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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Beggars CAN Be Choosers!

Book Review:
Hitchcock, Timothy.  Down and Out in Eighteenth-Century London, 2nd edition paperback.  London: Hambledon Continuum, 2007.

Beggars can, indeed, be choosers.  Were beggars and the beggarly poor of eighteenth-century London, filthy sellers of ballads or bodies, shoe blacks, chimney sweeps, cinder sifters, errand boys, criers, or hawkers, active social agents?  Timothy Hitchcock explored the often misunderstood, urbanizing, and fast-paced London of this time starting with the bottom up to describe the poor as agents of choice.  He stated his purpose in writing Down and Out in Eighteenth-Century London as an attempt to define the lower level of London society.  He wanted to tell who they were and where they slept, with little money and no connections – yet capable of making choices that determined their fate.  In his view, they even determined the future of London society.

Hitchcock spoke from experience.  This book stemmed from his personal exploration of human endurance and compassion.  For a decade, he hitchhiked on two continents.  He knew what it was to be hungry, to sleep rough, to live the poor life.  After these various personal experiences, he undertook a challenge to explore the paucity of records relating to the nameless portion of society.  Hitchcock performed this task admirably, producing a scholarly and literary work with London-based manuscript sources, the Old Bailey proceedings, ballads, poems, newspapers, novels, and various prints.

Old Bailey proceedings and other legal records generally indicated male defendants.  As Hitchcock makes clear, this was only a small percentage of the London beggar population.  London society understood females to be the weaker sex, the most likely sexual demographic to become beggars.  They often had children to feed, were often deserted by the men that they depended upon for sustenance, and more in need of support.  So, legal records reflected society’s condemnation of “worthless” male vagrants who, in their eyes, merely took advantage of poor laws and charity.  Matthew Martin’s 1796 Mendicity Enquiry Office records showed that of 2,000 beggars on that list, only 197 were male.  In contrast, of those arrested, over forty percent were male.  One Old Bailey record from 1744 demonstrated that Joseph Haughton tried to provide a female defendant with a character witness, but discredited himself when he admitted to being a “ballad-singer,” one of the pauper professions.  Women occupied the backstreets almost naturally and contributed to the abundance of charity and popular literature which Hitchcock used in this book.
In fact, accessibility stands as the greatest asset to his book.  Many of the stories told come from the poor themselves, not simply through the legal records, but from stories told by the beggars.  Hitchcock’s book, while originating from the Old Bailey online project, evolved into a smoother production that seemed more like literature than history.  He quotes from many popular sources, including John Gay’s Trivia, stories by Richard Steele, ballads by Henry Carey, and poems by Christopher Smart.  Francis Place spoke of poor women of Limehouse, St. Catherine’s Lane, and Rosemary Lane in the East End in personal descriptions.

Pictures of poor London women accompanied these many literary sources, provided by William Hogarth, certainly, but also Paul Sandby, Thomas Gainesborough, and others – thirty-nine of them in all.   Prostitutes similar to “Raggety Madge,” Mary Long, and Sarah Robinson in St. Giles are reflected in the many prints that Hitchcock provides.  One print showed a spirited girl riding a statue of a horse in Charing Cross, celebrating two hapless men in the pillory below.

Hitchcock showed that the poor took advantage of every opportunity.  The anti-Catholic sentiments expressed in the Gordon Riots in 1780 generated the use of similar tactics in the beggarly population.  When one showed up at Richard Stone’s, pulled off his hat, and said, ”pray remember the Protestant religion,” he immediately showed his impiety by demanding three times as much as he was given.  Scripture words became the most common type of language used by beggars to induce the benefits of Christian charity.  Humor and self-deprecation were also useful.

Still, were these attributes of London’s poor any more apparent than other eighteenth-century European towns?  He provided no data for comparison.  More so, Hitchcock desired to provide a history of the individual poor on the streets of London, an attempt to recover their lives and understand their experiences and options.  He also desired to make a point – that the members of London’s poor were able to hold their own, and more so, to influence the path of history.  Whether Hitchcock was successful or not remains to be seen.  He did show that Mary Cut-and-Come-Again maintained a sense of self-worth and independence, but her defiling of the justice system gained her only a date with the gallows.  The colorful method she used to show this defiance successfully illustrated her enormous self-worth.  Her public disrobing did not, however, suggest a successful strategy.  Most of the accounts were probably quite similar.  A literary history of the poor, Hitchcock created.  Whether that history compared in any way to another demographic or had an effect on the evolution of society as a whole was not so clear.

Another vexing comparison with con-artists of the modern day came from “a very singular man indeed,” Paul Patrick Kearney (131).  Hitchcock focused sharply on Kearney, who drained every last shilling that he could from the “murdering place” of a workhouse in St. Dionis Backchurch parish on Rose Lane (130).  After numerous hypochondriacal complaints of infirmity, disease, and parish corruption added to the numerous failed attempts at work and repeated extortions, he finally left.  While he drained the parish dry of funds for years, one final extortion of 40 shillings bought the parish’s freedom from Kearney.  Again, Hitchcock told that this was not unusual.  Indeed, almost everyone of adult age today has met someone like this.  It was just human nature at its worst.

Hitchcock told a colorful tale, but perhaps he did little more than this as far as historicity goes.  As a clump of popular, yet vulgar and ribald tales, his book reflected its origins as a mere collection, compiled typologically from numerous sources.  He successfully described London poor life in great detail, but lost his scholarly mantle in joyful populism.  His descriptions of prostitutes offering themselves in alleys, vagrants sleeping in obscure, dirty warmth, bunking in a watchhouse, or taking advantage of holiday compassion could be found anywhere.  Today, as then, these guys carry signs.  Beggars who offered work for charity on London streets seem rather familiar to anyone waiting at a stoplight in any urban area today.  Furthermore, Hitchcock’s assessment of Christmas begging as more prevalent in the eighteenth century than today seems rather arbitrary, as he was prone to be from time to time.

Hitchcock said it best, “a literary experiment that self-consciously plays with history as a genre” (233).  That phrase described this book perfectly.  Bold and daring, Hitchcock tried to mix text with context.  He experimented on the historical method itself.  Down and Out reads as wonderfully intriguing and occasionally shocking – tales of women showing themselves and beggars sleeping rough under the bulks.  Even the use of scripture to gain a handout, unlike the “truly pious” William McNamee, was not unusual among the world’s or today’s poor.  As a bold, new experiment, whether it demonstrates that the poor had any more significance in London than in any other town of the same time period remains to be seen.  The data required further analysis.  On the whole, Down and Out in Eighteenth-Century London was most entertaining.  Much value can and has been gained from Hitchcock’s book and from the project that spawned it.  Hopefully, more will come.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Am I Just Picking on the Confederacy?

Originally published in 2011 - in the Obama Era.

You tell me.. was I wrong?

Equal Rights
From :

The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) launched roughly fifty years later after the 19th amendment was no so fortunate and was never ratified. Phyllis Schafly, leader of the opposition had a celebration of its defeat June 30, 1982 and Norma Russell for the Southern Partisan interviewed her the morning after. A question about the concentration of her support in the South is revealing, implicitly bringing up the issue of States’ Rights. Three reasons were given, one was that some of the southern state legislatures were not in session the year the ratification process started, giving her time to build up opposition in those states, and another reason was that southern states’ laws were held to privilege women, and the third states’ rights. 

PARTISAN: How do you account for the concentration of opposition to the ERA in the South?
SCHAFLY: There are several reasons for opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment in the South. …
The second reason for the opposition to ERA in the South is that Southerners recognized early the tremendous shift of power to the Federal Government that was involved in Section 11 of ERA. They did not want to give the Federal Government any more power. Now I think the rest of the states in the country feel that way too, but the Southern states recognized the danger sooner.

Well might Schafly appreciate the South, otherwise the ERA would have passed easily. Of the former states of the Confederacy and Oklahoma, 10 states rejected the ERA, a nearly Solid South of 84% opposition. Of the other 38 states, 33 ratified the ERA, a percentage of 87% in favor. However, for ratification ERA would need a total of 38 states. This meant that outside the South 36 states would be needed, a percentage of 94.7%. Unlike the 19th amendment, the ERA didn’t get nearly 100% support outside the South, so it died.

 The 19th amendment and women’s rights are just one example elaborated here. You could look at a map of states with Sodomy laws or right to work laws and see confederacies. 

 Does this map look similar to any other?
States in Blue ratified the ERA amendment... States in Red did not.

Unconstitutional Religious Tests for Office

 Rachel Maddow shows map about 2 minutes into this video about Cecil Bothwell in Asheville, NC

Article Six of the United States Constitution states "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."  Seven southern states still ignore this...

Does this map look familiar too?

How about this one?
Red is the Southern Baptist Convention...  Most fundamentalist wackos branch off the Baptist denomination... including Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, KS with Pastor Fred Waldron Phelps, Sr.

Sexual Orientation Rights

No Protection in the South... surprising, huh? Not really...

Westboro Scrapbook:

Pastor Phelps leading his gay-bashers at the pulpit.  He has been so inspiring to many conservative leaders!  What's weird is, that his state of Kansas supposedly affords some rights to gays and lesbians.

Another Uh...
There is no wondering why Markos Moulitsas Zúniga calls these guys (today's right-wingers) the American Taliban... Westboro Baptist Church says it themselves... "God is" THEIR "terrorist!"  

Death Penalty

Bible Belt Death


Like almost everything else in Appalachian culture, the Bible plays a part in how many people think. Most people may not know it, but the Protestant version of the Christian religion is split over more things than just how to read the Bible. They can be split into two broad groups: 

(1) The death of Jesus on the Cross is a symbol of love by God who was willing to sacrifice His Son to show that love. His sacrifice was a symbol of love and forgiveness, and those were also the words of Jesus and what he stood for. These folks may/may not agree on issues such as abortion or homosexuality but are more "liberal" (I don't mean socialist) on many issues. Many of the best parts of our society , including civil rights, comes from this Christian tradition. These folks usually have a positive outlook on life. 


(2) Humans are by nature evil, wicked, born into sin and must be controlled at all times. They see God as an angry judge, ready to hand down swift punishment for the smallest infraction of His Laws. This is best symbolized by the Flood in Genesis or Sodom and Gomorra. Some of these folks may go as far as advocate the death penalty for abortion and homosexuality. Their version of God is utterly devoid of reason, love, or compassion in many cases. They simply follow "faith only" and ignore anything Jesus said as they prefer the Apostle Paul (Romans), Revelations, and the harshest sections of the Old Testament (BCBNOTE: you know... like the Taliban with the Quran). There is often an element of racism, social, and religious intolerance. Most view life as a struggle and have a negative outlook. 

... what disturbs me is most death row inmates are poor, non-white, or both. 


Still ethnic cleansing are we?  Like we did in 1898 Wilmington?  It seems to be going well for the "Good ol' Boys" ...

Am I just being unfair?  

Actually, 35% of New Jersey conservatives believe that Barack Obama MIGHT be the... and get this... the ANTI-CHRIST!!

So, maybe it's more than just the former Confederate States today.  I'll bet they had some contribution, though!  Frank Schaffer (in the video above) calls them insane...he asks...
"How do we save Christianity from Christians?"

It seems like I'm not really being unfair to suppose that the harshest laws in our country come out of the Baptist-denominated South.  Looking just in the yellow pages of a rural town in Florida, I found 1 Catholic Church, 1 Episcopalian church, 2 Methodist, various others at 1 church each, and... 69 Baptist churches!  The South is overwhelmingly Baptist.  I was raised Baptist myself, so it's not like I'm swinging a bat at the guy next door.  Some of these churches, like my own growing up, I'd like to think, were relatively comfortable with everyone else.  Many of them, however, are extremists.  Sub-denominations like Pentecostal, Apostolic, and the like represent groups that more or less do not wish to grow into the future... in fact, they stay in the past and chant gibberish and fall on the floor when their preacher touches them.  Whereas, northern religious groups like the Amish clearly desire to stay in the past, they simply plow their fields, ride their buggies in town, and also keep to themselves.  Southern fundamentalists, on the other hand, believe not only that they should ignore reason and civilization, but also that they should proselytize and force everyone to believe the way they do.  In other words, they're intolerant and belligerent with "God's love" (Reference Westboro: how's that done again?).  And, they actively try to make this happen... to "win over souls."

Agreed, most of us regard the extreme ones as "wackos" and ignore them, but many of these groups (politically-minded bunch) opted for moderation to be more accepted by the general public and, for the most part, since the Civil War, they have.  The "Good ol' Boy" code developed out of this socio-political atmosphere.  The Ku Klux Klan, too.  The moderate, acceptable types went to Washington as our Congressmen.  They carried their ideology with them and infected the rest of the country.  Since the development of television, they have hit the air waves.  They "snuck" into the mainstream and, today, they are powerful enough that they don't need to be low-key anymore.  Their political affiliations grew to the point that they now influence presidents and Congress directly.  Ask George W. Bush about that "faith-based" thing...  Then there's the secretive, modern-day "Family" which puts on the National Prayer Breakfast, attended by American presidents since Eisenhour, and highly influential!  Did I mention that they allegedly helped promote Ugandan "kill-the-gays" legislation and maintain the infamous "C-street" residence in Washington where three members were recently caught in compromising sexual encounters (different cases... in a single year)?  George Rekers was one of the most recent anti-gay preachers who went on a trip with a personal masseuse that he hired from ""... to give him erotic massages!

This is not traditional Christian behavior.  It is "Christians on Cocaine" behavior... Kentucky-fried Trinity with a side-dish of $$$ and power... and a huge amount of hypocrisy!  This is why Jefferson said to keep a "wall of separation" between religion and government... because religion go in any political direction imaginable in any of a number of "visions" and can easily turn fundamentalist (like the Taliban or Falwell or the Family) and become dangerous... like they are today, as a matter of fact!  You've been paying attention, right?

A friend of mine proposed that the Union may have been better off without the South and should have avoided the Civil War and let them secede.  He says that the North would probably have suffered the loss of the lucrative exports from the South, but he also reminded me that the South depended on really just one product... cotton.  He suggests that this made the South's economy unstable anyhow.  Projecting the future, he believed that the South would have suffered numerous slave revolts, who decided to free themselves, and the South would have been slowly taken over by other nations, third-world countries, etc.  It might end up as a collection of petty dictatorships.  

That would suck, huh?  But, how would the North get along?  Might they have been better off?  They may actually have been higher in world literacy ratings, education, civil rights, fewer blacks and non-whites in jail or facing the death penalty (racism existed north of the Mason-Dixon, too, but not quite as fervently as in the south).  The Civil War hardened southerners who turned their religion into a political weapon and they continued the war... Reconstruction was a joke, ended by a back-room political compromise (probably the first Falwell-type deal), and racist Congressmen, like Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III of Alabama, would make policy for us all.  Consequently, only 40% of Americans today believe in evolution, a proven biological phenomenon (yes, proven!), 35% of New Jersey residents believe that Barack Obama "might" be the Anti-Christ, the United States is 34th on a list of 35 countries that judged science vs superstition (we overwhelmingly opted for superstition).  Turkey is 35.

When does the Fundamentalist government of the new America decide to kill gay Americans like Uganda?  Or re-institute slavery to give those "poor, out of work African Americans jobs"?  Sound insane?  I assure you that I've heard this talk before. 

This is crazy.  But, this is what many of us believe.  So, am I being unfair to the Confederacy?  The Union took them back, allowed them back into Congress to affect national policy... not unlike a virus!  Fundamentalists use an EXCLUSION PRINCIPLE that goes against all truly American ideals... and it gets political.

Take Jerry Falwell, for example.  A Huffington Post article by Mike Papatonio tells how Falwell's corrupt fundamentalist legacy still affects politics at Liberty University.  The 2009 article starts off:

Two weeks ago, leadership at Liberty University in Virginia told young Democrats that they were no longer entitled to recognition as a sanctioned organization on campus. Only young Republicans are welcome there.

You can see in the picture at left who Jerry really worshiped.  Multiply Falwell by the number of crazy fundamentalist leaders out there and think about what effect this may have had on the politics of our nation.  When you read the article, Falwell seems highly corrupt and downright sleazy.   Ever wonder how pseudo-news shows like FOX got started or where they get their validation from?  

Evangelicals and the GOP is absolutely right!  They are one and the same.
Does anybody else see the patterns here?  Am I still being unfair to my ancestors?  It doesn't take long to find all of these clues.  But, most of us don't want to know.  Well, I do.  I don't want to carry on a tradition of idiocy and violence in the benevolent cloak of ministry.  
Keith Olberman, Jeff Sharlet, Chris Rodda, John Amato, etc have all written books about the fundamentalist influence on America.  One evangelical-turned-sane, Frank Schaeffer, explosively opposes these guys now, in his book, Crazy For God, seen in this photo: 
Please think about it!  I'd like to see the United States get better ranking in world literacy or in our ability to use and accept reason.  The only way that will happen is to de-influence evangelicals.  Let's finish the Civil War once and for all... it's over, guys!  Seriously, it's done!  Get on with life, now... open your eyes.  Christians like Frank Schaeffer want you to know this, too.  Let's change the maps of our nation to read as ONE America, with the wonderful diversity that a true "melting pot" of cultures can bring to it.  Don't watch crap like FOX (or FAUX-NEWS, lol).  Use sense and reason and don't give into superficiality.  American laziness is adored by the GOP and guys like Falwell and mouthpieces like FOX.  

Communism or the Taliban or Al Qaeda was never the real threat.  Read history, folks!  The real threat has always been here...  here, where fundamentalists spout off biblical scripture that suggest the assassination of our own president and offered up on! recognized the free-speech rights, but said, responsibly, that this message was not acceptable and removed the products from their website.  Communism was actually pretty cool by comparison!  Keep the Taliban away, though... there's enough of them here already!  The rest of the world is frightened by our religious fundamentalism, like we are of Al Qaeda... only we have more money and nukes!  Think about it... nuclear weapons in the hands of illiterate nutjobs... I said, NUCLEAR WEAPONS... think Iran's a problem?  When will we decide that God needs us to use them?   

One more point... thanks to the bad press given lately to fundamental Baptists, the whole idea of denomination is disappearing from the religious right.  Make no mistake, though.  Fundamentalists are no less fundamental just because they say they are non-denominational.  It just makes it harder to tell who the nutjobs are.  You can recognize these churches by the military-compound look to their gigantic, multi-million-dollar grounds, some with guard gates!  You have to consider where the money came from to build these places... what corporations do they owe their souls to?  The nicest and friendliest church that I've ever been to was a simple, one-room church in a small town with unassuming patient people (like they were before 1860... minus slavery).  They are out there... you have to look.  Even in the old Confederacy!  Otherwise, ask Frank Schaeffer...

I'm not really being unfair...