Wednesday, June 18th, 2008


CHICAGO — Addressing a packed congregation at one of the city’s largest black churches, Senator Barack Obama on Sunday invoked his own absent father to deliver a sharp message to black men, saying “we need fathers to recognize that responsibility doesn’t just end at conception.”

In an address that was striking for its bluntness and where he chose to give it, Mr. Obama directly addressed one of the most delicate topics confronting black leaders: how much responsibility absent fathers bear for some of the intractable problems afflicting black Americans. Mr. Obama noted that “more than half of all black children live in single-parent households,” a number that he said had doubled since his own childhood.

“Too many fathers are M.I.A., too many fathers are AWOL, missing from too many lives and too many homes,” Mr. Obama said to a chorus of approving murmurs from the audience. “They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it.”

Accompanied by his wife, Michelle, and his daughters, Malia and Sasha, who sat in the front pew, Mr. Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, laid out his case in stark terms that would be difficult for a white candidate to make, telling the mostly black audience not to “just sit in the house watching ‘SportsCenter,’ ” and to stop praising themselves for mediocre accomplishments.

“Don’t get carried away with that eighth-grade graduation,” he said, bringing many members of the congregation to their feet, applauding. “You’re supposed to graduate from eighth grade.”
His themes have also been sounded by the comedian Bill Cosby, who has stirred debate among black Americans by bluntly speaking about an epidemic of fatherlessness in African-American families while suggesting that some blacks use racism as a crutch to explain the lack of economic progress.

Mr. Obama did not take his Father’s Day message to Trinity United Church of Christ, where he resigned as a member in May after a series of disputes over controversial remarks by the church’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. Instead, he chose the 20,000-member Apostolic Church of God, a vast brick structure on the South Side near Lake Michigan. The church’s pastor, Byron Brazier, is an Obama supporter.

The address was not Mr. Obama’s first foray into the issue. On the campaign trail, Mr. Obama has frequently returned to the topic of parenting and personal responsibility, particularly for low-income black families. Speaking in Texas in February, Mr. Obama told the mostly black audience to take responsibility for the education and nutrition of their children, and lectured them for feeding their children “cold Popeyes” for breakfast.

“I know how hard it is to get kids to eat properly,” Mr. Obama said at the time.
The remarks Sunday were Mr. Obama’s first since he claimed the nomination that have addressed the problems confronting blacks in a comprehensive and straightforward way. While Mr. Obama’s remarks were directed at a black, churchgoing audience, his campaign hopes they resonate among white social conservatives in a race where these voters may be up for grabs.

On Friday, Mr. Obama said he would co-sponsor a bill, with Senator Evan Bayh, Democrat of Indiana, that his campaign said would address the “national epidemic of absentee fathers.” If passed, the legislation would increase enforcement of child support payments and strengthen services for domestic violence prevention.

“We need families to raise our children,” he said at the service on Sunday. “We need fathers to recognize that responsibility doesn’t just end at conception. That doesn’t just make you a father. What makes you a man is not the ability to have a child. Any fool can have a child. That doesn’t make you a father. It’s the courage to raise a child that makes you a father.”

Mr. Obama spoke of the burden that single parenthood placed on his mother, who raised him with the help of his maternal grandparents.
“I know the toll it took on me, not having a father in the house,” he continued. “The hole in your heart when you don’t have a male figure in the home who can guide you and lead you. So I resolved many years ago that it was my obligation to break the cycle — that if I could be anything in life, I would be a good father to my children.”

But Mr. Obama also acknowledged his own flaws as a father, citing the breakneck schedule of the campaign and the rare days he spends with his children.

“I say this knowing that I have been an imperfect father,” he said, “knowing that I have made mistakes and I’ll continue to make more, wishing that I could be home for my girls and my wife more than I am right now.”

Representative James E. Clyburn, Democrat of South Carolina and an Obama supporter, said he welcomed not only the message the speech sent to black Americans, but also how it laid bare Mr. Obama’s own struggles growing up and, now, as the father of two children.
“I have been saying for some time now that he needs to talk more about his life experiences and what it means to be raised by a single mother,” Mr. Clyburn said. “He opened up.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton called the remarks on absent black fathers “courageous and important,” but cautioned that Mr. Obama’s words would not be embraced by all segments of the black community.
“There are a lot of those who will say that he should not be airing dirty laundry, those that will say he’s beating up on the victims,” Mr. Sharpton said in a telephone interview. “This will not be something that will be unanimously applauded, but I think that not discussing it is not going to make it go away.”

The Obama campaign added the speech to Mr. Obama’s schedule on Saturday, when he returned to Chicago after a campaign swing through Pennsylvania and Ohio. Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, took the day off from campaigning, but met privately in Washington with Hoshyar Zebari, the Iraqi foreign minister.
The church did not publicize Mr. Obama’s visit in advance, and carried no mention of it on the its Web site.

But word had clearly gotten out, and by 11 a.m., as a musician warmed up on the timpani, thousands of people had filed through metal detectors at the church entrance and filled the pews, saving seats for latecomers with pocketbooks and hymnals. Even those who arrived an hour before the service milled around the church searching for empty seats.

Mr. Obama sprinkled his roughly 30-minute address with moments of levity. He said that when he asked his wife why Mother’s Day produced so much more “hoopla” than Father’s Day, she reminded him of his special status.
“She said, ‘Let me tell you, every day is Father’s Day,’ ” he said. “ ‘Every day you’re getting away with something. You’re running for president.’ ”

* By JULIE BOSMAN June 16, 2008
Michael Falcone contributed reporting from Washington.

Darius McCollum knows the New York City Transit system well. Perhaps too well. For about a quarter of a century, he has taken trains and buses for joy rides and impersonated Metropolitan Transportation Authority workers, racking up 23 transit-related arrests.

The first came in 1981, after he drove the E train to the World Trade Center. He was last in the news in 2006, when he was charged with criminal impersonation.

Mr. McCollum, 43, of East Elmhurst, Queens, was arrested again on Saturday after he tried to pass himself off as a subway worker, the police said.

When he was arrested, just after 2 a.m. on the platform at the 59th Street/Columbus Circle subway station, he was wearing navy blue clothes similar to a transit uniform, and had a hard hat, transit-logo gloves, a knapsack and documents related to the transit system in his possession, the police said.

He faces charges of criminal trespass, criminal impersonation and possession of burglary tools, the police said. Five of his previous arrests included stealing buses, the police said.

His latest journey into handcuffs started in Queens, when he boarded the No. 7 train at the 103rd Street station and rode it — as a normal passenger — into Manhattan, debarking at a Times Square station, the police said.

There, his history caught up with him. Officers spotted him posing as an employee and recognized that, despite his blue outfit, he was not a genuine transit worker.

They followed him when he got on a northbound No. 1 train. When he debarked at the Columbus Circle station and entered an area sealed off to the public, the police took him into custody.

Speaking from the station, Officer Martin Brown, a police spokesman, said that he was wearing transit clothes to make people think he was an employee.

Mr. McCollum did not speak to reporters while he was being placed into a black car by detectives. A large man, he hung his bald head low and shuffled forward, his hands cuffed behind his back.

Mr. McCollum’s mother, Elizabeth, 82, said her son had Asperger’s syndrome and had a lifelong obsession with trains.

She said she had last heard from her son three days ago, when he told her he would arrive at her home in Winston-Salem, N.C., on Thursday, taking a Greyhound bus from New York City. But he never showed up.
She said he had been living in Queens with her niece and had told her that he was working in a warehouse.

“They arrest him every time if he has got on anything that looks like transit clothes,” she said by telephone.

She said she and her husband, Samuel, had tried many times over the years to keep Mr. McCollum, who is their only child, from being arrested again by trying to persuade him to stay with them in North Carolina. But to no avail. He slips away and returns to New York City.

“He just loves New York,” she said. “He knows the people in Transportation. And he goes up there to be around them.”
His mother said that she had been telling him that “he has got to learn,” and added that hiring lawyers for him over the years had put her in debt.
But she said he needed help.

“With all these kids who are autistic, they slip behind the cracks, but nobody is trying to help him at all,” she said. “I tried when I lived in New York. Every time he was arrested he wasn’t hurting anybody, and nobody could figure out what is his problem.”

She said that sometimes, when he was younger and they were living in Jamaica, Queens, she did not know where he was and people would tell her he was in the subway. “I used to call them and go down there and look for him,” she said.

She said that he would put together model trains and other toys with ease: “We had all kinds of toys, like trains and monorails, and different kinds of things when he was growing up. And he went on to bigger and better things.”

* By CHRISTINE HAUSER and SHARON OTTERMAN June 15, 2008

One thing you can say about the copy of Nicolaus Copernicus’s book “De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium” (“On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres”), on sale next week at Christie’s auction house, is that it looks and feels old.

Its cover is dented and stained. The pages are warped. You could easily imagine that this book had sat out half a dozen revolutions hidden in various dank basements in Europe.

In fact this book, published in 1543, was the revolution. It was here that the Polish astronomer laid out his theory that the Earth and other planets go around the Sun, contravening a millennium of church dogma that the Earth was the center of the universe and launching a frenzy of free thought and scientific inquiry.

The party, known as the Enlightenment, is still going strong. It was a thrill to hold Copernicus in my hands on a recent visit to the back rooms of Christie’s and flip through its hallowed pages as if it were my personal invitation to the Enlightenment. No serious library should be without one. Just in case you are missing your own copy, you can pick up this one for about the price of a Manhattan apartment next Tuesday, according to the Christie’s catalog, which estimates its value at $900,000 to $1.2 million.

The Copernicus is a cornerstone in the collection of a retired physician and amateur astronomer, Richard Green of Long Island, that constitutes pretty much a history of science and Western thought. Among the others in Dr. Green’s library are works by Galileo, who was tried for heresy in 1633 and sentenced to house arrest for his admiration of Copernicus and for portraying the pope as a fool, as well as by Darwin, Descartes, Newton, Freud, Kepler, Tycho Brahe, Malthus and even Karl Marx.

One lot includes Albert Einstein’s collection of reprints of his scientific papers, including his first one on relativity. Another is a staggeringly beautiful star atlas, Harmonia Macrocosmica, by the 17th-century Dutch-German cartographer Andreas Cellarius, with double-truck hand-colored plates.

Pawing through these jaw droppers, I found my attention being drawn again and again to a small white book, barely more than a pamphlet, a time machine that took me back to a more recent revolution. It was the directory for world’s first commercial phone system, Volume 1, No. 1, published in New Haven by the Connecticut District Telephone Company in November 1878, future issues to be published “from time to time, as the nature of the service requires.”

Two things struck me. As an aging veteran of the current rewiring of the human condition, I wondered whether there might be lessons from that first great rewiring of our collective nervous system.

Another was a shock of recognition — that people were already talking on the phone a year before Einstein was born. In fact, just two years later Einstein’s father went into the nascent business himself. Einstein grew up among the rudiments of phones and other electrical devices like magnets and coils, from which he drew part of the inspiration for relativity. It would not be until 1897, after people had already made fortunes exploiting electricity, that the English scientist J. J. Thomson discovered what it actually was: the flow of tiny negatively charged corpuscles of matter called electrons.

The New Haven switchboard opened in January 1878, only two years after Alexander Graham Bell, in nearby Boston, spoke the immortal words “Mr. Watson, come here. I want you.” It was the first commercial system that allowed many customers to connect with one another, for $22 a year, payable in advance.

The first directory consisted of a single sheet listing the names of 50 subscribers, according to lore. By November, the network had grown to 391 subscribers, identified by name and address — phone numbers did not yet exist. And the phone book, although skimpy, had already taken the form in which it would become the fat doorstop of today, with advertisements and listings of businesses in the back — 22 physicians and 22 carriage manufacturers, among others.

Customers were limited to three minutes a call and no more than two calls an hour without permission from the central office.
Besides rules, the embryonic phone book also featured pages of tips on placing calls — pick up the receiver and tell the operator whom you want — and how to talk on this gadget. Having a real conversation, for example, required rapidly transferring the telephone between mouth and ear.

“When you are not speaking, you should be listening,” it says at one point.
You should begin by saying, “Hulloa,” and when done talking, the book says, you should say, “That is all.”

The other person should respond, “O.K.”
Because anybody could be on the line at any time, customers should not pick up the telephone unless they want to make a call, and they should be careful about what others might hear.

“Any person using profane or otherwise improper language should be reported at this office immediately,” the company said.
If only they could hear us now. On second thought, maybe it’s better they can’t. Today we are all on a party line, and your most virulent thoughts are just a forward button away from being broadcast to the universe. Would it have killed the founders of the Internet to give us a little warning here?
Near the back of the book is an essay on another promising new wonder that “has attracted renewed attention both in this country and in Europe.”

Many of the streets and shops of Paris, it is reported, are now illuminated by electric lights, placed on posts. “People seated before the cafes read their papers by the aid of lights on the opposite side of the way, and yet the most delicate complexions and softest tints in fabrics do not suffer in the white glare of the lamps. Every stone in the road is plainly visible, and the horses move swiftly along as if confident of their footing,” the book says.
It makes you wonder what could come next. Oh yes, those horses. No revolution is ever done.
That is all.

 

* By DENNIS OVERBYE June 10, 2008

A hushed group of people, nearly four dozen strong, slipped into the American Museum of Natural History early Monday, ahead of the crowds. Their cheeks were smeared with rust-colored dye, red and white woven bands encircled their heads, the men wore ceremonial vests and the women were wrapped in shawls, fringed with red.

They were at the end of a roughly 3,000-mile journey that has, in its way, taken years. Unlike the thousands of fidgety schoolchildren and harried parents that filled the museum’s halls to view its storied exhibits on Monday, these 46 visitors were there for an altogether different purpose: to take their ancestors home.
“Our people are humans; we aren’t tokens,” said Chief Vern Jacks, who heads the Tseycum First Nation, a tiny native tribe from northern Vancouver Island, in British Columbia.

With the museum’s full consent, the Tseycum tribe will be repatriating the remains of 55 of their ancestors to Canada this week. On Monday morning, in a quiet first-floor auditorium away from the museum’s crowds, tribe members performed an emotionally charged private ceremony over the 15 sturdy plastic boxes that contained the remains.

The ceremony lasted two and a half hours, and the tribe members and elders from related tribes prayed, spoke, wept and sang, saying they wanted to soothe their ancestors’ spirits and prepare them for a return trip from a journey that, the tribe leaders say, should never have happened at all.

“And then we said, ‘Now we’re going to take you home,’ ” Chief Jacks said, moments after the ceremony ended. “These people we are taking here have knowledge, respect, wisdom,” he added. “We live by today’s society, but our history walks with us.”

The remains, guessed to be at least 2,000 years old, have been at the museum for about 100 years but have almost certainly never been on display, said Steve Reichl, a museum spokesman. The museum has repatriated other remains to Canada at least once before, in 2002, according to Mr. Reichl, and remains have also been returned numerous times to American Indians.

Mr. Reichl said the museum worked to streamline the Tseycums’ trip. “The end result was a successful visit,” he said, “and a moving ceremony.”

For the Tseycum people, Monday’s events marked a singular culmination of years of painstaking, and painful, detective work.
The tribe’s quest to reclaim their ancestors began seven years ago, when Chief Jacks’s wife, Cora Jacks, found documents and papers relaying the life story of a 19th- and early 20th-century archaeologist, Harlan Ingersoll Smith. Ms. Jacks said she learned that Mr. Smith had robbed the graves of Tseycum ancestors, who were buried on Vancouver Island under giant boulders, and sold them to major American museums, and most likely others worldwide.

Mrs. Jacks grew nearly obsessed with tracking down the remains, Chief Jacks said, poring over books, researching government archives and spending late nights searching for clues online.

Mr. Smith’s selling price, said Chief Jacks, was $5 a skull, $10 for a body.
“He dug our people up and sold them to museums on all four corners of the earth,” said Chief Jacks, 63, who is hoping that the Canadian government will help defray the costs of the trip. “What happened to ‘rest in peace’?”

In 2004, Mrs. Jacks wrote to both the American Museum of Natural History and the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, where she believes the remains of 70 ancestors who are from Coast Salish, a designation for tribes in the Pacific Northwest, are also being stored. In 2005, Mrs. Jacks and Chief Jacks’s son, Vern Jacks Jr., visited both museums, and then began the arduous, paperwork-heavy process for repatriating remains, first from New York.

In 2006, tribe members began raising money to cover their trip. They held fund-raisers, auctioned art and gathered donations for their quest, which they called “Our Journey Home,” and the tribe contributed $55,000.

(Helen Robbins, the repatriation director at the Field Museum, said the tribe had yet to begin the required process in Chicago. Mrs. Jacks said they planned to begin that effort next, after more money is raised.)
Finally, in November 2007, Mrs. Jacks said, she received the good news from the American Museum of Natural History. “They told us we could now come to New York and get our ancestors,” she said. Then the tribe began the process of speaking to elders and leaders in the Tseycum tribe, which has just 150 members, and other area tribes.
“And then we waited for better weather in New York,” said Mrs. Jacks, 52. “We didn’t want to be here in the snow.”

In the end, Chief Jacks said, the entire trip cost $150,000, with 46 people from the Tseycum and related tribes making it.
Chief Jacks flew into Kennedy Airport on June 4, with seven other tribe members. The rest of the group arrived on Saturday. They were staying in the Holiday Inn on West 57th Street, where they booked 24 rooms.
In addition to preparing for Monday’s ceremony, Chief Jacks said tribe members visited the Statue of Liberty and took double-decker bus tours of the city.

They were taken off guard by the heat wave. “But I can’t complain,” Chief Jacks said, shrugging. “It won’t do any good to complain.”
The tribe planned to fly back to Victoria on Vancouver Island on Wednesday with their ancestors’ remains. Shortly after dawn on Wednesday, Chief Jacks said, the remains will be transported by van to Kennedy Airport and flown in the cargo hull back to Victoria. “A lot of our people will be waiting there,” he said.
And then the remains will be driven in the back of two pickup trucks to Tseycum land on Vancouver Island, transferred into 55 plain cedar boxes and reburied on native land, this time, the tribe vows, for good.

* By CARA BUCKLEY June 10, 2008

Sunday was Father’s Day, but when I called my father to wish him a happy one, he was bereft. He had just finished watching the special edition of “Meet the Press” that was broadcast to honor its host, Tim Russert, who died Friday.
“I was in tears halfway through,” he said.

I am sure that, heaven forbid, should I die before my father does, he would feel terrible. I’m hoping he would feel almost as bad as he did about Mr. Russert.
“I feel miserable. I feel like I know him, that I really knew him. And now he’s gone, just like that,” he said. A middle-pew Catholic with a deep interest in Democratic politics, my father always suspected that he and Mr. Russert were of a single mind even if Mr. Russert, a former Democratic Senate staff member, did not wear those beliefs in plain view.

A lot of people felt they had something in common with Mr. Russert. His unexpected death at 58, after a heart attack Friday afternoon, prompted thousands of comments on blogs, a flowered memorial in front of his office in Washington, and rare newspaper encomiums here and elsewhere.

The rhetoric and remembrance deployed on his behalf — the flags in his hometown of Buffalo flew at half-staff — brought to mind the death of a beloved religious figure. On the broadcast wake Sunday, during what would have been his weekly hour on “Meet the Press,” Tom Brokaw and others referred to him variously as a priest, a cardinal and even, in the words of his friend Mike Barnicle, a pope.

Which he sort of was, by the way. To many Americans, politics may seem a festering culvert rife with self-dealing and egos, and with very little of real value. But there is a smaller, intense demographic that experienced the political narrative as a kind of civic religion. Those people assign a kind of nobility and greater purpose to the calling. And to those people, Mr. Russert was the high priest, the one above all others, so much so that my dad scheduled his Sunday Mass around the show. (His fan base was pretty diverse. When he was in Rome last week, Mr. Russert was received by the pope.)

Part of the response is a reflex toward very public Kaddish now baked into American culture. When the actor Heath Ledger died, his death took on sudden importance not reflected in his accomplished, but short, career. But this feels different, deeper. Career journalists and politicians have been talking about how hard it will be to carry on, to finish out the election, without him.

Amid all the laurels, they spoke as if he were taking a way of life with him. And he may be. It is a credit to Mr. Russert’s relentlessness that people feel that way. The dynamics of the Democratic primary weren’t driven by the mainstream media — more on that later — but it was Mr. Russert, after all, who got the whole party started by nudging the previously coy Senator Barack Obama to admit that he was interested in running for president. And on May 7, Mr. Russert declared — almost Cronkite-like — that the race for the Democratic nomination was over, that Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton had lost.

A former aide to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Mr. Russert had a knack for making big-time politicians come to him. He had a face that seemed to be carved out of potatoes, but he worked on television by working harder than your average talking head, making the calls and pulling the levers of power with an alacrity few possessed.

At the same time, he reinforced his lunch-bucket credentials, coming up with a best-selling book about his father, “Big Russ and Me,” that turned a chip on his shoulder about his humble roots and lack of Ivy League pedigree into a franchise.

He was, in a phrase, old school, perhaps not in precisely the way he played on television — everyone on television has a schtick, and his was that as the son of a Buffalo sanitation worker, he didn’t need one. But inside the Beltway, he parsed approbation and legitimacy as he saw fit. (A recent profile of Chris Matthews in The New York Times Magazine spilled a fair amount of ink over Mr. Matthews’s desire for Mr. Russert’s acceptance.)

To have passed through the door from political partisan to major media figure is a remarkable accomplishment, but it does not fully explain why people are beside themselves over Mr. Russert’s death. Perhaps, in their bones, they are worried that if the king is gone, the kingdom will soon follow.

For decades, American national politics has been the province of a meritocracy, a self-nominated, self-important bunch who choose to be part of the media-political apparatus because it is a bloody sport for very high stakes. And it has historically pivoted around a rather tidy triangle defined by the parlors of Georgetown, the lobbyists on K Street and lunches at The Palm. And once a week, hierarchy is assigned and tribute is paid on the Sunday morning shows, with “Meet the Press” long being the more equal of equals.

You won’t hear this on a Sunday morning show — not this week and not any — but this political season suggests politics don’t work that way any more. As media platforms have multiplied and coverage has become ubiquitous, custody of the political narrative has left the Beltway.
Not many people know who Mayhill Fowler is — she’s a citizen journalist on The Huffington Post who works for no money and couldn’t find The Palm without Google Maps — but twice this year she has altered the campaign, first by catching Senator Obama sounding awfully elitist about the working class — “they cling to guns or religion” — and second by catching Bill Clinton coming off as if he had lost his mind.

The Obama insurgency in particular tilted the version of Washington that Mr. Russert knew off its axis. Who are all these people? Where did all this money come from? And when we made those speeches about youth voting, we didn’t expect that they would actually have a role in deciding who the candidate is.

Mr. Russert’s colleagues talked Sunday about his competitiveness — how he measured his success by the ability to drive the news cycle. In this election, he became one more aspect in a burgeoning ecosystem, an environment where consumer interest is constantly deciding what the story is and a new species of blogs, social networks and YouTube clips are there to satisfy that interest.

Mr. Russert’s own death provided an object lesson in how much things have changed. More than an hour before his death was announced by Tom Brokaw on NBC, his Wikipedia page was edited to reflect that he had just died.

The day that Mr. Russert died, I was in a press room for Bonnaroo, a music festival in Tennessee. When I got an alert that Mr. Russert had died, I announced it to the room and for a minute, no one said anything. And then finally, a woman down the table said, “Wasn’t he on TV?”
You could assign the lack of political interest to the context, but Bonnaroo is a very political space, with lots of youth voting organizations and a big Obama campaign presence. About 50,000 people listened rapt as Chris Rock riffed on the campaign and more than that as Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam spoke urgently about the need for immediate change. Mr. Russert, a huge music fan — Bruce Springsteen was his second-favorite deity — would have loved the spectacle of it, but Bonnaroo carries with it a reminder that politics is being dispersed and re-democratized.

The people who run campaigns, newspapers and networks will head to the conventions this summer convinced that the future of the country remains in their hands. But there are clear signs that game is changing. My dad may not ever believe it, but Sunday could end up being just another day of the week.

* By DAVID CARR June 16, 2008