Tuesday, January 30, 2007

I'm Back!

I have returned from my DC protests without getting arrested. It was a wonderful experience. Some of the news reports said 100,000, because that's what was expected. However, it was successful far beyond the organizers' hopes - there were half a million people there! In fact, the start of the march was delayed for an hour, because the National Park Police had to change our route as we had too many people for the original route. It was wonderful meeting people from all across the country. They really represented a cross section of America - from babies to geezers, rich and poor, every imaginable ethnic group, all of the states. The mood of the group was very positive and upbeat, but it was very sad to see the families with pictures of their loved ones who had been killed in the war.

And it was a long route! We walked from the national mall all the way around the Capitol building and back. For those of you not familiar with DC, that is lots of walking. Plus, we were standing for quite a while as we lined up. By the time it was over, I was unbelievably exhausted. I keep forgetting I'm not as young as the last time I did this. Next time, I'm bringing a wheelchair! Then I'll be like this guy - "Another Old Hippie against the War".

The Mayor and Aldermen meet tomorrow night, so I'll be back to Natchez politics.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Strange blogfellows

I knew that Casey and I saw things differently, I just didn't realize HOW MUCH. Well that's what makes America great - two folks so diverse in their life view can share a marque. Amazing.

By the way I met another phd last night. Natchez has to have more phd(s) per square foot than Oxford (either one).

John Saleeby
SGM (ret)

Thursday, January 25, 2007

I'm off to DC!

I'm off for a quick trip to DC to participate in an anti war rally and march. I know, I know. I can just hear the groans from you conservative Republicans! However, I am a diehard liberal, and I just can't help it. Besides, it will make me feel young. The last time I was in an anti war march, I was in my twenties - or maybe my thirties. (60's radicals don't have very good memories!)

When I get back, I'll tell you all about it. (If you don't want to hear about it, just don't visit the blog that day.) I'll bring pictures - including one of me in my famous vest from the 60's.

Of course, I may not get back, because I might freeze to death. I checked the weather for the time I'm there, and the highs are in the 30's with lows in the 20s! And to think I used to live there. I don't know how my little southern body managed.

By the way, I started keeping statistics on the blog. We had over 250 hits in a week - not bad!


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Sad News

If you read the article in the Natchez Democrat today, you will see that Alderman Bubber West has been arrested for writing bad checks. - and that is sad news. Why?

First, it is always sad when an elected official is arrested, because the public trust has been betrayed.

Secondly, it is sad for Alderman West. From my viewpoint, he has been a good Alderman. He was smart, knew the issues, and asked good questions. So why would he risk his career and reputation? We know that he has suffered bad health and financial problems, but that does not account for his behavior.

Maybe we can explain (not excuse) his behavior if we look at some reasons people habitually write bad checks. I'm not talking about people who occasionally bounce a check - but those who do it enough to warrant legal action. (As background, let me tell you that before I moved to Natchez, I was a licensed and practicing psychologist.)

Some people write bad checks because they're psychopaths trying to rip off the system, and these people belong in jail for as long as we can keep them there. There is no hope for them.

Some people are suffering financially and just get desperate. Usually, they will stop after getting caught a few times, especially if there are legal repercussions. Unlike the psychopath, they usually feel guilt, remorse, and shame.

Some people lack the skills of survival in today's world. They don't know how to keep an accurate checkbook, and they write bad checks without really knowing it. These people are usually caught early and learn their lesson. They either stop having bank accounts, or if they're lucky and educable, they learn the necessary skills.

Some suffer from serious mental disorders, and the only hope for them is mental health treatment.

Many addicts write bad checks, because the need to feed the addiction overtakes all rational behavior. Unless and until the addiction is treated, they will keep right on. They don't show guilt or remorse, because addicts can rationalize any behavior, although they may have momentary episodes of guilt.

We usually think of addiction to alcohol or drugs, but there is another addiction - gambling. One symptom of gambling addiction is committing illegal acts (e.g., forgery, fraud, theft or embezzlement) in order to finance gambling. Another is jeopardizing or losing a significant relationship, job, or career because of gambling. Hmmm - makes you wonder.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Interesting Happenings in the Community

I went to the Community Alliance meeting today and learned about several interesting happenings. It was a good thing it was interesting, because the meeting was held in the Community Center where there is little or no heat - and I was freezing!

I'll start with my favorite. Regular readers of this blog know I'm a big proponent of cultivating the arts in Natchez. (To see a list of previous articles on this blog, just click on Art in the Labels to the right.) Hedy Boelte and Jennifer Ogden gave a presentation on behalf of the newly created Natchez Council for Arts and got me all excited. They are so energetic and full of ideas, and you definitely get the impression they'll accomplish what they set out to do. They were asking the Community Alliance (which is a 501c3 organization) to serve as a "pass through" for grant funds they're applying for. Once the Council is established, they can apply for their own 501c3 status, but they need help getting started. The Alliance agreed unanimously to provide this assistance.

The Council's emphasis now is on Margaret Martin Hall. They intend to quickly spruce up the auditorium, so that you will notice a big improvement for the Festival of Music this year. But they have big plans for that historic building. There has been talk about the possibility of establishing an art school in Natchez, along the lines of the Savannah College of Art and Design. They think this might be a bit much to accomplish. Instead they have in mind setting up an Institute, where renowned artists and teachers come to teach classes, similar to Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina. In fact, they have already lined up some exceptional teachers for these classes, which they hope to start this summer. This is really exciting for Natchez!

Eracism is the slogan of the group ERACE, which was formed in New Orleans in the summer of 1993. Their mission is: We seeks ways, through person to person communication, to show that we are committed to treating fellow human beings of all colors with love and respect. A Natchez chapter is being formed, and they are looking for volunteers to help. Email or call 504.866.1163 if you're interested in being involved.

The Ministerial Alliance is establishing a Disaster Preparedness Network, so that Natchez will be prepared for the next disaster. For more information, contact John Larson at First Presbyterian Church.

God bless Sally Durkin! What would Natchez do without her? She told the Community Alliance about the incentive package that Mississippi is putting together to attract film and movie makers - similar to what Louisiana has done so successfully. She has put together a presentation with video and still photos to demonstrate the attraction of Natchez as a location for films. She is looking for money to go to Hollywood with Jennifer Ogden to make this presentation to the location managers. Knowing Sally, she'll get the money and impress the hell out of Hollywood, and Natchez will be overflowing with film crews soon.

Natchez is getting a 12 passenger van to transport veterans to their medical appointments at the VA Center in Jackson. The van was donated by the Disabled American Veterans, through donations and county appropriations. The VA will provide all operating expenses. However, volunteer drivers are needed to complete the program. If you or your organization are willing to help, contact Erle Drane with the City Veterans Service Office at 601.445.8706. Look for his Top of the Morning column on this topic soon.

Although the purpose of the meeting was to select a community project for 2007, only one project was presented. There were several people who could not attend, so it was decided to put off that decision until the next meeting.

The one project that was presented was to have the Community push to obtain the funds to purchase the third and last piece of property for the Forks of the Road project.

From now on the Community Alliance will meet on the fourth Wednesday of each month at 4:30 in the Vicksburg Room at the Convention Center - which hopefully is heated. If you want to be added to the email notification list, contact Brett Brinegar.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Unconstitutional Bluff Display?

If you read the Democrat today, you saw a front page article, with pictures, about a display on the Bluffs that might be unconstitutional.

Virginia O'Beirne, on behalf of Pro Life Natchez Adams County, went before the Mayor and Board of Aldermen on November 28 to request permission to arrange a temporary display on the bluffs to commemorate the anniversary of the Supreme Court Decision of Roe v Wade. The Board voted to take the matter under advisement and allow the City Attorney to research the matter.

At its Tuesday meeting, the Board voted to allow the display. When questioned after the meeting, the City Attorney felt the Board could not deny the request because the City did not have an ordinance regarding displays on the bluff. He added that he had been requested to draw up a ordinance for the Board to adopt. (Wouldn't it be nice if the Board asks for public opinion prior to adopting it?)

If the display had been as it was described by Ms O'Beirne, there likely would not have been a problem. She simply said there would be 4000 pink and blue flags. When asked by Alderman Pollard to describe the display, she again said there would be 4000 flags, taking up about 63 square feet, with a small sign explaining the display. I was there, and at no time did Ms O'Beirne mention that words and pictures would be on the flags. In fact, she said her group chose to have the display on public property so no denominational statement would be made. (You can read the Minutes of the Board meeting here.) .

I was pretty shocked to read the paper today and find that the flags were not blank, as I imagined. The blue flags have a cross and say "Jesus Forgives". Now we have a problem! The First Amendment of the US Constitution provides for separation of church and state, and there have been several Supreme Court rulings about religious displays on public property.

The Democrat must think it's a problem also, since their readers' poll today said: "Is the anti-abortion exhibit on the bluff appropriate for public land?" At this time, the No's have a slight lead over the Yes's, with 180 people voting. Since this community is probably predominantly pro life, those results tell me that religious freedom and the First Amendment are more important.

Natchez Values

I received an email after I posted the article about the history of the Bluffs by Stanley Nelson. I thought it was interesting, so I am sharing it with you - with permission from the author who wishes to remain anonymous.

When you look at the history of Natchez, you see that these patterns go all the way back to the birth of the city. Everything was basically laid out for us. When I say us, I mean the elite that ran the city then and continue to run it now. We never needed to develop an ethic based on industry and thrift. There was always an easy way. We extracted everything we could from the soil until it was gone. We extracted everything we could from the black man until he was freed, then recommenced the process for another 100 years until he was freed a second time. We extracted most of the timber. Then just when things looked really bad, we found oil and extracted that. When that ran out we looked around again for the next thing that would save us, even courting the film people, who would make romantic fantasies of “our way of life”. But then, Deus Ex Machina! Up the river came the gambling boats with the promise of easy pickings once again, and off we went. Big time extraction of money itself this time—and from those who had the least of it.

What I'm saying is I think there is in Natchez a culture much more akin to that of Latin America (after all the Spaniards and the French were the first of the colonists), than to the US. Values like hard work, education, openness to change, debate in open town meetings, even democracy--- the TRUE American values-- never got a foothold here. And we're seeing it today. An attitude of "I get mine; you get yours". Everything done by cabal, behind closed doors, for the benefit of the insiders. No vision, no commonweal, no investment in public facilities, except when necessary to serve certain private interests. For god's sake, we can't even commit the money to maintain the trees in our parks.

I've always found that people who inherit money have a very different attitude than people who make money; for the former, there is no more after that so they hoard and fear the future. For the latter, there is always more to come so they can be generous and welcome the future. For a city that lives in its past and relies only on what was handed down to it, it is the same: a mentality that there is only one pie, and you have to get your piece of it before your neighbor gets it. Particularly if he is of the opposite race. How sad.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

"All that I know is just what I read in the paper"

"All that I know is just what I read in the paper" (Will Rogers 1879-1935, American humorist and social commentator)

I was born and raised in a city with three daily newspapers (one morning - two evening) and my family had delivered (and read) two a day. Because the competition for circulation was so intense the papers vigorously competed to find, examine, and report as much information of local interest as possible. When you lived in a big (notorious) place like New Orleans there was always something dubious (usually local government related) going on and the papers were constantly digging and reporting on the real story (behind the story).

Not long ago most folks relied on the paper to keep them not only informed about but actively engaged in local events. It kept the city government and all public institutions and organizations on their toes and looking over their shoulders. That's the kind of papers Will was talking about. That was a healthy state of affairs.

Television just doesn't have the time to look deep into most everything going on and in a place like Natchez that has no local news station we get no such help at all from the tube.

In Natchez government and public institutions have been mostly immune from close scrutiny. Almost weekly strange, unusual, and questionable things are going on. We may wonder about it but we just don't have the information and details we'd need to pass judgement and perhaps take action to object.

"I never met a Natchez Democrat staffer I didn't like" (Me 1939-, Natchez curmudgeon and thunker)

The Democrat has good, talented, and hard working folks. It's not the people who are failing to dig, detail, and report, it's the paper's policy objectives that are at fault. (as is usually the case in organizational problems - it's the structure NOT the people) Fluff, human interest, school - club - social events, giant front page photos, appear to be what they think will hold our interest and sell advertising (and sell it they do - the weight of the week's advertising inserts rivals the weight of the newspaper).

Recently I have seen the beginnings of a shift toward a healthy curiosity in the editorials. They should encouraged to continue and increase their level of healthy curiosity.

"If all we know is just what we read in the paper, we don't know much"

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Congress Tells Natchez: Preserve Bluff 'Green' Forever

Stanley Nelson, editor of the Concordia Sentinel, has an excellent article in this week's issue about the history of the Natchez Bluffs. With his permission, I am reprinting it here. Obviously, political fights over keeping the Bluffs as public property is nothing new. However, those Bluffs have somehow survived as public property for over 200 years. Let's hope they continue to be so.

More than 200 years ago Congress made a covenant with the City of Natchez over the strip of land that serves as a public park along the bluff today.

On Saturday, March 10, 1804, a Congressional committee reported to the U.S. House of Representatives that it "cannot avoid considering" the "prosperity" of the "infant city" of Natchez "as a matter of some national importance." As one symbol of that importance, Congress decided to insure that a portion of the bluff property be forever maintained as a public green, or commons, for citizens and visitors to enjoy.


It all began as a land dispute. Congress was caught in the middle, and growing tired of the issue before a resolution was reached. Events leading up to this entanglement began several years earlier. In the late 1700s, Stephen Minor, an American who spent decades in service to Spain, owned 300 beautiful acres along the bluff. He sold this prime real estate to the Spanish government for $2,000.

Spanish commander Carlos de Grand-Pre' saw the need to set aside a portion of this bluff acreage for the citizens. Historian Jack Holmes said Grand-Pre' realized that a "large plaza, which seemed out of proportion to the small nucleus (of the tiny settlement)" would "seem more suitable as the town grew in size."

Manuel Gayoso de Lemos served as governor of the Natchez District during the 1790s and, accorded to Holmes, "He (Gayoso) created a public green or park which remained undivided into residential lots." Holmes said Gayoso "drew a line from Front Street, facing the bluffs, and forbade the granting of lots west of it." The governor saw not only the need for a green, or commons, for Natchez citizens and visitors, but he also wanted a "buffer zone" between the river and the town to prevent the spread of diseases and other illnesses believed to be associated with water in those days, an idea Congress later embraced.


In 1801, the city was incorporated after the territorial capital of Mississippi was moved from Natchez to the nearby village of Washington. Congress had previously set aside land for the construction of Jefferson College and some wanted the school to be located along the bluffs. Natchez officials thought the land should be preserved as it had been during the Spanish era as a public park. And William Dunbar, a founder and trustee of the proposed college, submitted documentation that some of the property had been deeded to him by the Spanish when they possessed the Natchez District.

During the early 1800s, the issues involving this bluff property landed in the lap of Congress. Two congressmen reported directly to the House of Representatives on the matter -- Thomas Mann Randolph of Virginia, the son-in-law of President Thomas Jefferson, and Andrew Gregg of Pennsylvania. Also involved was William Lattimore, a delegate to Congress from the Mississippi Territory. During this time frame, Dunbar -- the explorer, scientist, surveyor and planter -- was involved in a regular correspondence with Jefferson over matters involving the future of the country, science and exploration. Jefferson held Dunbar in high esteem, and the Scotsman was the President's eyes and ears in this section of the country. In fact, following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Dunbar, at the request of Jefferson, led an expedition up the Ouachita in 1804-05 to explore the river from present day Jonesville to the hot springs in present day Arkansas. Dunbar also helped plan the Red River Expedition.

Before the Spanish transferred the Natchez District to the Americans in March 1798, Dunbar had been granted 26 acres of the bluff property by Gayoso in payment for surveying services. But there was a question as to whether the transfer was legal since it was made after the Spanish gave up the Natchez District by treaty but before they actually transferred possession of the city to the U.S.


As one of the early promoters of Jefferson College, Dunbar addressed the property and college issues in a letter to Jefferson dated Sunday, Jan. 8, 1804. The proposed college had already been named in honor of the President.

Dunbar wrote: "I am concerned to observe that a resolution" that would "deprive Jefferson College of 30 acres of land granted by the late Congress and to give the same to the City of Natchez. The Town of Natchez is not in distress, the Corporation has been empowered by this legislature to levy taxes, more than sufficient for their expences, upon all property within the liberties of the town. The College is in absolute poverty: The Trustees, reckoning upon the thirty acres as an object immediately productive, have passed a resolution, to prepare plans & contract for the erection of the most necessary buildings; if the 30 acres are taken away, the progress of the College must be arrested. Our public treasury has been so poor (& so unreasonable an aversion from paying taxes prevails) that the College has received no aid from the territory: private Contribution has not gone beyond the narrow Circle of a few public Spirited individuals; the Section reserved by Congress will not very Speedily be productive; hence if our newly created town Corporation obtains a victory over the College, the poor Seminary will be absolutely nipped in the bud."

Congress reviewed the matter for three years, from 1803 to 1806, in three successive sessions. Lattimore's committee reported that "when the town of Natchez was laid off by the Spanish government, the land between the front street" of Natchez "and the bluff of the Mississippi river was reserved for the convenience, comfort, and health of the inhabitants; and that two lots, on which a parsonage house is yet standing, were appropriated for the use of the clergy."

Lattimore continued: "It also appears, from an instrument bearing date the 19th (Wednesday) April, 1797, that the aforementioned land in front of the town was granted by the Spanish governor, Gayoso, to...William Dunbar, as compensation for services rendered by the said memorialist...." Further, Lattimore said the governor of Mississippi Territory, based on a Congressional act, claimed the land for use of Jefferson College.

Dunbar presented his case in writing before Congress, snapping that "the legality of your petitioner's (Dunbar) title, has engendered in the mind of the infant corporation of the town of Natchez, a possibility of snatching from your petitioner the well-earned fruits of his labor in the service of the former government..."


After taking evidence and mulling over the matter, Congress wisely determined that the dispute should be settled locally, but made an important provision, reporting that "said land be neither cultivated nor occupied with buildings, but be planted with trees, and preserved as a common for the use, comfort, and health, of the inhabitants" of Natchez.

But it was the report of Randolph, the son-in-law of Jefferson, that eloquently conveyed the importance of the new city of Natchez to the country. Part of the importance was due to the Mississippi River."The Mississippi must soon become the greatest highway on the earth," reported Randolph. "Its long arms extended in every direction throughout the greatest and most valuable portions of the globe..."

Randolph said the "diffusion of American principles and American arts through all the wide space it embraces; the occupancy of this whole fertile surface by American citizens, is now insured beyond all risk. The immense wealth which will be produced by the industry and ingenuity of those citizens, with the aid of soils superior to all, and climates inferior to none on the earth...(will)...be carried for the purpose of exchange along the highway."

Natchez, Randolph reported, "is an inn established upon it (the Mississippi) in a chosen spot. There, the thousands of American citizens, engaged in the transportation, and the superintendence of the transportation...will stop for refreshment and for rest." In time, Congress felt Natchez would be "constantly fringed with boats, and its banks be covered with American citizens..."

This was part of the importance of this "narrow strip of land" which "extends very nearly along the whole front of the city upon the river, and separates the buildings of it by a convenient distance from the water." If the city's request to keep this land open is granted "it may preserve it as an open space, next (to) the water, for the joint accommodation of the citizens, and those strangers when they land."

Otherwise, "buildings will quickly extend to the water's edge" and a "dreadful insalubrity must be the certain consequence."Randolph said science and experience have taught other "great maritime cities" of the U.S. that the "germ of pestilence...always develops first in the dense and stagnant air of those streets and buildings which lie nearest the water." During certain seasons, this "pestilential contagion" could quickly spread throughout the city.This open space of land on the bluff, said Randolph, would be a buffer to "this tremendous agent of human misery." He said "an occasion offers itself to the Government of the United States to make this important experiment in the city of Natchez at this time...The day cannot be very distance on which, if pestilence arises in Natchez, it may ramify itself with the wide spread arms of the Mississippi, through the vitals of the Union." Thus, a local health problem in Natchez could be become a national problem as disease would be spread by those landing and debarking from the shores of the Mississippi at Natchez.

These were the reasons Randolph and his select committee felt it so important that Congress grant this "strip of land to the city of Natchez, on condition that it shall be preserved forever as a public ground for the health, comfort, and enjoyment of all citizens and strangers indiscriminately; and shall never be built on, or cultivated; but, on the contrary, shall be disposed into public walks and lawns, and planted with trees, at the expense of the corporation, and so maintained by it as long as it exists."


In the early 1800s, Joseph H. Ingraham noted that Natchez consisted of six streets "at right angles with the river, intersected by seven others of the same length, parallel with the stream. The front, or first parallel street, is laid out about 100 yards back from the verge of the bluff, leaving a noble green esplanade along the front of the city, which not only adds to its beauty, but is highly useful as a promenade and parade ground."

Ingraham said that "shade trees are planted along the border, near the verge of the precipice, beneath which are placed benches, for the comfort of the lounger. From this place the eye commands one of the most extensive prospects to be found on the Mississippi."

It was on these beautiful grounds that a future president once stood. In January of 1813, Gen. Andrew Jackson led 3,000 Tennessee volunteers down the Cumberland, Ohio and Mississippi rivers en route to New Orleans, a city the British were expected to attack. It was a long, cold journey, and the boats cut through ice along part of the voyage.

When Jackson and his weary men reached Natchez in February they looked atop the bluff and saw people everywhere awaiting their arrival. "On our landing at Natchez," Jackson recalled, "the strand was crowded with spectators welcoming the largest army that ever appeared in view of Natchez." He and his men never forgot the greeting.


Legal entanglements involving Natchez and Jefferson College continued for years. William Dunbar died six years before the matter was settled.The college, eventually built at nearby Washington, never reached the lofty dreams of its founders by becoming a premiere American university, and that's due primarily to warring political factions. Historian D. Clayton James in his book "Antebellum Natchez," said that initially "the school would be known as a stillborn child with the politicians....serving as muddled midwives."

Not until 1816 did the city gain clear title to the bluff property, and that came with a $6,000 price tag in payment to Jefferson College in settlement.

For a while, Congress's grand prediction that Natchez might become a great national city due to its position on the Mississippi seemed well founded. But the flow of riverboats and the people they deposited at Natchez eventually halted as transportation changed with the advent of the railroads and eventually the automobile. Petty and personal politics doomed the growth of Natchez and the capital of the Mississippi Territory, already relocated to Washington, eventually was removed from Adams County all together in favor of Jackson.

But, my, what a beautiful view the city property along the bluff has provided through the past 200 years for countless local citizens and visitors, who continue to this day to walk along the bluff top and gaze down on the Mississippi and at Concordia across the river.

This ground belongs to the people, Congress said, and this ground shall be "preserved forever."