Dowd, Kristof and Rich

In “My Deathless Passion” MoDo suggests that this Independence Day we let our fanged flags fly.  This explains so much about MoDo…  I never knew she was a lover of vampires…  (Gawd.)  Mr. Kristof, in “Burrowing Through a Blockade,” says it’s time for Israel not just to ease the siege of Gaza, but to drop it once and for all.  Mr. Rich, in “Fourth of July 1776, 1964, 2010” says in the matter of race, we still take steps back and forward in bewildering alternation.  Here’s MoDo, letting her inner pre-teen fly:

Sometimes the thing that’s weird about you is the thing that’s cool about you.

When you’re young, and even at times when you’re older, it’s hard to fathom this: What needs to be nurtured is the stuff that’s different, that sets you apart from the pack, rather than the stuff that helps you blend in.

On this Independence Day, if you’re passionate about it — even (or especially) if no one else is — let your freak flag fly.

Al Gore would probably have gotten to be president if he hadn’t let his campaign mercenaries talk him out of a full-throated zeal on the subject he was most passionate about, the one topic that snapped him out of his wooden mien: the environment.

His hired guns in the 2000 race advised him that if he droned on about the environment, he would come across as a tedious tree-hugger. It wasn’t considered a sexy issue at that point.

Later, when “An Inconvenient Truth,” his slide show that left jaded Washingtonians bored, became a hit — the movie won two Oscars and Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize — he no doubt realized he should have stuck with his passion when he campaigned.

From the time I was small, I had a passion that many others found strange.

While my friends put up posters of Mick Jagger and John Lennon in their rooms, I had a royal heartthrob who appealed to no one but me.

He had a funny accent, odd eating habits and bizarre sleep patterns. He was vain but wouldn’t look in the mirror. Like me, he didn’t like the beach or baking in the sun. All through my teens, I nurtured a yen for him, though at that time he was the epitome of uncool. Even his clothes were old-fashioned and dandyish.

He wasn’t nice. He was a parasite, constantly changing the face he showed to the world to suit his selfish needs. And he was really old, which made it creepy when he seduced young women on his travels. He wouldn’t even have a glass of wine with them, much less pop for some pasta and garlic.

But growing up, I was a sucker for the guy. I read everything I could about him and his family and his hometown in the impassable mountains far away.

My girlfriends found my obsession creepy, so I suppressed my ardor. I tried to get the gloomy goth out of my bloodstream and move on to more mainstream sex symbols like Steve McQueen.

It wasn’t until I was in high school that fangs started to seem alluring — with the arrival of the campy daytime soap “Dark Shadows,” set in Maine and featuring the vampire Barnabas Collins. (Johnny Depp and Tim Burton have discussed an adaptation.) A decade later, Anne Rice of New Orleans exploded onto the literary scene with the vampire Lestat in “Interview With the Vampire,” which years later led to Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt in a memorable homoerotic tango. Then “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” hit big on TV.

I realized I could have made a living, even gotten rich, on my old boyfriend Dracula. All I needed to do was update his look, sign him up at the gym and send him back to high school.

I figured I had missed the moment, but a decade later, the vamps are vamping it up more than ever. How could I ever have doubted their immortality?

Bella and Edward (a more self- controlled bloodsucker) are scaring up box office for Hollywood, after a phlegmatic cinematic spring, with the latest installment of the “Twilight” battle between vampires and werewolves, between the bidden and the forbidden.

Sookie Stackhouse and her undead pals on the steamy summer hit “True Blood” have pumped new ratings blood into HBO, bereft after losing “The Sopranos” and stupidly passing on “Mad Men.”

What I kept on the down-low is now dominating American pop culture. Once vampires were mere monsters. Now they’re gorgeous monsters, serving as sultry metaphors for everything from alienation to loneliness to AIDS to thorny gender identification to thwarted teen lust.

CW has “The Vampire Diaries” and ABC has a new vampire soap opera called “The Gates” — dubbed “Desperate Weirdwives” by USA Today.

Tim Stack wrote in an Entertainment Weekly cover story on “True Blood” that the two words that send the cast into “utter giddiness” are Goo Drop: “It means that not only will a vampire be staked, but said vamp will dissolve into a puddle of red, sticky, slimy … goo.”

The moral of my story is simple: To thine own goo be true.

Any self-respecting 17 year old would be embarrassed to put their name to that, but this is MoDo after all…  Here’s Mr. Kristof, writing from Gaza:

One useful place to mull Israel’s siege of Gaza is from inside an 800-foot-long smugglers’ tunnel burrowing under the Egyptian border.

The tunnel, well ventilated and well lit with wooden supports, is big enough to walk along with a wheelbarrow full of contraband. But it’s more mechanized than that. A crew on the Egyptian side loads a large gurney with bags of cement, totaling one ton, and then an electric winch tows the gurney by cable through the tunnel to the outlet on the Gaza side. Another crew then loads the sacks onto a truck for delivery around Gaza.

This tunnel operates around the clock, and all around me I saw other tunnel entrances — some big enough to drive cars through so that they end up in dealerships in Gaza. They were covered but weren’t seriously hidden, and nobody objected to an American journalist scrambling around — even though tunnels were everywhere.

“I’d say there are 800 to 900 of these tunnels,” one tunnel owner told me. “They employ an average of maybe 30 people each.”

The tunnel owners are aghast that Israel is talking about easing the siege and grumbled that they are already facing a huge drop in orders as a result. A significant number of tunnels have had to suspend work for the time being.

I wish Israeli and American officials could see these tunnels, too. They might realize how counterproductive the siege of Gaza has been, arguably empowering Hamas rather than undercutting it. And while it’s not clear how far Israel’s relaxation will go, my reporting here leaves me convinced that Israel should lift the siege altogether.

Visiting Gaza persuaded me, to my surprise, that Israel is correct when it denies that there is any full-fledged humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The tunnels have so undermined the Israeli blockade that shops are filled and daily life is considerably easier than when I last visited here two years ago.

That makes it especially silly of Israel’s leadership to have squandered nine lives and its global reputation by seizing ships on the high seas — when the freight on that flotilla was probably less than what passes through the tunnels in a single hour.

Then there’s another cost of the siege. It has eviscerated one of the greatest potential counterweights to Hamas: the traditional business community in Gaza.

“There is no influence for businessmen anymore,” lamented Fouad Oada, a garment manufacturer. He has laid off 39 of the 40 employees he had when the siege began three years ago.

That’s a common story. Some 4,000 businesses have closed in Gaza, according to Omar Shaban, an economist here. He warns that the business community, which preached moderation and peace and had close ties to Israel, has been nearly destroyed. Its place in society has been taken over, he said, by tunnel operators — who benefit from instability and may be tempted to lob missiles at Israel if peace threatens to break out.

One of Gaza’s most successful capitalists is Mohammed Telbani, who employed 350 people full time in a sprawling factory making biscuits, pretzels and ice cream for Gaza, the West Bank and parts of Israel. Now most of his factory floor is dark, and he has his employees work only about a week a month.

“I’m not Hamas,” Mr. Telbani said. “I want to live with everybody. I want to make money. And I have 350 employees who just want a chance to work.”

The problem for factory owners is that Israel doesn’t allow in most raw materials and doesn’t permit exports. Smuggling all imports by tunnels is prohibitively expensive. Exporting by tunnel isn’t feasible — so factories close.

“When people lose their jobs, they hate Israel all the more,” Mr. Telbani said. “They don’t blame Hamas. They blame Israel.”

Sari Bashi, the executive director of Gisha, an Israeli human rights organization that monitors Gaza, says that the siege has probably strengthened Hamas. Partly that’s because Hamas taxes goods smuggled in tunnels and partly because it has become a more important source of jobs and welfare with the collapse of private businesses.

It’s crucial, Ms. Bashi said, that the relaxation of the siege empower businesses by allowing them to bring in raw materials and then export finished goods. Otherwise, she warned, the blockade will simply continue “killing the moderates.”

Gaza is an enormously difficult problem, complicated by the kidnapping and detention of Staff Sgt. Gilad Shalit (and the unconscionable refusal of Hamas to allow him Red Cross visits). But the siege seems to have so embittered many Gazans that they welcome any chance to inflict woe on Israelis, including Sergeant Shalit.

So if the present policy has failed utterly — even backfired by possibly bolstering Hamas — let’s start over. It’s time not just to ease the siege of Gaza, but to end it once and for all.

Now here’s Mr. Rich:

All men may be created equal, but slavery, America’s original sin of inequality, was left unaddressed in the Declaration of Independence signed 234 years ago today. Of all the countless attempts to dispel that shadow over the nation’s birth, few were more ambitious than the hard-fought bill Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law just in time for another Fourth of July, 46 summers ago.

With the holiday weekend approaching, Johnson summoned the television networks for the signing ceremony on Thursday evening, July 2. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, first proposed more than a year earlier by John F. Kennedy, banished the Jim Crow laws that denied black Americans access to voting booths, public schools and public accommodations. Johnson told the nation we could “eliminate the last vestiges of injustice in our beloved country” with the help of a newly formed “Community Relations Service” and its “advisory committee of distinguished Americans.” Talk about an age of innocence!

Still, there were some heartening reports of America’s first full day under the new law. A front-page photo in The Times on July 4 showed 13-year-old Gene Young of Kansas City being shorn by a white barber at the Muehlebach Hotel shop “formerly closed to Negroes.” But that Norman Rockwell-like tableau was paired with the image of a white businessman, Lester Maddox, and a teenage accomplice respectively wielding a pistol and an ax handle as they turned away blacks from Maddox’s restaurant in Atlanta. The summer of 1964, which had begun with the lynching of three civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Miss., would soon erupt in a bloody wave of terrorism, marked by dozens of bombings of black churches, homes and businesses.

A presidential campaign was in the wings. The soon-to-be Republican nominee, Barry Goldwater, had committed heresy by casting one of the Party of Lincoln’s few Senate votes against the Civil Rights Act. But not even Goldwater had been as implacably opposed as a Democratic senator from West Virginia, Robert Byrd. Of all the filibusters trying to block the bill, largely from Southern and border state racists then welcomed by the Democratic Party, Byrd’s was the longest (some 14 hours) and perhaps the most appalling. As the historian Taylor Branch recounted, Byrd even let loose with ornate “segregationist interpretations of Luke and Paul.”

This was typical of Byrd. He had been an Exalted Cyclops in the Ku Klux Klan in the early 1940s. As he moved toward a political career after World War II, he wrote to a notorious bigot, the Democratic Senator Theodore Bilbo of Mississippi, to rage at President Truman’s efforts to integrate the military: “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.”

That letter was not unearthed until the late 1980s, but by then Byrd had long since renounced and apologized repeatedly for his ugly past, with words as well as deeds, including his avid support for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in 1983. Byrd referred to his K.K.K. association in interviews as an immutable stain. He always noted with rue, not complaint, that it would haunt his obituaries. He wasn’t wrong. But when those obituaries finally appeared last week, after his death at 92, Byrd’s résumé in racism was dwarfed not just by his efforts to atone for it but by his legislative achievements on many fronts during his epic Senate career.

Byrd’s evolution often parallels that of a country that has now elected its first African-American president. But the story of America and race is hardly resolved, and progress is not inexorable. Even in the new century, we still take steps back and forward in bewildering alternation. New Yorkers could only be embarrassed to learn last week, courtesy of The Times, that in a city where the non-Hispanic white population is 35 percent, 70 percent of the senior officials hired by Mayor Michael Bloomberg are white — a record worse than that of all three American cities of comparable population, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston. The title that an independent panel gave to its newly issued report on the altercation between Henry Louis Gates Jr. and a Cambridge, Mass., police officer — “Missed Opportunities, Shared Responsibilities” — might apply here too.

Yet paradoxically the news in New York was preceded by happier tidings from South Carolina, where the flag of the Confederacy still flies at the state Capitol. Republican primary voters there gave victories both to an African-American candidate for Congress, Tim Scott, and an Indian-American gubernatorial hopeful, Nikki Haley. Liberals have argued that these breakthroughs come with a caveat: Scott and Haley are often ideologically to the right of even their conservative competitors. True enough, but that doesn’t alter the reality that some very conservative white voters in the land of Strom Thurmond did not let any lingering racial animus override their other convictions. They voted for Haley, the daughter of Sikh immigrants, despite the urging of a local G.O.P. official that they reject a “raghead.”

Scott’s victory had an added irony because he defeated Thurmond’s son. But we shouldn’t read too much into these results from low-turnout primaries — just as we shouldn’t draw too much solace from the pleasing morality tale of Byrd’s atonement. Even as Washington paid homage to Byrd’s triumph over his origins last week, the Capitol played host to what the Supreme Court’s only black justice, Clarence Thomas, might call a “high-tech lynching.” The victim was, of all people, Thurgood Marshall — the nation’s first black solicitor general and first black Supreme Court Justice, nominated to both jobs by L.B.J.

The pretext was Elena Kagan’s confirmation hearings in the Senate. Marshall had been a mentor to Kagan, for whom she clerked in 1988. He is also a hero of our history, a brave and brilliant lawyer whose advocacy in many civil rights cases, and most especially Brown v. Board of Education, helped open the doors for landmark legislation like the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Even before last week’s ceremonial hazing of Kagan, the G.O.P.’s only national black political figure, Michael Steele, attacked her for writing approvingly of a speech Marshall had given calling the original text of the Constitution “defective” — a restrained adjective, actually, for a document that countenanced slavery. On the first day of the Kagan hearings, Marshall received many more mentions (35) than even that other Republican archenemy, President Obama, in the accounting of Talking Points Memo. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma said they weren’t sure they could have voted to confirm Marshall to the court. Jon Kyl of Arizona, a state that suffered years of economic boycotts because of its opposition to the King holiday, faulted Marshall’s jurisprudence for advancing “the agenda of certain classes of litigants” (wonder who?) and for being out of the “mainstream.”

These senators were in the tradition of Thurmond, not Byrd — indeed, they are Thurmond’s direct heirs. Like Byrd, Thurmond had been an ardent Democratic foe of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Unlike Byrd, he left his party in disgust that year and endorsed Goldwater, jump-starting the migration of the Democrats’ racist cadre and their political toxins to the G.O.P. and setting the stage for the Republican “Southern strategy.” That strategy isn’t dead. Witness just recently the Virginia governor Bob McDonnell’s declaration of a Confederate History Month that omitted any mention of slavery, and the Kentucky Senate nominee Rand Paul’s revival of Goldwater’s “constitutional” objections to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Thurmond, who died at 100 in 2003, never recanted his racist past. He chose instead to pretend it never happened. He told interviewers that his “reputation as a segregationist” was “just misunderstood” and that he helped “the people of both races” throughout his lifetime. This from a man who, when running as a Dixiecrat for president in 1948, exclaimed that “all the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes, our schools, our churches and our places of recreation.” Only after Thurmond’s death did we learn that his record also included fathering a daughter with a teenage black maid in the 1920s — and then shunting her into the shadows.

The senators trashing Marshall last week almost uncannily recycled Thurmond’s behavior from July 1967, when, as a freshly minted Republican senator on the same committee, he pelted Marshall for an hour with windy, truculent and arcane questions during Marshall’s own Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Indeed, some of the coded invective — such as Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions’s decrying Marshall as “a well-known activist” — was coined by Thurmond and his peers then. Thurmond not only voted against Marshall but declared him too deficient in constitutional knowledge to qualify for the court.

“The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race,” wrote our current Supreme Court chief justice, John Roberts, in a smug majority opinion nibbling away at Brown v. Board of Education in 2007. His conservative self-righteousness, a product of his time, is as delusional as L.B.J.’s liberal faith in the efficacy of a federal “Community Relations Service” was in 1964. On this Fourth, as on the 233 that preceded it, America is still very much a work in progress.


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