Join 3,415 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Robert Byrd, Respected Voice of the Senate, Dies at 92
June 28, 2010 3:30 AM   Subscribe

Robert Byrd, Respected Voice of the Senate, Dies at 92 Robert C. Byrd, who used his record tenure as a United States senator to fight for the primacy of the legislative branch of government and to build a modern West Virginia with vast amounts of federal money, died early on Monday. He was 92. He was the longest-serving Senator as well as the longest-serving member in congressional history. In his younger days he joined the Ku Klux Klan when he was 24 in 1942.
posted by Blake (137 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
New Deal Democrat and one-time Klansman. I love America!

Bye-bye, Byrd.

.
posted by chavenet at 3:43 AM on June 28, 2010


First Strom Thurmond and now this.

It's like Janis and Jimi all over again.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:44 AM on June 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Rest in peace, you old coot.
posted by Rhaomi at 3:46 AM on June 28, 2010


Byrd fought tooth and nail for his extremely poor state, and likewise for the Constitution. He'll be sorely missed.
posted by rifflesby at 4:01 AM on June 28, 2010 [8 favorites]


.
posted by miratime at 4:03 AM on June 28, 2010


Too bad he didn't get to live another 90 years to one day repudiate his own views on gay people:

''The drive for same-sex marriage,'' said Senator Robert C. Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, ''is, in effect, an effort to make a sneak attack on society by encoding this aberrant behavior in legal form before society itself has decided it should be legal.

''Let us defend the oldest institution, the institution of marriage between male and female as set forth in the Holy Bible.''

posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:07 AM on June 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


Oh man, I remember watching this guy on CSPAN while I was in the states one time when they were debating giving the president more powers to declare war. He was arguing against it and waving around his little pocket constitution, great stuff!

.
posted by Joe Chip at 4:10 AM on June 28, 2010


In high school, I was present at the opening of the FBI center in Fairmont, WV; Senator Byrd gave a speech. He started, literally, at the beginning of time and worked his way forward to the present day. I always held that against him, a little, when all of us were sweating in our uniforms in the blazing sun. As I got older I did start to appreciate what he had done for my state.

But that incredibly long speech is still going to be the first thing that comes to mind whenever I think of him.
posted by miratime at 4:16 AM on June 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Real social change cannot occur until the old guard is gone. There's one.
posted by SansPoint at 4:26 AM on June 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


He started, literally, at the beginning of time

Big Bang? How did he work that into a speech at the opening of an FBI center? Was it a personal anecdote? "I was helium at the beginning and helium now. You might say I'm yellow dog helium, though of course we didn't have "dogs" back then, or even "yellow" for that matter."
posted by pracowity at 4:32 AM on June 28, 2010 [6 favorites]


.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 4:36 AM on June 28, 2010


.
posted by xorry at 4:38 AM on June 28, 2010


In his younger days he joined the Ku Klux Klan when he was 24 in 1942.

Now meet his successor as Dean/President Pro Tem of the Senate. Oh, America. You grow up so fast.
posted by kittyprecious at 4:45 AM on June 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


I really appreciated his firm commitment to the idea that a knowledge of history is essential to understanding the present and preparing for the future. So much so that he lectured on the Roman Senate from the floor of our own.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 4:49 AM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I met Robert Byrd once in 2006 when I was working in DC. He gave a speech on senate rules and his opposition to the Iraq war. For all the jokes/conversations about it, the reason he stayed in the Senate until the day he died was because he really, truly loved his job.

As for the whole of his life, well, I don't know what to say. He was a man who at several points in his life said and did things that are and remain completely unforgivable, and then spent the remainder of it trying to redeem himself. It doesn't excuse what he did but I can at least give him credit for having been one of the few people in the Senate who ever admitted to screwing up.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 4:56 AM on June 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


But you screw just one goat...
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:03 AM on June 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


There's an interesting challenge in replacing him, given the timing. Byrd died 2 years, 6 months, and five days before his next election. WV law requires a new election if a senator dies more than 2 years and 6 months before a scheduled election. Nate Silver talks about it here.

If an election is needed, given the current state of American politics, this could be a surprising Republican pickup, something that the current governor must recognize. So there may be a move to fudge the numbers, which will get interesting.
posted by allen.spaulding at 5:06 AM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


If an election is needed, given the current state of American politics, this could be a surprising Republican pickup

Are there any WV Republicans who would fare well in a statewide contest?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:19 AM on June 28, 2010


Byrd's said a lot of terrible things, but he's also supported some fairly progressive bills, and it's doubtful West Virginia will get another senator who supports some of the environmental legislation he put through. Or for that matter, a senator that will have even a bit of the power and presence that Byrd had in Congress.

He's also pretty much a hero in WV, and it certainly endeared him further to some that he knew how to fiddle. One of my friends met him after a concert at a event in the state - he was in a wheelchair, but had her play an old-time reel and kept time clapping.
posted by ajarbaday at 5:23 AM on June 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


He started, literally, at the beginning of time

Well, to be fair, in Byrd's view, the beginning of time was only a little more than 3000 years ago, at most.
posted by saulgoodman at 5:26 AM on June 28, 2010 [7 favorites]


I shall miss his annual soaring oratory on Mothers Day and whenever I reflect on Thucydides' "History of the Peloponnedian War."

Which is never.
posted by LakesideOrion at 5:32 AM on June 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


If an election is needed, given the current state of American politics, this could be a surprising Republican pickup, something that the current governor must recognize. So there may be a move to fudge the numbers, which will get interesting.

On this matter, I hate to say it, but the Democrats are pretty much screwed. The law is clear as day and it's a hard case to say death doesn't constitute a "vacancy."

Congress goes on recess for a week this Friday, then recesses for the entire month of August and half of September, then splits again in October for campaigning. In other words, from now until November there are about six actual weeks of legislative work left in the session. I don't know much about WV politics but I'm under the impression that the governor is pretty much the most popular Democrat there, and I can't see how he would give up two more full years as governor to take a Senate seat that he would have an incredibly high liklihood of losing a few months later.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 5:33 AM on June 28, 2010


Byrd's speech before the Iraq War. I doubt that he took much satisfaction from being right.
posted by octothorpe at 5:39 AM on June 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Haven't we all done something in our past that we are embarrassed by? Haven't we all, in our mid-20s, in the folly of our youth, joined a racist terrorist militia?
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:43 AM on June 28, 2010 [26 favorites]


I have conflicted feelings about Byrd; he's done some great things and also held some repugnant and indefensible positions. He is a reminder of the innate flawed nature of Man.
posted by workerant at 5:47 AM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


We are better for having had him, and then lost him, in roughly equal measure.
posted by a small part of the world at 6:02 AM on June 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


What was the actuarial life expectancy of an American male born in 1917? And how far right on the bell curve is one who made it to 92?

I pose these questions to illustrate two points:

1. The tenacity with which men cling to power

2. The advantages of a lifetime of government-provided health care
posted by Joe Beese at 6:04 AM on June 28, 2010 [10 favorites]


Bell curves don't work like that.
posted by smackfu at 6:05 AM on June 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


.
posted by box at 6:09 AM on June 28, 2010


Regarding his joining the KKK, and I'm quoting the CNN article here:

He called the move "the greatest mistake of my life," an "albatross" that would always shadow his career.

"It's a lesson to the young people of today, that once a major mistake has been made in one's life," he said, "it will always be there, and it will be in my obituary."


.
posted by rodmandirect at 6:11 AM on June 28, 2010 [13 favorites]


He is a reminder of the innate flawed nature of Man.

We need more men who've owned up to their mistakes and fallibility in politics. Because perfect decision makers are more of a statistical anomaly than a reality, I'd rather have someone who can recognize and learn from their mistakes.
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:11 AM on June 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


On this matter, I hate to say it, but the Democrats are pretty much screwed. The law is clear as day and it's a hard case to say death doesn't constitute a "vacancy."

I tend to agree, although it's unclear if the law needs to be read in light of the rules regarding filing deadlines to fill a vacancy. If it's impossible for anyone to run, then I'm not sure what happens.
posted by allen.spaulding at 6:13 AM on June 28, 2010


I wonder if losing the pork is going to be entirely bad for West Virginia?
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:19 AM on June 28, 2010


How many elected officials offer sincere apologies? How many white men of his generation changed their mind about their racial views? He repudiated and apologized for the views on race he once held over and over.
posted by desuetude at 6:22 AM on June 28, 2010


He said and did a lot of things I disagree with, but I every time I hear his name, I do think of the Robert C. Byrd Honors Scholarship, without which I would have been hard-pressed to afford college. It's a very weird combination of feelings. Thanks for the college money, Senator Byrd, but next time, hold the racism and homophobia.
posted by TrarNoir at 6:24 AM on June 28, 2010


.
posted by Atreides at 6:25 AM on June 28, 2010


The apology for racism was good and deserved to be lauded, but it was decidedly undermined by his decision to support homophobic legislation and to deny the same rights to gay people as are afforded to straight people. I would think that if you had repudiated one form of intolerance, and were so clearly embarrassed and mortified by it, you might be cautious about expressing another form of intolerance. But no.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:29 AM on June 28, 2010 [9 favorites]


I'd rather have someone who can recognize and learn from their mistakes.

But, did he?

He failed the civil rights test of his youth, and then again he failed the civil rights test of his old age:

''The drive for same-sex marriage is, in effect, an effort to make a sneak attack on society by encoding this aberrant behavior in legal form before society itself has decided it should be legal.

''Let us defend the oldest institution, the institution of marriage between male and female as set forth in the Holy Bible.''


(cribbed from BP's earlier post)
posted by marsha56 at 6:29 AM on June 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


What was the actuarial life expectancy of an American male born in 1917?

48.4, but life expectancy isn't what you want. Life expectancy is the average age at death for people in the reference group, and life expectancy at birth is massively conditioned by infant mortality rates. Life expectancy for an American male born in 1917 who lived to be 10 would have been far higher than 48.4.

And how far right on the bell curve is one who made it to 92?

Life expectancy at birth is probably distributed very far from normally, so thinking about tails doesn't make a lot of sense.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:32 AM on June 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Senator Byrd admits to having joined the Klan for the political advantage it would give him. He repudiated it decades later, when it became clear that not doing so would continue to accrue political disadvantage. Had he lived long enough, there is no doubt in my mind that he would have come to the same realization about gay marriage. The man was a lion of the Senate, and he was a craven power-grubber who would have advocated against air above sea level if a majority of West Virginians had gills.
posted by Etrigan at 6:47 AM on June 28, 2010 [6 favorites]


Haven't we all done something in our past that we are embarrassed by? Haven't we all, in our mid-20s, in the folly of our youth, joined a racist terrorist militia?

With all due respect to my esteemed colleague from Minneapolis (Astro Zombie), I imagine that you (and the rest of us), should we have the opportunity to examine our actions today in 70 years, would be taken aback at some of the things we did and believed, things that appeared to us at the time to be obviously, manifestly right. And here's the kicker: we don't know what those things will be.

We may not want to admit it, but on some issue we are all Robert Byrd. Let's just hope we have the grace, as did Byrd, to realize what that issue is when the time comes.

And with that I say...

.
posted by MarshallPoe at 6:55 AM on June 28, 2010 [10 favorites]


With all due respect to Marshall Poe: Terrorist hate group.

It's not like looking back at your 20s and saying, oh, jeez, drank too much.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:58 AM on June 28, 2010 [8 favorites]


When I read Losing America: Confronting a Reckless and Arrogant Presidency , I was never so proud of a senator.

It was powerful and I will miss the old coot. Old age gives one the right to say whatever the hell one wants without fear of political blowback and he used his age and his gravitas to say what the country needed to hear.
posted by leftcoastbob at 7:01 AM on June 28, 2010


.
posted by ignignokt at 7:07 AM on June 28, 2010


With Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd gone, what will Republicans blather about other than Chappaquiddick and the KKK? I mean, they've got to have SOME way to portray Democrats as being as morally bankrupt as they are, right?
posted by deadmessenger at 7:11 AM on June 28, 2010


I grew up in an era where it was weird to see women do anything besides be moms, teachers, nurses or secretaries. The first time I heard a woman disc jockey I was horrified, because that was a man's job.

I say that to say that we are born in a time frame that forms US. None of you really know what your opinions on race or the kkk would have been if you were born in the time and place that he was. Maybe you would have stood up against hatred. But maybe not. Social consensus is a powerful thing, for good or for ill.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:12 AM on June 28, 2010 [13 favorites]


Barbaric!
posted by dephlogisticated at 7:22 AM on June 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


New Deal Democrat and one-time Klansman. I love America!

Eh. Truman was a Klansman too.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:32 AM on June 28, 2010


I absolutely reject the notion that we are creatures that are entirely bound by circumstance, and we can't know who we would be or what we would do if the circumstances were different. We are moral, reasoning creatures. I would not have loaded Jews into ovens, I would not have murdered Tutsis, I would not have turned fire hoses on black people, and right now, at this moment, I do not try to deny gay people equal rights in terms of marriage.

Others fought for Civil Rights. Many did not join the KKK, and rejected it. It's not as though the whole world then thought, hey, terrorize and murder black people -- it's just what we do. I will not simply ignore the atrocities of the past and forgive those who perpetrated them because I was not there, I don't know what things were like at the time, and maybe if I was there I would have joined in.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:33 AM on June 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


I grew up in an era where it was weird to see women do anything besides be moms, teachers, nurses or secretaries.

i grew up in your era, too, and it wasn't THAT weird - there were women who worked in factories in my town, on the line - it was a "rule" of society, but it wasn't as hard and fast as some make it out to be, at least in the 60s

The first time I heard a woman disc jockey I was horrified, because that was a man's job.

horror strikes me as a rather weird reaction to that
posted by pyramid termite at 7:38 AM on June 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


Leaving aside his record on civil rights, I think Byrd truly does represent a problem with the Senate, and to a lesser extent the House.

By the time of his death Byrd had spent 51 of his 92 years in the Senate, that's the majority of his life. And to be sure he did some good things during that time, but I think there's a valid argument to be made for the fact that, by the time he'd spent 20 or 30 years in the Senate he was probably at least a little out of touch, and that there probably was someone who could do better.

There are elderly people who understand the modern world perfectly well, but they are a minority, and I have my doubts that the sheltered and shielded life of a Senator does much to push a person to maintaining their knowledge of current affairs, events, technology, etc. Senator Byrd was, among other things voting on Net Neutrality, the DMCA, and other issues of critical importance in the field of technology. Byrd, like many of our elderly Senators never used a computer, nor apparently most other technology developed after the touch tone telephone. Yet it is he, and they, who determine how (or even if) technology will be permitted to grow.

Byrd's views on homosexuality also reflect upon his age. He says he saw the folly of his earlier opposition to Civil Rights, yet seemed unable to recognize the folly of his opposition to gay rights. There are young bigots, of course, but I don't think it is a stretch to argue that Byrd's age, and the fact that he spent the last 51 years of his life isolated from the real world in the Senate, was likely a significant factor in his cultural fossilization.

The average age in the US Senate is 60. I do not argue that our elderly population should be barred from public service, but I do argue that we should not be a defacto geritocracy. I also think there is merit in the argument that, regardless of age, 20 or 30 years in office should be more than enough and it is then time to admit some new blood.
posted by sotonohito at 7:42 AM on June 28, 2010 [9 favorites]


We are moral, reasoning creatures. I would not have loaded Jews into ovens, I would not have murdered Tutsis, I would not have turned fire hoses on black people, and right now, at this moment, I do not try to deny gay people equal rights in terms of marriage.

but we all pay taxes to a government that has thousands of nuclear bombs - i wonder what people will think of that in 100 years, especially if some of them are used?

the point being is that we all have our blind spots - and often they're rationalized not by saying, "well, i know this is wrong but it's to my advantage to do it anyway, so i will" but, "we are moral, reasoning creatures so what we're doing can't be wrong"
posted by pyramid termite at 7:45 AM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Eh. Truman was a Klansman too.

I don't think that's accurate. His Wikipedia page says this:

In 1922, Truman gave a friend $10 for an initiation fee for the Ku Klux Klan but later asked to get his money back; he was never initiated, never attended a meeting, and never claimed membership.

Which references this:

But those were pretty lively times back there. That was about the time the Ku Klux started after us. We had quite a wave of Ku Klux around here at that tine and there are so many stories on Harry joining the Ku Klux Klan. I was instrumental in that thing. Some of us had joined to see what it was, to see what was going on, you know. So they got after me to get Truman to join the Klan.

FUCHS: You were a member?

HINDE: Yeah -- I was to several meetings. Some of my good Catholic friends, every time we'd have a meeting, they'd say, "Well, I saw you out at the meeting the other night." They didn't know what we were doing in there; it was kind of a Counter Intelligence Agency deal. But, they got after me to get Harry to join. So, I talked to him and he said, "All right. " So, I took ten dollars and went down to this organizer, and he took it and then they wanted to have a meeting with him over in Kansas City, at the Hotel Baltimore. There was a fellow by the name of Jones, who was an organizer; he wanted to talk to Truman and see what his intentions were.

FUCHS: Do you recall his first name?

HINDE: No, I don't, but he didn't belong around here. And, when he went over there, this fellow Jones wanted him to agree that he wouldn't give a Catholic a job if he was elected; and Harry told him no, he wouldn't do that. He said he commanded a battery of artillery that was about ninety percent Catholic and if any of those boys wanted a job -- needed a job -- and he could give it to them, he was going to give it to them. Jones said "Well, we can't be for you." So, that was it. And they gave me the ten dollars back.

FUCHS: You were at this meeting?

HINDE: No, but I mean the fellow, this barber up here -- fellow by the name of Vincent, I. believe; he was kind of secretary to the thing. No, I didn't go to the meeting.

FUCHS: You weren't at the meeting with Mr. Truman, then?

HINDE: No, no. But they turned him down.

posted by mediareport at 7:46 AM on June 28, 2010


It's not like looking back at your 20s and saying, oh, jeez, drank too much.

Exactly so. But we aren't speaking of relatively innocent things like drinking too much. We are talking about political stances. Abraham Lincoln, I think, believed African Americans were inferior to whites (though these sentiments were so common that it would be silly to call him a "racist" in our sense). Winston Churchill wrote, if I recall, that a great Jewish conspiracy threatened to undermine Europe (ditto; he was no anti-Semite). JFK thought it might be a good thing to invade Cuba (and did) and assassinate Castro (and tried, repeatedly). LBJ was certain that if Vietnam fell, so would much of Asia (as did most Americans in the mid-1960s). And a great number of "right-thinking" people from roughly 1920 to the 1980s thought that communism was the last, best hope of mankind (even while the communists were murdering millions all over the world).

It all seems so clear now. But then, when they lived, it was not. It's really hard to tell what the "right side of history" is, and it always has been.
posted by MarshallPoe at 7:50 AM on June 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


People will only fly so far from where they hatched. I attempt to cut people slack because of this. My mother was born in a tiny house with a dirt floor to a woman in a backwoods part of Ohio where the word "Negro" was a sign that you were putting on oratory airs. Any expectations I had that she would be particularly forward thinking have not been borne out, and, to be fair, that happens with most people. It's not all college towns, faculty parties, and enlightenment out there.

I find that expectations of more than one "notch" worth of movement ahead (in so far as we can perform a slight of hand and make "left" coincide with "forward") of someone's parents tend not to be met very often. Byrd, well, I won't dismiss the Klan as the equivalent of the Elks lodge or anything so tame, but in that part of the country, at that time, they were hardly clandestine, either, and brought in members from those very same Elks and passed bibles to local ministers. That he went from one way of thinking to another was something of a leap.

It's pretty easy to judge someone from a clean, warm bedroom and a good chunk of a century on. I won't deny that he didn't start off all that well and that he continued to add to the inertia of many stances I personally find problematic, but the man managed to change his thinking and was probably two notches on from where he started, so, hey, he got somewhere.
posted by adipocere at 7:58 AM on June 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


.


As a West Virginian, I will miss him. He was a great man. Perhaps not always a good man but a great man. His loss will be deeply felt and not likely filled.

Haters gonna hate.
posted by irisclara at 7:59 AM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


MarshallPoe wrote It's really hard to tell what the "right side of history" is, and it always has been.

True, but I think we've got some decent guidelines. When one group argues that a minority shouldn't have equal rights, I don't think its difficult to say that they're on the wrong side of history. When one nation/ideology/party/whatever is involved in rape or torture or mass murder I don't think its difficult to think that they're on the wrong side of history.

Communism involved killing a whole lot of people, wrong side of history.

The Civil Rights movement involved denying a minority equal rights, wrong side of history.

Pol Pot not only killed but also tortured a whole lot of people, wrong side of history.

Many current politicians, including Obama, oppose the idea of true equality for our homosexual fellow citizens, which side of history do you think they will be on?

I don't know for sure, but I'm betting that 30 or 40 years from now Obama will be making speeches in which he admits that opposing true equality for homosexuals, was wrong.

As a general rule I figure the people arguing against human rights are going to wind up on the wrong side of history.
posted by sotonohito at 8:03 AM on June 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


None of you really know what your opinions on race or the kkk would have been if you were born in the time and place that he was.

As someone who, under your hypothetical, would have been an Asian-American born in 1917 in North Carolina, and then raised in West Virginia, I can very damn well guarantee I know what my opinion on joining the KKK would have been.
posted by shen1138 at 8:13 AM on June 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


.

Byrd was almost exactly seven months younger than my father. Knowing what I know about the time and place my father--who wasn't in the Klan--grew up in, I have to admire Byrd for admitting his mistakes, even if he made others on different issues later in life. Some of his age peers who were in public life (Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms come to mind) never acknowledged their mistakes about civil rights in the first place.
posted by immlass at 8:16 AM on June 28, 2010


I would not have loaded Jews into ovens, I would not have murdered Tutsis, I would not have turned fire hoses on black people, and right now, at this moment, I do not try to deny gay people equal rights in terms of marriage.

Are you a vegan? Are you comfortable with being called a genocidal murderer by your grandchildren for the needless death of millions of animals for little more than the pleasure of your palate?

There's a good chance you're on the wrong side of this one. There may be other issues that you don't necessarily see as an issue that in one generation's time will be so cut-and-dry that it'll shock anyone that you ever acted as you had.

Grandpa Zombie, you used to drive around for fun? Didn't you know that you were killing millions solely for your own ridiculous sense of pleasure? Grandpa Zombie, you lived in America during the massacres committed in your name? Your only resistance was voting and the occasional forum post? I would have taken up arms to stop the war. I would have not murdered Iraqis or tortured or...
posted by allen.spaulding at 8:21 AM on June 28, 2010 [17 favorites]


Everyone should agree that joining the KKK was bad, and everyone should agree that trying to atone for it was better than not doing so. So are we just trying to decide whether, on balance, he deserves a warm or cold send-off? Because I'm fine with tepid.
posted by Beardman at 8:24 AM on June 28, 2010


Are you a vegan? Are you comfortable with being called a genocidal murderer by your grandchildren for the needless death of millions of animals for little more than the pleasure of your palate?

Vegetarian. Have been since I was 16.

Grandpa Zombie, you used to drive around for fun? Didn't you know that you were killing millions solely for your own ridiculous sense of pleasure?

I owned a car for all of six months, five years ago. Otherwise, I have relied on public transportation.

And I have consistently argues for and supported alternatives to meat and to mass transportation my entire life. I do try to work on the side of justice, and against cruelty, and against waste. We all have our failings, but, really, I have yet to join the KKK, and what you're describing, whether I had participated or not, is not comparable.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:29 AM on June 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Er, I haven't actually supported alternatives to mass transportation.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:30 AM on June 28, 2010


"I imagine that you (and the rest of us), should we have the opportunity to examine our actions today in 70 years, would be taken aback at some of the things we did and believed,"

This always gets trotted out--although usually it's about the founders of our country being slaveowners. They didn't know! What things have you done without knowing, hmm?

Bullshit. People knew racism was wrong then, too, and had the chance to stand against it. It's not like we all grew moral sense when civil rights legislation was passed but before then had no inkling that bigotry (violent bigotry, no less!) was wrong.

Like this educated man was some kind of babe in the woods who joined the KKK thinking it was a knitting circle or a birdwatching society.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:33 AM on June 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


"None of you really know what your opinions on race or the kkk would have been if you were born in the time and place that he was. "

I know what my opinion would have been, considering that my father is Jewish and I'm mixed race and so is everyone in my family. It would have been "the KKK is an organization dedicated to terrorizing me and the people I love".

St. Alia of the Bunnies, you have mixed family members. You would feel the same way as me.

Not everyone is white and looking at the KKK as a disinterested bystander.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:39 AM on June 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


AZ - I mostly agree with you. I do my best and have done what I can, etc. I just think it's far more valuable to focus in on the relationship between one's choices in context and the choices of one's peers. Being a slave-owner in a time where there was an active abolition movement strikes me as abhorrent - it's why Thomas Jefferson never gets a pass from me. Byrd's role with the Klan is complex, given the context and the lack of critical voices that he came in contact with at that point in his life. His views on gay equality are indefensible when viewed through the same lens.

Members of my family eat meat. Maybe they have been exposed enough to be shieleded from future criticism from a different ethical framework. We all use machine parts assembled in inhuman conditions in China from materials mined in genocidal Congo. Maybe we should do more. Maybe there's enough push back now that we cannot remain complicit without being culpable to the future. These are hard questions and easy statements like "I wouldn't have done X" are problematic.

Instead, I try to look at how people address the injustices of today. Almost every white person alive today thinks they would have marched with Dr. King. That's an easy stand to take with no chance of having to do any real work or be exposed to any criticism. Of course, most people did not march with Dr. King. Instead of trying to figure out what they would have done then, it may be better to ask what stands these same people are taking today that could cost them friendships, reputation, etc?

Byrd had his honorable points and his shameful ones, no doubt. The Klan thing just strikes me as an easy way to score quick points instead of focusing on his more problematic and less obvious flaws.
posted by allen.spaulding at 8:40 AM on June 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


Like this educated man was some kind of babe in the woods who joined the KKK thinking it was a knitting circle or a birdwatching society.

He joined it because he wanted to get elected. Never underestimate the power of mindless Southern groupthink.

And Astrozombie, you may very well have been the special snowflake that did the right thing back in those days. All I am saying is that you would have been the exception. And as that exception, you wouldn't -back in that day, at least-have gotten elected dogcatcher. Not saying this was right, not at all. Just saying that going against the social grain-where EVERYBODY with very few exceptions believes the same things, to include your parents, your other relatives, your schoolteacher, your PASTOR, everyone!-you may not have become the person that you are today.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:41 AM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm glad people are talking about the Klan thing. His rhetorical movements have been in response to his circumstances and we can find out a lot about that century by looking at this guy's life.
posted by Jagz-Mario at 9:00 AM on June 28, 2010


As a West Virginian---I will not miss him. I'm not shouting from the rooftops, but he shouldn't have been elected any more past about the early 80's, and it's no doubt that he was given the nod this time so that he could die in office and get an otherwise un-electable person into the office.

WV law says a special vote must be done if more than 2.5 years remain in a term (to avoid appointment), well...he died 2.5 years + 5 days left in his term. It's gonna be fun to see if the election happens or if we just go ahead and appoint Governor Manchin.

Anyway---Lots of West Virginians believe that he has been a rock solid blessing, from our great interstates (68 AND 79, ok, and 77), to our high-tech corridor and our FBI/NIOSH/DOE pork, and that stuff's all gravy, I suppose. The problem is that in doing all these things...as a friend of coal, and of timber, and of chemical production, we've now got this great Clean Air Act Waiver, and awesome mountain top removal, and more rich people getting richer and more poor people dying. And that's just...well, that's the history of WV in a nutshell.

I believe fully that the coal, timber, and chemical industries in WV are very carefully managed to keep WV in the periphery; supplying raw materials at the cost of our health, wellbeing, land, and pocketbooks. Byrd was at the forefront of all of that, paving the way for all of it. In a state where half the democrats are closeted republicans who can't get elected on a republican ticket because goddamit my pappy voted for Kennedy, Byrd is just another of the aged statesman who helped build the legislative "Process" that we bitch about so much here on the Blue.

Sorry you died, dude. Really, really glad you won't be re-elected. Now we just have to deal with that many more RCB buildings...as though we don't already have enough.
posted by TomMelee at 9:02 AM on June 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


And Astrozombie, you may very well have been the special snowflake that did the right thing back in those days.

Byrd voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 1964! He was in the minority in his own community! He was not a product of his times so much as he was a product of his own poor decision making, and making excuses for it based on the fanciful notion that we can somehow project ourselves back in time, and discover that we might have done the same thing, is arguing from pure conjecture. We can't know that. He apologized, and I believe his apology was sincere, but he remained, as ever, a man capable of intolerance that was decidedly out-of=-step with his era.

And it's rather disgusting to use the phrase "special snowflake" to describe somebody who stands on the side of justice against injustice. That's a phrase loaded with contempt.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:06 AM on June 28, 2010 [9 favorites]


.
posted by Astragalus at 9:22 AM on June 28, 2010


"Disgusting" may have been too strong a word; rather, I mean "dismissive."
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:32 AM on June 28, 2010


.
posted by cereselle at 9:45 AM on June 28, 2010


Richard Pryor on tough guys and what they would have done if they were in past historical situations.
posted by ignignokt at 9:50 AM on June 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


He was in the minority in his own community!

Depends on how you define community.

Southern Democrats: 1-20 (5%-95%)
posted by electroboy at 9:50 AM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


And yet seven Southern Democrats voted for the bill, showing that it was possible, even in those dark days of 1964, when ever single person in the south, from the abbot at the cathedral to the tinsmith who makes your chainmail to the mead salesman to the roving minstrel was saying "Nay, in these dark ages, we shalt have none of equal rights, for so it is decreed by all with voices to speak" -- even then, in the byzantine pathways of ancient history, so long ago we cannot now imagine what it was like, it was possible to take a stand for equality.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:03 AM on June 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


So why do you think gays weren't pressing for equal marriage rights in the 1950s? Or the 1920's? Or the 1850s? Or the 1770s? Do you suppose they all hated themselves until a few years ago?

(Society makes progress step by painful step, folks. If you're a few steps ahead of the last generation, and a few more steps ahead of the one before that, then good for you. But don't imagine you got there under your own power and that those previous generations didn't quite make it there themselves because they were stupider and weaker than you.)
posted by Naberius at 10:06 AM on June 28, 2010 [7 favorites]


So why do you think gays weren't pressing for equal marriage rights in the 1950s? Or the 1920's? Or the 1850s? Or the 1770s? Do you suppose they all hated themselves until a few years ago?

I suspect it's because they had to wait until they wouldn't be arrested and locked up, or institutionalized, or lobotomized for being gay. Does that excuse the people who arrested them, or locked them up, or lobotomized them?
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:11 AM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Instead, I try to look at how people address the injustices of today. Almost every white person alive today thinks they would have marched with Dr. King. That's an easy stand to take with no chance of having to do any real work or be exposed to any criticism. Of course, most people did not march with Dr. King. Instead of trying to figure out what they would have done then, it may be better to ask what stands these same people are taking today that could cost them friendships, reputation, etc?

A brief perusal of the comments section of any newspaper will tell you that there are a WHOLE LOT of white people who sure as hell would not have marched with Dr. King.

The past is never dead. It's not even past.
posted by desuetude at 10:11 AM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Video: The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil Phillip Zimbardo. It's all about closed systems and rigid hierarchies. A summary for people that are at work. In order to prevent yourself from performing evil actions you have to acknowledge that you are capable of performing evil. Put us in the right environment (without the tools to question authority) push the right buttons and we're all fucking monsters.
posted by edbles at 10:12 AM on June 28, 2010


Here's another of his more recent memorable moments:
Senator Byrd breaks down in tears on the floor of the Senate over the death of Ted Kennedy
posted by Atom Eyes at 10:18 AM on June 28, 2010


It's easy to say "I would not have". Of course. The problem is when you don't recognize that evil is perpetrated in the first place, i.e. not controversial. Slavery in America was always controversial - so it was possible to choose sides. So for me, the argument "well back in the day" as a way to exculpate a slave holder doesn't hold water. Same with anti-Semitism, let alone "loading Jews into ovens". But what about when there truly is no controversy, and yet the accepted status quo is evil, like slavery not in the U.S., but in some tribal societies?

And you think you are immune to that effect? Here's an example: religious indoctrination of children. Unquestionably, religious indoctrination can have devastating and traumatic effects on children resulting in life-long psychological issues with sexuality, body image and so forth. Generations of gay people can testify to that. Gay teens from religious backgrounds commit suicide. It is a great, great evil. No child should be subject to religious indoctrination of any kind before they are in a position to evaluate the material. You wouldn't give alcohol to your six year old, why would you poison a child with religious material? And yet I bet you think Sunday school is just peachy, and being opposed to it, why, it's positively anti-American! There is no doubt in my mind that one day, we will find the practice of religious indoctrination of children a truly and unquestionably evil thing to do.

And yet - admit, you think it's just fine. Goes to show the problem here. I bet Sen. Byrd believed, as did people of his generation, completely uncontroversially in their time that gay people were simply perverts - and medical authorities were backing them up. There was no controversy. You'd have to be a rare person indeed to see past that consensus. Byrd was not. Are you? Do you think Sunday school is an abomination? It sounds so obvious, it's funny to even put it this way... and that's what the vast majority of people would have thought had you said "should gay people get married" - it was self-evidently wrong and even absurd and funny, just as it seems to you today to say "Sunday school is an abomination" is absurd and funny.
posted by VikingSword at 10:19 AM on June 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


sotonohito: When one nation/ideology/party/whatever is involved in rape or torture or mass murder I don't think its difficult to think that they're on the wrong side of history.

William Ayers joined an organization which at one point started building nail bombs to commit mass murder with but many people seem to be quite understanding of that.

If a German citizen joined the Nazi party during WWII I think I could be understanding of that to some degree without failing to condemn all the things the Nazis as an organization were responsible for.

So I think I personally can be somewhat understanding of Byrd joining a Southern Nationalist organization during WWII as long as that's all he did - be a member rather than directly participating in lynchings or cross burning or something like that. Perhaps not forgive him but at least have a little bit of understanding for it.

(As an aside, I don't think that AZ is being so unreasonable about this - he's being steadfast in condemning the KKK but he did say "maybe if I was there I would have joined in".)
posted by XMLicious at 10:28 AM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


New Deal Democrat and one-time Klansman. I love America!

Eh. Truman was a Klansman too.


As well as Justice Hugo Black.
posted by jgirl at 10:33 AM on June 28, 2010


And yet seven Southern Democrats voted for the bill...

In the House, sure. But by most measures, Byrd was in the vast majority in his "community."
posted by electroboy at 10:38 AM on June 28, 2010


An interesting tidbit from CNN:
Robert Carlyle Byrd was born Cornelius Calvin Sale Jr. on November 20, 1917, in the North Carolina town of North Wilkesboro. His mother died when he was a year old, and he was adopted and renamed by his aunt and uncle, Titus and Vlurma Byrd.
Cornelius Calvin Sale. His aunt and uncle were right to rename him. They must've understood what it was like, having weird names themselves. Titus and Vlurma! Vlurma! That poor woman.

Sidebar: It makes me sad whenever we have one of these obit threads and people come in and argue about whether the person who has died was a saint or a devil. We are all, at the end, human. We make tremendous mistakes. We do downright bad things. We may never acknowledge our mistakes, or right our wrongs. But still, we are human. Which means that along with the bad, there is almost always, almost without exception, some good, something worth celebrating and memorializing.
posted by brina at 10:57 AM on June 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Good video but take Zimbardo with a HUGE, HUGE grain of salt. Social psychology is fascinating and complex, much more complex than Zimbardo makes it out to be. His most famous experiments were heavily flawed. So are his recountings of the outcomes of the experiments themselves.

From the website for The Lucifer Effect: "yet the guards quickly became so brutal that the experiment had to be shut down after only six days." And yet some guards did not become brutal.

Your take-away--that if we "push the right buttons and we're all fucking monsters" is not accurate, although that's what Zimbardo always likes to imply.*

Just based on psychological experimentation, the amount that people conform fluctuates based on many, many factors including: personality, whether people are watching; gender; the group around them; how significant their decision is; the presence of a dissenting opinion; who is giving that dissenting opinion...

Based on historical events, we know that some stand against evil, and some refuse to commit evil acts, even at great cost to themselves and their loved ones.


*If the person has enough information to determine what they're actually doing, of course; the use of deception is certainly a factor but for the most part we're talking about people who know what they're doing
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:02 AM on June 28, 2010


.
posted by SisterHavana at 11:02 AM on June 28, 2010


Why aren't there term limits for Senators?
posted by A189Nut at 11:03 AM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


And his community deserves to condemned for that.

Let's provide some context. When Byrd joined the KKK, it was 1942. It wasn't 1865, when the Klan started. It wasn't even 1915, when the second iteration had appeared. This was even decades after 1919, the "Red Summer," when 76 African American were lynched. He wasn't some naif. And he wasn't a boy -- he was 24 . He joined a group as a young adult that he knew was associated with the murder of black people. He didn't even join it when American race relations was at a breaking point -- he joined it during its decline, three years after the organization had been sold to a veterinarian, and two years before the organization was disbanded for tax evasion, and membership had declined from 3,000,000 to about under 30,000. He joined it after D. C. Stephenson, the Grand Dragon of Indiana and 22 northern states, was convicted in the death and rape of Madge Augustine Oberholtzer, a schoolteacher in Indianapolis -- who was white, and the publicity surrounding it sent membership in the Klan into sharp decline. He joined it after Grover C. Hall, Sr, won a Pulitzer for an expose on the Klan. This was all well-known at the time, and the Klan was far from a popular organization where everybody was encouraged to join it and we shouldn't be surprised that a kid, JUST A KID, wouldn't know what he was doing, and would be blinded by the climate of the era, and, gosh, we all might do the same.

And Byrd didn't just join a chapter. He started it. Well, he was actually still defending the Klan in 1952, when he was 41, claiming -- without evidence, mind you -- that they had been blamed for things that others had done.

It's good that he apologized, but he was not a product of his time. He produced a branch of the KKK that hadn't existed previously when the Klan was in decline and in arrears and had lost enormous popularity, and was well established as a criminal organization guilty of terror and murder.

But he put that all behind him, didn't he? A folly of youth.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:12 AM on June 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


Just saying that going against the social grain-where EVERYBODY with very few exceptions believes the same things, to include your parents, your other relatives, your schoolteacher, your PASTOR, everyone!-you may not have become the person that you are today.

Let's be absolutely clear about what you're saying here:

EVERYONE WAS A WHITE SUPREMACIST. EVERYONE. YOUR OTHER RELATIVES. YOUR PASTOR. YOUR SCHOOLTEACHER. YOUR PARENTS. EVERYONE. WHITE SUPREMACISTS, ALL

Except, that wasn't so. If it were, the Klan would never have covered their faces. They would not have worn hoods and disguises and done their dirty work, hidden in the dark, at night. No laws would have been passed, protecting minorities and preventing lynchings.

FYI, The Klan did not just exist in West Virginia. We had them on Long Island in the 50's, where my mother grew up. Crosses burning on lawns. Antisemitic and Anti-black graffiti painted on homes. The community rounded their asses up and threw them in jail. Because, as it turns out, not everyone in their community was a white supremacist.

And peer pressure doesn't excuse anyone from lynching people, raping them and murdering them by burning them alive.

Byrd joined the Klan at 24, then led his local chapter. His life isn't easily quantified, but let's not whitewash what he did. He joined a domestic terrorist organization, then rose in its leadership. That doesn't deserve excuses, and it certainly doesn't mean he was helpless in the face of his community's value system.
posted by zarq at 11:12 AM on June 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Just based on psychological experimentation, the amount that people conform fluctuates based on many, many factors including: personality, whether people are watching; gender; the group around them; how significant their decision is; the presence of a dissenting opinion; who is giving that dissenting opinion...

Well yeah. Those would be the buttons I was referring to having people push. I think my takeaway is better said this way.

If you don't acknowledge your own capacity for evil, even if it's the evil of inaction, then you won't be able to perceive any of the actions you take as being evil. Therefore you can't escape the social pressures and change your thinking, because you aren't bad and only bad people do bad things. So you need to know that you have a monster inside of you.

Sidebar: It makes me sad whenever we have one of these obit threads and people come in and argue about whether the person who has died was a saint or a devil. We are all, at the end, human. We make tremendous mistakes. We do downright bad things. We may never acknowledge our mistakes, or right our wrongs. But still, we are human. Which means that along with the bad, there is almost always, almost without exception, some good, something worth celebrating and memorializing.

Yeah but those debates help people examine their own moral failings. Like right now I'm thinking about my whole eating the aminals policy and how I need to revisit it again.
posted by edbles at 11:12 AM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why aren't there term limits for Senators?

You ask the average person on the street whether his personal Rep/Sen/Assemblyman should be term-limited, he'll probably say, "No, he's one of the good ones." Ask that same person whether all legislators should be term-limited, and the answer will be, "Of course they should. They're crooks."
posted by Etrigan at 11:14 AM on June 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Some of the most fascinating interviews I've ever seen on C-Span are with Senator Byrd discussing the history of the U.S. Senate. He knew the Senate like no other, a true scholar of the institution. With his last breath we lost a library of vast knowledge on the history and workings of the Senate. RIP, Senator.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 11:14 AM on June 28, 2010


And it's rather disgusting to use the phrase "special snowflake" to describe somebody who stands on the side of justice against injustice. That's a phrase loaded with contempt.

I'm sure that in no way reflects your efforts to shine everyone with how your perfect, faultless modern values would have been and will be eternal and have in no way been shaped by your temporal environment, unlike the mass of humanity which participated in the varied atrocities of histories to some extent. Those people who were in the majority and enabled those moments in time: where did they go if they were not products of their particular time and moment?

Unfortunately, even the best of us are those people too, or have the potential to be. Groupthink is real and it can be manipulated, sometimes with horrific ease.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 11:17 AM on June 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Ah. So I deserved to have a contemptuous phrase heaped on me.

If you have issue with me personally, please take it to MeMail. All I have tried to do is establish that Byrd's racism weren't exclusively a product of his era, which I think I have done so, in abundance. It was someone else who requested an inventory of my values nowadays, and obviously I was foolish in answering it.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:20 AM on June 28, 2010


wasn't, rather.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:22 AM on June 28, 2010


It is interesting to me, though, the "not throwing Jews in the ovens," etc., is considered to be a contemporary, rather than a basic human, value. I would point out that most of the world at the time recoiled in horror at what had been done.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:24 AM on June 28, 2010


Why aren't there term limits for Senators?
Because the rules are written by too many old guys who have been in their comfy positions forever.
posted by coolguymichael at 11:24 AM on June 28, 2010


...how your perfect, faultless modern values would have been and will be eternal..
"Kill all niggers" was never a faultless, modern value, no matter where you're from. And joining a "Kill all niggers" fan group just to get elected is repugnant, no matter where/when.
posted by coolguymichael at 11:28 AM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why aren't there term limits for Senators?

Come to California, see how well term-limiting our state legislators has been working out for us.
posted by Weebot at 11:29 AM on June 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Why aren't there term limits for Senators?

It would require a change in the Constitution. It's not like state legislatures. The terms, ages, etc. for the House and Senate are in the Constitution.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 11:33 AM on June 28, 2010


"None of you really know what your opinions on race or the kkk would have been if you were born in the time and place that he was."

Speaking as a child of miscegenation, I'm pretty sure I know what my stance would be and always will be.

I'm glad to see people saying nice things here. Personally, I respect Byrd's integrity. At least you knew where you stood with those old-guard fellers. Not like these slippery, highest-bidder future-lobbyists that a majority of our current legislators are.
posted by Eideteker at 11:38 AM on June 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Come to California, see how well term-limiting our state legislators has been working out for us.

In fairness, there's a dozen other states that term-limit their state legislators, and they're not collectively in any direr straits than California. There's more issues than just the lack of long-term legislators.
posted by Etrigan at 11:39 AM on June 28, 2010


Why aren't there term limits for Senators?

Because the rules are written by too many old guys who have been in their comfy positions forever.

Well, we do have these things called "elections" every few years or so.....
posted by anastasiav at 11:48 AM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


And you think you are immune to that effect? Here's an example: religious indoctrination of children. Unquestionably, religious indoctrination can have devastating and traumatic effects on children resulting in life-long psychological issues with sexuality, body image and so forth. Generations of gay people can testify to that. Gay teens from religious backgrounds commit suicide. It is a great, great evil. No child should be subject to religious indoctrination of any kind before they are in a position to evaluate the material. You wouldn't give alcohol to your six year old, why would you poison a child with religious material? And yet I bet you think Sunday school is just peachy, and being opposed to it, why, it's positively anti-American! There is no doubt in my mind that one day, we will find the practice of religious indoctrination of children a truly and unquestionably evil thing to do.

Hrm.

Hatred of homosexuals is not restricted to those who profess to be faithful to a religion. Nor do all religions and their sects preach self-hatred and intolerance. Gay (and non-gay) teens from non-religious backgrounds also commit suicide. Religion certainly doesn't have the corner on the teenage self-hatred "market." I agree that some religious teachings encourage it, and that is wrong. But I don't believe all do.

You wouldn't give alcohol to your six year old, why would you poison a child with religious material?

You and I have touched upon this subject before. I agree that certain religious teachings preach, perpetuate and encourage intolerance and this is absolutely wrong.

But (and perhaps this is my own personal bias, I prefer to ask why anyone would poison their child with intolerance in any form. Intolerance has historically been both a religious and non-religious institution in various cultures. For example, slavery in the Roman Empire was not a byproduct of religion.

It is possible to raise your children within a religious structure and also ingrain in them the importance of equality, love and yes, respect and celebration and for those different than themselves. In theory, organized religion should not prevent this from happening. In practice, it doesn't happen particularly often -- typically more in some religions than others. But you make it sound as if all religious instruction causes intolerance. I doubt this is so. My kids aren't going to learn to hate people who are different from they are from Sunday School. And they're not going to be taught that homosexuality is wrong, or that gays don't deserve equal rights from my religion, either.

Of course, you're free to disagree. But speaking as a parent, I'm certainly not teaching my kids that intolerance and hatred are in any way acceptable.
posted by zarq at 11:56 AM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Why aren't there term limits for Senators?"

See my earlier comment about elected officials using their time in office as an internship for higher-paying lobbyist work later on (or, increasingly, jobs on Fox News).

Though there has been some talk on a prohibition against working as a lobbyist for ~7 years after leaving office, but I doubt that will go anywhere.
posted by Eideteker at 11:58 AM on June 28, 2010


Well... planning to teach them that, at any rate. Right now they're only just learning to share with each other. Grudgingly. We'll work on more complex concepts when they're a little older and out of diapers. ;)
posted by zarq at 12:00 PM on June 28, 2010


allen.spaulding: "Are you a vegan? Are you comfortable with being called a genocidal murderer by your grandchildren for the needless death of millions of animals for little more than the pleasure of your palate?"

The relative dignity and worth of animals vis a vis humans is a source of legitimate debate, and can center around legitimate topics of scientific inquiry like the presence of intellect and self awareness. The relative dignity of human beings vis a vis each other is not a source of legitimate debate because the science used to back up significant differences between races or genders or sexual orientations is flimsy at best and non-existent at worst. That's the difference between disagreements that people can have in good faith and disagreements they can't.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 12:02 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


zarq, with all due respect, you are missing the point. And I take the blame for that, as I probably did not express myself clearly enough. You are taking things too small - think bigger, much bigger. I only cited religious teachings on homosexuality as an example - there are others, of course, like the entire Catholic guilt complex around the body or various religious teachings which make people ashamed of their bodies, or teach that women are inferior (why can't a woman be a Catholic priest?), or prescribe restrictive and discriminatory gender roles (yes, even Judaism) and on and on and on. You say: "But speaking as a parent, I'm certainly not teaching my kids that intolerance and hatred are in any way acceptable." But that is not my point. That's like saying, 100 years ago - or indeed Sen. Byrd "well, I see myself as upholding the highest morals - since I certainly deplore discrimination based on race"... only what about gay people? Mentioning "intolerance and hatred" is fine, but it is a focus on particulars while I'm talking about the whole. It's like saying "we'll have a healthy population - we'll abolish all heart disease and cancer"... but there's a million other disorders. The goal is to abolish ALL disease. The issue is not merely the particulars of the moment, valid as they may be ("intolerance and hatred"). The problem with religious indoctrination of the young is much more general.

The problem, zarq, is that a child's mind is not equipped to make certain judgments about reality as yet. It is the same reason why we don't let 6 year olds vote - we wait until they have a more mature judgment. Otherwise they're merely liable to parrot their parents. The issue with religious indoctrination is that it imposes on a child one side of a very fundamental divide in our perception of the world. It is that division that has been at the birth of science in ancient Greece. Science arose, when a group of philosophers agreed to explain everything around them without reference to gods or spirits or supernatural forces. That is the dividing line. Knowledge existed before science did - after all, the Chinese or Egyptians all had vast stores of knowledge, collections of facts and formulas. But it was not organized as science. That was the fundamental difference: the rejection of the supernatural.

Now you are proposing that a young mind utterly unprepared to evaluate such things, have the worldview decided for them by religion insisting on the shape of reality. That is wrong to do to a child. The child cannot process that, just as it cannot process alcohol. Wait until they are at least 18, before you unleash the poisons/cures - that is only fair. Anything else is child abuse.

And that was my point. It is quite clear that one day such child abuse will be seen as a monster of the past, just as religion will fall into the mists of the past. But you cannot conceive of it today - it seems so innocent, so right, and so... holy. Well, so did many other things we think of as monstrous today (though from what I understand, widow burning is staging a comeback in some parts of India).
posted by VikingSword at 12:18 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Robert Byrd, back under a sheet.
posted by CunningLinguist at 12:21 PM on June 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


sorry.
posted by CunningLinguist at 12:21 PM on June 28, 2010


l33tpolicywonk - you're making judgments based on the understandings and morals of the present. The whole point of that example is that you may be judged by the standards of the future for actions you currently believe to be justified. The future will certainly disagree with you on many things - it's hard to know when.
posted by allen.spaulding at 12:32 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


The relative dignity and worth of animals vis a vis humans is a source of legitimate debate, and can center around legitimate topics of scientific inquiry like the presence of intellect and self awareness. The relative dignity of human beings vis a vis each other is not a source of legitimate debate because the science used to back up significant differences between races or genders or sexual orientations is flimsy at best and non-existent at worst.

During the writing of the constitution the idea of whether or not slaves counted as human beings was a legitimate debate, which resulted in the 3/5 clause. Social constructions are powerful.
posted by edbles at 12:42 PM on June 28, 2010


blah blah blah product of your environment blah blah blah...

has nothing to do with being reelected for 60 years while continuing to transfer his intolerance to whatever group is the most publicly-acceptable-group-to-not-tolerate, and while continuing to somehow, magically, pull the proverbial wool over the eyes of the very people whose wellbeing you are taking as they re-elect you, decade after decade.

Sure, lots of poor white trash (and rich white trash) joined the Klan. Not all of them were or are senators....senators who will probably not get a damn stamp and a special gold dollar coin or some other crap.

And, I want to say again, that old-guard West Virginia Democrats are no more "Democrats" than Glenn Beck is a well educated truth teller.
posted by TomMelee at 12:47 PM on June 28, 2010


There's no sin the holy blood of liberalism can't wash. Be on the right side of a couple of issues, friend, and feel free to hate negroes and queers to your heart's content. We will defend your legacy once you're gone.
posted by falameufilho at 1:27 PM on June 28, 2010


Go away.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:32 PM on June 28, 2010


To me more specific: Using this man's death as an excuse to simply urinate on liberals with an indefensible and clearly inaccurate comment all for the sake of some sort of partisan garbage is bad for discourse, and we'd be better off without that sort of comment.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:33 PM on June 28, 2010


Er, I haven't actually supported alternatives to mass transportation.

Upon finding out, from talking with a friend in public health, about how many times I could be exposing myself to antibiotic resistant strains of TB or diptheria by taking public transit, I find myself on my bike more and on the bus less.

Upon review: Now there is a derail to discuss...
posted by y2karl at 2:16 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Huh. Whenever I think of him, it's as the prime example of pork barrel politician bringing home the bacon at the expense of the rest of the nations taxpayers. And despite the hundred of millions of non-west Virginian money building things with his name on them (what kind of pathology does that suggest?), the state remains as pathetically poor as ever.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:16 PM on June 28, 2010


Althoug, upon re-reading I see I was reading mass transportation for public transportation. Pardon my conflation. It must have been the radishes.
posted by y2karl at 2:24 PM on June 28, 2010


Interestingly, it was Byrd's vote that allowed the repeal of DADT to proceed out of committee.
posted by electroboy at 2:39 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Errr... okay, so during WWII Byrd evidently refused to join the military because he really hated blacks:
"I shall never fight in the armed forces with a Negro by my
side... Rather I should die a thousand times, and see Old
Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see
this beloved land of ours become degraded by race
mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the
wilds."

                                   quoted in Einstein on Race and Racism
It was right there on Wikipedia, even. I guess I was wrong in theorizing that he just believed he was being a patriotic nationalist during wartime. Then in 1946, supposedly years after he had left the organization, he wrote a letter to the Imperial Grand Dragon of the KKK saying
"The Klan is needed today as never before and I am
anxious to see its rebirth here in West Virginia."

                            quoted in Ellensburg Daily Record - April 21, 1960
and recommended a friend of his to be a local WV organizer.
posted by XMLicious at 2:41 PM on June 28, 2010


Upon finding out, from talking with a friend in public health, about how many times I could be exposing myself to antibiotic resistant strains of TB or diptheria by taking public transit, I find myself on my bike more and on the bus less.

Thanks. Thanks a lot. :P


If I freak out on the subway tomorrow morning, your MeFi user name is going to show up in the newspapers. ;)
posted by zarq at 3:39 PM on June 28, 2010


While senator Byrd certainly embodied both the best and the worst of humanity (as do all of us), he was willing to explain his change of heart on many important issues and was a welcome change from the current political attitude of party (donor) loyalty at all costs. And he also got the government to buy us the baddest satellite dish ever made!

Not perfect, but someone that current politicians would do well to emulate.
posted by TedW at 4:15 PM on June 28, 2010


I'm with zarq and AZ: Byrd's racism (including voting against Civil Rights Act), KKK membership and homophobia are all permanent and indelible stains on his memory. Some things can't be washed away or forgotten, or even forgiven.

But I know I've learned the error of my ways as I've aged. In my youth I was raised in all white communities and I really didn't "get" racism until I was tutoring illiterate men in New York City in my twenties. I could not have foreseen my adult self, doing all I could to see the first U.S. African American President elected, celebrating his victory, and supporting his Presidency. And I was an idiot about homosexuality until I got older, too. It was sometime in the late 1980s before I started asking myself why LGBT people couldn't have all the rights that heterosexuals do.

There are of course differences between having wrong attitudes in youth and actually doing some of the things Byrd did as an adult, and as a powerful officeholder, but still, I forgive people who change their ways more readily now because I know how mistaken I have been about some things before i learned better.

I also agree that Byrd was a Senator far too long.

But the man had great moments. He rose from poverty and was largely self educated. He fought for Congress' power, and frankly more Congresspeople and Senators need to remember that Congress, not the President, is supposed to be the major player in the U.S. constitutional system. He said the Iraq war was wrong, and he said it in a timely way, and he was brave to do so. He battled for health care reform. He helped ensure the passage of the treaty that returned the canal to Panama's control. A good deal of the pork he brought home to W. Va. went for education.

He was a very flawed giant.

.
posted by bearwife at 4:59 PM on June 28, 2010


Yet he rose to be Democratic leader in the Senate and was shown as an example how one can change their ways. But today, of all days, brings out all the p e r f e c t people, those who better hope lights never shine on their darkest moments.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 5:27 PM on June 28, 2010


While senator Byrd certainly embodied both the best and the worst of humanity (as do all of us)...

Speak for yourself, boyo! I embody sheer mediocrity, and I'll step outside with anyone who says different.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:05 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Never underestimate the power of mindless Southern groupthink.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies


His views and his choice to have those views are on him. Only him. This whole 'well, it was the South' idea is insulting.
posted by justgary at 6:46 PM on June 28, 2010


justgary, I've lived in the south long enough and been dismayed at the Southern groupthink in action enough times to not worry about whether or not someone is insulted at the mention. It exists.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:05 PM on June 28, 2010


Free Byrd!
posted by SPrintF at 7:40 PM on June 28, 2010


People are complicated. This man was too.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:48 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Mindless Southern groupthink? For real? Not this southerner. And yes, it is insulting. But don't worry, it exists. Cheez. I have my dismay for people who think like you do. We are not all made to put in your little box.
posted by wv kay in ga at 9:33 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


A good deal of the pork he brought home to W. Va. went for education

Having worked in WV education for a while (not currently, but for a while), I'm so irritated by the concept that Byrd did anything for education whatsoever. I'm irritated by the concept that throwing money at education is a fix. West Virginia consistently has in the top 10 of total dollars spent per student and consistently in the lowest 5 for overall performance. That dichotomy is probably because about 70 cents of every dollar spent on education in WV goes to transportation, so that we can make kids ride buses 2 hours each direction to centralized schools.

This is the part where I spit on the ground, as though to cleanse my palate.

The best thing anybody could have done for education in West Virginia (or for the state in general, a state where over 65% of the total landmass is owned by people who do not live in the state) would have been to repeal the Tax Limitation Act of 1939---a cockamamie piece of legislation wrought by the Statehouse Democrats (today's Republican party) as a way to get in on the sweet action of the New Deal w/o actually having to make it so the massive companies would actually have to help or lose any money themselves---them all being wealthy land owning timber and coal organizations. So now we have this great law where coal mines can rent farmland to farmers and pay tax on the land like it's agricultural instead of extractive, and we'll tax the farmers for the rent. Horray for Progress!

As I was listening to a long bit of West Virginia NPR drivel about the late senator this AM, I realized another reason why I've got disdain for Byrd. I can sum it up in one word---"Progress", with a capital P. The newscast was all about getting this corridor paved or this road built or this shopping center or mine or timber operation or whatever, 17 billion dollars across his career to what end..."Progress!" Because knocking down all the trees and building a road so you can go 50 miles in 50 minutes instead of 65---is Progress! Because poor West Virginians just need a quicker road to purgatory---so Progress! Because state law says we have to take the lowest bid, so NONE of these big construction projects actually use WV labor, so we get a $100M road so that out of state vehicles can drive directly through the state w/o ever stopping at so much as a gas station, built by external labor, carving a ditch through the state...Progress!

I suppose what makes me so sad is that soooooo many West Virginians see this man as some kind of a modern day hero...when in fact he wielded one of the biggest hammers in the construction of the modern-day machine we call our flawed government, especially at state level.

On this day I'm much sadder that Ginsberg lost her husband and that Stevens is stepping down.

I'm a little worried about the next step for West Virginia...who's gonna get the nod and what it'll mean for the state. As for the wellbeing of the country? Well, I certainly don't believe we're headed anywhere in a handbasket any faster than we were two months ago.
posted by TomMelee at 5:49 AM on June 29, 2010


What Does an Exalted Cyclops Do? He reports to the Dragon and coordinates the Centaurs.

Thought this was especially interesting:
Today's Exalted Cyclops is responsible for rehabbing the chapter's image, as the Klan tries to rebrand itself as a community service organization, civil rights advocate for whites, and semilibertarian political action group. (They do advocate placing all HIV-positive Americans in state-owned hospitals.) Several Klaverns now participate in the Adopt-a-Highway program. The group has also adopted the slogan "America's Oldest Civil Rights Organization."

posted by zarq at 7:43 AM on July 2, 2010


America's Oldest Civil Rights Organization

In sort of the same way that the Mob is an Italian civil rights organization.
posted by XMLicious at 7:45 PM on July 2, 2010


I've lived in the south long enough and been dismayed at the Southern groupthink in action enough times to not worry about whether or not someone is insulted at the mention.

And I've traveled enough to know 'groupthink' exist everywhere, not just the south. There are plenty of southerners that never succumbed to the groupthink you seem to want to give as an excuse.

And believe me, I know you don't care if you're insulting anyone. You've had the whole "I'm from the south and this is how we do things" going since day one. I don't expect you to change. But it's bullshit. You keep trying to paint the south with your broad strokes, and I'll keep pointing that out.

Whatever Robert Byrd's faults were are on him. If my great grandparents, grandparents, parents, and I can grow up without having racist views, then Robert Byrd certainly could have had he chosen to.
posted by justgary at 10:04 PM on July 2, 2010


« Older Keith Gessen of n+1 Magazine interviewed an anonym...  |  “There is one line in ‘Zero Ho... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments