Dig a Shallow Grave

Two notable deaths of the past week: Lawrence Rainey and Myra Hindley.

Rainey, who died last Friday, was the sheriff in Neshoba County, Mississippi, when, in 1964, three civil rights workers passing through the area disappeared. The three--Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney--were part of the Freedom Summer Project, intended to help the state's black residents register to vote. On June 21, the three were stopped in Neshoba County on their way back from investigating a church fire, jailed for a few hours in Philadelphia, Mississippi, and then released. On their way out of town, Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney were killed by the sheriff's deputy and a group of local men. (The murders were portrayed in both Mississippi Burning and the more accurate and engrossing Freedom on My Mind.)

In the days and weeks that followed, before an informant led the FBI to the men's bodies, buried and decomposing in an earthen dam, Rainey famously declared of the missing rights workers, 'If they're in Mississippi, they're just hiding out somewhere and trying to get a lot of publicity out of it.' After the bodies were found, the case was eventually brought to federal court (the state, not surprisingly, wouldn't touch it). Although Deputy Price and six other men were convicted of the crime, Rainey, widely suspected of involvement in the murders, was acquitted. After his term as sheriff ended in 1967, he became a security guard at a supermarket and a shopping mall. Historical evidence, investigations, and the testimony of several witnesses to the contrary, Rainey's son John, who still lives in Meridian, claims that his father was misunderstood: 'He was a good man. He had nothing to do with what happened that night.'

Myra Hindley, half of England's Moors murderers pair, died yesterday of a chest infection, after 36 years in prison. With her boyfriend Ian Brady, Hindley was responsible for the deaths of five children in northwestern England in the mid-60s. The killings were especially shocking for the youth of the victims (the oldest was 18), their sudden disappearances, and their grisly deaths--some of the victims were sexually abused, tortured, and buried in a remote moor.

After she was convicted and jailed, Hindley maintained that Brady had blackmailed her into helping him with the murders, threatening to kill members of her family if she didn't cooperate. In prison, she became a practicing Roman Catholic and received a humanities degree; she also admitted that 'my conscience will follow me to my dying day' (we may be dead and we may be gone/but we will be right by your side/until the day you die/this is no easy ride).

But, as the Times notes in its obituary, she also 'insisted that she had paid her debt to society, and she yearned to be released. "I know I could be out one week before someone assassinated me," she said. "But at least I would have had a week of freedom."'


BSA Strikes Again

Darrell Lambert, a 10-year Boy Scout veteran who recently attained Eagle rank, has been booted from his troop in Port Orchard, Washington. The Boy Scout Law holds that members must be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. By all accounts, Darrell fit the bill--except, that is, for the reverent part.

Despite the volunteer work he did with his troop, and despite the fact that many adults considered him a role model for and leader of the younger boys, the heads of the BSA's Chief Seattle Council deemed Darrell, a college freshman and an athiest since 9th grade, unfit to be a scout unless he took the opportunity they gave him: find God within a week. (One of the Council's heads, evidently blind to the utter irony, said of the case, 'The 12th point of the Scout Law is "reverent," and that includes being faithful in your religious duties and respecting the beliefs of others.')

Much to his credit, Darrell did not take his elders up on the offer, and now he--like openly gay scouts and others the BSA deems undesirable--finds himself unwelcome in the organization he so clearly adored.

It's true that the Boy Scouts, as a private organization, is free to allow and ban whomever it sees fit. But as the Times noted in a recent article on the case, 'As for the other 11 points of the Scout Law, [a BSA spokesman] could not say whether anyone had been ejected for being untrustworthy, disloyal, unhelpful, unfriendly, discourteous, unkind, disobedient, cheerless, unthrifty, cowardly, or sloppy.'


Remembrance Day, for Real

There are many, many reasons I'd be happy (now more than ever) to flee north to Canada: jaunty currency, less-idiotic politicians, superior chocolate, generally lovely people, Mexx, &c. But what I'm especially impressed by, on the eve of Veterans Day (here)/Remembrance Day (there) is the fact that, from what I can surmise, Canadians are prepared to treat tomorrow as an actual occasion to remember their dead, rather than an occasion to save 30-50% on bedding or to buy a new TV with no money down.

We Americans botch our holidays something fierce: we treat them as either parameters for the summer season (Memorial Day and Labor Day), excuses for gluttony (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Eve), or encouragement for shopping (absolutely every other holiday, including President's Day and Martin Luther King's birthday). And while I can't say definitively that Canadians are immune from those ills (especially as they have a mind-bogglingly greater number of holidays than we do), I can say that four days in Vancouver this week revealed to me thousands of poppied lapels, several newspaper articles about the country's war dead, printed invitations to join in memorial services, and not a single solitary godforsaken advertisement using Remembrance Day as a sales pitch.

I'm sure there are Americans who will treat tomorrow as the day it was intended to be, just as I'm sure there are Canadians who won't do much by way of actual remembrance. But I can't help feeling that there's something American culture has ruined irreparably by allowing its holidays, whether joyous or reverent or some combination thereof, to stray so far from their original intents. We've lost things of great value, and have gained only marketing tools. That's a sad and sorry trade-off.