Sunday, June 20, 2021

Summer Solstice/Father’s Day—Calendar Coincidence Murfin Verse

The Green Man, pagan ruler of Midsummer.

Father’s Day once again will fall on the Summer Solstice which will be today, June 20 at 10:31 pm Central Daylight Time.  Such a calendar coincidence moved me to the commission of poetry like a prune juice and X-Lax smoothie facilitates an explosive bowl movement six years ago when the two days also occupied the same day. Depending on your outlook the results may be equally as messy and disgusting.

Some ancient peoples marked the Solstice occasion with such astonishing precision involving monoliths, mounds, and monuments that it has enabled a basic cable cottage industry of pseudo-science documentaries speculating about aliens.  But for many others, the precise date was hard to pin down.  Changes to the length of day were too subtle to be measured precisely.  Instead they spread out the celebration over a cluster of days under various names.  Modern Pagans, who have made up a lot of stuff to fill in the gaps of what is known call those days Litha after and old Anglo-Saxon name for a summer month.  Taken together the various pre-Christian celebrations are often lumped together as Midsummer, as good a name as any.

The Old Man as Green Man, ready to sprout oak leaves.

Was Father’s day, at least subconsciously set in spitting distance of Midsummer if not on the precise day?  Probably not.  But there are those who say that there is no such thing as pure coincidence.  Call it kismet or serendipity, it was enough to set my head spinning and impel my fingers on the keyboard.

                  My father, W. M. Murfin, in Cheyenne circa 1959.

Summer Solstice/Father’s Day

June 21, 2015


Perhaps, after all, I am the Green Man,

            and my Father before me

                        who took to the woods with rod and rifle

            and his father before him

                        who grew strawberries by the porch

            and the fathers before  him

                        who were orchard men in Ohio

            and back to those earlier yet

                        who pulled stones from Cornish fields

                        for their masters.


Save the complexion, I look the part enough

            With shaggy goatee, wild eyebrows,

                        and neglected hair which could sprout

                        oak and ivy.


But my wild forest years are well behind me,

            I plant nothing but my feet on the sidewalk

                        and my butt in a desk chair,

            I raise nothing but questions, concerns,

                        and indignation,

            my fertility was snipped away

                        long decades past

            my virility—don’t make me laugh,

                        no Goddess  awaits in a glade

                        under the triumphant Sun.


Perhaps I am not the Green Man after all

            just an old fool and fraud,

            but, hey, isn’t that all that is needed

            to be just Dad instead.


—Patrick Murfin


Saturday, June 19, 2021

Juneteenth—A Jubilee of Freedom Goes Viral

A new mural unveiled in Galveston commemorates Juneteenth and Black history with images representing the enslaved African Esteban who was shipwrecked on the island and became a noted guide for the Spanish, the arrival of other enslaved Africans in Virginia, Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation, General Gordon Granger signing his order announcing the end of slavery and the U.S. Colored Troops he commanded, and modern celebrations of the holiday.

Note—Interest in Juneteenth has exploded nationally since the murder by police of George Floyd and others set off a new national movement.  This week the observance became an official National Holiday.  ABC TV featured a two hour special last night and other networks and local stations have had special programs.  But just a year ago the former denizen of the Whitehouse went out of his way to stoke white racial resentments and stick his thumb in the eye of the Black Lives Matter movement by making a point of holding his first big rally of the pandemic in Tulsa, Oklahoma just weeks after the well-publicized anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.  His big to-do became a well-documented coronavirus super spreader event.

Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862.  Word spread through the slave grapevine quickly in much of the Confederacy and, as Lincoln had hoped, many slaves abandoned their plantations and sought the safety of Union forces wherever they could.  Not only did this cripple the Rebel economy, but the refugees formed a pool of laborers, teamsters, and—eventually—troops in support of the war effort

But things were different in Texas at the far western edge of the Confederacy.  Word was slow getting there.  After the fall of Vicksburg in 1863 Confederate territory west of the Mississippi was mostly cut off from the eastern states.  Although word might have leaked through in some places, around Galveston, the main port for cotton export from East Texas, slave owners evidently were successful in keeping their property from learning that they were free

Juneteenth is now the largest and most widespread of all of the local Jubilee celebrations of Emancipation.

Far from the main theater of the war, the last battles were fought in Texas along the Rio Grande on May 13 and Major General Kirby Smith, commander of the Trans-Mississippi District became the last major Rebel commander to formally surrender on June 2. 

On June 18 Major General Gordon Granger landed on Galveston Island to take possession of Texas for the Union.  The next day, June 19, the General was said to have stepped onto the balcony of the Ashton Villa and addressed a large crowd of Blacks.  He read them his General Order #3:

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.

The announcement set off joyous celebrations and the word spread across Texas.  The next year, former slaves marked the occasion with more celebrations, which soon became yearly. The events were similar to those that occurred across the South on local anniversaries of the Jubilee Days of Emancipation. 

The first Juneteenth celebration one year after the news arrived in Texas.  Note the many celebrants in Union Army forage caps and fragments of uniforms.  In addition to those who had served in the ranks during the war, many other collected the garments while serving as teamsters or laborers for the Army.  Others acquired the gear as surplus after the war.

The Texas observances quickly became major annual events in Black communities.  By 1870 the day became known as Juneteenth and various traditions started to be associated with it.  Outdoor gatherings of extended families, churches, or communities grew to be all day festivals.  The day typically began with a reading of Gordon’s order and the text of the Emancipation Proclamation followed by recitations of family stories, singing songs like Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, dancing, the recitation of poetry, and prayer.  The central event of the day was usually a community-wide barbeque and potluck

Because slave codes often forbade those in bondage from wearing finery of any kind, by the late 19th Century people turned out in their best clothes.  There were games and contests, particularly baseball, races of all sorts, and—particularly in West Texasrodeos

In many towns local blacks pooled their funds to buy land for the annual gatherings.  These Juneteenth Grounds have become city parks in places like Houston and Austin. 

Late 19th Century ladies in full finery drive a carriage decorated for a Juneteenth parade.

Needless to say, large, exuberant gatherings of Black people frightened and alarmed many whites.  There were attempts to discouraged participation, but the celebrations continued.  The Depression took a toll on observances as families were dispersed, and many rural Blacks sought work in cities where employers did not take kindly to taking a day off work.  Younger folks also began to look on the gatherings a simply old fashioned

The Civil Rights movement reignited interest in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s.  After Martin Luther King’s assassination the Reverend Ralph Abernathy promoted celebrations of Juneteenth during the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington.  Observances began to spread beyond Texas. 

In 1997, the founder of the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation (NJCF), Ben Haith, created the Juneteenth flag. Raising of the flag ceremonies are now held in Galveston as well other cities across the country. It is raised after the U.S. flag and the national anthem and before the anthem Lift Every Voice and Sing.  Here Buffalo Soldier reenactors hoist the colors.

By 2000 a movement arose to make Juneteenth a holiday of some sort in all states and recognition by the Federal Government.  It is an official state Holiday in Texas and now 49 36 states have granted some sort of recognition including Illinois were Governor J.B. Pritzker signed a bill into law earlier this week which made Juneteenth a full official state holiday including paid days off for state employees and public school teachers.  It also mandates Juneteenth curriculum in the schools.

President Joe Biden signs the law making Juneteenth National Independence Day a national holiday surrounded  by long-time activist and advocate of a holiday Opal Lee in white, Vice President Kamala Harris and members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Then on Thursday President Joe Biden conducted a public signing ceremony establishing a Federal Holiday, Juneteenth National Independence Day.  After years of campaigning by activists like 94-year-old Opal Lee the legislation unanimously passed the Senate and was overwhelmingly approved by the House of Representatives.  Of course, the were 14 no votes, all cast by Republican White Men mostly from former Confederate states, hyper conservative enclaves in Southern California, Arizona, and the sole Montana Representative.

But the deed is done!


Friday, June 18, 2021

Medieval Monks Noted Something Went Boom on the Moon

A Chronical illustration depicts five Canterbury monks espying the "split of the horn of the Moon" and Gervase recording their report.

After Vespers five monks gathered in the garden of a Canterbury Abby in an apparent religious reverie.  It was a pleasant, clear evening—June 18, 1178 by our reckoning, June 25 in the old Gregorian calendar.  Contemplating a lovely crescent Moon they were shocked when something like a giant explosion wracked the heavenly body then watched in awe for some time as the Moon seemed to undergo fantastic changes.

We know this because the five Monks reported to their Superior and to the Abby’s official Chronicler Gervase that “the upper horn [of the Moon] split in two.”  Gervase recorded the observation thusly:

From the midpoint of the division a flaming torch sprang up, spewing out, over a considerable distance, fire, hot coals and sparks. Meanwhile the body of the Moon which was below writhed, as it were in anxiety, and to put it in the words of those who reported it to me and saw it with their own eyes, the Moon throbbed like a wounded snake. Afterwards it resumed its proper state. This phenomenon was repeated a dozen times or more, the flame assuming various twisting shapes at random and then returning to normal. Then, after these transformations, the Moon from horn to horn, that is along its whole length, took on a blackish appearance.

Many scientists now believe that what those tonsured clerics observed was the effect of a collision of a small asteroid or comet fragment with the Moon which made a significant impact crater just over the observable horizon on what we call the dark side of the Moon.  Cue Pink Floyd now.

Those monks may be the only individuals ever recorded to have witnessed such a collision by the unaided eye.

Giorano Bruno got roasted by the Roman Inquisition.  For his pains, scientists much later named the hidden crater on the Moon for him.

Specifically the impact may have created what we now call the Giorano Bruno Crater—after the Italian philosopher and Dominican Friar who was burned at the stake for expanding on Copernicus’s theories of a heliocentric universe in which the Sun is just another star.  He was a great martyr to science, but not yet born when those other Monks made their observation.  The Inquisition made toast of Bruno in 1600.

The crater is 22 kilometers in diameter and lies between the significant craters Harkhebi and Szilard.  But evidence shows that Bruno is far younger, by probable millennia than its neighbors.  Observed from space the rim is high and sharp, uneroded by eons of impacts from micro objects and space dust.  It sits at the center of a symmetrical ray system of ejecta that has a higher almost white reflection than the surrounding surface.  These radiate nearly 300 km from the center.  All of this is evidence of, by the standards of the Moon, a very recent event.

This NASA photo clearly shows the sharply defined Giodano Bruno crater between to much older neighbors.

Soviet un-manned lunar probes first photographed the far side of the Moon beginning in 1959.  Since then ever higher resolution pictures have been taken by Russian and American orbiters and NASA Astronauts viewed the hidden surface on Apollo missions.

Based on analysis of those photographs, geologist Jack B. Hartung first tied the Monks’ long ago observation to the Crater Bruno.  The explosion that they witnessed on the “upper horn” corresponded exactly with the location of the Crater just over the horizon.

The observation also conformed to what many scientist expect would be the result of such a powerful impact—a plume of molten matter rising up from the surface consistent with the monks’ description.

Much of the scientific community has agreed with the conclusion, but the theory also has its skeptics.

Some complain that such a spectacular event should have been noted by others.  But in England and most of Northern Europe it could have been seen by hundreds of thousands who were either illiterate and could not record the event or whose notations have simply not survived.  It was daylight in areas of other regular observers of the sky who did keep usually scrupulous notes—the Muslim scholars in Baghdad and elsewhere and the Chinese especially.  Local weather conditions might not have been so clear.  So that in itself is not telling.

A more persuasive argument is that an impact of that magnitude should have sent tons of material out into space, most of which would eventually be captured by Earth’s gravity.  It would have fueled a spectacular meteor shower that would have lasted more than a year.  Yet no records of such an event can be found and falling stars were everywhere regarded as significant omens and clusters of them carefully recorded.

Skeptics argue that debris from the Lunar impact should have sent debris into space that would have eventually resulted in a spectacular and long lasting meteor shower, and event which was never recorded after the Monks' observation.

The same critics point out that a “recent” lunar event, even one which has been calculated to have occurred during the span of human history on Earth can be very old in human terms—as likely to have been observed by Neanderthals as by Medieval Monks.

Despite the lack of meteor shower argument, other scientists have posed an explanation.  If the impact was caused by a comet fragment, other large fragments passing close to the Moon, may have gathered the rising debris from the surface in their own gravitational pull, dragging behind it in a long orbit around the Sun.

Skeptics still must explain what the Monks actually saw or dismiss it as a fabrication or hallucination.  The only explanation that they can come up will seems even more farfetched than the possibility of an accurate description of a collision.  Their hypothesis holds that the Monks just happened to be in the right place at the right time to see an exploding meteor coming at them and aligned with the Moon. This would explain why the monks were the only people known to have witnessed the event because such an alignment would only be observable from a specific spot on the Earth’s surface.

So there you have it, the pros and the cons.  Draw your own conclusions. 


Thursday, June 17, 2021

A Watergate Working Stiff Does His Job and a President Falls


Watergate Security guard Frank Wills got 15 minutes of fame for discovering and reporting he break-in at Democratic National Committee offices.

Here’s to a working stiff just doing his job.  This one made/changed history.  In the early morning of June 17, 1972 Frank Wills, a $2 an hour rent-a-cop security guard at the Washington D.C. Watergate office building noticed that something was amiss.  While making his rounds Wills noticed tape on a door between a basement stairwell and the parking garage. He removed the tape and went on his way. 

One of five men inside the building discovered that the tape, which was used to hold back the latch bolt so the door could be opened, was missing.  He replaced the tape. On his next round, around 1:55 AM, Wills saw that the tape had been replaced.  He immediately called D.C. Police who arrested five men wearing surgical gloves and in possession of electronic monitoring equipment in the offices of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). 

The five were James W. McCord, a former FBI and CIA agent and a security coordinator for the Republican National Committee (RNC) and the Committee for the Re-election of the President (CREEP); Bernard L. Barker a veteran of the CIA Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and a Miami real estate broker; Frank A. Sturgis, a Miami associate of Barker with connections to the CIA and Cuban exile community; Eugenio R. Martinez, an employee of Baker’s real estate firm and an anti-Castro exile; and another Cuban, locksmith Virgilio R. Gonzales. 

Mug shots of the Watergate burglars.

The men were charged with attempted burglary and attempted interception of telephone and other communications.  The incident merited a brief mention on network news programs that evening and short articles buried deep in the pages of most newspapers outside of Washington. 

Despite the short notice of the press, the police investigation began unwinding a wider conspiracy pretty quickly. A search of the suspects’ rooms turned up thousands of dollars in cash.  A background check quickly tied McCord to Attorney General John Mitchell, Chairman of President Richard Nixon’s re-election committee. 

Mitchell denied involvement and McCord was fired from his RNC and CREEP positions.  On August 1 a $25,000 check made out to CREEP was found to have been deposited in one of the burglars’ personal account.  Shortly after that another $89,000 in individual donations were found to have been moved through an account of a company controlled by Barker. 

CREEP Treasurer Hugh Sloan told authorities that he was directed by Committee Deputy Director Jeb Magruder and Finance Director Maurice Stans to turn the checks over to G. Gordon Liddy, a former FBI agent, prosecutor, and White House aide who had been selected by Mitchell to run the operational end of the Plumbers Unit—a secret White House operation to control leaks, conduct intelligence operations, surveillance of political enemies, and play “dirty tricks” on opponents.

Nixon's Plumbers Unit spooks E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Libby head into court.

Liddy was soon tied to H. Howard Hunt, the former author of pot-boilers and thrillers who was a high level undercover agent and “super spook” for the CIA before retiring.  Hunt had deep connections with the Cuban exile community and recruited the Cubans to Liddy’s operations. 

The first black bag job of the Plumbers was the botched break-in of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist in search of dirt on the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers.

On September 15th a Federal Grand Jury indicted Liddy, Hunt, and the five burglars.

On December 8, 1972 Hunt’s wife Dorothy was among those killed in the crash of a United Air Lines jetliner near Chicago’s Midway Airport.  $10,000 in cash was found in her purse.  

All were convicted on January 30, 1973 and sentenced to prison. 

Meanwhile investigations by Congress and by the press slowly connected the event to a wider conspiracy that led, ultimately to Richard Nixon’s doorstep.   That Byzantine tale is too complex to summarize here, but you know how it ended—lots of suits in prison and a disgraced President waving farewell to power from the door of a helicopter

The ultimate fruit of Frank Wills's diligence.

As for Wills, he had his of 15 minutes fame.  He soon resigned from the security company unhappy that his service was not rewarded with a raise or even vacation time.  Unable to find steady work, he returned to his hometown in South Carolina to care for his ailing mother.  They lived in poverty.  In 1983 he was convicted of shoplifting a pair of sneakers and sentenced to a year in prison. 

He died penniless of a brain tumor in 2000 at the age of 52.  Bob Woodward one of the investigative reporters who doggedly followed the story looked back at Wills and said. “He’s the only one in Watergate who did his job perfectly.”

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

It’s Bloomsday—James Joyce and Dublin of the Imagination

The banks of the River Liffey much as it would have looked on June 16, 1904.

Today is Bloomsday, a literary festival celebrated around the world in honor of Irish novelist James Joyce and his masterwork Ulysses.  It celebrates June 16, 1904, and the life and thoughts of Leopold Bloom, a Dublin Jew, his wife Molly and a host of other characters both fictional and real from 8 am that morning to the wee hours of the next day

He set his novel on that day because it was the occasion of the first date between Joyce and his future mistress and wife, Nora Barnacle

Joyce was born in Dublin in 1882, the eldest of ten children.  He was educated at Jesuit schools before enrolling at University College on Stephen’s Green where he studied modern languages at a time when Irish nationalism was spurring a renaissance of national culture and literature

Upon graduation he went to Paris as a medical student but spent most of his time drinking in cafés and writing.  He was called home for the terminal illness of his mother in 1904 during which time he met Nora. 

Young Jim Joyce and Nora Barnacle in 1904--the would-be writer and his red haired future mistress and wife.

That August the first of his short stories was published in the Irish Homestead magazine.  In October he left Ireland with Nora in tow for a job as an English teacher with a Berlitz school in Pola, Croatia.  He would only return to Ireland for four short visits after that, and the last of those was in 1912.  The couple lived as expatriates

For ten years they lived in the city of Trieste where they immersed themselves in the local culture, spoke the local Italian dialect at home, and added two children, Georgio and Lucia, to the family.  Joyce contributed articles in Italian to the local press and lectured on literature

Joyce’s separation from Ireland crystallized his memories of it and fixed them perfectly in a set time in a way that might not have been possible had he been living there amid the inevitable changes

In 1914 Joyce had a breakthrough year as a writer.  American poet Ezra Pound assisted getting his first novel, the semi-autobiographical A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, published as a serial in Harriet Weaver’s London magazine, Egoist and his collection of short stories, begun in 1904, was published as The Dubliners.  These two works, plus a short play, The Exiles, introduced him as an important writer

World War I erupted the same year and disrupted Joyce’s life. Italian speaking Trieste was a southern outpost of the Austo-Hungarian Empire.  Suddenly Joyce and his family were “enemy aliens” in hostile territory apt to be arrested.  They escaped to Zurich, Switzerland where they waited out the war and lived in squalor and poverty, supported by handouts from friends and literary admirers

Joyce was working on the manuscript for Ulysses in which tied the events of Homer’s Odysseus to Bloom’s story and he incorporated people he knew from Trieste and Zurich into characters in his story.  Nora, particularly her distinct speech pattern and red hair, was the model for Molly Bloom. 

Joyce as an expatriate language teacher and writer.

After the war Pound induced the family to move to Paris, where they stayed for twenty years.  Joyce became part of the international community of expatriate writers and intellectuals that included his some-time drinking companion, Ernest Hemmingway

In 1921 the serial publication of Ulysses in the American magazine The Little Review was stopped when the government charged the publisher with circulating pornography through the mails.  An English edition was scuttled before it could be issued when Harriet Weaver could not even find a printer willing to typeset the now notorious book.  In 1922 the American expatriate owner of the Shakespeare & Co. bookshop in Paris, Sylvia Beach finally published the novel, which was hailed as a masterpiece and denounced as lewd, unintelligible trash.  In 1932 an edition of the book was published by Joyce’s friend and associate Paul Léon, a Russian Jewish émigré living in Paris, under the imprint of Odyssey Press. 

Joyce with the publisher of Ulysses, Sylvia Beach the American owner of Shakespeare & Company bookstore in Paris.

Despite a pirated 1929 edition, Ulysses remained banned in America until Benet Cerf of Random House, a friend from Paris, arranged to have a French edition of the book seized by Customs authorities so he could challenge the earlier obscenity ruling.  In 1934 U.S. District Judge John M. Woolsey ruled that the novel was not pornography and thus not obscene. The decision was upheld on appeal the next year.   Random House published an authorized American edition the same year.

The case was the death knell of using postal regulations to censor literary works in the U.S.  Two years later British censorship restrictions fell and the Bodley Head edition was published. 

Each of these and subsequent editions have major differences in texts resulting from the lack of a single, unified original manuscript by Joyce, various textual editorial theories of the publishers and editors, and attempts to correct perceived mistakes” in earlier editions. 

While all this publication drama swirled around him, Joyce worked on the manuscript of his most complex work, the enigmatic Finnegan’s Wake published in 1939. 

War once again disrupted his life as the Nazis closed in on Paris in 1940.  Joyce and family fled to the South of France before being given refuge once again in Zurich.  The faithful Paul Léon dared to return to Paris to rescue Joyce’s personal effects and manuscripts, which he put in hiding

Joyce, always frail and half blind, died in Zurich on January 31, 1941 at the age of 59. 

John Ryan, Anthony Cronin, Flann O’Brien aka Myles na Gopaleen, Patrick Kavanagh and Tom Joyce, on Sandymount Strand on Bloomsday 1954.

The first observation of Bloomsday was organized by the Irish writers Patrick Kavanagh and Flann O’Brien in 1954 on the 50th anniversary of the original date.  A tour of the various sites in the book was never completed when the participants partook too deeply at pubs in route.  Joyce would have approved.  Since then, Bloomsday events, usually involving extended readings from the book, have been spread around the globe.  Want to participate?  You can start from the beginning:


 STATELY, PLUMP BUCK MULLIGAN CAME FROM THE STAIRHEAD, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressing gown, ungirdled, was sustained gently-behind him by the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned:

Introibo  ad altare Dei

Halted, he peered down the dark winding stairs and called up coarsely:

—Come up, Kinch. Come up, you fearful jesuit.

Solemnly he came forward and mounted the round gunrest. He faced about and blessed gravely thrice the tower, the surrounding country and the awaking mountains. Then, catching sight of Stephen Dedalus, he bent towards him and made rapid crosses in the air, gurgling in his throat and shaking his head. Stephen Dedalus, displeased and sleepy, leaned his arms on the top of the staircase and looked coldly at the shaking gurgling face that blessed him, equine in its length, and at the light untonsured hair, grained and hued like pale oak.

            Buck Mulligan peeped an instant under the mirror and then covered the bowl smartly.   

Dublin celebrates her wayward son.  Joyce at city center.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Compassion for Campers Adds Gear Distribution Options for June

Compassion for Campers, the program that provides supplies and gear for the McHenry County homeless will hold its monthly outdoor, warm weather distribution at St. Ann’s Episcopal Church, 503 W. Jackson Street in Woodstock today Tuesday June 15 from 3:30-5 pm.

Clients select from gear on display at St. Ann's Episcopal Church in Woodstock last November.

Compassion for Campers is also joining a collective effort by McHenry County Outreach, a loose cooperation between service providers in the area including Pioneer Center, the St. Vincent DePaul Society, Warp Corps, and others for an enhanced service opportunity for the unhoused at Willow Creek Crystal Lake, 100 Main Street in Crystal Lake on Friday June 25 from 10 am-3pm.  There will be a mobile shower available, free use of laundry facilities, onsite case management services for people who are looking for the assistance, and lunch in addition to the usual camping gear and equipment.  

Willow Creek Crystal Lake on Mainstreet downtown will host a new, cooperative service to the unhoused that will include showers, laundry facilities, social service agency referrals and case management in addition to Compassion for Campers gear.

The program has stocked up on seasonal supplies including insect repellent, sunscreen, rain ponchos, and lighter socks and clothing.

“Meanwhile Compassion for Campers will continue to have some gear including tents, sleeping bags, mats, and stoves available at Warp Corps, 114 North Benton Street in Woodstock for walk-in pickup when the store is open,” according to Patrick Murfin, a volunteer coordinator, “making it easier to continuously meet the needs of our unhoused neighbors.

Compassion for Campers is grateful to St. Ann’s Episcopal, Willow Creek Crystal Lake, the Faith Leaders of McHenry County, McHenry County Outreach, Warp Corps, and Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation in McHenry for their invaluable ongoing support.

Contributions to support the program can be made by sending a check made out to Tree of Life UU Congregation, 5603 Bull Valley Road, McHenry, IL 60050 with Compassion for Campers on the memo line. The donations are placed in a dedicated fund and not used for any other purpose.  Tree of Life also donates all the administrative expenses of the program so 100% of all donations go directly to client assistance.


Monday, June 14, 2021

The Complicated History and More Complicated Emotional Reactions to Flag Day

Note:  We’ve been here before but slightly updated to account for recent catastrophe and on-going embarrassments.

In case you hadn’t noticed today is officially Flag Day, a demi-holiday easily overlookedIt is celebrated by displaying the American FlagVeterans groups often organize solemn flag disposal ceremonies

No other country on Earth makes quite the fetish of its flag as does the United States.  The word idolatry comes to mind.  At its worst it elevates the symbol—the Flag—over the substance—the democratic values espoused in the Declaration of Independence and protected by the Constitution.  It is an absolute truism that those who wrap themselves most in the Flag—and these days that is not just a figurative term—are the most disingenuous and dangerous.  Witness any performance by the former Resident of the White House and the seditious mobs that laid siege to the Capitol.

A scoundrel hugged the flag.

On the other hand—especially those who served in the Armed Forces or who were raised in a veteran’s household—have been taught to respect the Flag and “the nation for which it stands.”  I still hang the Flag on my house on patriotic holidays and always place my hat over my heart when it passes by in a parade.  It’s just the way I was raised.

Part of the national devotion to the Flag comes from an odd combination of cultural coincidence and calculated political strategy.  Our National Anthem, not officially adopted until 1931 but widely used on patriotic occasions for more than a century prior, may be the only national song about a flag. 

After the Civil War the Grand Army of the Republic used the flag as a victory symbol and as a taunt to defeated rebels.  They heavily promoted the use of the banner where it had not been previously displayed.

Not widely displayed except at military posts, on Navy ships, and on some Federal buildings prior to the Civil War, the Grand Army of the Republic heavily promoted its use after the war in a spirit of triumphalism of the Union over the vanquished South.  For that reason display of the national flag was highly unpopular in the South until World War I.

The flag and the Pledge of Allegiance were used to Americanize immigrants, especially children as in this Jacob Riis photo.

The Pledge of Allegiance was penned by Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister and socialist, for use during celebration the 400th anniversary of the supposed discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus.  Quickly adopted by schools as part of the daily ritual of beginning classes, the Pledge does not swear allegiance to the government—an inclusive tip-of-the-hat to resentful former Rebels—or even to the Constitution, but to a symbol, the Flag.

By the turn of the 20th Century the Flag was being used as a symbol of assimilation for the waves of emigrants swamping our shores—and as a test of their loyalty.  The most popular composers of the era—the March King John Philip Sousa and Broadway’s George M. Cohan made literal flag waving as popular as moon-June-spoon ballads.

During World War I and after the flag was used to boost patriotism and became more closely associated than ever with the armed forces.

During World War I, the Woodrow Wilson administration used flag imagery as part of their very sophisticated domestic propaganda operation designed to rouse support of the war effort and raise Liberty Loans.  After the war, the Flag was used to rally support for suppression of the labor movement, radicalism, Socialism, and Communism said to represent sinister alien ideologies.

Wilson proclaimed the first official Flag Day in 1916.  In 1949, with the country in the grips of yet another Red Scare, Congress made it an official Federal Holiday, although withholding the paid days off for Federal employees standard for other holidays.

June 14 is Flag Day because on this date in 1777 the Continental Congress passed the Flag Act which officially described a new national banner:

Resolved: That the flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation.

Betsy Ross almost certainly did not sew the first flag, Washington never viewed it, and the 13 stars in a circle banner may not have ever been actually used during the Revolution.  None of that stopped myth makers.

The new official flag—not, by the way, likely first sewn by Philadelphia seamstress Betsy Ross—was based on the unofficial Grand Union flag used by General George Washington during the Siege of Boston.  That flag had the same thirteen alternating red and white stripes but had the British Union flag in its canton.  Of course, that was before Independence was declared in July of 1776.  It wouldn’t do to keep the reference to the British flag. 

 The Act was vague—it did not describe the arrangement of the stars in the field, how the stars should be shaped, or even how large the field should be.  Local flag makers working from the sketchy description produced many variations with five, six, and even twelve pointed stars; with stars of different sizes; and many variations of arrangement.  Also, the shade of blue used for the field depended largely on what blue cloth the maker might have at hand.

The familiar thirteen stars in a circle was not only not standard, but some historians also doubt if it was used at all during the Revolutionary War.  Others believe that it might have been the flag used at the British surrender at Yorktown.

After Vermont and Kentucky were added to the Union two additional stars and two stripes were added.  It was this flag that was the Star Spangled Banner observed still flying over Ft. McHenry in Baltimore harbor after an all-night British naval bombardment in 1815.  It became apparent that with more new states, adding stripes would quickly become clumsy. In 1818, after five more states were added, Congress fixed the number of stripes at thirteen with an added star for each new state.

But it still did not specifically designate an arrangement for the stars.  During the Civil War flags with all manner of arrangements were used.  It was not until the creation of the 48 star flag in 1912 that a specific arrangement was established.  The current 50 star flag has been in use since July 4, 1960 after the admission of Hawaii to the Union.  This year will mark the 61st anniversary of that flag, which has been in service longer than any previous national banner.

Insurgents laying siege to the Capitol used the flag, but also proximately displayed the Confederate battle flag and the banners of a number of fascist and racist hate groups.

Today the flag is waved by forces on both sides of the great social and political divide even as the nation for which it stands after the perilous on the verge of a second civil war last January.  But many on the left are still chagrined and conflicted about the flag.  Does it represent the on-going lethal threat to which the Black Lives Matter Movement has responded?  To the ongoing expressions of white supremacy and the continued attacks on basic voting rights?  To attempts to degrade women and attack their bodily autonomy?  To the treatment of immigrants and refugees? To continuing militarism and low-grade but bloody war around the world?  Or can the flag be honored as an yet unfulfilled promise?

Both sides of the current American social chasm claim to love their country but have seemingly irreconcilable notions about what America is, what it means, and what it should become.

Rev. William Barber of the Moral Monday marches and the new Poor People's Campaign has used the flag as a symbol for voting rights and economic equality.  Immigrants, refugees and their allies also us the flag as aspirational.

As for me, I will choose hope.  I’ve got my flag today and on the belief that it stands for “Liberty and Justice for All.  What does your flag mean?