated picture. 
On the one hand, I believe there has been at least one time when our officers acted with too much aggressive force. On the other hand, I think they have worked hard to improve their practices from the Huerta march last year, and I think they have succeeded, often performing their incredibly difficult task with admirable patience and restraint under severe duress during the recent demonstrations.

A few days ago I had a 90-minute conversation with a young woman who was arrested on Foster St. on the night of December 5. She wants her name kept private, so I will simply call her Mary. I knew Mary because I had spoken to a class at Duke for which she was the professor’s assistant. Mary is highly regarded by my teaching colleagues at the public policy department at Duke. She is gentle, determined and totally trustworthy.

The events surrounding Mary’s arrest—and the arrests of others on Foster St. that night—are contested. Police say that they gave ample and loud warning for the demonstrators to leave the middle of the street and disperse. Mary and other demonstrators I trust claim they never heard these warnings. Mary says she was shocked when she saw an officer throw a young woman to the ground by her hair. Mary says that she then herself asked the officer to tell her his badge number and was immediately thrown hard to the ground–hard enough to lose a shoe and her glasses. She said a knee was put into her stomach from underneath her while two other officers handcuffed her. She was hurt, shocked and bruised. I believe her. I believe another witness who saw this happen. I believe this is unnecessary use of force. I believe we must not have this in Durham.

And yet there is another truth about that night. For three hours the Durham police reacted with great flexibility, calm and patience as they escorted the marchers throughout downtown. The marchers were switching directions unpredictably, blocking streets, disrupting traffic, and, at one point, jumped fences and blocked 147. Some marchers also threatened to disrupt the show at the DPAC and sought to breach the police lines there. Some–few!–marchers hurled sticks and rocks at the cops. Several officers were hit, and one officer I know well and respect greatly was struck hard in the chest by a rock.

The police didn’t arrest the demonstrators who blocked the downtown streets for hours. They didn’t arrest the demonstrators who blocked the highway. At DPAC, they arrested a few people (six, I understand) who tried to force their way through the police line there and disrupt the show in progress.

I admire this work by the police under tremendous pressure. Despite the stones and the provocation, they remained calm and did their jobs well.

I don’t want us to lose sight of the whole, complex truth here. I believe that for the great majority of the protest over a very difficult three-hour period, our police officers acted with good judgment and restraint under duress. Then, on Foster Street, five minutes of bad decisions and unnecessary force marred the night.

There have been other demonstrations, too, and one—on Swift Avenue—which is the subject of dueling narratives about the behavior of demonstrators and police.

Here’s the point: Since the marches following the death of Jesus Huerta, our police department has made significant strides in its handling of demonstrations. Still, they need to continue to do better. The department’s leadership needs to evaluate the use of force, minimize the use of force, and give ample warning before arrests are made. I have confidence that they will do this.

I have a plea to demonstrators as well, and it involves civil disobedience. I have participated in hundreds of demonstrations in my 63 years. I probably marched or rallied 20 times just this past year. I have committed acts of civil disobedience many times. I never got to march with Dr. King, but I marched with his compatriots including C.T. Vivian and Fred Shuttlesworth. I have linked arms with Father Philip Berrigan and Sister Elizabeth McAlister to block the Pentagon. I was arrested at Moral Monday last summer. After one act of civil disobedience, I went to jail for eight days.

I list these bona fides only to claim solidarity with those who are committing civil disobedience in Durham now. Sometimes, I believe, civil disobedience is warranted, even necessary.

But as you disobey, I beg you to do so peacefully, lovingly. Civil disobedience must not mean intentionally provoking the police, or dehumanizing them, or making them the other, or resisting them when they come to arrest you for blocking a street.
I know many police officers well. Three times this year I have ridden along with young police officers on a Saturday night, and I have seen close up the desire they have to do the right thing. I have watched them make difficult split-second decisions on each ride-along, officers no older than the young demonstrators, officers putting themselves into dangerous situations on our behalf. We need to respect and support these men and women who are doing their best to keep us safe.

I have one more plea. There are, indeed, disturbing posts on the web which include threats to Durham police officers and calls to confront them with violence. I have read these posts. There have been demonstrators who have chosen a violent response, who have attempted to provoke our officers into making a mistake. My plea is for the great mass of demonstrators whose motives are pure to separate themselves from those who would do harm, who would provoke violence if they could. All of us who have been in demonstrations know that such people can be present and can mis-lead. It is the obligation of all of us to reject them.

And we must expect that when our police officers are physically threatened by fists or stones that they will don their plastic helmets, their “riot gear.” They need to be physically safe, too.

What is happening here in Durham with the police is part of a national effort for reform, as you all know. I am proud of the actions the city council took recently to reform our practices of racially disproportionate car searches, including our decision to require written consent for any consent searches. It puts us way out in front of most cities in the nation. Now we need to make that work. And we need to continue to work with our police department to make sure that our officers know how to handle demonstrations–even very, very challenging ones–without mistreating people.

We need to hold our police department to the highest standards of behavior—and we need to thank them and support them when they do their difficult work with skill and patience.

I believe Durham can lead this work.
I welcome your thoughts.
Steve Schewel
18 December 2014

Letter from Steve Schewel, December 18, 2014

Letter to Durham City Council, December 18, 2014

Dear Council,

I’m writing to add my support to Laura Friederich’s letter of earlier this morning, which I assume you’re already in receipt of. If not, it’s also posted here:
Laura touches on many excellent points in her letter, and she is entirely correct when she redirects your attention to the fact that these protests are about calling attention to the racist foundations of our current society.
The police, and particularly Chief Lopez, seem to want to make this issue about themselves. They seem to feel like they’re under personal attack – and perhaps they carry some level of institutional guilt that encourages that impression.
But the majority of the protesters I have seen and engaged with are concerned about much bigger issues than policing in Durham. They are truly trying to send the message that Black Lives Matter, all over the US, and all over the world. Unbalanced policing and unexamined racial biases on the part of police departments are certainly a big part of this, but it cuts much deeper than that.
I’m sure there are legitimate questions about why so many of the recent protests have happened in Durham, and not other cities in the Triangle. I’m curious about that myself – not in the sense of asking why Durham, but rather in the sense of asking why not Raleigh, and Chapel Hill, and Cary, and everywhere else as well.
I think it says *wonderful* things about Durham that our citizenry are the most politically active, the most impassioned, the most likely to speak up when they see injustice, whether here at home or elsewhere in the world. I think it’s wonderful when our locally-led protests are joined by citizens of other towns, where apparently the population at large aren’t nearly as engaged or impassioned.
Laura makes an excellent point when she says that the police have shown at various times that they are capable of restraint, and of respecting the rights of the people to assemble and to let their voices be heard. Durham could set a shining example to the rest of North Carolina as a place where citizen engagement is valued and fostered and encouraged. 
But it will require your leadership –  not just from the few of you who have spoken out publicly already, but from each and every one of you. I encourage you to speak up, as Steve Schewel already has, in favor of free speech, in favor of Durham’s activist history, in favor of the rights of the citizens to be passionate, and politically engaged, and yes, sometimes angry.
Warmest regards,
Ross Grady

Letter to Durham City Council, December 18, 2014

December 14-15, 2014

Sunday was Sunday. Monday was D’Angelo. All day. I left XDU on Sunday with a huge list of links to download most of what Relapse put out this year, and I haven’t touched any of them, because D’Angelo.

Sunday was for reading tweets in the aftermath of Saturday’s protest & the police crackdown. I made you a Storify of them.

I emailed Durham City Manager Tom Bonfield & asked him when the DPD got their LRAD. To his credit, his response was quick & complete:

The LRAD system was purchased earlier this year at a complete package cost of $17,355.  The LRAD device purchased was the small model and to describe it as a sonic weapon would be inaccurate.  The equipment was purchased to allow the police department to communicate audible orders to large crowds that are yelling or using music, drums, etc to drown out directives.  I approved the purchase under my contracting/purchasing authority which did not require City Council approval. Funds to purchase this equipment came from the Police Department Asses Forfeiture Fund. Let me know if this response does not answer your question.

I asked around & got a few responses from folks about the DPD’s use of their LRAD against protesters.

Based on those tweets & what other people have told me, it sounds like the DPD does use the LRAD for PA purposes, as Tom claimed in his email – I’ve been told that people heard orders to disperse coming from it. But it’s also very clear that they like to pipe ear-splitting high-pitched tones through it to disrupt protests & coerce protesters into dispersing.

Monday night we went to the Carolina Theatre to see The Night Porter, as part of this weird new “Film Acoustic” series, which is curated by this irritating self-aggrandizing film nerd/host guy, and which features musicians introducing movies that they find significant or influential in some way.

The Night Porter was selected and introduced by Wayne Coyne. I can’t imagine that the $20 tickets purchased by the ~100 people who attended were sufficient to pay Wayne to show up, but oh well. I hope the [taxpayer-owned] Carolina didn’t foot the bill for that one.

We went because neither of us had seen The Night Porter, and this seemed like a reasonably convenient way to correct that.

To be honest, we shouldn’t have bothered.

I didn’t have a visceral reaction to it – it’s fairly tame, by modern standards. I found it entertaining to sit there & speculate about the mindset of everyone involved when it was made. What did Italians think about Nazism in 1973? What did any of them think about exploitation, about dominance & submission, about misogyny? 

But that entertainment only sustained me for about 45 minutes of its 2-hour runtime. 

I came home & read Pauline Kael’s review (collected in Reeling; couldn’t find the full version online). She ripped it to shreds for being kind of lousy (it is), and for using concentration camp settings as backdrop/window dressing. She had nothing much nice to say about Dirk Bogarde or Charlotte Rampling. 

My problems with it were less aesthetic and more political; I went back and forth with myself trying to reason out whether it was an obscene patriarchal fantasy or a potentially legitimate depiction of how PTSD might play itself out within the framework that the plot sets up. Never really resolved that question.

Next month Lucinda Williams will be here to introduce Wise Blood, John Huston’s kind of wretched 1979 adaptation of the Flannery O’Connor novella. Brad Dourif, Harry Dean Stanton, Amy Wright, Ned Beatty; a kind of silly bluegrass soundtrack. It’s quite a piece of work, and has long been one of my favorite movies, despite the fact that in many ways it’s awful.

So I’ll be there. I hope the place is crammed with Lucinda Williams fans & I hope they all leave bewildered.

December 14-15, 2014

December 12-13, 2014

As I noted Friday on Twitter, I’ve had to buy an unusually large number of tickets via Ticketmaster this month. 90% of the time, the shows we attend are at local rockclubs, or via Duke Performances, so at worst I wind up paying a couple of bucks in fees to Etix or TicketFly, or having to navigate Duke’s Byzantine online ticketing system.

But if you want to attend anything at the Carolina Theatre, or DPAC, or now at the newly LiveNation-managed Ritz in Raleigh, it’s Ticketmaster. So this month, having bought tickets to Sleater-Kinney, Erykah Badu, and two of the Carolina’s Film Acoustic screenings, I’m literally out something like $70 in fees to Ticketmaster.

In the case of the Carolina, this is partly because I was too lazy to walk the 5 blocks to the box office and buy them there, so there is a significant self- component to the loathing I’m feeling.

Friday was pretty brutal at work for both M and myself, so I walked over to Toast for takeout, and then we wound up watching Ravenous, which had been recommended earlier in the week by johndarnielle

It’s an odd one. I had seen it before (though M hadn’t), but I had forgotten just how odd the tone was. It’s bloody & deadpan and kind of unsatisfying, but in an interesting way. Plus it features Jeremy Davies lurking in a small, amusing role as a highly-religious private.

Saturday was bullshit errands, and then a matinee screening of Mockingjay. Which starts out pretty terrible – limp dialogue, lots of catch-up exposition, not much action – but then slowly morphs into a really interesting (and DARK) meditation on the role of propaganda in political and revolutionary conflict. 

It’s not as good at that as Starship Troopers, but there’s still a lot going on there. I probably wouldn’t watch it again for fun, but I could see myself teaching it in a class.

After the movie we had an invitation to attend the friends and family pre-opening at Juju, the new venture from Charlie Deal, chef/owner of Jujube in Chapel Hill and Dos Perros in Durham.

Juju is much closer in vibe and spirit to Jujube (as the name implies), although if anything the space is more beautiful. The website says “Asian Tapas” and when I was talking to Charlie about it a few months ago, he said that part of his vision was to have dim sum carts circling so that you could be offered something delicious within a few moments of being seated.

There was a little bit of that happening last night, along with a lengthy menu of moderately-priced small plates, including a whole section of vegetables. In fact, the lightly glazed roasted brussels sprouts with dried apricots were our favorite dish of the evening.

Some of the dishes – dumplings, the mushroom curry soup – will be familiar to anyone who has eaten at Jujube. Others are unique to Juju.

For a friends-and-family pre-opening, the kitchen was doing a remarkable job – we had several dishes that are as good as anything I’ve eaten in Durham in the past year or so.

They open for real on Tuesday. It’s a pretty big space – and there’s lots of room at the center bar, as well as a kitchen bar like the one at Jujube – but I still predict they’ll hit a Mateo level of crammed pretty quickly once word gets out.

After we got home from Juju, I started seeing tweets about a protest march from Walltown, down through Ninth Street, and in the direction of 147. A friend who was there said that the decision had been made early on NOT to try to take 147, but somehow the march still wound up on the Swift Avenue bridge over the freeway, where they were apparently met by riot police with their LRAD noise weapon.

[Aside: when did Durham buy that? How much did it cost? Or was it one of those federal government cast-off freebies?]

Here is video of a little bit of what happened next:

It’s pretty shaky and hard to make out, but this video and the protesters’ tweets seem to suggest that the police pursued the protesters back across the bridge and to the Main/Broad intersection, in several cases chasing and tackling fleeing protesters.

I haven’t seen or heard anything in the news about this, and it’s unclear to me what the protesters could have done to deserve being chased and tackled after they were already leaving the area that the cops had blocked off.

There was also this little detail:

Pretty classy, Ben & Jerry, you old capitalist faux-hippie farts.

December 12-13, 2014

December 10-11, 2014

Noting this here so that I’ll have a referent when I look back in 50 years or whatever: The CIA Torture Report was released this week.

Photo from the Durham Herald-Sun, by Bernard Thomas

That’s a photo from the protests Wednesday night at Southpoint Mall, showing the [white] trucker who literally tried to drive right through the crowd of protesters. The cops took him into custody but then apparently just hung onto him for a bit & then drove him back to his truck.

Thursday night I went to see the Brad Mehldau Trio at Baldwin Auditorium at Duke, part of this season of Duke Performances.

I’m not a jazz critic. I don’t get paid to listen to or write about jazz. I have seen a fair amount of jazz as an adult, from fairly straight/classic to pretty fucking skronky, and a lot of stuff in between. But honestly, I approach it as someone who wants to be moved emotionally, and someone who wants to have his mind expanded by the pushing & bending of melody, harmony & rhythm. I don’t bring a lot of intellectual baggage to the experience.

What this means practically is that 99% of the jazz we listen to at home was recorded between 1955 and 1965. And I don’t really feel too bad about that.

What this means at a lot of jazz shows I attend is that I get really tired of bass and drum solos ;-)

My commentary about loud sets in Baldwin from October still holds true. I was (again) in the 4th row, directly in front of the piano, but there were times during the set when I was getting so much of the drummer that the piano was nearly inaudible. In that room I think you’re probably better off sitting further back, or in the balcony, and just relying on the PA mix.

(Which is too bad, because it’s otherwise a great room, acoustically.)

Anyway, Brad Mehldau. Really remarkable ability to play straight blues, to improvise melodically, and then meander further & further & further afield while still maintaining the slenderest of threads back to the chord changes. The set-closing cover of “Since I Fell For You” featured a 5+ minute piano solo that was utterly brilliant in that way.

December 10-11, 2014

December 8-9, 2014

Monday was a vacation day, which meant I only spent half the day working on work stuff. 

I neglected to mention this the other day, but at some point over the three-day weekend I successfully replaced the cords in one set of cellular shades, so I guess I can add that skill to my CV. All hail for selling the special string.

Monday afternoon I met with Durham City Councilman Steve Schewel for an hour or so to discuss development, incentives, and the recent protest-related arrests. I really appreciate Steve taking the time to talk to me. Full disclosure: I worked for Steve, indirectly, for several years in the early 90s, when he owned the Independent and I was a frequent contributor.

He was extraordinarily kind to me then, and has continued to be so in the intervening couple of decades. 

I came away from the discussion with a slightly better understanding of just how comparatively little power municipalities have in North Carolina, since we are a state without municipal home-rule, meaning that the legislature fully controls what powers it does or does not grant to cities.

This is actually a reasonable high-level primer, if you’re interested.

Makes me doubly glad that I focused all of my campaign contributions this cycle on state legislative races, even though the outcome wasn’t enough to change the balance of power in the legislature.

At work lately I have been doing a lot of technical interviewing, the first time that I have done so at any sort of scale. It has been an interesting experience.

One thing I have noticed, and have been thinking about, is that some universities have Computer Science curricula in which any given student might do coursework in any of three or four different languages over the course of his or her studies. They might be trained initially in Java, take a couple of courses in C, and then pivot to Python or some other language for some of their higher-level electives.

Based on my experience as a technical manager & interviewer, at the undergraduate level, anyway, this is perhaps not an optimal configuration.

I’ve talked to a decent number of students who have difficulty keeping the syntax and structural idiosyncrasies of their various languages straight in their heads. (To be fair, I suffer from this myself – and it’s a real problem.)

Moreover, it seems clear to me that many of them haven’t used any single language long enough to have mastered it, or to have begun to understand its nuances and idioms.

This effect seems to have increased in recent years, as more schools switch their entry-level courses to different languages, while leaving the professors of higher-level courses free to use whatever languages they want.

Presumably once these students graduate & get jobs, they will eventually wind up in a situation where they’re able to focus on a single language for more than 6-9 months at a time, and will get a more holistic view of that language. 

But I feel like students are missing out on an opportunity to dig deeper and master a discipline in an educational environment that should be designed to support that.

Plus it’s kind of frustrating to me as a hiring manager.

December 8-9, 2014

johndarnielle said: don’t know if it’s your kinda movie but have you seen Ravenous?…

Yes! In the theater, even, I think. I remember really digging it, especially Jeffrey Jones, who is always fun to watch.

The other night was a particular challenge because M was in the mood for a non-vintage comedy & that whole category is a minefield. In this particular case the movie I got psyched to see, before discovering its non-streamableness, was Frequently Asked Questions about Time Travel:

No idea if it’s actually any good, but thanks to its scarcity it’s of course brilliant.