Dependable Erection

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Responding to Anheuser-Busch

I will be certain to explain to my daughters that the prominence of a female crotch with a Bud Select crown logo above the vaginal area is meant to convey "the beer"s attributes of having both a full-bodied taste and light beer statistics."

I'm sure they'll appreciate the clarification.

Barry Ragin

Continue reading Responding to Anheuser-Busch

Monday, November 27, 2006

Anheuser-Busch responds

A week or two back i blogged about a new Bud billboard up on I-85 in Durham.

I didn't like it.

I wrote to A-B and told them i didn't like it.

They wrote back:

Thank you for contacting Anheuser-Busch about our Budweiser Select advertising. We appreciate hearing from the public, even when it comes in the form of constructive criticism.

We regret that this particular advertisement offended you, as this was not our intention. Instead, the new Budweiser Select “Expect Everything” ads are intended reflect the lifestyle of contemporary adults enjoying a social night out on the town. It is fair to say that all models utilized in our advertising are dressed in a style that can be found at contemporary adult nightspots in major metropolitan areas across America and are presented in a way that is representative of lifestyle fashions of today.

We would also like to point out that the tagline, “Expect Everything,” as used in all of our print, outdoor, radio and television advertising, refers to the beer’s attributes of having both a full-bodied taste and light beer statistics.

We do take the concerns of the public seriously and will keep your comments in mind as we develop future advertising.

Again, Barry, thank you for contacting Anheuser-Busch. Please let us know if you have additional comments or questions.

I like how they point out that the tagline, "Expect Everything" is a reference to the "beer’s attributes of having both a full-bodied taste and light beer statistics." And they do this by putting the crown symbol, literally, over a vagina.

Hey, tastes great, right?

Continue reading Anheuser-Busch responds

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Sunday morning church marquee blogging

Holden Beach, NC


Continue reading Sunday morning church marquee blogging

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Good citizens

Each year at this time, the Independent Weekly, the Triangle's journal for pop culture and progressive politics, honors a stellar handful of individuals and organizations who have helped make this such a great place to live.

This year's honorees
ably continue that tradition. It goes without saying that for many, if not most of us, the commitment to work and family severely curtails the amount of time and money we have available to give back to our community. And there's nothing wrong with that. Taking care of ourselves and our families has to be our main priority.

But this region is blessed with an extraordinary number of people who are both able and willing to make sacrifices in their personal lives for the benefit of the community.

Two of this year's Citizen Award winners live in Durham. I've had the opportunity to work with both Andrew Pearson and Lanya Shapiro. The Indy could hardly have chosen two more deserving people for this award.

I want to especially congratulate Lanya, who's work with Traction, the group she founded a couple of years ago after Howard Dean's bid for the Democratic presidential nomination went down screaming in a media-created flameout, has recently been recognized by a major grant. Traction's been able to accomplish some great things in a limited time on virtually no budget. I'm looking forward to seeing what they can now.

Congratulations to all of this years honorees, Margie Ellison, Lanya Shapiro & Traction, Chad Johnston, Andrew Pearson, and The Pesticide Education Project. You make us all proud. And thanks to the Independent for recognizing their work and highlighting it to the rest of the community.


Continue reading Good citizens

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Charlie Rangel's draft bill

As i've gotten older, i've come to support a national service program. All citizens should be required to give 2 years of service, between the ages of 18 and 28.

This would include, but not be limited to, military service. Teaching kids to read, distributing vaccinations, restoring our national parks are all tasks that could be included in this program.

The military service component, though, is a key piece.

Part of the reason for universal military service is expressed, albeit inadvertently, by noted chucklefuck Richard Cohen, in his WaPo column today:

Things are precisely the same with Iraq, and here, too, I originally had no moral qualms about the war. Saddam Hussein was a beast who had twice invaded his neighbors, had killed his own people with abandon and posed a threat -- and not just a theoretical one -- to Israel. If anything, I was encouraged in my belief by the offensive opposition to the war -- silly arguments about oil or empire or, at bottom, the ineradicable and perpetual rottenness of America.

On the contrary, I thought. We are a good country, attempting to do a good thing. In a post-Sept. 11 world, I thought the prudent use of violence could be therapeutic. The United States had the power to change things for the better, and those who would do the changing -- the fighting -- were, after all, volunteers. This mattered to me.

I'm sure you know some right-wing mouthbreather, the kind who thinks Bill O'Reilly is really, really smart, who'll tell you that our soldiers are volunteers, they knew when they signed up that they could be losing limbs, suffering permanent brain damage, getting killed in service to their country. And because they're volunteers, it's OK to send them to Iraq, or Iran, or wherever the president decides our national pride requires.

So the conventional wisdom, espoused by the esteemed inside-the-beltway pundit Mr. Cohen, is that if our army had been composed of draftees, well then, that would have mattered, and maybe going into a foreign country and overthrowing their government following a concerted government propaganda effort aimed at marginalizing anyone who disagreed might not have seemed like such a good idea.


No, what would happen if we instituted a program of universal, compulsory, service to the country is that people like Richard Cohen would soon find that their petty opinions about what matters no longer form the conventional wisdom.

Josh Marshall, on the other hand, makes a very good case for why Charlie Rangel needs to rethink his bill:

I understand that Rangel's proposal is in the manner of a Modest Proposal. If more political and opinion elites had close relatives in uniform we'd probably be a lot less eager to sign on to new wars for frivolous or inane reasons.

On the draft issue, I get the concept behind Rangel's call for a draft. I understand the separate argument for a draft on national service grounds, though I think that's a bit different from where Rangel is coming from. But this isn't the way people hear this proposal on first contact. We've just had a national election that became a massive repudiation of the Iraq War. If you're a casual news consumer who went to polls to say, enough! on Iraq, I think a vote on reinstituting the draft has got to come off to you, at best, really out of the blue. At worst, I imagine it registers with a big 'What the hell are they thinking?'

It would be one thing if a draft would materially change our present options. But it won't. The US military has been all-volunteer for three decades. Whatever is on paper, it would take a really, really long time for a draft to actually start putting real soldiers on the ground anywhere.

But these are both* highly divisive issues, ones tailor made for Republicans hoping to trip up the new Democratic congress right out of the gate.

You start with broadly popular and critically needed changes. That allows you to build up the electorate's confidence in your governance and gains you political capital to tackle more difficult problems. This isn't about following a timorous legislative agenda that will offend no one. There is a war going on. Two actually. Our military faces a readiness crisis in the very near future. We are in a soldier-slaughtering drift in Iraq. These are complicated questions requiring bold solutions.

I can understand Josh's call not to fritter away the opportunity for Democrats to show the nation that they understand how to take the reigns of government. But eventually, and i think sooner is better than later, the issue of Bush breaking the military has to dealt with. And if the conventional wisdom is that it's OK to treat volunteer soldiers as dead men walking, while drafted soldiers would, well, matter, then i think the conversation that Rangel's bill will start is worthwhile having.

* - Josh also talks about Barney Frank wanting to revisit "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Continue reading Charlie Rangel's draft bill

America's Funniest Videos

I've just heard that this past Sunday's episode of the ABC TV show America's Funniest Videosfeatured a segment on funny signs. The Seegar's Fence Co. sign that adorns the masthead of this blog was featured prominently.

Anybody got a clip of this? Youtube draws a blank, and the AFV website doesn't have it either.


Continue reading America's Funniest Videos

Monday, November 20, 2006

I need a new place

The Oyster Bar above Fishmonger's is pretty good, especially on a Friday afternoon ($5/dozen), and Federal has kept the high quality of the kitchen going even after Andy left to start Piedmont, which is finally open as of this week (more on that later), but none of those places has the same atmosphere that Jo and Joe's was able to create.

The Green Room has some possibilities. Lots of beer, mellow crowd, pool at all skill levels, great juke box. No food though, and it's a smoking allowed everywhere establishment. But new owner Andy knew my name on my second visit this weekend, and they do have an unusual set of house rules for a pool hall.

I'll have to add it to the rotation and see if it fits.


Continue reading I need a new place

Sunday, November 19, 2006

News & Observer: The Ghosts of 1898

Go read it.

Despite their importance, the events in Wilmington have remained largely a hidden chapter in our state's history. It was only this year that North Carolina completed its official investigation of the violence. The report of the Wilmington Race Riot Commission concluded that the tragedy "marked a new epoch in the history of violent race relations in the United States." It recommended payments to descendants of victims and advised media outlets, including The News & Observer, to tell the truth about 1898.

Even as we finally acknowledge the ghosts of 1898, long shadowed by ignorance and forgetfulness, some ask: Why dredge this up now, when we cannot change the past? But those who favor amnesia ignore how the past holds our future in its grip, especially when it remains unacknowledged. The new world walks forever in the footsteps of the old. The story of the Wilmington race riot abides at the core of North Carolina's past.

And that story holds many lessons for us today. It reminds us that history does not just happen. It does not unfold naturally like the seasons or rise and fall like the tides. History is made by people, who bend and shape the present to create the future. The history of Wilmington teaches us that the ugly racial conflict that shaped North Carolina and the nation during much of the 20th century was not inevitable. So long as we remember that past, we might overcome its legacy.

Continue reading News & Observer: The Ghosts of 1898

Sunday morning church marquee blogging

Orange County, NC


Continue reading Sunday morning church marquee blogging

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Lamposts at dusk

Sidewalk table at Joe and Jo's, September 2004


Continue reading Lamposts at dusk

Well, damn

From the ABCDDurham listserv:

The popular downtown pub and restaurant Joe and Jo's Downtown is in the process of being sold to someone who would continue to operate it as a neighborhood night spot, according to Jan Hryharrow, a longtime Durham resident who owns the building.


Yes, Joe & Jo's will definitely be open through this Saturday night.

I apologize that I cannot make a public statement about Joe & Jo's and my personal situation right now.

JoAnne Worthington

Well, damn. I don't know what else to say.

Joe and Jo's is downtown Durham, in a way that none of the businesses in American Tobacco, or even Brightleaf Square, could ever be. It's not that Joe and Jo's is the place where everybody knows your name.

It's the place where everybody knows my name. There is, literally, a seat at the bar with my name on it.

Ralph Kramden would have a place at Joe and Jo's. So would Ralph Lauren. I've waited for election returns with City Council members at Joe and Jo's. I've seen the Dirty Little Heaters. I've sat at a table on the sidewalk on a warm Indian summer evening in mid-November drinking beer and listening to the belch of the buses leaving the terminal, the Amtrak whistle on the way back to Greensboro, and realized that this is our Rive Gauche.

Well, it was fun while it lasted. Let's hope the new owners are smart enough not to try to change anything, and charming enough to keep all the friends that JoAnne has made over the last 4 years.

Best wishes wherever you're off to, and thanks for everything.


Continue reading Well, damn

Friday, November 17, 2006

Happy Anniversary

To 4 or 5 of the kraziest guys ever.

See you on the funway, honkies.

Continue reading Happy Anniversary

Thursday, November 16, 2006

NC Dem Party to James Carville: STFU

OK, NC Democratic Party Chair Jerry Meek didn't go that far. But here's what he did say (via


November 16, 2006

Contact: Schorr Johnson, (919) 821-2777, ext. 216

NCDP Chair Meek to Carville: The Election Results are Proof Dean’s 50-State Strategy is Working

Raleigh—North Carolina Democratic Party Chair Jerry Meek contacted Democratic strategist James Carville by email yesterday after Carville criticized the Democratic National Committee’s 50-State Strategy.

“A week after historic Democratic gains at the national level and in North Carolina, the last thing we need is someone trying to stoke infighting by second-guessing a winning strategy,” said Meek. “It’s about as productive as Rod Brind’Amor criticizing Coach Peter Laviolette because the Hurricanes lost three games before winning the Stanley Cup.”

Meek’s email to Carville:

Mr. Carville,

As the Chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party, I cannot disagree more strongly with your recent comments regarding Governor Dean. For the past 20 months, we have benefited from having regional field directors across this state, organizing, building, and implementing ground plans. The results here in North Carolina were tremendous. While your focus seems to be exclusively upon congressional and senatorial races, I’m concerned about all of the races – including down ballot races. Because of the work of these regional field directors, we elected Sheriffs and county commissioners in some of the reddest of counties. We increased our control of the state house by 5 seats (now 68-52) and of the state senate by 2 seats (now 31-19). We elected Heath Shuler to Congress, with one currently undecided potential pickup seat. These down ballot races are particularly important to future electoral successes.

There is no institution – other than the DNC – that is charged with the task of building the Party in the long-term (rather than focusing exclusively on the current election). Howard Dean understands, correctly, that we need to have an infrastructure in place that creates continuity between elections, allowing for the Party’s expansion.

Like every State Chair I know, he has my full support. I can assure you that any attempt to remove Gov. Dean would be met with fierce opposition.

Best Wishes,


Continue reading NC Dem Party to James Carville: STFU

Congratulations are in order

To John Hope Franklin, on the occasion of his selection as co-winner of the John W. Kluge Prize for the Study of Humanity.

The Herald-Sun quotes Franklin:

". . . the award makes a judgment about my whole career. That they would look at my whole career and conclude I was worthy of this prize that they put on the level with the Nobel Prize. ... I was speechless, deeply moved, grateful."

Librarian of Congress James Billington said, "Dr. Franklin is the leading scholar in the establishment of African-American history as a key area in the professional study of American history in the second half of the 20th century."

Congratulations again to Dr. Franklin on this richly deserved award, recognizing the significance of his life work.

Continue reading Congratulations are in order

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Drink beer, get laid

It's the subtext for lots of beer ads. But it's rarely foregrounded as blatantly as this billboard which went up along I-85 in the past week.

Even more than the possibility of sex as a result of drinking beer, this ad seems to tell you that you should "expect" it. Who knows what you're supposed to do if it's not forthcoming, eh?

Anheuser-Busch corporate public relations can be reached at 1-800-DialBud, or through this link.

Let 'em know what you think about this ad.

Continue reading Drink beer, get laid

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Everything you need to know about John McCain, condensed into a single sentence

Lott is supported in his comeback bid by Arizona Sen. John McCain.

See, according to the article, the problem with Trent Lott is that once upon a time he made "remarks interpreted as endorsing segregationist policies of the 1940s."

Let's go to the video tape. The occasion, a celebration of the 100th birthday in 2002 of Senator Strom Thurmond (R-SC) who ran for the presidency in 1948 on a segregationist platform:

"I want to say this about my state. When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years either."

Interpreted as endorsing segregationist policies? On what planet?

Lott flat out said the "problems" we've experienced in this country never would have existed had we elected an apartheid president in 1948. And that he's proud to represent a state that did vote for apartheid.

And now John McCain, Chris Mathews' heartthrob and a darling of the center for somehow being seen as above politics, endorses Lott for a leadership position, doing nothing else except honing his bona fides with the white supremacists who make up a solid, yet dwindling, faction of the Republican base.

What can you say to someone who thinks this way?

Fuck you, John McCain.

Continue reading Everything you need to know about John McCain, condensed into a single sentence

Uh, what's with the name (revisited)

The good folks at NC Blogs have finally accepted that i'm not a C1al1s spammer and agreed to add me to their list of Carolina bloggers.

Yay me.

So for those of you who may be following that link and arriving here for the first time, here's a reprint of the post that tells the dependable erection story.


So what's up with this dependable erection, anyway?

If you drive from Durham to Hillsborough, North Carolina, on US 70, as i do, every day on my commute, after you pass the Wayside Baptist Church at the fork where the bypass splits off from the business highway (look close for the Cemetery and Athletic Field sign, which used to be right on the highway but has now been moved a hundred yards away to the edge of the woods), a quarter mile down the road on the right is the Durham Division of the Seegar's Fence Company. You can find Seegar's fences all over Durham and Orange counties. They have lots of government and private contracts. Their green and white tags, once you start paying attention, are seen on chain link fences around storage depots and junk yards, parking lots and warehouses.

And, as they note demurely, they have been providing dependable erection since 1949.

Meditate on that for a moment, if you will. Over 55 years of dependable erection.

That is a record for Cal Ripken to envy. Dependable erection 5 days a week (6 during the boom years) for well over half a century.

Anybody who could boast of performance like that would be proud, and justifiably so.

As a goal, it's lofty. But it may yet be attainable by mere mortals. And so, inspired by the epic erectors of Seegar's Fence, Durham Division, this blog rises to meet the future, steadfast, argent, strong, and dependable, since 2005.

Continue reading Uh, what's with the name (revisited)

Monday, November 13, 2006

A novel idea for dealing with pedestrian safety issues in Cary

I happened to leave the TV on after the Giants game tonight, and caught a few minutes of NBC-17 news. After their brief bits on exit ramp closures and the I-40 fiasco (fortunately, they didn't include Roxboro St. in their list of alternative routes) they had a piece on Green Hope High School in Cary.

Seems that a couple of students have been hit by cars crossing Carpenter-Upchurch Rd on their way to the school this school year.

The solution?

Have a couple of police officers on duty during school arrival and departure hours to write tickets to the students who are crossing the road.

No mention about whether speed limits will be enforced, and heaven forbid a crosswalk might be installed.

Carpenter-Upchurch isn't exactly a major thoroughfare. It parallels NC 55 and lies between the state road and the high school. As i recall from when my daughter went to Green Hope, if you walk along Green Hope School Rd, and cross NC 55, you can't get directly to the high school in a car. But on foot, it's a piece of cake to cut through railroad tracks and the weeded lot.

Absolutely the wrong message to send to young people at a time when they are forming habits for using alternate transportation modes, including walking, that will last the rest of their lives.

Continue reading A novel idea for dealing with pedestrian safety issues in Cary

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Sunday morning church marquee blogging

Guess Rd., Durham County, NC


Continue reading Sunday morning church marquee blogging

Friday, November 10, 2006

Friday afternoon garden blogging


Continue reading Friday afternoon garden blogging

NCDOT vs. Durham, again

What is it with these folks at the North Carolina Department of Transportation when it comes to dealing with roads in Durham?

It's difficult to catalog all the mistakes we're going to have to deal with in this town for the next generation or so, before "new and better" roads go up.

Some of my favorites are the two mile long stretch of Guess Rd. (NC 157) which was widened to 5 lanes a couple of years ago. About a mile and a half of that, between Horton and Carver, is almost exclusively residential. Yet it was built without a single crosswalk, or other pedestrian amenity for getting from one side of the street to the other. One high school student has already paid with her life for this lack of planning.

The sidewalk to nowhere on the Duke St. bridge over I-85 is a close second. Fortunately, no one uses that, so the casualty rate will probably stay pretty low.

I'm not even going to mention the disasters in waiting that are being built in my own Duke Park neighborhood.

No, let's take a look at the News and Observer today. Bruce Siceloff writes that much of the recent I-40 project in southern Durham has to be redone, and Transportation Secretary Lyndo Tippett is meting out punishment to some members of his staff:

Tippett issued the state's first comments on the I-40 project since the DOT indicated last week that the needed repairs would cost more, take longer and tie up more traffic than had been expected. The DOT said it was seeking a contractor to replace all the crumbling concrete with new asphalt on the two outer lanes of I-40, in both directions, from U.S. 15-501 in Chapel Hill to N.C. 147 (the Durham Freeway) in Research Triangle Park.

Tippett said he hoped this work would start next spring and be finished by the end of 2007. In 2008, contractors will add a 5/8-inch layer of asphalt to all six lanes of I-40.

He said the repairs could cost between $18.4 million and $30 million but said the DOT estimated the actual price at about $18.6 million. Of that, he said, the federal government will pay about $14.4 million.

Seth Effron, a spokesman for Easley, said Thursday night that North Carolinians count on the DOT to closely monitor highway projects and public spending.

Officials with Granite Construction, HNTB and the Federal Highway Administration could not be reached for comment Thursday evening.

The state and federal dollars will be subtracted from other highway funds distributed in DOT's seven-county Division Five, which includes Durham and Wake counties, Tippett said. Ellen Reckhow, chairman of the Durham County commissioners, said at a transportation planning meeting Wednesday that Triangle motorists should not have to pay for the DOT's mistakes. "We're basically paying for the road twice," she said, "and it's not fair."

Some of you may recall that, just a couple of years ago, NCDOT had to delay the opening of of the I-40/I-540 interchange when it turned out the roadbed had not been properly prepared and the highway was not capable of supporting normal traffic loads.

Now they go and let their contractor do a piss-poor job just a couple miles to the west.

Yeah, it's one thing for a few heads to roll. But really, why should the rest of us have to pay for this mistake?


Continue reading NCDOT vs. Durham, again

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Post election musing

It was a Friday afternoon in fall 2002. Another mid-term election was approaching. George Bush and his team had outmaneuvered the Democrats into voting on a resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq and Saddam Hussein, claiming that the Iraqi dictator was bamboozling the world by hiding his weapons of mass destruction program. Many Democrats, especially those who were running for re-election, voted in favor of the resolution, but many opposed it.

One of those who did was Paul Wellstone, Senator from Minnesota. Defying conventional wisdom, Wellstone was actually gaining ground and opening up a significant lead against his opponent in the time after the vote.

I left work in mid-afternoon on the 25th of October, 2002. It wasn't the best of times, to coin a phrase, but it was still possible to have hope that the absolute moral bankruptcy of the Bush Administration would be seen by the electorate.

By the time i got home 20 minutes later, that possibility had vanished in a small plane crash in Minnesota.

It's been buried for 4 long years.

Until this morning, when it's possible, once again, to have a belief in the American people.

Now it's time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

On a local note, i just want to point out that the race in NC-08 is about as tight as it could be. State Board of Elections figures show Larry Kissell trailing Republican incumbent (and CAFTA flip-flopper) Robin Hayes by 346 votes, out of 121,000 cast. Blue NC has a statement from Larry:

"My phone has been ringing off the hook this morning. Concerned Americans are calling in and offering their prayers and support while the final votes are tallied. The one thing that is crystal clear is that the best election lawyers in America are on their way to join our local legal team to assist the fight in making sure that all the votes are counted. I'm also humbled by the financial support that we are getting in order to fully fund my campaign while we wait for the votes to be counted.

Simply put, I am encouraged this morning. We are only 346 votes down at the moment and there are still votes to be counted.

What the results tell me is that the people have spoken and they have demanded change.

The proof is in the numbers. I beat Hayes in counties that he has traditionally won in the past. I ran strong in Hayes' home county of Cabarrus exceeding recent Democratic margins there as well as in Union and Stanly Counties.

That's why I feel confident that once the votes are counted, that we will have taken our country back from the Washington politicians and special interests."

I'm not in Larry's district, so i couldn't vote for him. But damn, it'll be sweet if he manages to pull out a victory when all of the votes are counted.

Continue reading Post election musing

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


Yeah, i saw Borat this weekend.

This movie is a total waste of time suck fest.



Seriously, it'll be at least a decade before we know if Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan is a cross generation masterpiece along the lines of Bringing Up Baby or Airplane!

Until then, don't order the large Coke when you go see it. It's pants-pissing funny.

Continue reading Borat

Civic duty

Go vote.

I just got back from the poll. #77, at 7:30 am.

Continue reading Civic duty

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Sunday morning church marquee blogging

Roxboro St., Durham, NC


Continue reading Sunday morning church marquee blogging

Friday, November 03, 2006


I am by nature and experience, very cynical and suspicious of the inclination towards religion, especially as it manifests towards worship, praise, and public pronouncements of piety. Lord knows, there's plenty to be cynical about.

But, throughout my life, i've almost always known people who are deeply religious, and whose faith has inspired them to act in ways which are both human and humane, and uplifting for all those whose lives they touch. Unlike many people, i don't believe that humans are incapable of good thought and action without a reminder from God every now and then as to what actually constitutes doing good. I believe that we are more than capable of formulating a moral code, based on our actual experience of the world, that leads to doing good. But i can't deny that there are people in the world, many of whom i know, who are doing those good things inspired by their faith.

Late last year, i began photographing some of the many marquees that appear in front of churches throughout th Durham area. Originally inspired by the silliness, or outright duplicity, of some of the messages posted on these marquees, i soon discovered, as i paid closer attention, that many of them were in fact sincere, and occasionally moving, missives on how to lead a better life. Or, at least, as sincere as 20 words on a billboard that most people will only see for a few seconds as they pass at 45 mile per hour can ever be. I realized they were worth documenting in their own right, and i've been publishing them every Sunday morning on this blog since the beginning of 2006. That's not to say that i don't run across a marquee every now and then that is silly, or dishonest, but that the impulse to photography has definitely become one of documentation, not denigration.

I had a similar experience when i came across this headline yesterday in the news:

Letters to God end up in ocean, unread

I immediately pictured in my mind a scam, a preacher soliciting prayers, probably accompanied by money, duping the faithful. Most of the faithful were poor. Many of them were children who had saved their lunch money to send to this guy who was running a two bit scam.

Turns out i was wrong.

Many of the letters were addressed to the Rev. Grady Cooper, though many more simply said "Altar." According to the text of several of them, they were intended to be placed on a church's altar and prayed over by the minister, the congregation or both.

Some were neatly written in script on white-lined paper, others in a feverish scrawl on tattered scraps of parchment or note cards. Many were crinkled from being in the water and then dried out after Lacovara fished them out of the sea.

A dog-eared business card inside one of the letters identified Cooper as associate pastor of the Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Jersey City. A woman who answered the phone at the church office confirmed Cooper once was a minister there, and had died nearly two years ago.

The reference to Lacovara is a man named Bill Lacovara, who found the bag full of letters on the beach. More on him in a bit.

The Rev. Cooper died in 2004 at the age of 79. His wife died four years earlier.

There were about 300 letters in the bag retrieved from the ocean by Mr. Lacovara. There were also personal effects, like bank statements and canceled checks belonging to the minister.

We won't know why these letters, which presumably the Rev. Cooper in some way solicited, remained unread. Perhaps he truly believed that God knew their contents, and it was unnecessary for him to read them and add his prayers to those already written and heard. Perhaps he didn't care. Maybe these 300 or so letters represent only the tip of the iceberg of the thousands of letters which Rev. Cooper did read, and forward on to the Lord, but these somehow he never found the time for.

Did the convict serving 18-54 years for a crime he claimed not to have committed ever have his case heard, his claims realized, his innocence attained or refuted? Did Cooper ever lose sleep wondering what was in the letters he left unopened, knowing there were lives he could have perhaps changed by the simple act of opening an envelope?

Who knows? All of us have some secret to take to the grave, some hidden guilt or lost, unconfessed love, a life we could have saved, or wrecked, along the way. Should they stay in the grave, should they be ferreted out? Is there a moral choice here?

Lacovara said he is sad that most of the writers never had their letters read. But he hopes to change that soon: He is putting the collection up for sale on eBay.

I hope he's going to donate the proceeds to charity. Hopefully something like the Innocence Project.

Anything else would be wrong, Mr. Lacovara

Continue reading Religion