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Stories Written by Crissy Bland

You can waste a lot of time trying to get others to appreciate what you see in certain people, certain places. If the beauty is less than obvious, and more of the haunting variety, it’s often a fool’s pastime even to try.

I can, for instance, give a rhapsodic pitch for Patricia Neal, Harry Dean Stanton, old rotten boats, Alligator, Mississippi, and the crumbling bricks that once were downtown Camp Hill, Alabama. Can and have. But over the years, I’ve done it too many times for too little return enthusiasm.

I still prefer character-driven looks to spit-and-shine. But somewhere along the way, I’ve had to admit that most people prefer vibrant, polished towns to dying ones, starlets to fading beauty, young versus old Elvis. I’ve given up all expectations that soulful can trump pretty if you make your case. And lately I try, with limited success, to keep quiet about my preferences.

So it was with some reluctance that I drove a recent visitor to the Ruins of Windsor, a sight that for me ranks with the bookstalls along the Seine in Paris and the shanties on Sapelo Island in Georgia as sense-heightening and holy.

Windsor’s 28 columns, all that remains of what was once the grandest of Mississippi’s antebellum mansions, have been compared countless times to ancient temple ruins. They are manmade monoliths, alone in the dense woods, proof somehow that grand plans not only go astray but sometimes go up in smoke.

Work began in 1859. Mississippi native Smith Coffee Daniell II was determined that his dream home would make other wealthy planters wince in envy. Slaves did the grunt work; Yankee artisans iced the triple-tiered cake.

Daniell’s timing was awful. As the last architectural T’s were crossed, civil war began. And just weeks after moving into the mansion, Daniell died, at age 34.

The house, however, had a life, almost longer than that of the man who built it. Daniell’s widow carried on, and Windsor survived the war. It served as a hospital after the Battle of Port Gibson, and became, for a time, the center of area social life.

It was an invited guest – not a Yankee – that struck the match in 1890 that destroyed all but the home’s 28 (of 29) columns. A young man’s cigarette was carelessly tossed into a carpenter’s trash, and the enormous edifice and all its contents burned – including house plans and photographs. Until a Union soldier’s sketch of the place was discovered last decade, nobody knew for sure exactly what the grand loss looked like.

That didn’t stop people from making pilgrimages to see the Ruins of Windsor. Thousands came, everyone from Eudora Welty to Elizabeth Taylor, the latter when they filmed “Raintree County.”

Back to my own visitor. We snaked through the tangle of green that is summer in Mississippi, both of us wondering, I’ll wager, if the journey was worth the trouble. I expected a shrug from my guest, at best. My car’s captive didn’t know what to expect.

He loved it. All those perfectly maintained Natchez mansions might run together, melt to memory mush. It’s the one left in ruins that survives.

To find out more about RHETA GRIMSLEY JOHNSON and her books, visit Contact her at Iuka, MS 38852.

Convert to Islam, pay a religious levy or die. Those are the conditions offered to Christians and other religious minorities in northern Iraq by members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Since the Islamic State (formerly called ISIL and ISIS), a Sunni extremist group that has overrun vast swaths of the republic and declared a new caliphate, began its march from Syria toward Baghdad several months ago, most of the estimated 200,000 Christians who remained in the country have taken the only other option available and fled.

In so doing, they have left the ancient city of Mosul bereft of its ancient Christian communities for the first time in nearly two millennia.

In the U.S., our debate over religious freedom is largely a matter for litigation and punditry.

But not even in our darkest nightmares could we imagine the kind of barbarism that is reportedly occurring in Iraq – beheadings, kidnappings, rapes, crucifixions and other atrocities inflicted on men, women and children, unrestrained cruelty simply for adhering to one’s chosen faith.

Yet, until last week, when President Barack Obama belatedly ordered targeted airstrikes on Islamic State strongholds as well as humanitarian aid for religious and ethnic refugees, many of whom have fled to Iraq’s semiautonomous Kurdish region, the U.S. has been mostly silent on the nascent genocide that seeks to rid the world of one of its oldest Christian communities.

As USA Today columnist Kirsten Powers points out, it was nearly two months after Mosul fell to the Islamic State that the administration finally condemned the assault on religious minorities.

Even Pope Francis, a paragon of peace and pacifism, appeared more hawkish than the president. A strongly worded statement from the Vatican implored Muslim leaders to upbraid the actions of the Islamic State: “All must be unanimous in condemning unequivocally these crimes and in denouncing the use of religion to justify them. If not, what credibility will religions, their followers and their leaders have? What credibility can the interreligious dialogue that we have patiently pursued over recent years have?”

Arguments that the U.S. bears some responsibility for the deteriorating situation are not without merit. The U.S. invasion and later withdrawal without an agreement on the status of forces arguably precipitated the current disaster.

Still, the sequence of events that lead to the current situation is too complex to trace directly to the U.S. invasion. As one French politician wisely noted, given the broad instability of the Middle East, Arab Springs – in all their hopeful idealism – typically become Islamist Autumns.

And the leaves are certainly falling.

The imagery of centuries-old churches now shadowed by the black flag of the Islamic State and ancient Christian archaeological structures razed into dust defies imagination. And the scenes of Iraqi Christians who have inhabited these Iraqi cities since the first century fleeing their ancestral homelands by the thousands, likely never to return, are heartbreaking.

But the long-term consequences of the Islamic State’s rise to power should be equal cause for alarm. Religious scholar Mark Movsesian understandably worries, “What ISIS has done in Mosul is a worrying hint of Islamism’s possible future.” Other militant groups that espouse extreme views of Islam, from Hamas to al Qaeda, are watching not only to gauge the group’s success but also the world’s response to such unfettered destruction.

Recounting his meeting with Pope Francis in March, Obama “reaffirmed (to the pontiff) that it is central to U.S. foreign policy that we protect the interests of religious minorities around the world.”

Perhaps with his decision to authorize airstrikes and provide humanitarian assistance, the president will live up to his word.

We can only pray.

CYNTHIA M. ALLEN is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Readers may send her email at

errol castens | buy at Several dozen people raise their hands to symbolize their nonviolence at the Lafayette County Courthouse during Thursday's local observance of a national moment of silence to protest police brutality and militarization.

errol castens | buy at
Several dozen people raise their hands to symbolize their nonviolence at the Lafayette County Courthouse during Thursday’s local observance of a national moment of silence to protest police brutality and militarization.

By Errol Castens

Daily Journal

OXFORD – More than 60 people representing a variety of races and hues gathered Thursday on the Lafayette County Courthouse grounds to raise their hands as a gesture of non-violence.

The gathering was part of the “national moment of silence,” which spawned similar observances across the country. The event’s scope spread through social media as a peaceful pushback after 18-year-old Michael Brown died at the hands of police in Ferguson, Missouri, which has seen rioting and looting, along with peaceful response such as neighbors cleaning up riot-related debris in the days since.

Police have been accused of abusive and overreaching response.

“Today is a day to solemnly commemorate the death of Mike Brown and stand in solidarity with the people of Ferguson,” said Robert McAuliffe, a University of Mississippi student who organized the Oxford event. “I just want to tell everyone in Ferguson to be strong and stand up for their rights in the face of brutality – and be safe. I want to tell the police that this kind of militarization is not acceptable in any way, and black lives are worth just as much as all other lives.”

“This shouldn’t be happening in America,” said UM Spanish instructor Luanne Buchanan. “What happened in Ferguson is unAmerican.”

Camille Walker, a UM public policy major from Tupelo, said, “I am against police brutality, and I’m against the things going on in Ferguson, Missouri, right now. I think anything I can do to speak out against that, I should do.”

Walker said her message to the public is “We should all do the right thing,” while she said police need not react out of fear. Of the rioters, she said, “I can’t say that I blame them for being angry at being attacked, but … I don’t think non-peaceful protest is cost-effective at creating change.”

Susan Glisson, executive director of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, said, “We’d like to stand with the victims of police brutality, with folks in the city of Ferguson who are hurting and hoping for answers and justice. We just want to declare our oneness with humanity.”

Glisson said riots are the wrong response to injustice.

“I believe violence is best responded to, best vanquished by love. But I also understand when folks have been hurting for generations and they feel no other way of expressing their anger, so I want to send out love and not judgment.

“I’ve already seen wonderful reports of people coming together in the mornings to go clean up communities, black and white, and even in those spaces they could have dialogue,” Glisson said. “I think interesting possibilities can emerge from that, because I trust the stakeholders of the community to do what’s right.”

The capture this week in Oregon of fugitives Janet and Ramon Barreto, who fled the process of justice in Union County five years ago when facing manslaughter and felony child abuse charges, among others, continues a story of law enforcement diligence and patience spread over thousands of miles.

The Barretos, whose life appears to be an archetype of chaos, family dysfunction and criminality, were charged with manslaughter by culpable negligence in the death of a baby daughter, Enna, at the hands of a 17-year-old sister, Marainna Torres, who was forced under abusive circumstances and threats to care for seven children the Barretos had adopted from Guatemala between 2005 and 2008.

Torres was convicted and served five years for her crime, and she agreed to serve as a prosecution witness.

Her testimony, and the physical evidence of life and death in the Barreto household, awaits the older Barretos when they are returned to Union County for the rest of the justice process.

Among other things, Torres said in a transcribed statement obtained and reported by the Daily Journal in 2010, that a Tupelo adoption agency’s home inspector never went past the Barretos’ double-wide’s front room and never saw the unelectrified “back trailer” where multiple young children sometimes were bound with duct tape to keep them quiet.

“Adoptions stopped when 2-year-old Enna died after Torres threw her into a plywood-bottomed baby bed in 2008,” former Journal reporter Patsy Brumfield reported in 2010.

Investigators found the Barreto home littered with garbage, food, soiled diapers, dog feces, dirty laundry and spent needles Janet Barreto used to administer diabetes medication, Brumfield reported.

Photographs of the littered household look like documentaries about hoarders.

The Barretos also ran a puppy mill on their property, selling the dogs to earn a living. Those conditions have been described as filthy and inhumane.

It remains that the Barretos, despite disturbing evidence, have not been tried or convicted because they fled, but that could change sooner rather than later.

The criminal case file has remained open the whole time the Barretos were on the run, reportedly selling puppies and DVDs in parking lots along the way. A black hole remains about their full route as fugitives, although it is assumed they spent time in Mexico, Ramon Barreto’s native country. But they left a trail followed by law enforcement nationwide, who stopped their flight in Oregon.

The end of the story hasn’t been written, and that chapter will fall to a court or courts in Mississippi and a jury of peers.

TUPELO – Two suspects are in Tupelo Police custody in connection with a Thursday afternoon robbery.

Police were called about 1:45 p.m. to Sprint Mart on Eason Boulevard at Highway 45, where someone had been robbed and struck with a handgun, said Sgt. Lynette Sandlin. The victim had nonlife-threatening injuries.

Police were given a description of the vehicle in which the suspects left the scene, and they were taken into custody at the Burger King at Crosstown.

A third suspect is believed to have participated in the robbery, and Sandlin said identities are not being released. Charges are expected today, when more information is released.

When liberal Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and conservative former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich agree on something, attention should be paid.

Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said last Friday that the U.S. must confront the jihadists who call themselves the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ISIL). “It takes an army to defeat an army,” she said, adding, “I believe that we either confront ISIL now or we will be forced to deal with an even stronger enemy in the future.”

In an article first published on, Gingrich noted there is now “an arc of terror from Boko Haram in Nigeria through Hamas in Gaza to ISIS in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, there is a clear wave of vicious religious warfare being waged against civilization by fanatics who openly promise and engage in genocidal killing.” Gingrich added that since Americans were seized as hostages in Iran in 1979, “the United States has been at war with radical Islamists. They knew it. We hid from it.”

Republican and Democratic administrations have been in denial about this threat to civilization. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have tried to paint a picture that minimized Islamism.

Just as early diagnosis and treatment enhances survival from a life-threatening disease, so does confronting terrorists on their territory improve chances of avoiding more attacks on the West.

Unfortunately, President Obama continues to live in the land of wishful thinking. In an interview with Thomas L. Friedman of The New York Times, the president said he would only increase America’s military presence in the region if Iraq’s different religious and ethnic communities agree to inclusive politics without regard to which side wins.

This demonstrates a misunderstanding of the real threat. The Islamists, though calling themselves different names, share a common doctrine of destruction. They seek to impose their will through beheadings, kidnappings, forced conversions, crucifixions, forced marriages, rape and other horrors. They intend to go after Israel, Europe and ultimately the United States, where they claim to already have agents awaiting instructions to conduct suicide bombings.

Speaking about the divisions in Iraq, the president made the leap to political divisions in the U.S., telling Friedman, “Our politics are dysfunctional.” He said the divisions in the Middle East should be seen as “a warning to us: societies don’t work if political factions take maximalist positions. And the more diverse the country is, the less it can afford to take maximalist positions.”

Really? The president wasn’t asked and didn’t say on which issues he and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have compromised with Republicans, from health insurance to reforms in the tax code. Both have arguably taken “maximalist” positions on these and virtually every other issue.

There is much else in the Friedman interview that is laughable, such as the president’s claim the news media are “Balkanized,” meaning he and the left no longer have a monopoly on information dissemination. He also said there is too much money in politics; this from someone who spends as much time fundraising as he does playing golf.

Feinstein and Gingrich are right. Whatever it takes to defeat ISIL must be done now. The administration has just started arming the Kurds in Northern Iraq. That’s a belated but good beginning. Withdrawal and indifference is a policy for defeat, not only in Iraq, but in the wider war against terrorists.

CAL THOMAS’ latest book is “What Works: Common Sense Solutions for a Stronger America” is available in bookstores now. Readers may email Cal Thomas at

TUPELO – A professional angler will answer fishing tips today during a 5:30 p.m. online conversation. will host the live-streaming Google Hangout between Tupelo Middle School seventh-grader and avid fisherman Lance Fernando and Charlie Roberts of Melbourne, Florida.

Ask questions with a Google+ account, on Twitter with hashtag #fishtup.

Twenty-five years ago, Tupelo’s growth was making travel on its limited streets almost impossible. Being Tupelo, we set out to fix that problem, and we have. The Major Thoroughfare Program was established as a citizen-led, pay-as-you-go plan to build the streets we needed. The huge success of that program is obvious this month with the opening of Highway 6 all the way to Oxford and the partial opening of the Northern Loop. We need to continue the MTP every five years as Tupelo continues to grow.

But now we are facing a similar problem with our railroads and the number of trains that daily pass right through the middle of town. MDOT spent $2 million of federal money and came up with a totally unworkable solution that would cost $450-plus million to build. I had given them a much better and cheaper solution, but how could they propose it when my plan was free. So their waste of time and money is gathering dust on the shelf at City Hall.

But we still have the problem and it is getting worse. No. 1, we must do whatever is necessary to turn the train horns off and establish a quiet zone all the way through Tupelo. No. 2, we need to look into the possibility of turning the switch yard around so that Crosstown is not blocked multiple times a day as they juggle railroad cars. No. 3, we need to find out what must be done to speed the trains up as they pass “silently” through Tupelo. Currently the speed limit is 20 mph. At 40 mph, the intersections would be blocked for 50 percent less time. And lastly, my plan to actually move the trains from the middle of our city needs to get the attention it deserves.

The recent smoothing of the Crosstown intersection shows that we can make improvements by working directly with the BNSF Railroad. Maybe it is time for a new citizens committee to be appointed to get to work to fix the rest of the problems caused by the 20-plus daily trains that cut our city in half.


Jim High


Lena Mitchell | buy at Kay Pittman is a co-owner of My Brother’s Cup. Most of the profits from the gourmet coffees go to pursue mission work in remote parts of Asia.

Lena Mitchell | buy at
Kay Pittman is a co-owner of My Brother’s Cup. Most of the profits from the gourmet coffees go to pursue mission work in remote parts of Asia.

By Lena Mitchell

Daily Journal Corinth Bureau

TUPELO – Retailers and vendors in Tupelo Furniture Market Building 1 are open only periodically, but the business they attract is well worth it.

The Furniture, Gift and Home Accessories Show – in its fifth year – offers shoppers a wide range of products to choose from. Retailers will be open through 7 p.m. today, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday.

Natalie’s Jewelry and Gifts has found a permanent retail space along one wall of the building’s main showroom.

“I came into this space about a year and a half ago after I lost my husband,” said owner Natalie Riley. “I would always exhibit at Celebration Village and a holiday bazaar in Starkville, but I like this because I don’t have to worry about loading and unloading.”

Riley also is open for the monthly Tupelo Flea Market and Craft Show, usually the second Friday through Sunday of the month.

“I started out making my jewelry and it just grew from there,” Riley said of the eclectic display of a huge variety of jewelry, personal and decorative home items.

Gourmet coffee connoisseurs can pursue their passion while also helping support a missionary cause when they buy from My Brother’s Cup.

Owners Mike and Kay Pittman use most of the profit from the gourmet coffees made from pure Arabica beans to pursue their mission work in remote parts of Asia.

“We support foreign and local missions,” said Kay Pittman, “and are celebrating 20 years of preparing a meal each year for the Ronald McDonald House in Memphis.”

Before founding the business in 2010, Mike Pittman worked for Weyerheuser for 25 years, Kay Pittman said. The Columbus plant closing was announced about the time Mike Pittman was on a mission trip in China, in a region known for growing coffee beans.

“He didn’t even drink coffee, but a friend suggested he think about coffee as a business opportunity,” Kay Pittman said. “We prayed and asked the Lord to lead us, and He put people in our path to help and teach us.”

They’ve been able to accomplish a lot through the business, and last year Kay Pittman left her job after 32 years with the Sara Lee Corporation to work in the business.

In addition to the furniture market, My Brother’s Cup is open for the monthly flea market and the coffees are also sold at the Neon Pig Café on North Gloster Street in Tupelo.

This fall furniture market is the fourth time Glitz Galore-N-More of Fairhope, Alabama, has exhibited at the Tupelo Furniture Market, said owner Toni McCulley.

The previous three times have been at the spring market, and she’ll return in October for the annual Celebration Village to support Sanctuary Hospice House.

“Usually Saturdays are our best days, and we see lots of people and do really well here,” McCulley said.

Coming from the Alabama Gulf Coast for the Tupelo show might seem like a pretty long distance, but McCulley said she, her daughter and her parents – who all share the business – really enjoy traveling around the country to different shows. Last month they were in Kentucky and will go to South Carolina next weekend.

“It’s a lot of fun meeting people like that,” McCulley said.


Associated Press

LOS ANGELES – Robin Williams was in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease at the time of his death, his wife said Thursday.

In a statement, Susan Schneider said that Williams, 63, was struggling with depression, anxiety and the Parkinson’s diagnosis when he died Monday in his Northern California home. Authorities said he committed suicide.

“Robin’s sobriety was intact and he was brave as he struggled with his own battles of depression, anxiety as well as early stages of Parkinson’s disease, which he was not yet ready to share publicly,” Schneider said.

Schneider did not offer details on when the actor comedian had been diagnosed or his symptoms.

The Marin County Sheriff’s Department, which said Williams hanged himself, is conducting toxicology tests and interviews before issuing a final ruling. Lt. Keith Boyd of the Marin County Sheriff’s Department did not return phone calls and email messages from The Associated Press seeking comment on Schneider’s statement.

Williams’ death shocked fans and friends alike, despite his candor about decades of struggle with substance abuse and mental health. With Parkinson’s, Williams faced shouldering yet another challenge.

Parkinson’s disease is an incurable nervous system disorder that involves a loss of brain cells controlling movement. Tremors, sometimes starting out in just one hand, are among the early symptoms.

It can also cause rigid, halting walking, slowed speech and sometimes dementia. Symptoms worsen over time and can often be treated with drugs.

Actor Michael J. Fox, who has long had the disease and is known for his efforts to fund research into it, tweeted that he was stunned to learn Williams had early symptoms.

“Stunned to learn Robin had PD. Pretty sure his support for our Fdn predated his diagnosis. A true friend; I wish him peace,” Fox tweeted.

Pop star Linda Ronstadt revealed in 2013 that she had Parkinson’s and said the disease had robbed her of her ability to sing. Boxer Muhammad Ali, the late radio personality Casey Kasem and the late Pope John Paul II are among other well-known figures diagnosed with the disease.