Saturday, June 30, 2018

A Fatal Hobby—The Death of Henry II

Henry II of France.

On June 30, 1559 King Henry II of France met an unfortunate accident while pursuing a popular hobby.  More on that in a bit.

If your French history is not up to snuff here is a thumbnail of Henry’s biographical highlights.
  • Was born in 1509 as a younger son of Francis I.
  • After his pop was captured by the Hapsburg Holy Roman Emperor in a disastrous battle in 1524 young Henry and his older brother the heir apparent were shipped off as hostages to be held by the Hapsburg King of Spain in their father’s stead.
  • Catherine de Medici,  Henry's Queen and connection to Papal power and privilage
  • After being sprung Henry was married to Catherine de Medici.  Both were 14 years old at the time.  But Catherine had important familial connections—she was the daughter of the late Lorenzo de Medici II, ruler of Florence and the ward of her kinsman Pope Clement VI who brokered the marriage deal.
  • Despite his comely young bride, Henry preferred 35 year old courtier Diane de Poitiers who remained his favorite mistress the rest of his life and who had enormous political influence over him.
  • Henry's favorite mistress, courtier Diane de Poitiers, has herself become a romatic legend.
  • In 1636 elder brother Francis died conveniently after a brisk game of tennis making Henry heir to the throne.
  • Nine years later his father died and Henry succeeded to the crown on his 28th birthday.
  • Henry busied himself with endless wars of conquest with the Hapsburgs in Italy and later Flanders and doing the Pope’s bidding by launching heavy persecution of the Protestant Huguenots.
  • Mary, Queen of Scotts, who inherited her throne in infancy, was raised in Henry’s household while Regents held sway in Scotland.  He took care to marry his son Francis to her so that his Valois dynasty would ultimately have claim to the Scottish throne—and potentially the English one as well.
  • Henry's son and heir Francis was matched with Mary Queen of Scotts who had been fostered in the French royal house, a shrew dynastic child marriage.
  • Wrapped up his various wars with the Hapsburgs—now divided between Austrian and Spanish houses, in 1559 with The Peace of Cateau-Cambr√©sis with Elizabeth I of England, whose throne Mary had claim to, and Phillip II of Spain.  Various land claims were settled.  Henry won some, but had to give up Savoy.  But he married his sister off to the Duke of Savoy, so he kept a finger in that pie.  And he sent his daughter √Člisabeth to be Phillip’s bride.
  • To celebrate the treaty, Henry threw a giant party which included an epic Tournament featuring the most celebrated nobility and knights of Europe.

The fatal joust of Henry II.
Which brings us back to our story.  Henry fancied himself a great knight and entered the Tournament.  His opponent in the joust was the dashing captain of his Scottish Guard, Gabriel Montgomery.  Somehow Montgomery’s lance penetrated visor of Henry’s helmet injuring him in the eyes.  The wound was gruesome, and would have blinded the king, but would not have been fatal today.  But without antibiotics blood poisoning set in and the King died ten days later in agony.

His wife Catherine kept his mistress Diane from his bed side, although Henry repeatedly called for her.  After the king died, Diane was sent packing in luxurious exile.  Catherine ruled as ruled as Regent for two of her young sons, Mary’s husband Francis II who lived only a year as king, and Charles IX who sat on the throne until 1570.  She was then a major advisor to her third son, Henry III, who ended up assassinated and was the end of the Valois dynasty.

By the way, Henry’s demise pretty much put an end to the sport of the Joust and has been called the last act of the Age of Chivalry.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Emma and Helen Birthday Sisters—Murfin Verse

A young Emma Goldman  in her mug shot after her arrest for conspiring with her lover Alexander Berkman  in and assassination attempt of steel baron Henry Clay Frick.

Emma Goldman, whose grave I have visited on pilgrimages to the Haymarket Memorial in Forest Home Cemetery, and Helen Keller, who has fascinated me since seeing The Miracle Worker and reading a paperback biography I ordered from a Scholastic Book Club flyer shared a common birthday on June 27.

Helen Keller as a student at Radcliffe was already world famous for her astounding achievements overcoming blindness and deafness.

You know, if you have visited here before, that such calendar coincidences trigger an inexplicable urge to commit poetry.
Most people recognize Goldman’s name as America’s most famous anarchist.  They may be surprised to learn that she was also a famous lecturer whose talks on theater, religion, women’s rights, and free love drew as much attention in their day as her calls to smash the state and end capitalism.
Goldman was such a compelling writer and public figure that even the capitialist press was eager to publish her fiery essays.

Keller’s profound advocacy of Socialism and the IWW has largely been white washed from her public image.  But that is changing as folks on the left slowly become aware that she was a comrade and fellow worker.


Helen Keller as a Joan of Arc type hero leading the working people of the world to triumph in an allegorical scene from her 1919 silent film Deliverance.



In these dark times it is good to remember our Sheroes.  

Birthday Sisters Emma and Helen
Emma Goldman June 27,1869, Konvo, Imperial Russian Lithuania
Helen Keller, June 27, 1880, Tuscumbia, Alabama, USA

If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution—Emma Goldman

…there is no king who has not had a slave among his ancestors, and no slave who has not had a king among his.—Helen Keller.

You might not suspect that they were sisters.

Emma with her square jaw and carelessly attend hair,
            gray eyes peering through
            those old fashion pinze nez spectacles
            perched upon her nose,
            the urban smells of coal fire,
delivery horse dung and workman’s sweat
clinging to her frumpy clothes,
speech meticulously enunciated
barely betraying here and there
a Yiddish trace.

Helen, who would have been a delicate beauty
            in her youth
            were it not for those disconcerting,
            unfocused eyes,
            Confederate grace and slave cotton wealth
            a mantle on her delicate shoulders,
            the sweet lilt of a gentlewoman
            lost to grunts and moans.

But wait….    
            These two knew what it was like
            to be a stranger, an exile,
            an alien other
            and ultimately what it was like
            to be a celebrated curiosity.

They learned as a Jew
            and as a side show freak,
            as women, after all,
            what oppression was
            but also that they
            were not alone—

They swam in a sea of oppression
            and learned early
            of the solidarity of the school
            against the sharks
            that would consume them.

Maybe the world expected little else
            from the Jewess
            who threw her lot early
            with the filthy anarchists
            who made bombs
            and plotted  attentats
            like that job she pulled
            passing the pistol
            to her lover, for god sake,
            to plug Henry Clay Frick.

But the world was aghast
            when the delicate Radcliffe flower
            who had charmed Mark Twain,
            Alexander Graham Bell,
            and Teddy Roosevelt,
            raised the Red Flag
            and fell side by side
            with the laborers,
            the unemployed,        
            the despised—even the Negros!

The atheist anarchist
            and the Socialist Wobbly
            who dabbled in Swedenborgism
            and a mystic Red Jesus
            did not agree on details,
            they might have enjoyed
            a friendly debate
            each being a master
            of the platform.

But each in her own way
            was steadfast to the end
            of her long life
            for a revolution of liberation
            and the ultimate triumph
            of beauty.

I imagine sometimes
            that as they each
            traversed the country
            on lecture tour or
            vaudeville circuit
            if they ever crossed paths
            in say, a railway station
            in Omaha or a
            hotel lobby in Akron
            and fell into each other’s arms
            sobbing—

“Sister, sister, I have found you!”

—Patrick Murfin

Thursday, June 28, 2018

One Summer Sunday on the Square--Families Belong Together Woodstock

With a host's indispensable clipboard in hand the Old Man consults with speakers Peter Janko, Robert Rosenberg, and Rev. Eric C. Fishler as Off Square Music folk  prepare to warm up the growing crowd at Sunday's Families Belong Together Woodstock Rally. Photo Courtesy Peter Janko

Note—This is a few days late, but has been hugely enhanced by the photos of InSight Digital Media and Peter Janco.
It couldn’t have been a nicer summer day than we had in Woodstock, Illinois this past Sunday.  Under pleasant blue skies the temperatures hovered around 80—warm enough to send most of the crowd of about 350 or so under the shade of the Square’s old trees.  But there was serious business to be done at the Families Belong Together Woodstock March and Rally.  It was my job as the principle event organizer for a coalition of organizations that included Illinois League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), McHenry County Progressives, Democratic Party of McHenry County, and Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation Social Justice Team and as host of the program to see things came of smoothly.  Amazingly, due to the hard work and enthusiasm of a lot of people over a very short amount of time, things did.


Ken Johnson warms up the crowd .  The Old Man prepairs take the microphone as host.  This and all most other photos are the work InSight Digital Media.

Ever generous with time and equipment, Keith Johnson and musician pals with Off Square Music were on hand as they have been for so many events on the Square to entertain the crowd and make sure our speakers could be heard.  We go way back with this sort of thing, more than 20 years, since the first Peace and Justice Festival was organized as a counter event to the Ku Klux Klan rallying at the County Court House.  That event became the annual Diversity Day Festival which ran another dozen years or so.  Since then there have been anti-war rallies, immigration events, the recent annual Labor Day Celebrations, last year’s six month celebration of the Women’s March, and this spring’s March for our Lives.  The whole community owes them a debt of gratitude for such un-stinting service.  Featured during the preliminary music were singer/guitarist Ken Johnson and Don Humbertson leading the crowd in the Star Spangled Banner—a bitter-sweet moment for the many of us who mourn how far our nation has fallen during the Trump maladministration.


Rev. Lou Ness.
A good rally needs an inspiring benediction, and longtime Woodstock community activist, non-profit maven, and tireless volunteer Lou Ness was the woman for the job. Now an ordained Episcopal deacon, Rev. Ness customarily pulled no punches, exposing the hollow religious hypocrisy of the administration and its unbiblical and inhumane justifications of wanton cruelty.  Her prayer was one like the prophets of the Old Testament who called rulers to heel and the People to righteousness.  It was a prayer of Resistance by one who proudly proclaims her Christianity revolutionary.  That set a general tone for the whole rest of the event.


Maggier Rivera.
None of the speakers who followed failed to live up to that challenge, each speaking with conviction and passion fueled by their own unique personal experience.  Like Lou Ness, Maggie Rivera, a longtime McHenry County activist is a member of a large and loving family that came from Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood and started out as agricultural laborers and by hard work rose to leadership in the growing Latino Community.  She was a founder of an annual Latino Festival on the Square, worked with families to regularize their immigration status, and organized protests when the racist, anti-immigrant Illinois Minute Men tried to organize in the county.  It should be noted as ample evidence of how low the Party of Trump has sunk that a main leader of the Minute Men was recently elected Chair of the McHenry County Republican Party.  Today Maggie wears two important hats as Director of Illinois LULAC, the nation’s oldest and largest Latino civil rights organization, and as Interim Director of the Illinois Migrant Council.  Sunday she spoke eloquently on behalf of LULAC.


Robert Rosenberg.
Robert Rosenberg cut his political teeth with the Bernie Sanders Campaign and went on to be one of the outstanding leaders of the McHenry County Progressives.  He has also been a principle organizer for the Labor Day Celebrations in the Square the last three years.  He is a proud Democratic Socialist.  To the delight of the crowd he illustrated his speech with a ripe tomato, and example of the produce rotting in the ground due to artificial labor shortages created by Trumps draconian immigration policies.  The crowd roared approval when he smashed the tomato into the face of a cartoon Trump.


 Carlos Acosta.
As the long-time leader of the former Latino Coalition Carolos Acosta was frequently the most visible Latino voice in McHenry County.  The Columbian-born professional social worker has remained a tireless activist.  Currently he is a candidate for County Board from District 5 and District 5 Chair for the McHenry County Democrats.  Carlos challenged the old emcee for bragging rights on the best hat on the stage.


Attorney Beth Vonau.
Beth Vanau is a partner at KRV Legal, a law firm that has done outstanding work representing immigrants including those held in ICE detention in McHenry County Jail.  She was quoted extensively in the Northwest Herald’s coverage of the event.


Annika Martinez introduced by her grandmother.
Perhaps the unexpected star of the afternoon was 11-year old Annika Martinez who came to the stage with her grandmother to ask that she be allowed to give a short speech she had written for the occasion.  And who could deny her?  After an introduction by her grandmother, Annika confidently read her speech to the roaring delight of the crowd.


Peter Janko,
Another emotional high point was provided by Peter Janko, Democratic Central Committeeman for the 14th Congressional District.  But Janko’s message was not a partisan one.  He brought the small, well-worn teddy bear that had been his comfort and security when he arrived as a 4-year-old refugee to the United States with his family from war devastated Europe.  He contrasted the welcoming home he eventually found to the harsh rejection and punishing abuse the greets refugee children today.  Not only are those children torn from their parents and thrown into prison-like conditions, but they are stripped of their own stuffed animals, dolls, toys, and even rosaries that might give them a shred of comfort.



A contingent of Latino Youth arrived in masse.
All during the program a table set up in front of the Gazebo was doing a brisk business collecting signatures on a Families Belong Together petition to Congress.  Early in the program a large contingent of Latino youth entered the Square and arrayed themselves along a sidewalk toward the rear of the crowd with their signs and flags.  During the program the marched en masse to the table to sign the petitions.  They were an inspiring sight and cheered by the crowd.


Ruth Scifo.
Ruth Scifo spoke for the Democratic Party of McHenry County.  As many other speakers had done, she emphasized the importance of voting this November and also of working to elect candidates on every level from Congress to the County Board respect human rights and dignity.  Ruth also organized the marshals for the March Around the Square after the Rally, a critically important job.


Many of the more than 350 in attendance.  

The Rev. Eric C. Fishler.
The Rev. Eric C. Fishler, Lead Minister of the First Congregational Church of Crystal Lake provided a powerful and prophetic benediction. 


Sam Jones asks a question on many minds.

Off Square Music performers played as the crowd formed up and then began their March Around the Square under an increasingly hot afternoon sun.  A couple of laps on the sidewalks, and folks drifted off energized and re-committed to an on-going struggle.



On the march around the Square.



Tree of Life's Lisa Messinger took care of a very busy petition table.