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The Last Time a Republican Reigned in Big Business - 1903

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Friday, January 04, 2013

THROWING A PARTY


I think of him as one of those self-made right-wing technocrats, who used his fortune to finance an ultra-conservative agenda - a Ross Perot or the Koch family. In this case the technology was the telegraph, and the agenda was the 19th century version of Islamaphobia. Samuel Finley Breese Morse (above) learned to fear the 'Bavarian Illuminati' from his minister father's Sunday sermons. As an adult Samuel proselytized that the Roman Catholic Church was flooding America with Irish and German Catholic immigrants to establish a new Vatican City in the Mississippi valley. Wrote Morse, “Surely American Protestants...(will) discover...the cloven foot of this subtle foreign heresy. They will see that Popery is...a political as well as a religious system; that...differs totally...from all other forms of religion in the country.” In 1836 Morse ran for Mayor of New York City. He lost big. But the poison he was peddling (and funding) would take root.
It sprouted into full flower in the congressional elections of 1854, catching on “like measles”, according to one Democrat. The organization was officially known as “The American Party”, but commonly refereed to as the Know Nothings, because its members were coached to respond to all questions by admitting only, “I don't know”, and because, frankly, in the eyes of their critics, they just seemed to be not very bright. Membership was limited to white males of proven English heritage, and usually evangelical Protestants,. And although most of the new candidates had never been active in politics or held public office before,  they won 61 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. They elected a governor and all the other posts open that year in Massachusetts and Maine. They controlled the state legislatures in Pennsylvania and most of New England. They gained advantage in Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky and Tennessee by taking no position on slavery. This hurt them in the south, as did violence and murders in Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore, St. Louis, Boston, New York, Columbus, Cincinnati and New Orleans. Still, the Know Nothings looked certain to capture the White House in 1856. And then came Bloody Monday in Louisville, Kentucky.
They held three elections in Louisville in 1855. On April 7th, voters threw out the incumbent mayor, who had converted to Catholicism, and elected a Know Nothing replacement and a majority on the city council. They followed this a month later by electing a Know Nothing majority of county court judges. Then the school board fired every Catholic teacher, save one. The Know Nothings were feeling both confident and paranoid - it was the nature of the party and the movement. Now another Know Nothing, Charles Morehead, was favored to win the governorship on yet another election, Monday August 6th. On the night before, 1,500 Know Nothings staged a torch light march through Catholic neighborhoods, warning them “to keep their elbows in” come morning.
Maybe no one other than Reuben Thomas Durrett (above) could have made the nation face the truth about the Know Nothings. Others wrote about it, but they lacked his resume. R.T., as he preferred to be known, was a defense attorney, and familiar with arguing unpopular causes. He was “intellectually and physically...a magnificent man.” More than that he was a poet, and a lover of truth and history. He had a 50,000 volume personal library. And 300 years earlier, his French Protestant ancestors had barely escaped the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre in France. So when the political spin machine tried to smother every honest voice in Louisville, it was R.T. who validated the reality. “To my mind,” he wrote, “the whole secret of the success of this disgraceful affair was...that the Know Nothing sympathizers were prepared and armed for the conflict...”
According to R.T., the thugs, hired as “special police”, formed a gauntlet in front of the polls. If a would-be voter were an immigrant from Germany or Ireland he was presumed to be Catholic, and was “... ordered by one of the bullies to leave...” And if he refused, “...he was attacked by the whole mob, severely beaten and driven away. If the man showed fight, his life was in great danger. “ Recently ousted Mayor James Speed watched the beatings on the courthouse front lawn from eight in the morning until six. “It was not fighting man to man, but as many as could fall upon a single Irishman or German and beat him with sticks or short clubs...” The clubs were specially made with lead weights in their tips, and mass produced. In the afternoon Speed was told 200 shotgun wielding “Germans” had captured a polling place. Speed knew this to be a fantasy and said so. But the informant, a judge, “replied with warmth showing that he believed it to be true.” About four in the afternoon, things went from bad to worse.
Two Catholic activists, Theodore Rhodes and David Doughtery were warning everyone in their east side neighborhood off Main Street. They stopped at Micheal O'Connor's grocery store, at the corner of 10th street and warned him to close. As they came out of the store a man ran up to them. Basil Rhodes, Theodore's father, who lived a block away, saw the man shoot his son dead. The gun shot drew Know Nothings from all directions, and it quickly became common knowledge that the reverse was true, that a Catholic had killed a Know Nothing. What followed was wholesale murder.
The worst of it was Quinn's Row, a block of 12 three story row houses along Main between 11th and 12th streets. Around eight that evening a Know Nothing mob set fire to a ground floor corner grocery run by a family named Long. Recorded a Catholic newspaper, “Seeking to escape...the wretched inhabitants reached the street only to meet death in another form. As soon as one appeared at a door he was fired at...” Mr. Long and two of his sons died that night, as did several of the residents of the upper floor apartments. “A number were taken off badly wounded, and others...returned to the burning houses, preferring rather to be burned than to meet the infuriated mob. One man escaped in woman’s clothes, was detected and shot. Another, who came out covered with a blanket, and, leaning on the arm of his wife, was torn away, and deliberately shot.”
While the first building was still raging, the feed store next door and its apartments went up, followed by a vacant house, then a tobacconist. Noted the newspaper, “How many of these miserable people thus caged in their own houses were burned alive there can be no computation.... Two men were hanged from their banisters of their own homes and also consumed in the flames.” In the last structure on the street, a rooming house, Patrick Quinn, who owned the entire block, was driven outside like the others. Recognized because of his investments around the city (and his brother who was a priest) , he was singled out, beaten to death, and his corpse was thrown back into the fire.
The official version said that 22 people had been killed in the entire city on Bloody Monday It is much more likely that the number was at least 100. The death toll would have been higher but in the German district one of the first buildings looted was Armbruster's brewery. The rioters got so drunk they could only satisfy themselves with torching the building before passing out. The new Know Nothing Mayor, John Barbee, managed to save two Catholic Churches from the rioters, but no one was ever prosecuted for the murders, the beatings or the arson. In response the despised immigrants voted with their feet. Ten thousand left Louisville over the next few months, almost 25% of the cities' population. In the city left behind businesses failed, unemployment soared and city coffers dried up. Charles Morehead was easily elected governor. but it was the classic tale of “be careful what you wish for”.
Most of the Irish moved to Chicago. Typical was ex-Mayor Speed, who became active in Republican Party politics and served in the Lincoln administration. The Germans mostly moved to St. Louis and Milwaukee, and some to Kansas City, Kansas – ensuring that state would remain in the Union come the Civil War. It was that war which put the entire Know Nothing movement into perspective.
The Civil War made the Know Nothing agenda obsolete. Immigration was the great enemy in the eyes of Samuel Morse. But the actual cause of the war was the industrial revolution, and the refusal of one half of the nation to recognize mechanization was making human slavery obsolete. The mathematician Alfred Whitehead observed, “The major advances in civilization....all but wreck the societies in which they occur.” And in his book “War and Peace in the Global Village” Marshall McLuhan explains why that is so. “When one has been hurt by a new technology, when the private person or corporate body finds its entire identity endangered...it lashes back in a fury of self-defense...But... the symptom against which we lash out may be caused by something about which we know nothing.” McLuhan calls that symptom “Phantom Pain”, and compares it to the agony amputees report they feel in missing limbs.
Although America has institutionalized such cultural revolutions, and has succeeded by taking advantage of them in the past, that does not make our politics, and did not make the politics of our ancestors, any easier to live with. Politics are never a solution. Politics are only another symptom.
- 30 - 

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS


I have two favorite Christmas chorals; the haunting Carol of the Bells, composed in 1904 by Ukrainian Mykola Leontovych, and the seemingly nonsensical Twelve Days of Christmas, which is old enough that we have no idea who composed it. In fact, the Twelve Days of Christmas might even predate Christianity in France, where it originated. And that makes this English carol more interesting - to me, anyway – because it speaks to the evolution of the holiday. Remember, it wasn't until 137 years after the death of Jesus, give or take a couple of years, that the Bishop of Rome ordered a “Christesmaesse” - Christ's Mass, to celebrate Jesus' birth. You see, the twelve disciples did not celebrate Christmas, partly because they were Jewish, but mostly because until fairly recently anything from 60 to 80% of infants died within hours of their birth. Nobody celebrated their birth day, not even Pope Julius I, who around 345 A.D. picked December 25th for Christmas. For all humans, even for the Messiah, life did not officially begin until their epiphany, (meaning, according to thesaurus.com -the announcement, the display, the exhibition or the showing of the child), which was not held until you were pretty sure the child was going to live. And Jesus' epiphany is traditionally celebrated on January 6th – 12 days after Christmas.
This English Christmas Carol began as a medieval midwinter festival “memories and forfeits game”, a sort of musical chairs in a world without very many chairs. We know the game began in France because
the Red-legged (or French) partridge, widespread in medieval Europe, commonly perches in trees, unlike the the English (or grey) partridges which, while common today, were not introduced to England until the 18th century, and prefer ledges or cliffs. And in all three medieval French versions of the song that we know of, and all surviving English versions, “a partridge in a pear tree” is the first and final present always received by the lead singer.
In the game the leader sings a verse, and each participant repeats what they have just heard, and everybody then takes a drink of wine or mead. Then the leader sings another verse, adding an item, the players repeat, and then everybody drinks again. The rounds we have inherited begin “On the first day of Christmas, my true love gives to me, a partridge in a pear tree.  On on second day of Christmas, my true love gives to me, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.”
The game continues (with variations) to three French Hens, four colly birds, five gold rings, six geese a-laying, seven swans a-swimming, eight maids a-milking, nine ladies dancing, ten lords a-leaping, eleven pipers pipping, and twelve drummers drumming. A player who forgets an item is eliminated and forced to offer a kiss to the leader, or eat a less than appealing food item. The game would continue until all 12 verses were done, or all the players but one had been eliminated. Sound familiar?
And yes, the line is “four colly birds”, as in a colliery, meaning a coal pit or a mine. The birds referred to were as black as coal – the common European black bird. When this song was translated into English, crows and ravens were only referred to as fowl. But the 4 ½ ounce Turdus merula (the black thrush), was small enough to be called a bird . In the winter black birds were easy to attract with seed and easy to catch with a net, and they were a common part of the diet. Peasants sang about “four and twenty black birds baked in a pie”. It is a reminder that there are huge chunks of our culture based on now forgotten starvation repeatedly suffered in each life time. And “break fasts,” like the midwinter festival, were fond memories, which Christianity had to adopt and adapt.
In fact, birds play a major role in this song, as if the leader was scanning the banquet table for the next noun to use in the next verse. The partridge is followed by turtle doves, french hens, the Colly birds, geese and swans. The five gold rings seem out of place unless they refer to the ring-necked pheasant, the male of which (above) has a golden brown plumage and a white ring around his neck. There would have been pheasants on any well stocked midwinter festival table, along with the other bird protein
There would also have been cheese (made from milk), and about the room, men and women dancing - but not in pairs, that would not become common until the 10th century. And of course there would be musicians accompanying the song-game with the world's oldest instruments, a flute (or a pipe) and a drum. Music was as vital a part of pagan religious and social celebrations, as they are of Christian services. And that brings up the recent myth that this game was used to preserve Catholicism in a hostile Protestant England. That might be true, except there is not even of hint of it until 1979. However, the success of this myth across the Internet since, does offer an insight into the methodology Christianity used to snatch Christmas from the happy pagans getting drunk at their winter solstice break fast. I am not suggesting a conspiracy, but rather a well meaning application of religiously influenced logic .That is also probably how Mithra over came Apollo, and how Jupiter conquered Zeus. It would be wise for all born again Christian evangelicals to remember that religions practices never really die, they just become adopted and adapted.
The same can be said about a certain odd mathematical aspect of the carol. If you add up all the gifts – 1 partridge, 2 turtle doves and 1 partridge, 3 french hens, 2 turtle doves and 1 partridge, etc., etc. – they add up to 364 gifts in total. It seems there ought to be some connection between the gifts and the length of the year. The only problem is a year is 365 ¼ days long, not 364, and that length has been well known since, well, since forever. And while it seems the number of gifts, like some sort of Christmas carol kabbalah, ought to mean something, it really doesn't. And that seems to me to be the difference between religion and science. In religion the possibility of meaning is the meaning, while in science the possibility is theory and subject to testing. Religion gave us the pyramids and Michelangelo's "David". Science gave us a modern infant mortality rate in industrial nations of less then 1%.
Which brings us to the Christmas Price Index, created in 1984 by the chief economist for PNC Financial Services Group, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as “a humorous commodity price index to measure the changing cost of goods over time” using the gifts in The Twelve Days of Christmas. Each year in late November, PNC analysts consult with the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden and the National Aviary in Philadelphia to price most of the birds in the song. However, for some reason, rather than a European black bird, PNC uses the price of a canary at Petco. Gordon Jewelers, a division of Zale Corporation out of Irving, Texas, prices five gold rings for the Index, even tho, as I said earlier, the gift probably refereed to was five ring-necked pheasants. The maids-a-milking are assumed to be earning federal minimum wage, and the Philadelphia Dance Company and their Ballet Company provide the cost of leaping and dancing ladies and lords. The Pennsylvania Musicians Union provides the cost of the drummers and pipers, and the fruit tree has always been priced by Waterloo Gardens, an upscale Philadelphia plant nursery catering to the local 1%.
In 2012 the partridge and the pear tree together cost $189.99, the turtle doves $125 for the pair, the French Hens $165, the 4 Colling birds (actually Petco canaries) $519.96, the five gold rings $750, the 7 swans $7,000, and the 8 maids the same as last year at a mere $58 (which says something depressing about the minimum wage). The nine ladies and ten lords also cost  the same as last year, at  $6,294 and  $4,766, respectively. The musicians were  $2,562 for the wind instruments and $2,776 for the percussionists. In 2011 for the first time the cost for the Twelve Days of Christmas topped $100,000, up 4% over the year before. And in 2012 the total was $107,300. Surprisingly, the cost of buying the 12 days shopping on-line was 16% higher than buying the same gifts at a mortar and brick store. But then, PNC does not endorse their index as a valid gauge of the economy.
PNC admits they use the index to “engage clients”, which means they are trying to entertain bankers, a profession not known for their humor or humility. But, PNC also admits this annual nonsense economic measure has become “one of PNC’s most popular and anticipated economic reports.” I suspect that is in large part because it is “filler” used by media types to add a Christmas hint to their newscasts. However, this year, the results may have a slightly more telling comment on a changing America. In June of 2012, after 70 years in business, the “nationally renowned Waterloo Gardens” went bankrupt. It seems even the 1% are tightening their belts, which means their gardeners are beginning to starve.
Have a Merry, merry, Capitalist Christmas.
  - 30 -

Sunday, December 30, 2012

MAKING PEACE - PART ONE

I have begun to wonder just how we can end will the war in Afghanistan. In this endeavor we are haunted by
the old dictum from the American Civil War. Having surrounded a Confederate army in Fort Donaldson, Kentucky, General  U.S. Grant demanded, their  " unconditional and immediate surrender." But the reality was that demand was iimmediately rejected by the Confederate commander, General Buckner. And Grant immediately modified his offer.  Despite this President Roosevelt issued the same demand in World War Two of both Germany and Japan. And because Germany was crushed and occupied, the “Greatest Generation” and their children, still expects all American wars to end like World War Two in Europe did. But the truth is that even WWII did not end in "unconditional surrender" . Let me try to show the reality of how we ended World War Two in the Pacific, the most heartless bloodbath America has ever been caught up in.
Logically, America and Japan's war in the Pacific was decided on Sunday, 9 July, 1944. On that day, at 16:15 hours (4:15pm local time), the American commander Admiral Richmond J. Turner declared the island of Saipan secured. The victory had been decisive. In the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot, three Japanese aircraft carriers were sunk and 600 aircraft and pilots were destroyed. The United States lost just 123 planes, and 80 of those experienced air crews were rescued. On  Saipan itself  30,000 Japanese soldiers and 22,000 civilians had died for the Emperor. The United States lost less than 3,000 dead, and 10,364 wounded. That ratio of 10 Japanese dead for every one American dead, had been fairly constant through the war in the Pacific up to this point.  And even before Admiral Turner’s pronouncement, U.S. Navy Construction Battalions ("the amazing C.B.’s") had begun turning the island into the world’s largest airport, from which, eventually, 2,000 B-29’s heavy bombers would turn Japanese factories and cities into torches.
The Japanese recognized it. Nine days after Admiral Turner's pronouncement, Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, the architect of the war with America, and his entire cabinet resigned. This was unambiguous proof that every Japanese senior commander knew that Japan had lost the war. But Japanese leadership now offered the dream that if the Japanese could kill enough Americans in just one more big battle, they would win a more favorable peace from the Americans - no occupation, and no war crimes trials, as were already being held in Germany. So they adjusted their strategy.
*
In conquering Iwo Jima the United States suffered 8,621 dead and 19,189 wounded, and at Okinawa, on the threshold of Japan itself, America suffered 12,513 dead and 38,513 wounded But in those two invasions, Japan would lose 21,000 dead and 130,000 dead. The Americans still gave no public hint of bending on terms. The Japanese strategy was not working..
But even after those bloodbaths, no Japanese leader even hinted in public that they might be willing to negotiate a peace with the Americans. In part this was because the Japanese saw no evidence that America was having any second thoughts about "Unconditional Surrender", and in part because the Japanese military was driven by its most radical leadership.  Japan's public silence on the issue of a negotiations, amounted to the mass murder of their own citizens and soldiers,  of the U.S. forces closing in on them, and the hundreds of thousands of civilians in occupied China and the Philippines, caught between the avenging Americans and the fatalistic fanatics of Japan.
It takes only one nation  to start a war, but it takes two nations to make was peace. And there were a few, mostly in Washington, D.C. and at Pearl Harbor, who realized it was in neither America or Japan's best interests to continue this slaughter. How could these few find a way to convince the majority on both sides  to stop the killing?.
- 30-

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