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The Last Time a Republican Reigned in Big Business - 1903

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Friday, February 17, 2012

YOU CAN'T SAY THAT!


I contend that democracy is a caveat emptor proposition, and if more voters realized that going into the voting booth, there would be a lot fewer jaded voters coming out the other end. Allow me to provide an example. In January of 1921, the Committee on Elections of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, chaired by the appropriately named Loyd Makepeace, from Malden, took up the case of challenger John Callahan verses incumbent James Sweeney. The prize in this election was the Eleventh District in Hampden County, comprising sections of the 5th and 7th wards of Holyoke, Massachusetts, where the Irish names of both Sweeney and Callahan fit in well. For sixty years the state legislature, also known as the General Court, had been controlled by the Anglo-Protestant Republican party. The industrial revolution was beginning to change that, but the transition was not proving comfortable for anybody.

Located just north of Springfield, Holyoke (above) was one of the first planned industrial communities in America. The town drew power for her textile industry and 25 paper mills from canals and a falls of the Connecticut River. That year the town's population topped 60,000, the vast majority of them first generation Irish Catholic emigrants. And in 1920 first term state Representative, Democrat James Sweeney had sent out an aggressive campaign mailing to his constituents.
Most of it was pretty standard propaganda. “After serving you honorably and faithfully for the past year”, wrote Representative Sweeny, “I am a candidate for re-election, and seek your consideration at the polls Tuesday, November 2”.  Sweeney went on to take credit for getting state money for a new bridge across the Connecticut River, and for supporting aid for expectant mothers. But then, in bold black type, he turned to “Chamberlain's Sex-Hyiegne and Birth Control” bill.
The proposed law's namesake was Republican State Senator George Dudly Chamberlain. He was, by all accounts, the kind of a man who gave politicians a good name. An accountant, in his spare time he had created a “playground association” in his home town of Springfield, obtaining and constructing safe places for all of Springfield's children to play. He volunteered untold hours at the Boy's Club and the Young Men's Christian Association. He was a deacon of the Episcopal Church. He had recently gotten into politics because he wanted to improve education statewide, and was pushing for free kindergarten classes for all children.. But in the eyes of many Catholic voters, all of those marvelous things were marks against George Chamberlain.
The Catholic Church simply did not trust a Protestant power structure to educate Catholic children. Irish emigrants, with fresh memories of the charnel house of English occupied Ireland, did not trust a man who could trace his blue blood back to tenth century English nobility, to John Saukerville, Lord Chamberlain to King Henry I of England. And having tithed to their own Church schools, Irish voters felt put-upon to be taxed again to support the public schools as well.
It did not matter to the Irish working classes that the bill was actually a compromise, nor did it matter that in section one of the bill the (state) department of education was instructed to, “...establish minimum rules and regulations...for the practice and education of health education in public schools...This shall include instruction in personal and community health...” In section four the bill required “School Committees in cities and towns...(to) appoint a supervisor of health education and necessary associates who shall...supervise and direct courses of instruction in health and of physical activity”
The bill had been voted down in the house, but James Sweeney warned his constituents that it was likely to come back. This bill meant “compulsory teaching of sex-hygiene and birth control to children, ten and twelve years old, against the parents' wishes....(it) would take the child away from the parent and put them under the direct supervision of the State....(and) would disrupt the morals of your children.”
The mailer end this way; “My opponent is also a (in italics) sexagenarian, and in my opinion would not be able to serve your district properly. And so I make this personal appeal to your reason,...Yours very truly, Representative James F. Sweeney.” To modern, and disinterested, eyes, the mailing may seem to be crude, but it was effective. The results of the election were 3,497 votes for James F. Sweeney,  and 3, 091 for John A. Callahan, with 214 ballots either blank or unreadable. Sweeney was declared the winner by 399 votes.
Mr. Callahan was outraged. He saw Sweeney's mailing as false and malicious. First the actual title of Chamberlin's bill had been “To provide Physical Training in the Public Schools and Normal Schools”. It said nothing about birth control, let alone sex.  And secondly, Mr.Callahan felt the use of the term “sexagenarian” was meant to imply to the uneducated and unsophisticated citizens of Holyoke, that Mr. Callahan was some kind of sex fiend, which he was probably not. So, since, under the Massachusetts's Constitution, “The house of representatives shall be the judge of the returns, elections, and qualifications of its own members”, he appealed to the House to over turn the election.
A simple reading of the names on the committee would seem to have given the Republican Callahan the edge. Beside Chairman Makepeace, there was Brimblecom, Rolander, Hale, Whiting, Gradt and Winnett, with not a hint of Ireland in the bunch. But besides being Protestants all, the members were also, first and foremost, politicians. And on January 27, 1921 the Committee, issued its findings. First it found that since John Callahan was 62 years of age, he was, by definition, a sexagenarian. If the voters were too stupid know that was what the word meant, that was their problem - not the politicians. And as far as the other exaggerated claims made in the circular, the committee decided that to assume the voters had been mislead by the rabble rousing clap trap in Sweeney's mailing would “constitute a denial of the possession of ordinary intelligence on the part of...voters of the Eleventh Hampden District. The committee have therefore come to the conclusion that the election....was the expression of the will of the majority of the voters...(and) thus manifested should prevail. The petitioner is therefore given leave to withdraw” which was a political way of telling the outraged Mr. Callahan to grow up and get lost.
The press, of course, turned the entire affair into a farce. The Boston Herald headline read, “Complains He Was Called Sexagenarian – Candidate Says Many Voters Thought It Had to Do With Sex.” A month later the Wall Street Journal got most of the details of the election right, except for the location, which it moved to downtown Boston. Thirty years later, the joke about sexagenarian was about all that remained of the story, and was even adapted to the Pepper-Smather Florida Senate election of 1950.
But this contested 1920 Massachusetts election is not a story about a quasi-maledictive phrase, its about the freedom to be stupid. To put it in more modern terms, if voters, for whatever reason, are dumb enough to elect Michelle Bachmann or Newt Gingrich to public office, that is still a good thing -  because whether a monumental mess is made by the ruling money class or the working class, its the working class who has to clean it up. So it's at least better that  they should be the ones responsible for making it.
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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

FALLING IN LOVE AGAIN

I don’t mean to disappoint you, but Betsy Ross did not create the American flag. The creator was the lawyer, songwriter and author Frances 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 work – the first one for about $18. But the stingy Continental Congress balked at paying that. So 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 even then he didn’t get paid. The bureaucrats argued that Frances 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 then, 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. And it was a rationalization that another Frances was certainly willing to make.
In 1892 Frances 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) Frances 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 - about the attention span of the average eight year old; “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 that 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 Frances 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 Frances who laid out instructions for what I would call "a salute too far. They read. “…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 about what country we were talking about. "I pledge allegence to the flag of the United States of America.” I guess the red, white and blue on the wall was not evidence enough.  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 - by law. That same year the Supreme Court reversed itself, and "offical" pledge was no longer compulsury for Jehova Wittnesses.
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, as well. The oath now officially 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, to make it clearer, and 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”? I ask you, does the involvement of a longer contract 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 about love of a democracy.
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Sunday, February 12, 2012

ET TU Four Jewel of the Nile

I don't always believe the Roman historian Plutarch, but then you should never always believe any historian. Still, Plutarch always told a good story. His tale of the death of Pompey the Great is a perfect example. According to Plutarch, after losing at Pharsalus, Pompey sought refuge in Egypt, seeking out the son of an old debter of his, fourteen year old Theos Philopator, Pharaoh of Egypt, also known as Ptolemy 13 – interesting number, don't you think? You see, Ptolemy 13 was in Pelusium, the silt plagued port and fortress at the eastern edge of the Nile delta, because he was avoiding his sisters, both of whom were trying to kill him. It was a great confused mess, and a very bad time to arrive in Egypt seeking help. But then Pompey's timing had never been very good.
Pompey's arrival on September 29, 48 B.C.E., had presented Ptolemy 13's advisors with a bit of a conundrum. If they helped Pompey they would anger Julius Ceasar, who had just defeated Pompey's army at Pharsalus. It they sent Pompey packing and he later won his civil war with Ceasar, Pompey would make sure bad things happened to Ptolemy 13 and his advisors. There was a simple solution to this problem, and I am surprised it never occurred to Pompey. It did occur to Ptolemy 13's advisors.
They sent a boat out to Pompey's ships, which were anchored just outside the harbor of Pelesium. A Roman centurian named Septimius, who had been sent to Egypt by Pompey to reinstate Ptolemy 12, Ptolemy 13's father, stood up in the boat and assured his old comnander that it was safe to come ashore. Then one of Ptolemy's generals, Achillas – who was called Egypt but was merely half that - called out that the Pharaoh was very busy but could give Pompey a few minutes of his time, right now, if he would just accompany them ashore. It smelled fishy, but Pompey really had very little choice. Pompey could see Ptolemy 13 waiting on his litter on the beach. Pompey needed water, and food, and somebody who knew the coastline down to Tunisia, where he had more legions and allies...So the old fool got in the boat..
He never made it to shore alive. According to Plutarch, as the boat passed the breakwater, Pompey was rehearshing his Greek greetings for the Ptolemy 13, when Septimius stabbed him in the back. They dragged the boat ashore and then dragged Pompey up on the sand and chopped off his head  It was a cold and heartless thing to do, particularly since Pompey's wife was watching from the galley off shore. But it wasn't anything Pompey hadn't done to countless others. And that was the death of Pompey the Great, one of the most overrated generals in history, a man whose greatest sin was in believing his own press releases, which he had written.
That was one problem solved, leaving Ptolemy 13's adisors with the original problem, his elder sister and her hired army. She was hovering out in the Sinai desert.  It  looked as if she was about to be easily be crushed by Ptolemy 13's army when, just two days later- October 1st, 48 B.C. - yet another Roman annoyance arrived off shore. This time it was Julius Caesar (above), with a Roman legion. Duitifully, the avisors of Ptolemy 13 sent a boat out to Caesar, carrying the head of Pompey. But if Ptolemy 13's advisors expected Caesar to thank them for eliminating his enemy and sail off back to Rome, leaving them free to finish off their business without furter distratction, they were sadly mistaken. Oh Caesar did sail off from Pelusium. He just didn't didn't sail for Rome. A few days later Ceassar landed in Alexandria and took over the royal palace.
I honestly don't know if Caesar really cried when he saw Pompey's head. He said he did. But Caesar must have known the instant he looked into those foggy dead eyes that he had won his civil war. There was more fighting to be done, of course. He would have to move on to Tunisia, to finish off Pompey's troops there. But there was no longer any need to rush. With Pompey dead the Senate aristrocrats had lost their champion and rallying point. Caesar could allow their army in Tunisia to wither on the vine a little, while he took advantage of an oportunity right here in Egypt. Ptolemy's army at Pelusium might be blocking his sister's army from entering Egypt, but Caesar's 5,500 man force in Alexandria was stitting on the Egyptian treasury, the gold used to pay Ptolemy 13's army. To paraphrase an American Vietnam War general, grab them by their ingots and their hearts and minds will follow. Caesar now summed both Ptolemy 13 and his sisters to Alexandria to settle their civil war. And to be honest with you, I don't think Caesar particularly cared which ones, if any of them, showed up.
It urned out they all did - Ptolemy 13 and his two sisters, Asinoe 4, and Cleopatra 7. Ptolemy 13 had the easier time getting to the Alexandria, but even Cleo made it, even though she had to first slip around her brother's army and be smuggled into the palace in a rolled up carpet - if you believe Plutarch. But once she was there, Caesar was required to protect her since he had summoned her. And as Caesar was a hetrosexual, he quickly fell under the spell of this extraordinary young woman.
She was 21, and he was 52. He came from a world where women were not allowed to compete with men. The only thing that had kept her head on her shoulders to this point was her brains. A modern Egyptoligist described the lady this way, “Cleopatra was a mistress of disguise and costume. She could reinvent herself to suit the occasion, and I think that's a mark of the consummate politician.” Was she a great beauty? Plutarch, who was born a half-century after she died, wrote that she was not. But he also consulted every word written about her by people who had known her, and the consenses was that “her presence...was irresistible.... (Her) character...was something bewitching.” Wrote another Roman historian, she was “...brilliant to look upon and to listen to, with the power to subjugate every one, even a love-sated man already past his prime.” By all indications, the love-sated old man surcumbed the very first night.
The advisors of Ptolemy 13 saw which way the perfumed wind was blowing, and they did not like it.
They formed a secret alliance with Cleopatra's younger sister, Asinoe 4. She slipped out of Alexandria and hurried to join Ptolemy 13's army at Pelusium. But, once there she started calling herself Pharaoh, and when the commander of the Army, General Achillas, the man who had helped trick Pompey to his death, protested her use of the title, she had him killed. Well, turn about is fair play, isn't it? The army did not approve of the lady's ego trip, and offered her in trade for Ptolemy 13. For some reason Caesar accepted the deal, probably because Ptolemy 13 swore he would surrender his army to Caesar. But once back with his army, Ptolemy 13 and his advisors chose to lay seige to Ceasar in Alexandria in December of 48 B.C..
Caesar was trapped in the city, with just one legion, and that was not enough. But he had aleady called for reinforcements, and when they arrived in early January of 47 B.C. they smashed Ptolemy 13's army. On January 13, the fifteen year old Ptolemy 13 was drowned in the Nile, maybe by accident and maybe by a bribed Egyptian. But however the boy died, Cleopatra 7 was now the Pharaoh in Egypt. Caesar had Asinoe 4 placed under arrest, probably to protect her from Cleopatra – the lady had an understandably heightened sense of self preservation.
Just 8 months after Cleopatra 7 first rolled out of a carpet at the feet of Julius Ceasar, on June 23, 47 BC, she gave birth to a son. It was observed that as the boy, who Cleo 7 named Ceasarian, as he grew, he greatly resembered Ceasar. He was one of two males who may have been Ceasaar's sons. The other was the child of Ceasar's widowed girlfriend, Servilla. That boy, whom Ceasar never offically adopted, was Marcus Junius Brutus.
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