Fostering an American Girl

Childe Hassam 1859-1935 - American painter - Avenue of the Allies 1918 - The Impressionist Flags  (1)What are boundaries for? Imagine this: a girl, aged ten, is released to the state after her mother refuses to seek counseling for beating and starving her children. The girl sits in wait for a new home, gets one and wonders alone in her new room. Is this bed mine? Will wolves (the human kind and the furry kind) cross the line into my personal space through doors and opened windows? Will a higher power, a governing force, protect me?

This girl knows (after years of being in the system) that people often have very good excuses for overrunning her boundaries. She even feels some sympathy for the wolf who is her blood mother. This girl also knows (or wants to believe) that not all people who invade her space are bad, but does that matter? When a foreign person insists on brushing her hair it’s still an invasion.

This girl’s personal rights and privileges have been suspended through no fault of her own. Many rights have been taken to “protect” her, and it’s then that she wonders how is it that the invaders, those with good intentions and those with bad, have more rights than she does. She slams the windows shut. She insists on repeating this CD is mine. This sock is MINE. This space is officially mine!


Is she irrational for insisting upon the notion of sovereignty? Is it okay to let other abused people fleeing poverty, despots and war into her personal space without asking? There’s a book her therapist gave her that she reads again and again. It’s My Body (a book to teach young people how to resist uncomfortable touch). This girl understands yet struggles with boundaries. Just like the millions of other people fleeing wolves, this girl wants to run away and into other people’s space. She ignores boundaries and the laws of nations set up to protect the rights of citizens. She’s never been protected, has never read the Bill of Rights, has not pondered its meaning or its history.

As foster parents we invited this child into our home, come what may. We considered long and hard and were never forced. There’s something about being forced to do something that makes it unappealing (God gave us each our sovereignty and when it’s tread upon we feel a boundary has been crossed).

Childe Hassam 1859-1935 - American painter - Avenue of the Allies 1918 - The Impressionist Flags  (5)

Make no mistake, personal property is a sure sign of freedom. Forced sharing is a sign of tyranny and personal abuse. If our house were overrun with children each as needy as this one little girl then we’d have to fly the white flag of surrender. I’d rather fly the flag of freedom for one individual than all the flags of wolves.

flag_hassam_57th_18_lgOne company is synonymous with the beleaguered flag that once stood for freedom: The Annin Flag Company. Around since the mid-19th century Annin vowed at the beginning of the Civil War to  “Without going through forms of contract[to supply] the government direct . . . as the war progressed, orders came pouring in from every state and city that was loyal to the Union, so that by the beginning of 1864, there was not a single battlefield, a brigade or a division that did not use Annin flags.” Wikipedia


Some will argue that the Civil War was not about individual rights. I disagree. It certainly was a messy debate and butchery over the meaning of freedom and boundaries (personal and communal). People in the North hung Annin flags from their homes. Some (a great many as the war progressed) understood that it wasn’t enough to allow a percentage of runaway slaves escaping a rotten system to cross the border into freedom. If a group of states could go against the law of the land any time they didn’t like the outcome of an election (even if the election brought in the Republican Lincoln) there would be no such thing as a free election left on earth (The US was a very young experiment at the time–one which the world watched with a mix of disgust and awe).

The powers that be in the state of New York watch over a foster girl. All the papers are signed and procedures are followed presumably to protect the children and the adults involved in foster care. Rules will help protect this child’s boundaries. In time it is hoped that the chaos of a life spent without boundaries will be a distant memory for this girl. She will need time to first close her boundaries, to see what her baseline status is, before she can open up with freedom and allow others to politely cross the borders to her heart.

De jure, or legal, sovereignty concerns the expressed and institutionally recognized right to exercise control over a territory. De facto, or actual, sovereignty is concerned with whether control in fact exists. Cooperation and respect of the populace; control of resources in, or moved into, an area; means of enforcement and security; and ability to carry out various functions of state all represent measures of de facto sovereignty. When control is practiced predominately by military or police force it is considered coercive sovereignty. Wikipedia






**Paintings by Childe Hassam




Political Correctness: Ideas in Exile

A victim of political correctness . . . The Martyr of Solway by John Everett Millais
A victim of political correctness . . .
The Martyr of Solway by John Everett Millais

It’s tempting to tsk, tsk at little remembered holidays celebrated in America’s past like POPE’S DAY in Boston. Oh, how intolerant we say. Did they really set aside a day to burn effigies of the Pope? Not the Pope! We may applaud the current pope’s stance on global warming, no cooling, no warming. We may think it’s nice that he lives in modest housing. We may laugh dismissively at his seemingly hypocritical notion that gun manufacturers cannot be Christian (even as he asks why bombs weren’t used sooner on Germany in WWII). But it’s impossible to ignore that at times in history the pope and his minions have ruled with an iron fist. (To be fair here, I don’t believe only Catholic popes rule this way)

It’s hard for us Biblically, theologically and historically illiterate secularists to see what all the fuss was about. As Hillary Clinton might ask, “What difference does it make now?”

I’m not sure. I’m going stream of consciousness today.

But wait.

A sudden qualm.

A dread.

It comes over me as I formulate a post about Irish Catholic immigration in the mid 1850’s and the anti-slavery parties of New England. Will someone be offended that I made a Hillary joke about gun-running allegations? Will people hate me for insulting a woman? Will someone be offended if I say that New England Protestants feared the mass immigration of Catholics because in part their memory was long and they remembered when Protestants were burned for not following human authority?

Might someone dismiss me as a “climate denier” because I hold a healthy skepticism for  scientific and political authorities who have been wrong so many times over the course of history and have often been knowingly deceptive in order to profit on fear? I DON’T WANT TO BE CALLED NAMES. I WANT TO DISCUSS IDEAS. Is this a pipe dream?

HISTORY IS NOT BUNK. Does that statement offend you? I hope, dear reader, that it does not for if it does we are truly doomed in our hyper-sensitivity and ignorance.

Protestants in New England worried what a mass influx of hard-drinking, Pope-following poor people would do to their society because the Pope hadn’t always been this great guy and drinkers can sometimes be a bit of trouble (I know, not all Irish people drink–I’m part Irish). They worried too about crowded cities unprepared to deal with mass poverty and violence. THESE ARE NOT FOOLISH CONCERNS. Do any of us really know what it must have been like to live with the constant threat of disease and the endless amount of funerals for children under the age of five? Have any of you lived next to a rowdy bar? I have–it’s not fun. Don’t look down your noses at human concerns, please. We need compassion. Can we at least try to see that while their fears may have been overblown they were human concerns?

It is true that the media as always wanted to sell papers and novels. If anyone believes journalists and novelists don’t have agendas I respectfully tsk, tsk you. Just as novels and newspapers sold best when stories of slave-owners raping slaves appeared in them, stories about priests raping virginal nuns reaped a hefty profit. The media machine is only impartial in the sense that it finds whatever position best helps line it’s pockets. That position is usually one of fear and hate mongering. Now there are thoughtful papers that come and go from time to time but they don’t make money and no one reads them.

The shock to American society (especially in the North) was huge as the Irish poor fleeing an engineered famine (a great way to consolidate land for powerful elite) swarmed cities and joined the Democratic party (mainly because they saw in the Whig party a Puritan value system they didn’t like and because their friends led them).

So here’s the thing: At one time the pope and the monarchs the pope liked ruled Europe. If you did something as a monarch to piss off the pope he threatened excommunicating the whole country. To us moderns this seems silly. We’d just say F***-off and move on, but back then people–regular people–wanted their kids baptized by the church–THE CATHOLIC CHURCH because they were told their babies couldn’t be saved  any other way. We can tsk, tsk again at how dumb they were as future people will probably laugh at stories published in the 1970’s about oil being gone by the 1980’s.

Once the Bible became available to people some of them read it and some of them questioned the rules forced upon them by the authorities. Question the authorities? Question the thought police? They must have been mad! But no matter. They were dead soon enough. Dead or gone.

Gone sailing to the rocky shores of New England to live quiet, harsh and cold lives as outcasts and pilgrims who dared protest against thought police and the cruelty and injustice of what must follow.

Winslow Homer Nor'easter
Winslow Homer Nor’easter

Nothing New Under The Sun: Immigration

Happy Immigrants
Happy Immigrants

Even honey bees are an invasive species. Plants, insects and people tend to move–and take over. Populations explode and people jostle for position. Mrs. Astor of the late 19th century had a big house in NYC with a ballroom. People naturally wanted to attend her soirees. If you were “in” you were one of “The Four Hundred” which only meant that you were one of the 400 people who could fit in her ballroom. Do any of us have dinner parties without considering how many chairs we have?

That's a lot of people!
That’s a lot of people!

Lower Manhattan was littered with old, once regal mansions chopped up for new immigrants. And at first everyone was sort of okay with it. The island could handle the influx and since many of the new people spoke English they didn’t seem so alien.

This did not mean that a Mrs. Astor wanted to live right next door to some working class shlub. But lets not do the easy thing–the setting of the rich against the poor. The middle class and the already established working class started feeling a bit uneasy as the century wore on. As one of my uncles once said when people were discussing how disgusting the beaches were on Coney Island, “Who cares, we can just move to nicer beaches.” Some of us didn’t have the funds to move at that particular moment and I suspect that many New Yorkers who watched the surge in immigration through the 19th century felt some alarm.

NYC Immigration rates went something like this:

1830: 14,000

1835: 32715

1840: 60,609 (or a 20% addition to the city’s population in one year)

1845: 76,514

1856: 212,796

and so on.

Stats from Mrs. Astor’s New York

“Taxpayers were asked to welcome a very different kind of immigrant; usually untrained, largely illiterate, demanding free public services, practicing a different religion . . . the native poor and the taxpayers resented that immigrants could apply for relief.”

Does it all sound familiar yet? I grew up in a town where a bunch of kids who didn’t do well at school could depend on decent (not great) paying jobs landscaping other people’s yards. Suddenly those jobs were given to non-English speaking illegals and there was some resentment directed mainly at the landscaping company owners who’d started as the less than successful high school kids, built a company and now profited off the cheap labor of the immigrants.

I can personally understand why desperate people would want to flock to a country advertizing free everything but I can also understand the graph below:

I guess we're all a bunch of intolerant jerks.
I guess we’re all a bunch of intolerant jerks.

Graph swiped from Pew Research

Healthcare Gone Crazy!

Disease, Filth and Mayhem!

Immigrants of Yesteryear

Fighting for a living wage or just fighting to live?
Fighting for a living wage or just fighting to live?

Rock Springs, Wyoming 1885. A massacre that killed 28-50 Chinese miners seems a pretty solid case of racism–but no. Life and the hearts of men are never that simple.

The  ideal of masculinity in the late 19th century was on a collision course with a new corporate manhood. One claimed a man to be an independent contractor with decision-making rights. The other believed the people who paid the wages had the say.

Then came the Chinese, willing to work for next to nothing and willing to undercut the wages of everybody else (incidentally the white miners were also immigrants from all over Europe).

For some years they worked side by side in uneasy and unaddressed tension. They slept on different sides of this coal town built solely to fuel the railroad while the railroad fueled the hostility. The Knights of Labor fighting for the working men loathed the Chinese. Everyone’s wages were cut or kept low. A living wage was defined differently by the Europeans who planned to stay in the US and set about having families and the Chinese who were willing to live six men to a room in hopes of having enough money to go home one day back to wives and children in China. As long as the Chinese took lower pay more Chinese would be hired and white jobs lost.

At the time it was illegal to hire illegal new Chinese workers, but no one knew who was legal or illegal. In the workers’ minds the Union Pacific robbed them of their manhood every time they hired a “coolie” (a low skilled indentured worker).

And then it happened. An argument over room assignments (in mines there are rooms) turned violent. Different accounts blame one side or the other for the first shovel or pick to the face but soon all hell broke loose. Miners gathered and spontaneously went mad on the streets of the little Chinatown of Rock Springs, shooting, maiming and butchering men they’d worked with for years. Setting fires to the houses and to the small savings within the wooden structures, men released a crazy rage.

Men who worked for family, now set upon humans for blood. What good could come of it? Imagine killing someone and then going home to your family. But were they racist? Or were they union men against a population who didn’t respect the value of manhood and undermined it by their very presence?

Is there freedom in settling for just above nothing if at home in China you have nothing? What does freedom mean when it comes to wages? Are the owners free? Are the workers? Do unions or even communist dictatorships work? Corruption, corruption. The railroads were corrupt and broke. They cut wages and hired desperate foreign people while some insiders skimmed money all along the ride.

The whites who made a ghost town of Chinatown were never charged. People all over the West felt the same uneasy way about the Chinese. They took but didn’t give back, some said though the lawmakers made it impossible for them to really call the US home. Miners in a quickly moving train of corporate, unknowable power turned on the ones settling for scraps.

“Desperately Poor and Uncivilized” Proud To Be Irish Anyway

George Henry Hall, A Dead Rabbit, or Study of an Irishman, 1858.
George Henry Hall, A Dead Rabbit, or Study of an Irishman, 1858.

The Irish in my family were rogues and dreamers, back stabbers and the kindest people I’ve ever met. They knew how to throw a good funeral, but their parties were awkward with new wealth and old wounds. They were treated as the scum of the earth but knew how to fight. My blood’s been mixed with more civilized tribes, but I still like watching a good scrap and getting together at the funeral parlor with my clan.

Do Irish people really like potatoes? Damn straight. My father ate them every day of his life. He also told police stories so amusing that people came from all over to hear him when he visited his home town in New Jersey. Yeah, and the Irish in my family drank (not my father) and died doing it. Others lived on to make sure their kids would have plenty of hilarity, dysfunction and a sense that no one but another member of the clan could ever fully understand them.

That’s why the NYC parade is so great. You march along with other freckled faces thinking– “What a bunch of misfits we are but we’ve taken over the town.”