Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Haymarket & Collective Memory

... only a lonely shaft remembers....
---------------------------------------Nelson Algren

Reading Richard Lindberg's illuminating and very lively book,
Chicago by Gaslight, I can't help but being amazed at how
radical the lower middle class  - to use an anachronistic term  -
once was in America.   In 1879, a labor meeting in Chicago
could  draw over 30,000 people to commemorate the
Paris Communards.  

But where are these people in our memory?
Certainly the descendents of these 30,000 - and of the
100,000s there must have have been nationally - still walk the
streets of the nation, or I should say drive the streets of our
subdivisions.  But how many of these descendants have any 
idea that their own great grandfathers went to rallies and
cheered the speakers exhorting them to destroy capitalism?

How many Presbyterians, even in Chicago, know that the rising tensions
in Chicago which led to the Haymarket Riots are intimately tied with the
founding of the McCormick Theological Seminary? 

When Cyrus Hall McCormick, son of the inventor of eponymous reaper,
took over the McCormick Reaper Works on his father's death*, he cut
the pay of his workers while simultaneously giving huge amounts of money
to Chicago's Presbyterian Seminary.   Most of his workers were Catholic
and of course there is no love lost between these two tribes, so the tension
rose to levels which proved to be lethal when his workers learned of
the large bequest and compared it to their own penury.

My guess is that, today at least, most of the sympathy of those at
the McCormick Theological Seminary, both students and faculty
members, would lie with the workers, not the owner.   

But of course ministers and professors, churches and universities need
money too, so it's McCormick for whom the Presbyterian Church names
its most important seminary and not Albert Parsons who returned
voluntarily to Chicago to be crucified; and it's not Robert
Sengstacke Abbott who founded the Chicago Defender
whose name graces the School of Journalism at Northwestern
University,  but that of Joseph Medill, who once wrote an editorial in
his Chicago Tribune advocating the poisoning of homeless men,
" [as] a warning to other tramps to keep out of the neighborhood...."

In effect the rich buy a good memory of themselves, and we as
Americans, as people of faith, as those who in the end, alas,
believe in success as much as we believe in anything, accept this. 
Nelson  Algren  sums it up  in Chicago, City on the Make:  our
institutions - that is the expressions of our common identity
and purpose,  in the arts, in matters of faith, in education
- in the end they all serve as "Mere monuments to the luckier
brokers of the past."

*   It should not be thought his father had significantly better relations 
with workers.  The elder McCormick financed
the acquisition of gatling machine guns for the Illinois National Guard
in case they had to protect him from... his own workers.

__________________________                    +

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Berlusconi & The World Cup

________________________   ____

Doesn't the quick exit of Italy from the World Cup
feel like the inevitable result of Berlusconi's

It's as if the petulant laziness of mind that the Italian people
have shown in the way they've let Berlusconi co-opt everything
expressed itself in the mediocrity the world champions have

Italy hasn't had this much trouble in Africa since they
took on Ethiopia in 1935.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The New Dylan, The Old Springsteen

Looking on-line for an appropriate sound track to CHRONICLES,
Bob Dylan's memoirs, I came across this cover by Bruce Springsteen
of one of Dylan's greatest songs:

I Want You.

It's an amazing version, both awkward and heart-breakingly beautiful.
It's from Before Born to Run, a period of his career where Springsteen was
known as the New Bob Dylan, but this version is not the version of younger
man.  The younger singer stole a back page from older and aged the song.

While the great original version expresses the frustration of the young
and self-assured at being unable to extend his feeling of power as far
as the object of his desire, in Springsteen's version the vocal is
secondary to a haunting high-pitched drone which feels like nothing
less than the accumulation of loss that we are forced to carry around
as we grow older.

The cover goes off the rail a bit - also sounding quite like
I Came For You, itself a song of young potency  - when he sings
about fathers and true love and not thinking about it, because otherwise 
he's singing from that period of life when you hold onto the most painful
love the hardest, fearing that when the pain is gone, it'll be all over
for you and love.  And in your numbness you'll feel yourself
living that much closer to death.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Artists in Chicago


The artist working in Chicago's in the same situation as the
man married to his high school sweetheart: not only is she
less glamorous and beautiful than the women he met in college, but
also she doesn't treat him very well. 

                           •                                      •                                 •

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Landon School, Latin & Virtue

In the light of the multitude of scandals that have hit Landon School from the SAT cheating that took place in the years after 9-11 to the recent drafting of the girls as sex objects by the school's privileged boys, it's interesting to look at the Landon's School motto, Virtute Et Non Vi, which they translate as "By Virtue,  not  by Force."

The Latin root here, though, really means manly,  as you can see in that it also shows up in the related word virility, and the association with goodness comes from an earlier age when manliness was considered a good in and of itself, i.e., a time such as in the Middle Ages when the privileged young males considered fighting and procreating - and, notably lacking at Landon, chivalry towards women - as the marks of a good knight, knights being the ultimate privileged young males.

The irony of the motto's root meaning, given the unchivalrous treatment of the female students and the tragic death of one of the Virginia Female Lacrosse player at the hands of a Landon lacrosse playing alum seems completely lost on the Landon School's administration as a look at their website makes clear.

Landon School

The word Character is posted over the picture of a Lacrosse Player.   It's hard to imagine a more archetypical image of white male privilege.   (Full disclosure: I played lacrosse at a public high school in Northern Virginia, not far from Landon before attending Yale College.)  It is as if the Duke of Wellington came back from that Great Eton Playing Field in the Sky to affirm athletic prowess as the ultimate test of a boy's character.  Of course the Battle of Waterloo may have been won on the playing fields of Eton, but the athletes on the playing fields of Eton are not headed for the battle fields of Afghanistan.

Perhaps given that the boys of Landon are now better known for cheating on the SATs and drafting local girls as sexual playmates, it's time for the administration to seek a new motto, one less redolent of virility.  How do you translate, By your fruits you shall be known into Latin.