Friday, October 30, 2015

Fabricating Rhythm

Illustration from Austin and Belinda French, Some White and her Calf: Lessons from the Farm (2010).

Does David French make stuff up?

David French, I mean, famed Iraq combat attorney (if you needed a brief in the trenches he was always there for you, band of brothers, for the whole ten months, November 2007 to September 2008) and National Review correspondent, who sometimes leavens his work with an interesting bit of reminiscence from his own past, as in the case, which became kind of famous over at Edroso's place a few weeks ago, when he reminisced about his own early ascent into fightin' manhood, in the course of a discussion of how "victim culture is killing American manhood"—
In one grade-school incident, I got into a playground fight with another boy and knocked him to the ground. As the teacher rushed up to separate us, she demanded to know what happened. “He said I hit like a girl,” I told her. “Is this true?” She asked my friend. Rubbing his face, he nodded. “Well then, you deserved it,” she said. And that was that. I thought of that minor playground scrap — and many others like it....
No victim culture for little David! Teachers understood something about the requirements of manhood back in the day.

So anyway, I just happened to notice that he's had a couple of occasions to remember the policemen of his childhood in recent months, and he remembers them in oddly different ways, which seem to correlate directly with the ideological point he wants to make.

So, this week, in explaining why we shouldn't be "disturbed" by the video of deputy sheriff Ben Fields of Spring Valley, South Carolina, throwing a 16-year-old girl in her high school classroom to the ground and pulling her across the floor, he recalls the cops in school as heroic defenders of the weak, against extraordinary violence, who really can't be questioned, because that's just the way it is:
While I hardly claim to have grown up (or live) on the wrong side of the tracks, I’ve seen multiple police interventions in my 46 years on this planet — including in my own high school in the 1980s — and I’ve never seen the police be gentle when a person resists arrest. The use of physical force is never elegant, it’s always potentially dangerous, and it’s always easy to critique from a distance. Lawlessness typically leaves a police officer with options that simply don’t look good on camera.....
I’ve known multiple public-school teachers who were grateful for police assistance after spending years getting punched, kicked, bitten, and otherwise physically abused by their students. I distinctly remember seeing my own teachers tossed around like rag dolls by angry students during raging hallway brawls. At some schools, even small children will attack and harm their teachers.
But then last spring, reacting to the Justice Department report on the Ferguson, MO police department, he seemed to take a less appreciative view of the police in the old Kentucky home of his youth—they were an immediate representative of the horrors of Big Government, corrupt purveyors of arbitrary violence themselves:
if you were poor or lacked connections, “the rules” applied to you with a vengeance. After all, someone had to pay the city’s bills. There was no escaping speeding tickets, zoning officials were ruthless, and each interaction with the unyielding authorities carried with it the threat of immediate escalation, sometimes without justification. A friend of mine was once beaten senseless by a local police officer after a traffic stop — all because he was dating the cop’s ex-girlfriend.  
It's not too hard to figure out where that old Kentucky home was—
I grew up in a small town in Kentucky, the son of — at that time — McGovern Democrats. My dad was a math professor at the local college, my mom was a public-school teacher, and neither one of them had voted for a Republican in their lives — and had no intention to.
J. Austin French is an emeritus professor of mathematics at Georgetown College in Georgetown, KY, pop. (in 1980) 10,972, where his wife Belinda taught school for many years, and that is clearly where young David was raised. Not so rural, 13 miles north of Lexington,  and especially not so rural after Toyota located a plant there in 1985, when David French was in high school, and the population began to grow. But that teacher who stopped the playground fight (supposing it really took place, which I really doubt) could have been his mom.

It's pretty hard to imagine how they were "McGovern Democrats" if that's meant to mean what I think it's meant to mean. There's nothing online to show that the elder Frenches have ever taken any interest in politics at all, but plenty to indicate their abiding grounding in an extremely conservative evangelical Christianity, from their own education at David Lipscomb College, now Lipscomb University ("What will never change, however, is our commitment to intentionally, courageously, and graciously obey God’s will") in Nashville, where David did his own undergraduate degree years later, to their settling on another Christian campus in Georgetown ("providing an exceptional educational experience in a vibrant Christian community").

Religion has played an overwhelming role in Austin's and Belinda's lives as far as you can trace it. Most of his math students adore him, and the only negative evaluation you can find of him as a teacher focuses on his religiosity in the classroom:
The worst professor I had at Georgetown. He treats and teaches students like they are in elementary school not college. He should not be so religious in math class. He would be an alright religion professor but in math, he is horrible. His notes were not helpful at all.
In recent years, the two of them have spent more and more time assembling a website of gospel commentaries and spiritual advice and "children's books for adults" spreading their views, which dwell a lot on the Pauline concept of submission—on Ephesians 5:21-33,

I am in awe, in awe, in awe of the wisdom in this passage. This passage has 3 interchangeable pairs, Christ - church, physical head – physical body, husband – wife. The mystery of how one of the pair is to relate to the other is revealed in this passage. To see how husband and wife are to relate to each other, see how Christ and the church relate to each other, and see how the physical head and the physical body relate to each other. Submit is a good word. Everybody submits to someone or something. The one they submit to is their head. They rely on that head to lead and protect. Men are to submit to fulfilling God’s created purpose of being the head with all its responsibilities and accountabilities before God. The husband gets to give his life for his wife. One way he does that is similar to the nonhireling shepherd for the sheep. 

Really, they may well have voted Democratic in David's childhood and adolescence because the Democrats had been the conservative party in those parts since the 1840s, the Goldwater/Nixon/Reagan Southern Strategy taking a lot longer to penetrate to Tennessee and Kentucky than to the Deep South; or because they loved the socialism of the TVA and rural electrification; or because Jimmy Carter was a man of God and they didn't pay much attention to his policy ideas; but it surely had nothing to do with McGovern or opposing the Vietnam war or favoring racial integration or identifying with hippies. (I doubt they voted at all for Mondale in 1984, when French says his mother did, but the county went 4461 to 2606 for Reagan.)

Long story short, I think David French is a liar. He made that stuff up about his parents, to set himself up to make a point (which I may say is extremely disrespectful, in Fourth Commandment territory, though it's none of my business). He probably made up the high-school student buddy endangering his life by going out with the cop's former sweetheart, and his triumph over the grade-school oppressor who made him feel effeminate, and he certainly made up the rag doll teachers getting thrown up and down the corridor as in a mosh pit.

I made a big effort to find out what might have been going on to call the police in to Scott County High School when he was a student there in the mid- to late 1980s, and there really is one thing, which he doesn't advert to at all, found sadly undocumented in a Southern Poverty Law Center pamphlet on "Responding to Hate at School":

I guess it was during the 80s on the basis of vague evidence as to when Bill Jones was the principal, but I'm not really sure. I can't help wondering if this incident is in some way connected to the resentment and hatred with which David French still burns:
Focused on patronage more than education, the school system was a public jobs program that was better at promoting the athletic and social interests of the town’s elite than prepping kids for work or college. I remember a brief run at starting a laughable “underground paper” at my high school, and the title of my first op-ed was “Who’s Your Dad?” — focusing on the single-most important factor for making school teams or winning local scholarships.... (the Democrats ruled my town)...
How many black kids, actually? (The current proportion in Georgetown is 7%.) Were they getting on the sports teams, perhaps, and in somebody's view disproportionately? Is that what the disturbances in the school were about? Is that what his story here is a twisted version of (instead of black kids he's complaining about "Democrats" and "elites")? As the principal and the town authorities worked to ease the intimidation of the black kids during the incident, who did young David French identify with? Was he associating the town Democrats with the miscegenating liberals of Washington, D.C.? Was he unable to get on a team himself (the fear in that "He said I hit like a girl")? Could he even have been one of the KKK chanters?

Whatever happened, he's not telling it straight.

Scott County Cardinals in orange last winter, against Henry Clay, photo by Vescio Sport Shots. (Couldn't find a decent picture from the 80s.)

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