FEBRUARY 2017

FEBRUARY  2017
The same old bullshit, for 2 hundred years. First it was the Catholics - German, Italian and Irish - and then Asians, and then Jews. Whose next?

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Friday, November 12, 2010

REPETITON

I do not believe that history repeats itself. That does not state the case strongly enough. I believe that history is running on an endless loop. Allow me to show you just one example, and see if the following situation sounds familiar. An economic boom has busted, and the wealthy few at the top are bemoaning their pinched economics, brought on by yet another boom and bust economic cycle - in large part of their own making. The top five percent of the population control most of the nation’s wealth, and are using fear mongering to reduce the government to impotence. It could be the spring of 1970. Or it could be the summer of 1819.
That year, the northern English midlands city of Manchester was well on its way to becoming “…the first and greatest industrial city in the world.” But, over the previous three short years the weavers, spinners and loom operators that made the city great, the hi-technicians of their day, had seen their wages drop by 2/3rds. Alexis de Tocqueville saw that “In Manchester civilized man is turned back almost into a savage.”
A social commentator described how “twelve or sixteen persons” were living in single room apartments.   One half of all children died before the age of five.
Writer Angus Reach described the city for the Morning Chronicle as “…smoky brown streets all round long piles of warehouses…great grimy mills, the leviathans of ugly architecture….There are swarms of mechanics and artisans…undersized, sallow-looking men…factory girls somewhat stunted and paled… with dingy dresses and dark shawls…” Another observer wrote in a private letter, “Nothing but ruin and starvation stare one in the face…the state of this district is truly dreadful”. This was Manchester in the summer of 1819; simmering with discontent.
But at the core of this darkness was the Manchester Observer, called by Henry Hunt, “the only newspaper…fairly and honestly devoted to such reform as would give the people their whole rights.” In March of 1819, the newspaper began calling for a public rally to support the election of a sympathetic member of parliament; that man would be, in all probability, Henry Hunt.
The government’s response was to ban the rally. But so strong was the public support for change that the newspaper's leadership ignored the ban and set the date for the Rally as August 16th. In doing so the Observer insisted again that the rally was to support, “the most speedy and effectual mode of obtaining Radical reform in the Common House of Parliament”.
James Wroe, editor of the Observer, acting as a reporter, described the day for his newspaper. “The morning of the 16th was hailed with exultation by the many thousands…At an early period numbers came pressing in from various and distant parts of the country…it is supposed that no less than 150,000 people were congregated in the area near St. Peter's Church.” The number may have been an enthusiastic over estimation, but in the area known as St. Peter’s Field, in the very center of Manchester, perhaps 80,000 citizens had gathered to peacefully request help from their government.
Continued Mr. Wroe; “Mr. Hunt ascended (the platform)…about half-past one o'clock, and … proceeded to address the immense multitude, recommending peace and order…Whilst thus engaged…we were surprised, though not alarmed, at perceiving a column of infantry take possession of an opening in the assembly”.
In fact they were also locals, pressed into service as “special constables”. At about 1:40 p.m. they formed a corridor within the crowd, allowing for access to the central platform. It seemed the authorities were intent  upon arresting the speakers. Continued Mr. Wroe; “Our fears were raised to horror, by the appearance of the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry Cavalry, who came galloping into the area, and proceeded to form in line ready for action; nor were they long delayed from their hellish purpose…the bugle sounded the charge…Men, women, and children, without distinction of age or sex became the victims of these monsters.”
The sixty members of the cavalry unit were likewise locals, led by a local factory owner. They were no better trained than the Ohio National Guard troopers who opened fire on unarmed civilians 160 years later at Kent State. And in both cases, in 1970 and in 1819, the attack dispersed the crowds inside of fifteen minutes. But in both cases it also left behind dead; five in Ohio, and in Manchester at least 18 dead, including an infant, knocked from his mother’s arms by a cavalryman blocks away, before the confrontation had even occurred.
In 1819 some 650 were wounded, trampled by the horses or cut down by the cavalry sabers. It is important to note that there were no reports of crushing by the crowd, no stampede to escape the assault, supporting eyewitnesses who emphasized how well behaved the crowd had been.  All the violence had been perpetrated by the representatives of law and order.
John Lees, who had served at the Battle of Waterloo, and had received two saber head wounds at the demonstration on St. Peter’ Field, told a friend, “"At Waterloo, there was man to man. But here it was downright murder.” John Lees died of his wounds on September 7, 1819. After that the demonstration aquired the name of “Peterloo”.
It was after Mr. Hunt and the other organizers had been arrested, after the cavalry charge, that rioting broke out in some areas of Manchester and surrounding villages. But these outbreaks were quickly ended. Hunt was sentenced to two years in prison for speaking at the meeting, and he later told his supporters, “I have done everything in my power to maintain, uphold, and secure your rights, but I have failed upon this occasion.” James Wroe was also sent to prison for a year and fined 100 pounds for writing about it. And for a time it seemed that the only effect of “Peterloo” had been a wave of repression that followed.
But by 1835 most of the political reforms sought by the demonstrators at “Peterloo” had been achieved, and the powers that be and the reformers that would be had both moved on to other battlefields, such as the eight hour work day and health insurance. In the long run of human history the only constant is the struggle for human dignity. It is never won, and as long as humans struggle, it is never lost. It just continues in an endless loop.
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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

FALLING IN LOVE AGAIN

I don’t mean to disappoint you, but Betsy Ross did not create the American flag. The creator was more likely the lawyer, songwriter and author Francis Hopkinson, who, a year earlier, had signed the Declaration of Independence for New Jersey. We know it was Hopkinson because he actually submitted two bills for his design – the first one for 9 pounds. When the stingy Continental Congress balked at paying that he lowered his price to “A quarter cask of Public Wine”; meaning, the cheap stuff. I think he was trying to make a point but he didn’t get that either. The bureaucrats argued that Francis was already on salary, which meant they had already paid him for the design. He was unable to pursue his case because he died in early May of 1791, of an epileptic seizure. But I don’t want to write a treatise on the vexillology of the American flag. I want to talk about the pledge of allegiance to it.
You see, the pledge was written as a sales gimmick to sell flags. This is pretty big business today, considering about 100 million American flags are currently sold every year. That’s enough to justify the formation of the “Flag Makers Association of America”, a lobbyist group required because American made American flags are 30% more expensive than Chinese made American flags. But I digress again; my point is that capitalism requires a certain amount of rationalization, and profiting from the symbol of our nation is just another one. It was a rationalization that another Francis was certainly willing to make.
In 1892 Francis Bellamy (above), who was a fired Baptist minister, was working as the publicity director for a Boston magazine called “The Youth’s Companion” and was also responsible for the planning the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s “discovery” of America, for the National Education Association. And since the magazine had a nice little side business going selling American flags to schools (their goal was to have one in every classroom) Francis thought that a pledge for this special occasion would be an inexpensive way to increase the sale of flags. After all, you can’t pledge allegiance to the flag unless you have a flag.
His pledge, published in the September 8th, 1892 issue of the magazine (above), was just 23 words long and could be recited in less than 15 seconds; “I pledge allegiance to my flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” On October 29th the pledge was first recited in classrooms across America, and at the opening of the Chicago Columbia Exposition. Like the Gettysburg address, Bellamy’s pledge was eloquent in its simplicity. But even Francis could not resist tampering with perfection. He added a salute.
Well, it was called the Bellamy Salute, but he didn’t invent it. It was the brainstorm of  James Upham, junior editor of The Youth’s Companion. But it was Francis who laid out in the magazine, instructions for the "salute too far".; “…At the words, “to my Flag,” the right hand is extended gracefully, palm upward, toward the Flag, and remains in this gesture till the end of the affirmation.” Forty years later the extended arm salute would be premtpted by Musoillini and Adolf Hitler, and tactfully dropped from the American pledge.
Not that people ever stopped trying to improve upon perfection. In 1923 the America Legion, then made up mostly of veterens of World War One, the Spanish American War, and the Phillipines Insurection, decided that the phrase “my flag” was too open to interpitation. So they added an entire phrase, so there would be no chance of confusion; “I pledge allegence to the flag of the United States of America.” In 1940, with World War once again looming, the Supreme Court ruled that even Jehova’s Witnesses could be required to stand at attention and recite the pledge in school, which the Witnesses had argued violated their faith. On June 22nd, 1943 Congress made the pledge the offical pledge of allegence to America. That same year the Supreme Court reversed itself, and "offical" pledge was no longer compulsury.
Then in 1951 the Knights of Columbus decided the words “Under God” were needed in the pledge, and on “Flag Day”, June 14th, 1954, Congress made that addition offical. The oath now reads “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisable, with liberty and justice for all”. The pledge was now 31 words long. And to be honest with you, I don’t think the longer version is any clearer about its meaning. It has become the ebodiment of the old joke about a camel being a horse designed by a committee.
Consider the oath, just as a piece of language. If the oath were to stop after the word “stands” we would have a simple sentence (“I pledge allegiance to the flag) with two modifying phrases (“of the United States of America”, and, “and to the Republic for which it stands”.) In this case the Republic is the modifier of the flag, which makes sense because the original intent was to sell flags; remember?
But that was not good enough for all those who honestly wanted to improve on the oath, make it clearer, avoid confusion and misunderstandings. And that kind of thinking produced four modifying prepositional phrases on top of the two we already had – making six in all.
Is love of country really that complicated a concept that it has to be explained in such great detail? Does the detail actually make things clearer? Isn’t it enough if your lover says “I love you”? Does the involvement of fifty lawyers make a divorce less likely or more likely?
I guess the basic question is, are you looking for an affirmation of love, or absolute protection against having your heart broken? Because, you can’t have both, particularly when you are talking love of a democracy.
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