Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

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Ethnic Subcultures

Diverse ethnicities make up this city.

Philadelphia has a rich and varied history of ethnic cultures and traditions.

Inscrutable Chinese

The Scotch-Irish In the Revolution

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Dr. Witherspoon

The most eminent Scotsman in Colonial America was the Reverend Dr. Witherspoon, an eminent Presbyterian minister and President of the College of New Jersey, later Princeton University. Already at the top of the academic heap in Scotland, he was recruited for Princeton on the advice of Benjamin Franklin, who knew his political sentiments well. From England, Witherspoon made the following exhortation to his future compatriots at the critical moment of the Declaration of Independence:

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Scottish Pipers

"To hesitate at this moment is to consent to our own slavery. The noble instrument on your table, which insures immortality to its author, should be subscribed this very morning by every pen in this house. He who will not respond to its accents and strain every nerve to carry into effect its provisions is unworthy the name of freeman. Whatever I may have of property or reputation is staked on the issue of this contest; and although these gray hairs must descend into the sepulcher, I would infinitely rather that they descend hither by the hand of the executioner than desert at this crisis the sacred cause of my country."

On the humbler level of popular doggerel, was the following:

"And when the days of trial came,

Of which we know the story,

No Erin son of Scotia's blood

Was ever found a Tory. "

It may not be quite true that the Scotch-Irish immigrants started the Revolution, or led it, or did most of the serious fighting. But in Pennsylvania their role was decisive. New England started most of the trouble, the aristocrats of Virginia quickly rose to the challenges of chivalry, but Pennsylvania was not so darned sure about this business. The back-country Germans were perfectly content to farm the richest topsoil they ever heard of, the Quakers were peaceful and prosperous just as they were. It was the Scotch-Irish of the frontier, needing no pretext of Tea Taxes or Stamp Acts to hate the English King, who were ready to take the musket off the wall at the slightest provocation.

It is indeed puzzling in retrospect to wonder what the English Kings were trying to achieve. Having driven the Scots out of their Scottish homeland into Ireland where they would be less bother, they subsequently drove them out of Ireland as well. The short explanation has been offered that James II who was to be driven off the throne for his Catholic leanings, had seen Ireland as a fall-back refuge in case of trouble and wanted it safely Catholic. So in anticipation of what did indeed happen under William and Mary, he wanted the Presbyterians out of there.

There is perhaps some logic to this, but try telling it to a Scot.

Mussolini in South Philadelphia

{Sicily}
Sicily

The western tip of Sicily is as mountainous and remote from the heart of Europe as the Hebrides in Scotland. Like the highland Scots, the western Sicilians ran their own informal government out of sight and out of reach. Even the Church in that region of Sicily had a sense of kinship to Eastern Orthodoxy rather than to Roman hierarchy. The flavor of the local culture can be sampled in Tomasi di Lampedusa's classic novel The Leopard which, among other things, helps explain why so many Italians hated Garibaldi, mostly known to the rest of us as Italy's great unifier. Mussolini was in the same class.

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Benito Mussolini

At the time of the great Italian immigrations early in the Twentieth century, Italy was in near-chaos. Benito Mussolini presented himself as a welcome strongman who put down crime and disorder, particularly Communist disorder, and made the trains run on time. Most of his efforts took place in the urban centers of Italy, paying little attention to rural regions like the far tip of Sicily until rather late in his rule. Meanwhile, western Sicily had its own traditional medieval way of maintaining order. The Mafiosi contained elements of the old feudal nobility, following secret activities similar in ceremony and brutality to the southern American Ku Klux Klan. Most of the inhabitant families had been living in the same villages for centuries, and by intermarriage had become very cohesive. They knew who was who, and who could be trusted. Secrecy, omerta, was their rule, murder a regrettable tradition. In this way, the stable community protected itself against roving brigands, local psychopaths, and thieving government officials. There were competitive bands who needed to be warred against; the "Black Hand" was a notorious group of local extortionists who employed dynamite as their signature. Although murder and mysterious disappearance were common enough, the Mafia had their official secret nobility, and murders were not condoned unless they were authorized by the legitimized but secret nobles. It was this secret competitive government that Mussolini decided to stamp out.

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Italian immigrations

Meanwhile, back in Philadelphia clusters of immigrants from the same immigrant groups formed organizations based along the same lines. Every wave of immigrants from whatever country has always brought a crime wave with them to America, prison records document these immigrant waves, and most of the victims of each crime wave are almost always fellow immigrants. In the case of the Italians, the organizations were already in existence. For a while, the Black Hand terrorized the slums. And then the Mafiosi got themselves together, steadily eliminating trouble makers but only after a certain amount of due process authorizing the rubouts as justified. As has been true of every immigrant wave, the police were not trusted to see that justice was done, and gradually withdrew to let the informal government govern in the neighborhoods. Established American government would certainly not tolerate a rival nation within its borders, but rendering unto Caesar was moderately tolerable. Soldiers were appointed to an ununiformed militia, the victimized immigrants were coerced to contribute to the cost of their own protection, just like taxation in the more open community. The original and most enduring source of revenue for the Mafiosi was the one that was traditional back home in Sicily -- paid protection.

So when this group learned that back home Mussolini was waging war against the Mafia, the ties of loyalty to Italy were readily severed. Fascism, whatever that strange word meant, was a bad thing. Maybe the American government wasn't so bad, even when there was war against Italy.

Chinese North

Mary Scott was recently introduced to the Right Angle Club by Buck Scott her father (and last year's program chairman.) Mary is fluent in Mandarin, lives in Beijing, and has a PhD. from Princeton. Although her luncheon talk had some of the features of a very polished travel talk with slides, it was considerably deeper than that.

{Forbidden City}
Forbidden City

We learned the exiting news, easily confirmed by Google Earth, that the streets of both Beijing and Philadelphia are laid out in north-south, east-west squares. As we have noticed, Philadelphia was laid out with a magnetic compass, so Broad Street is 6 degrees off true North. Beijing, on the other hand, is almost exactly true North and South. While it is unclear how this was done two thousand years ago, it seems a likely conjecture that the Chinese architects probably used the North Star as a guide. This would have been in keeping with their notion of the Forbidden City as the center of the universe. Everything revolves around the Emperor, just as all other stars revolve around the Polestar.

{Great Wall}
Great Wall

With primitive communication, and possibly even with the modern electronic variety, it is difficult to maintain control of a large empire without decentralizing. The ancient Chinese method was to put the many sons of the Emperor in charge of local districts, which got them out of Beijing where they were only making trouble, and assigned them the job of fighting with the neighboring Mongol tribes which would keep them busy. For this reason, the Great Wall is really many great walls, as the frontier advanced and retreated. When the Emperors died, there was always a major problem of succession, but at least each son had a military and administrative track record which reduced the number of aspirants to a handful of the biggest baddest ones.

{Han Dynasty}
Han Dynasty

The Great Wall resembled a dragon, the symbol of the Emperor. It thus projected the image of his power out to the edges of the Empire. It had a road running on its top, greatly facilitating the shifting of defensive troops. As a defensive barrier it was only fair, having been breached many times, and on one occasion the Mongols even took the Emperor prisoner for ransom. However, the Wall's underlying purpose was to inhibit immigration, where it was probably reasonably effective. While at first the Han dynasty was mostly concentrated around the capital city, the Han Chinese gradually drove out, starved out or frightened out the others throughout the entire Empire. It is possible to see this relentless process in the recent treatment of Tibet. The underlying thought has been that if you don't exterminate them, eventually they will exterminate you.

{Tibetan Buddhism}
Tibetan Buddhism

The Chinese prescription for domination has always been cultural as well as military. The Emperor was divine, far above other men. The symbolism of the dragon, of the golden color, and even the imposition of coherent architectural design on the city suggested his presence everywhere. Conversely, Tibetan Buddhism was a cultural threat from abroad, to be stamped out whenever it was safe to do so. And the recent policy of one child per mother leads to depopulation, which in turn will surely make the fecundity of neighbors a threat to China.

For thousands of years, the Chinese have worked out a system for just about everything except for peaceful succession of its rulers. That continues to be the case today, and we all better hope they eventually figure something out.

Molly Maguires of Pennsylvania (1)

It seems likely the Molly Maguires of Donegal, a county along the border between Northern and Southern Ireland, were the source of those Molly Maguires who first made an Irish presence in Cass Township of Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, around 1850. When Pinkerton agents were later hired to deal with labor violence in the hard coal region, their first step was to send an agent to Donegal to study Molly Maguire methods -- and surnames. A handful of families, perhaps only one extended family, were likely transatlantic transmitters. The secret society of men sometimes disguised in women's clothing, spread a tale of grievances to Irish neighbors and even further; eventually the whole industrial labor movement over-reacted, either adopting violence or vehemently opposing it. Most Mollies were proudly illiterate, making their appeals in local taverns through folk songs about ancient martyrs. Even today, a tourist who wanders into Irish taverns there senses hostility to strangers; the bartender may advise you to leave. Although rough behavior by new immigrants always was something to guard against, by 1850 the country was reasonably accustomed to experiencing it. Assimilation was the American way of life.

However, resistance to conscription during the Civil War gave newcomer clannishness more serious consequences. This was particularly true when it inserted a surprising pro-slavery (or at least anti-emancipation) protest into the very center of the Northern Union, around Pottsville, Pennsylvania. Whatever the South was fighting for, the North was primarily fighting to preserve the economic benefits of greater trade in larger markets -- a concept loosely described as "preserving the union". A second twist to anti-Mollie repression was later added after the war was over, when the 19th Century Industrial Revolution created another untamable tribe, the Robber Barons, for whom uncooperative behavior was a tendency not to be trifled with.

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Pottsville Hanging
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Historical Marker

Basic behavior of the Molly Maguires in action followed a simple pattern. Males dressed as females in blackface made extortion threats against members of dominant society, protesting that their own subsequent violence was merely justice for heartlessness toward widows and orphans. Since the Mollies out of costume mingled cheerfully with those they secretly called oppressors, for actual assassinations they either called in the help of distant outsiders or drew lots to choose the assassin locally. The community would then unite to provide a vocal alibi, and profess to be offended by the accusation. To increase intimidation, death threats were pinned to the door.

Azilum: French Asylum on the Susquehanna

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Marie Antoinette

Just who had the original idea is now obscure, but the original sponsors of French Azilum were Stephen Girard, Robert Morris, and John Nicholson, all of Philadelphia. The idea was that a large number of refugees from the French Revolution would be escaping the terror and looking for a colony of refuge. The slave revolt in Haiti added another group of refugees likely to be looking for a French speaking colony in the new world. Accordingly, a suitable place was found along a bend of the North Branch of the Susquehanna River, at the foot of a high cliff on the opposite bank. That stretch of river, now a favorite place for canoe trips, is particularly winding and crooked. The place selected for Azilum had a narrow neck at the base of a horseshoe-shaped loop of the river, enclosing a flat area of several thousand acres of rich farmland within the loop. This configuration ensured privacy for the aristocrats anticipated to settle there, and might even provide for defense positions. Streets were laid out, houses built, a community center and even a somewhat overoptimistic home for Queen Marie Antoinette who of course did not escape the guillotine. Just what happened next is unclear; Haitian refugees may have brought in Yellow Fever, the financial disasters of Robert Morris and John Nicholson may have intervened, or the refugees may have just stopped arriving. In any event, the colony gradually declined and only a few cabins are left. But the farmland, the climate moderated by the high cliffs surrounding it, and the views remain to stimulate the imagination of visitors.

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Azilum: Overlook From the Endless Mountains

It is proudly related that Talleyrand himself made a visit to Azilum, and no doubt other French notables stopped by. But in many ways the most notable visitors were the three Princes of France, led by the Dauphin Louis Joseph, the Duke of Orleans who was to become Louis Phillippe, "King of the French" in 1830. Louis was the first son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. In 1809 he would marry Princess Marie Amalie of Bourbon-Siceles, but at the age of 16 he required the loan of $13,000 from Gouvernor Morris the former Minister to France in order to slip out of the revolutionary dangers of Republican France and escape to Philadelphia. Louis Joseph was in particular danger because he had been educated in the natural philosophy of Jean Jacques Rousseau, and therefore was detested by aristocrats as well as hated by Jacobins for his ancestry. Although there was glamor to his ancestry and recent history, he evidently was pear-shaped and did not cut much of a romantic figure. Having lost his money and apparently also his throne, he was not a sort of person to inspire people to risk their own lives on his behalf. Escaping by way of Switzerland and Hamburg, he eventually found himself in a second-floor room at 4th and Locust (Prune Street in those days) in Philadelphia, rather down on his luck. In time, he was joined by his two younger brothers, who were rather sickly with what later proved to be fatal tuberculosis.

{Louis Philippe}
Louis Philippe in 1838

Louis Joseph spent four years in Philadelphia, eventually becoming the subject of two famous adventures. The first was romantic, when he proposed marriage to Abby Willing the sister of Anne Willing Bingham and daughter of rich old merchant Thomas Willing. That clear-eyed Quaker said no, you may not marry my daughter. "As an exile, destitute of means, you are not a suitable match for my daughter. Should you recover your rights, she will not be a suitable match for you." Several wittier versions of the same response are in circulation, so it was treated as a delicious piece of gossip, but no one challenges the essential truth of it.

Appalachian America in 1790 was a dangerous place to travel, so quite a different picture of the three princes emerges from even the briefest recitation of their American travels. They traveled south to see the new capital arising in Washington, and pronounced it a swamp. From there, they toured the Shenandoah Valley and then the length of Tennessee on the Cumberland River, coming back to Pittsburgh and going north to Niagara Falls. From there they toured Iroquois territory, paddling by canoe down Seneca Lake, onward to Elmira, and down the Chemung River to the point where it joins the North Branch of the Susquehanna; and thence down to visit Azilum. What sort of reception they received there is not now known, but the settlers of Azilum were known to be fiercely "legitimate" in their sentiments, and hence may have given the Princes a cool reception in response to arcane loyalties to various branches of the monarchy. In any event, the royal travelers went on to Wilkes Barre and thus back to Philadelphia. Later voyages down the Mississippi led them to New Orleans and Havana. Throughout these adventures it was not uncommon for the royal brothers to sleep three in a bed.

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Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord

Not much more than this bare outline has been publicised about the episode of French royalty in America, probably because America entered into a period of intense friction over loyalties to the French help to us in our Revolution, contending with major loyalties to our British heritage and revulsion at the excesses of the French Revolution. The matter was complicated by the strong pro-French sympathies of Thomas Jefferson, mixed into the violent partisanship of the feud between the Federalists and the Republicans at the origin of our political parties. This much can be said in conclusion: the two younger princes both died early of tuberculosis, Louis Joseph reigned as King of the French from 1830 to 1848. And Abby Willing married Richard Peters, a much more suitable husband in the eyes of her family.

In 1794 the Asylum Co. was founded by U.S. Senator Robert Morris and John Nicholson. Pennsylvania Comptroller General, to develop and sell lands in northeastern Pennsylvania. Although it was rumored that Marie Antoinette was to be housed in the 1600 acres on the North branch of the Susquehanna River near the present Towanda, she had actually already been executed in late 1793. In 1795 Nicholson succeeded to Morris' interest, and three years later Morris was put in debtor' prison. In 1802, Napoleon invited all French emigrants to come home, and only a few stayed behind in Azilium. The Asylum Co. soon dissolved.

Passage to India

{Palce on Wheel Train}
Palace on Wheels

Journalists tactfully intone that India has fallen behind in its infrastructure. Translation: it's often at real risk of your life to cross a street. The Indian road system is overwhelmed by avalanches of rickshaws, tick tocks (motorcycle rickshaws), little cars, big cars, buses, trucks and motorcycles. All vehicles seem to be driven by teenaged maniacs, honking their horns and driving straight at you; the motor accident rate in India is among the worst in the world. It's not just a statistic. One tour bus we were riding bashed into a motorcyclist, and just kept on going even though the passengers yelled and banged on the windows. Conclusion: airplanes and trains are the only reasonably comfortable ways to travel in India today. In another twenty years, things will surely improve or India must strangle, but right now you better save your pennies to afford the Palace on Wheels. That's a tourist train making a big continuous loop through the main tourist attractions of central India, beginning and ending in New Delhi every Wednesday.

{Taj Mahal}
Taj Mahal

You would have to be pretty aloof to avoid acknowledging the other seven passengers who share a sleeping car with you: four bedrooms, two houseboys and a living room. And you soon enough know the busload (thirty passengers) in your guide group. Ours was the Pink Group, definitely not named for its political leanings. With the passengers from four bedroom cars, you also share a bar car, arranged in a facing circle of overstuffed furniture, (just as you see extended families in Bollywood movies), a sitting in one of the dining cars, and one tour bus with a Pink sign in the window. Thus organized, the twenty-car train with three trailing buses carries a hundred tourists with well-practiced efficiency in style which claims to treat each passenger as a maharajah. It is true these modern rajahs do not have three hundred concubines or twelve wives, as the real ones did. But the briefest reflection confirms that no sane man would want twelve wives or more than, say, twenty concubines. So the tourist's condition could in a way be held superior to that of any real maharajah. The central point at the moment, however, is that the arrangement of this brief collection of strangers lends itself to gossip and reckless self-description, sort of like a rolling girls' boarding school. There's really nothing much to talk about except each other, and only eight members in the conversation group.

{The Pink Group}
The Pink Group

While it was hard to overlook the mixed-ethnicity elderly couple in our midst, it was of course the ladies of the party who quickly assembled the essential bits of intelligence available. These two, an elderly Indian man with a broad smile and broader paunch, plus a thin wisp of a little white lady with the grace and social command of a duchess, had been friends in a Canadian nursing home where their children had placed them, had both lost their spouses, and then eloped to freedom. By escaping from the hateful nursing home they saved $9000 a month, so it really must have been a pretty upscale CCRC, or retirement village. In Canada there is lots of snow, cozy like an igloo all winter, but unquestionably confining. A little bit of scientific background allowed me to estimate the life expectancy of these two to be about eight more years, or perhaps seven if you subtract the dismal last year that everyone should be glad to skip. These two had apparently counted up their resources, found they could afford better things than a nursing home, and decided to make a dash for freedom to spend their last seven years in playland while they had the chance. The ladies in our group obviously thought this adventure was just about the most exciting thing ever, and grinned approvingly at every new detail. Although our travel group overall seemed to have its fair share of boors, no one, absolutely no one was boorish enough to ask if there had been a wedding.

Like pimpled teenagers, the two would slip their hands together with the hope that if they didn't look at their hands, no one else would notice. So, from time to time, the gentleman would slide his hand onto her thigh. And she, with the practiced skill of a high school cheerleader, would wait thirty seconds and with a big smile aimed at no one in particular, brush his hand away. She was having a perfectly wonderful time because she knew very well that every other lady was watching every movement.

{Palace Train}
Palace Train

At about the same age, Ben Franklin once moved with the fast set in Paris in his eighties. In fact Franklin probably moved with a fast set whereever he was at any age. He seldom discussed the topic directly except in that famous letter to his son which concluded, "And son, they are so grateful". In our present society which claims such infinite sophistication, Ben might now have expanded on the misdirected pressures of inheritance laws which thwart re-marriages. Or on a new-found freedom, the age-related indifference to complicating children, which some couples miss more than others. In fact, Franklin's famous letter to his (illegitimate) son enumerates a list of other advantages of love affairs with older women which could just as easily have been listed by John Milton or Cotton Mather. At least one gentleman has given the opinion that Franklin was all mischievous talk, and no action. But I dunno. That remark about how grateful they are, surely carries some implication of personal experience.

Anatomy of an Urban Political Machine

{One Big Family}
One Big Family

The Franklin Inn Club meets every Monday morning to discuss the news, and recently it discussed the upcoming local political campaign. The discussion went on for fifteen minutes before a newcomer asked if we were talking about the primary or the general election. The question was met with broad smiles all around, because of course we were talking about the primary. Voter registration is 6:1 in favor of the Democrats in Philadelphia, so the general election is just a required formality. The election, that is, consists only of the Democrat primary; election of the Democrat nominee in the general election is a foregone conclusion. Someone idly remarked on the number of politicians who are blood relatives of other politicians, someone else said that was true of union officers, too. So, skipping from the inside baseball of the election, we took a little time to discuss the anatomy of an urban political machine.

The first step in consolidating control of a city by a political machine is to eliminate the issue of the general election by making the other party's chances seem hopeless. That converts an election which typically turns out 40% of the voters into an exclusively primary election, turning out 20% of the voters, or even less in an off-year. In some "safe" districts a winner needs far less than 10% of the eligible vote to win.

The second step is to run as a prominent member of a local ethnic or religious group, preferably the largest of such groups within the district. If possible, election is almost assured by being the sole candidate associated with the largest ethnic group. Here's where family connections work for you. If your father held the same seat, or some other family member had been prominent in the district, it helps assure everybody that you are really an ethnic member, and not just someone whose name sounds as though it would be. Your relative will know who is important in locally local politics, the members of large families, or people known to be the "go-to guy".

Assembling all that, the final step is to get everyone else who is a member of the ethnic group to drop out of the primary, and to encourage other ethnic groups to field as many candidates as possible, splitting up their vote. Getting other members of your religious group to drop out, consists of having your relative approach them and tell them to wait their turn. The implicit promise underneath that advice is probably next to worthless, unless it is specific and witnessed, and the other fellow's ability to deliver it is credible. If all else fails, the resistant opponent is muscled in some way, verbally at first, and then increasingly threatening. The consequence of this ethnic/religious influence is more involvement in government by clergy than is healthy for either one of them. Now, that's about all there is to achieving permanent incumbency, but the minority party should be mentioned, as well as the flow of money.

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the Parking Authority

It quite often happens that the minority party in the big city, hopeless in its own election chances, finds itself with a Governor and/or Legislature of their party. The patronage of state jobs becomes available to the foot soldiers who have no chance of local election. Much of the wrangling within state legislatures revolves around whether appointive patronage jobs should be lodged in state agencies, or local ones; at the moment, the Parking Authority and the Port Authorities figure prominently as jobs for which a local Republican could aspire. The coin of this trade is maintaining influence in the state nominating process, and paying off with increased voter turn-out in elections which have no local effect but may be important at the state or national level. Since party dominance at state and national levels changes frequently, the local machine finds it useful to continue this system. Where they have nothing to lose in local elections, they may even encourage it.

Money is the mother's milk of politics. Except for safe districts no one can get elected without it. And various degrees of corruption provide money to be "spread around" the clubhouse, sometimes to induce people to drop out of primary races, sometimes to console "sacrifice" candidates who run hopeless campaigns just to make the party look good, and sometimes just to enrich the undeserving. The politically connected parts of the legal profession participate a good deal in the flow of funds, sometimes in order to get government legal work, sometimes to obtain judgeships, sometimes to launder the money for clients. One particularly lurid story circulates that professional sports teams are expected to make seven-figure contributions in return for lavish new stadium construction, from which they in turn are able to generate various sorts of compensating revenue.

But, as the old story goes, if you eat lunch with a tiger, the tiger eats last.

Children Playing With Matches

{Playing with Matches}
Playing with Matches

THERE are still a lot of people secretly re-fighting the Vietnam War, which in retrospect was rebellion against the draft, and allegiance to the idea that America just doesn't start wars. But times change, and those who now suppose the secret sympathizers with the anti-draft movement will automatically join a second call to rebellious duty, are probably going to be disappointed with how conservative the baby boomers have become. The boomers find themselves parents, defending their own authority from attack by their children. As King Lear ruefully observed in the same reversed situation, let them feel how sharper than a serpent's tooth it is, to have a thankless child. We now define our present world problem as overleveraging, not compulsory military service, and estimate it may take as long as fifteen years to sort itself out -- until yet another judgmental generation comes over the hill behind the rebels. The aggregate debts of the European Union, using present-value calculations, are said to be three times as large as the Gross Domestic Product of Germany; now, that's really a problem. When you consider the only sure cure for excessive leverage is "growth" , and that the code word of growth really means stuff wearing out, getting used up, and getting obsolete, it is not hard to see it taking 15 years to go away -- much more lasting than any draft dodger issue. When I go to restaurants they are crowded and expensive; people are living on their reserves, but there seem to be lots of reserves, so this problem will last a longer time.

But, four generations back, I can remember 1937 when there were no reserves, and plenty of homeless people actually froze to death. Plenty of people were then talking Communist who nowadays are talking McCarthyism, hoping no one notices the switch. I used to ride up and down the elevator of a hospital with Harry Gold, the thermonuclear spy no less. So what worries me about the present uproar is that it comes too soon, before very many people get really scared enough to do really stupid things, then recognize their folly.

I think it was Abbie Hoffman, not Jerry Rubin, who climbed up into the visitors gallery of the New York Stock Exchange and threw handsful of dollar bills, salted with just a few hundred-dollar bills to bring trading to a halt. Big joke; just see who was scrambling on the floor. That's what the sixties seemed like to most of us; big joke. But out at Kent State some kids with crew cuts were in formation, under orders that at the last moment the gun barrels must come level -- and the live rounds slide home.

Muddle: The War of 1812

{H.G. Callaway}
H.G. Callaway

HOWARD Callaway is an old friend, and an expert historian of the War of 1812. This is the two hundredth anniversary of that war, so Howard is in demand as a speaker. At a recent meeting of the Right Angle Club he gave a fascinating recital of his analysis of the reasons for the war, and its subsequent upheavals in American politics. The audience at the Club stayed well beyond the allotted hour to ask questions, and finally had to be sent home by the moderator. We will here try to summarize his views fairly.

American impressions of this war come largely from Henry Adams, who wrote a nine-volume history of it, concluding it was a senseless muddle. Henry Adams however, was the grandson of John Quincy Adams, and the great grandson of John Adams, both of whom were active participants of the event, its causes, or its consequences. He later killed himself, having displayed fugues of depression in his autobiographical Education of Henry Adams. No matter how serene his writing style, you have to be a little careful about the views of such an involved person. New England hated this war almost universally, not a single Federalist congressman or Senator voted for it, and the Federalist political party essentially dissolved as a consequence of it. New England even considered secession. In particular, maritime New England hated the two-year embargo on European trade which Thomas Jefferson had imposed as a measure short of war. Since Jefferson had stripped the Army down to 3000 soldiers and the Navy down to a single ship -- he didn't have many choices. Great Britain at that time had eight hundred ships in its navy. When it came, the war was mainly supported by the more rural South and West of the nation. It was the war of the "republican" political party of Jefferson and Madison, actively demonstrating that Virginia had defeated the Federalists and now would dominate American politics for decades. Regardless of details, the War of 1812 made it clear that New England was not the central essence of America any longer; the rest of the country would not follow its lead.

{Henry Adams}
Henry Adams

His opponents called it "Mr.Madison's War", and the bad management of it certainly damaged the later reputation of the principal author of the Bill of Rights, perhaps the Constitution. It's pretty hard to maintain the image of a Founding Father when you get us into a war that could not be won, and was not even conducted well. Whatever Madison's early skill as a political philosopher, his later execution as its chief officer was a shambles. He was indeed a clever politician, never completely revealing his true beliefs, so it is a question how much he was really in favor of the war, and to what degree he could merely see how the wind was blowing. It might be argued, for example, that a supporter of the constitutional intent that Congress would declare wars, the president would only command them, might well have been yielding reluctantly to his party's clear wishes. Howard does not think so.

There was no time to expand on the evidence, but our speaker is convinced that Madison and the whole "republican" party were anxious to sever the cultural ties to England, and turn the nation to looking Westward. Certainly that was Jefferson's view, and certainly the nation entered a century of turning its back on Europe, England in particular, becoming in one word, isolationist. That's the sort of grand strategy which might offer a coherence to the subsequent Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt reversals of attitudes, which contain a major element of anglophilia.

Quite a lot to think about, considering what a bumbling rout the War seemed to be in 1812.


REFERENCES


Alexander James Dallas: An Exposition of the Causes and Character H.C. Callaway ISBN-13: 978-1906716288 Amazon

One Big Brewerytown

{Rich Wagner}
Rich Wagner

RICH Wagner, the author of Philadelphia Beer, recently visited the Right Angle Club. It's hard to imagine that Philadelphia was once the American center of beer production, with hundreds of breweries and their associated bottlers, beer gardens, brewing equipment, and horse-drawn beer delivery systems, dominating the city scene. Equally hard to imagine that the last Philadelphia brewery closed in 1987, and the biggest American brewer, Budweiser, was sold to the Belgians in the past year. What's this all about?

{Francis Perot}
Francis Perot

In the early wilderness days, water supplies were tainted and unsafe, so most prosperous Quakers had their own little brewery just to avoid typhoid fever. The first American brewery was started by Anthony Morris (the second Philadelphia Mayor) in 1687, in a little brewery on Dock Creek, which became the early Brewerytown of the city, with several dozen brew pubs for sailors and the like. In 1797 there were over a hundred breweries in Philadelphia, and in 1840 there were over three hundred of them. Perot's brewery was prominent for a long time, since an early Perot married a daughter of Anthony Morris. Since Philadelphia developed the first and famous city water supply in 1800, beer drinking lost its position as a safe beverage in an unsafe city, and gradually water-drinking became the dominant beverage for the strict and upright. At one time in the early Eighteenth century, gin was cheaper than beer, so even the intemperate multitudes deserted beer for a while, although the effect of the higher alcohol content of gin was apparently fairly dramatic.

{John Wagner Marker}
John Wagner Marker

In 1840 John Wagner imported the yeast for lager beer from Bavaria, at considerable personal risk if he had been caught at it. Prior to 1840, Philadelphia beer was either stout or Porter, a very dark and bitter dose, or else ale, which had the advantage of storing fairly well and thus was popular for sailing vessels and among sailors. The yeast for ale floats to the top and ferments, whereas lager yeast sinks to the bottom of the barrel and requires some refrigeration to slow it down. In all forms of beer, the suds are created by later adding some unfermented beer to the barrel for the purpose of generating carbon dioxide. That's what is going on when you see the bartender in a British pub pulling on a lever to pump it up from the basement. Lager tastes much less beery than other beer, and is by far the dominant form of beer in consumption -- a considerable improvement, in the view of most people. But it has to be cooled, and Philadelphia had a system. Brewerytown moved to Kensington, dominating the local scene. It was produced in barrels which were trucked to the east bank of the Schuylkill where ice formed on the surface of the river, stilled by impoundment above the Fairmount dam. Caves were dug in the banks of the Schuylkill where the barrels full of fermenting beer were hauled to be cooled by the ice for the rest of the process. From there, it was trucked again to bottlers in a general ratio of one brewer for thirty bottlers. More directly, it was trucked to the beer gardens of Spring Garden to Girard Avenue, which gave that area a different sort of reputation as a brewerytown. By this time, most of breweries had moved to the region between 30th and 33rd Streets, near Girard, and most of them still survive, made into condominiums by rehabilitation money. One by one, many sections of downtown Philadelphia acquired a beer environment. A dramatic moment in this process was the advent of the 1876 exposition, which caused many of the Schuylkill fermenting vaults to be acquired by eminent domain. A second momentous change was introduced by the invention of refrigeration, apparently invented in Germany near Berlin, but imported and refined by York and Carrier. Philadelphia was particularly suitable for the importation of coal to fuel the heating of the brew, and the chilling of the fermentation. All of this required large numbers of brewers, bottlers, makers of bottles and inventors of brewing equipment. It took many horses to haul all this material around town, and many teamsters to drive the horses. This was a beer town, until Prohibition.

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Francis Perot's Sons Malting Company

During the long period of beer ascendency, the advantages of big breweries over small ones was gradually making this a major industry, rather than a local craft. Prohibition completed the destruction of the small craft brewers and brew-pubs. Only 17 of the major brewers survived Prohibition, and then even the big ones went out of business, ending with Schmidt's in 1987, almost exactly three hundred years after the first little one started by that famously convivial Anthony Morris on Dock Street. Evidently the same competitive disadvantages continue as even Budweiser moves to Brussels, where you would ordinarily expect wine to be the popular drink. Changing tastes have been cited as the reason for this shift, but differential taxes seem more probable as an explanation. In most industries, you are apt to find that most of the competition takes place in Washington and Harrisburg, rather than the saloons of Main Street or the salons of Madison Avenue. But perhaps not. We hear that little Belgium is about to have a civil war because the Flemish can't get along with the Walloons. And somebody in Portland, Oregon got the idea that beer was trendy, and started up the growing phenomenon of craft brewers, usually flourishing in brew pubs. We are apparently going back where we started in 1687.


REFERENCES


Philadelphia Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Cradle of Liberty: Rich A. Wagner: ISBN: 978-1609494544 Amazon

Ruminations About the Children's Education Fund (3)

The Right Angle Club runs a weekly lottery, giving the profits to the Children's Educational Fund. The CEF awards scholarships by lottery to poor kids in the City schools. That's quite counter-intuitive, because ordinarily most scholarships are given to the best students among the financially needy. Or to the most needy among the top applicants. Either way, the best students are selected; this one does it by lottery among poor kids. The director of the project visits the Right Angle Club every year or so, to tell us how things are working out. This is what we learned, this year.

The usual system of giving scholarships to the best students, has been criticized as social Darwinism, skimming off the cream of the crop and forcing the teachers of the rest to confront a selected group of problem children. According to this theory, the good schools get better results because they start with brighter kids. Carried to extreme, this view of things leads to maintaining that the kids who can get into Harvard, are exactly the ones who don't need Harvard in the first place. Indeed, several recent teen-age billionaires in the computer software industry, who voluntarily dropped out of Harvard seem to illustrate this contention. Since Benjamin Franklin never went past the second grade in school perhaps he, too, somehow illustrates the uselessness of education for gifted children. Bright kids don't need good schools, or some such conclusion. Since dumb ones can't make any use of good schools, perhaps we just need cheaper ones. Or some such convoluted reasoning, leading to preposterous conclusions. Giving scholarships by lottery therefore ought to contribute something to educational discussions and this, our favorite lottery, has been around long enough for tentative conclusions.

{Darwinism}
It is now safe to conclude the data show better schools generally lead to better academic results later on. Compared with other children who competed in the lottery pool but did not win the lottery, the scholarship students were far more likely to graduate from high school and be admitted to college. Since they were randomly selected, the differing talents of the students could not account for this difference. So, it seems possible to say the school teachers -- not the ability of the kids -- caused the difference. That's extreme; obviously smarter kids do better in school. It could still be argued it was not the new teachers in those chosen schools, but rather the new companion students who made the difference, by means of peer pressure and good example. But kids who won the lottery were regardless better off for the experience, and Philadelphia is better off. The evidence at least implies children born in poverty can benefit from better schools than the ones we have been providing them; one does not have to be a doctrinaire liberal to agree we should get to work improving inner-city schools.

Just what improving schools means in practical terms, does not yet emerge from the experience. Some could say we ought to fire the worst teachers, others could say we ought to raise salary levels to attract better ones. Most people would agree there is some level of mixture between good students and bad ones. At that point, the culture mix becomes harmful rather than overall helpful; whether just one obstreperous bully is enough to disrupt a whole class, or something like 25% of well disciplined ones would be enough to restore order in the classroom, has not been quantitatively tested. What seems indisputable is that the kids and their parents do accurately recognize something desirable to be present in certain schools but not others; their choice is wiser than the non-choice imposed by assigning students to neighborhood schools. Maybe it's better teachers, but that has not been proved.

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It seems a pity not to learn everything we can from a large, random experiment such as this. No doubt every charity has a struggle just with its main mission, without adding new tasks not originally contemplated. However, it would seem inevitable for the data to show differences in success among types of schools, and among types of students. Combining these two varieties in large enough quantity, ought to show that certain types of schools bring out superior results in certain types of students. Providing the families of students with specific information then ought to result in still greater improvement in the selection of schools by the students. No doubt the student gossip channels already take some informal advantage of such observations. Providing school administrations with such information also ought to provoke conscious improvements in the schools, leading to a virtuous circle. Done clumsily, revised standards for teachers could lead to strikes by the teacher unions. Significant progress cannot be made without cooperation of the schools, and encouragement of public opinion. After all, one thing we really learned is that offering wider choice of schools to student applicants, leads to better outcomes. What we have yet to learn, is how far you can go with this idea. But for heaven's sake, let's hurry and find out.

Mexican Immigration and NAFTA

{George H.W. Bush}
George H.W. Bush

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was signed on December 17, 1992 by President George H. W. Bush for the United States, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney for Canada, and President Carlos Salinas for Mexico. It was intended to eliminate tariffs from the North American continent, with long run benefits for the three nations who made the agreement. Essentially, it was President Bush's idea, growing out of the long period of public service in which he prepared himself for the Presidency in most of the major components of the American government. After his election, he immediately started to implement the many ideas he had formulated, characteristically worked out in considerable detail, and assigned to government officials he had worked with and knew he could trust. The twin results were that he advanced sophisticated ideas much more quickly than is customary, but then experienced backlash from a public which was accustomed to understanding programs before they assented to them. NAFTA was a prime example of both the advantages and disadvantages of an expedited approach.

Tariffs are a tangled ancient political dispute between nations; George Bush got his two neighbors to sweep them away in a remarkably short time for diplomacy. However, plenty of people benefit from the pork barrel, the unfairness and the economic drag of tariffs, so Bush even got ahead of that opposition, essentially presenting it with a done deal. However, he failed to be re-elected because his fellow Texan Ross Perot campaigned as a third party candidate, thundering about a "giant sucking sound" which was predicted as American businesses would flood into Mexico. Whatever Bill Clinton may think, he won the election as a result of the third-party divisiveness of Ross Perot. And Clinton furthermore got to take credit for NAFTA largely because he claimed credit. Poppy Bush followed Reagan's strategy of winning by letting others take the credit.

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NAFTA

NAFTA had a lot of minor provisions, but the main feature was to help Mexico with manufactures, compensating for America hurting Mexican agriculture with cheaper United States agricultural imports. The usual suspects howled about the unfairness of such a dastardly deed, but they lost. Helping Mexican manufactures took the tangible form of the "maquiladoras", which were assembly plants from the United States re-located just south of the border, assembling parts made abroad into machinery and other final products, for sale in the United States. The general idea behind this was that Mexican immigration was mostly driven by hunger for better jobs; give them jobs in Mexico, and they would stay home. That's a whole lot better than an endless border war. Even today, it would be hard to find anyone who would contend that fences, searchlights and police dogs were a superior way to control the borders.

For a while, the maquiladoras were a huge success. But then, China got into the act, paying wages so low that even Mexicans could not live on them. No doubt Ross Perot rejoices that the maquiladoras promptly collapsed, leaving abandoned hulks of factories just across the dried-up Rio Grande. And eventually, we even have tunnels bored under the border, and more illegal Mexicans in America than we have people in prison who might take the same jobs. Not the least of the consequences came from the other parts of the same country. Mexico traded an injured agricultural economy for the promise of high-paid manufacturing jobs in maquiladoras. So, masses of impoverished Mexican farmers were made available for illegal immigration, up North.

It is now anybody's guess whether Chinese wages will rise enough, soon enough, to reverse the economics of their destruction of the Mexican economy. The election of a union-dominated Clinton/Obama presidency in the meantime does not bode well for actions which would reverse that result, which now would threaten American-Chinese relations of an entirely different sort. It is true that Chinese wages are relentlessly rising, and that transportation costs now favor assembly-factories closer to the American consumer. But maybe the moment for this approach is passing, or possibly has passed.


REFERENCES


George H. W. Bush: The American Presidents Series: The 41st President, 1989-1993: Timothy Naftali, ISBN-10: 0805069666 Amazon

Societies and Clubs

{President Zabriskie}
President Zabriskie

A former president of the Holland Society of America recently explained the difference between a Society and a Club. Most of us supposed there was no difference, but it seems that a Society is permitted to be discriminating in its membership, while a club is not. In this quarrelsome age, that probably makes an important difference, but you will have to get a lawyer to explain exactly what it is.

{The Holland Society}
The Holland Society

As best it can be made out, a Society is permitted to be an organization with a certain composition, which would be quite illegal if done by a club. The fine points of the distinction have to do with what is in its Constitution, as distinguished from what is in its By-Laws, another distinction which would puzzle most non-lawyers. And it would appear it is helpful to state a reason for the discrimination in the Constitution as well. In the case of the Holland Society, the constitution limits membership to descendants of Dutch Americans of the male line who immigrated before 1675. And the reason for this discrimination is to preserve the family names. Women are allowed to be associate members, however. Have you got that straight, ladies?

And now, we are all left floundering for an explanation of what an Association is, and why it isn't the same as a Society, or a Club.

Psychiatry: Last Cow in Philadelphia

The present problem with PSYCHIATRY can be summarized as follows: At the suggestion of the American Hospital Association, Congress introduced the DRG system of paying for inpatients by diagnosis, rather than itemized services. It worked well except for psychiatry, where the diagnosis usually implies little relation to the later costs it generates, so an exception was made. The dual system of payment created loopholes which unfortunately overpaid psychiatric hospitals and were described as exploitation. Congress over-reacted in a way that was unsustainable, and essentially all of the psychiatric hospitals of the nation were forced to close. This is not a history for anyone to be proud of, and the lack of outcry is also a disappointment. However, after twenty years without reform, evidently nothing is going to be done without an outcry.

CONVENE BLUE RIBBON COMMISSION TO REPAIR PSYCHIATRIC INPATIENT CARE. The 1983 BRA switched hospital inpatient reimbursement to payment by diagnosis (DRG). Abuse of the psychiatric exclusion then led to "corrective" legislation which has essentially reduced American's psychiatric inpatient care to an underfunded national disappointment. The problem is not an easy one, so a commission should devise a workable methodology for psychiatric hospitals, relying neither on present approaches, nor on DRG. But overpayment is a better outcome than no care at all. Homeless people sleeping in cardboard boxes on downtown steam grates are the consequence any visitor to the area can observe at night after the commuters go home. Psychiatric social workers readily recognize their daytime patients in the boxes.

* * * * *

Daniel Blain, M.D.

Daniel Blain, M.D. (1898-1981) was just about the most important psychiatrist in America. He was the Physician in Chief of the Institute of the Pennsylvania Hospital at 49th and Market, the first and in many ways the most prestigious psychiatric hospital before it was closed. Before that, he was the first Medical Director of the American Psychiatric Association, itself the first (1844) medical society in America. His fame rested on organizing the disorganized psychiatry of the Veteran's Administration into a chain of advanced "Dean's Hospitals", a huge and very important achievement. Before that, he had achieved considerable fame as the man who took the dilapidated State Psychiatric Hospitals with a reputation as "snake pits" and made them a respectable part of the medical community. And before that, he had been born in China as the son of missionaries. As a matter of fact, even before that he was a descendant of General Mercer of Revolutionary War fame.

Dan was an outstanding example of the peculiar fact that Psychiatry was dominated by social upper crust psychiatrists in Philadelphia for a very long time. In fact, Benjamin Rush of the 8th Street branch of the Pennsylvania Hospital is known in some circles as the "Father of Psychiatry", while in other circles he is known for signing the Declaration of Independence. That isn't true in other cities, and it definitely isn't true in New York City, where the psychoanalytic school of Sigmund Freud took that city by storm, and essentially drove every other school of psychiatric thought out of town, out of medical schools, out of psychiatric hospitals. The famous sixteen year psychoanalysis of Woody Allen is an example of the extremes of that fad. Every profession has petty civil wars of that sort, best left undiscussed in public. But in the case of psychiatry, it was indirectly a material contributor to the present disappearance of inpatient psychiatry, and the related appearance of lots of homeless people on steam grates. Let me give a biased view of what is a massive human tragedy, which someone else can "rectify" if he chooses.

APA

It starts with a Budget Reconciliation Act of the 1980s, which brought us the DRG (Diagnosis-related) system of paying for hospitalized patients. The idea was that appendicitis resulted in essentially 7 days in the hospital, give or take a couple of days, and the bills for an admission for appendectomy were for more or less the same amount. If you had fifty or a hundred cases a year in your hospital, the high bills balanced the low bills, and the overall hospital reimbursement was essentially the same without itemizing the bandages and whatnot. Congress bought this package, and after it got going, just about all hospital bills were reimbursed at one of three hundred prices, the cost to the government was the same, and there was a whole lot less bookkeeping and accounting cost. It was a success, except for a few cases where the costs did not closely line up with the diagnosis, and psychiatric hospitals were where they concentrated. So, psychiatric hospitals were excluded, and psychiatric bills skyrocketed. This experience has been carelessly cited as an example of the evils of payment by service ("fee for service"), when in fact the duration of psychiatric hospitalization is related to features of the condition, like a danger of suicide, rather than the diagnosis itself. Psychiatric leadership at the time contained many in a subset of physicians who did not think much of inpatient psychiatry in the first place, and even less of lobbying, and they underestimated the severity of the assault on the specialty. Apparently, no workable formula for pricing inpatient psychiatry has since been brought forward to be approved by a Congress which is more accustomed to getting its lobbying in the form of one-liners. And would you believe it, psychiatric inpatient care soon disappeared.

Pennsylvania Hospital

That's right, if someone in your family needs psychiatric hospitalization, I wouldn't know where to tell them to get it -- at any price. From considerably overpaying for psychiatry inpatients, to paying scarcely anything for them, this little change of the regulations caused every psychiatric hospital I know of by name, to close. It helped balance some state budgets, but it also was a considerable factor in filling the steam grates of American cities with people who sleep on cardboard boxes. And what it illustrates is that this is what political society always seemed to do, before Dan Blain and a small group of upper-crust psychiatrists were temporarily able to shame them into something better. In fact, if there is any tattered remnant of good inpatient psychiatric care left in America today, it is in the Veterans Hospitals that Dan was able to straighten out.

Dan Blain will probably eventually be bypassed as a curiosity, like his wife. She was a Wister Logan Blain, descended from families who ruled Philadelphia a hundred years before even General Mercer came along. So the Blain couple lived on an enormous farm plot, centered at 20th and Olney right next to LaSalle University, which is built on their property. It also contains the Peale House, where Charles Willson Peale lived as the elected president of the rebel faction of the American Revolution. Peale didn't know what he was supposed to do, so he resigned and painted portraits of people. The Blains enjoyed keeping a cow on their land, the last cow in Philadelphia, and the LaSalle students enjoyed stealing the cow and leaving it on the top floor of a dormitory, for laughs. Meanwhile, the Blain couple had cocktail parties on their front porch for visiting dignitaries. They usually wore blue jeans, and Mrs. Blain, the absolute Queen of Philadelphia society, was occasionally observed to pour vodka into her glass of beer. That sort of background may well have been useful when psychiatry needed to be built up and humanized, but it became a liability when the rest of inpatient psychiatry failed to appreciate what was knocking on its door.

Bring Your Own Hammer

http://www.philadelphia-reflections.com/images/missing_img.gif
Stonehenge

Stonehenge in England is a ring of big stones standing on edge, but only recently has it been discovered that they chime when you hit them with a hammer. The British didn't discover the phenomenon, however. Long ago the Quakers of Pennsylvania knew they had ringing rocks in a moraine dumped at the edge of a receded glacier in Bucks County. The County has made it a recreation park which is mostly deserted, except when a drove of cars appears, bearing dozens of Cub Scouts or other excursionists.

{William Bingham class=}
Ho Chi Minh Trail

Just what makes these boulders chime when you hit them with a hammer, isn't entirely clear. It's certainly a good topic for a geologist to use for a thesis, but right now none of the visitors to the park cares very much. It can easily be seen that the moraine marks the edge of the fertile plain surrounding Philadelphia, to the north of which the ground breaks up and has mining as its main industry. The farms suddenly become smaller and less prosperous on the moraine plateau, and fancy exurban restaurants yield place to auto dumps and parks of pickup trucks. In certain seasons, it is possible to imagine the gun racks above the front seats. Some of the area suits itself for summer cottages in the hot weather, usually close to a stream or lake. This is the area where the Shenandoah Valley extended, narrowing down to the Delaware Water Gap. George Washington didn't just cross the Delaware once near here, it was a sort of a Ho Chi Minh Trail out of reach of the British Fleet during the Revolutionary War. The main arsenal of the Revolution was in Reading. The valley meets what used to be an industrial area along the Delaware, coming up from Philadelphia. Before that, the Seneca Indians had made it their headquarters, and after that, people like Stephen Girard discovered and exploited the minerals once exposed by the glaciers to the north. There's a "wind gap" (cleft in the mountain without water at the relatively high base), and the water gap. William Penn terminated his line separating East from West Jersey at Dingman's Ferry within this region, and later his sons' agents cheated the Indians with the Walking Purchase nearby. The politics of Bucks County are easily imagined by looking at prosperous Doylestown, and comparing it with nearby rundown Easton. This is really just the center of Bucks County, half of which extends to the North, and all of which must have an interesting political history.

{William Bingham class=}
Ringing Rocks County Park

Abruptly, turning a corner amidst the summer cottages, is a neat little park, the Ringing Rocks County Park. At times it is deserted, at other times you can hardly find a place to park your car. Fields of boulders, three to ten feet in diameter, extend down the hill to the river. It's easy to go down, not so easy to get back up to your car. People pile out of their cars, carrying brand-new hammers, and you can see dozens of (probably disappointed) pock marks on the rocks near the parking area. If you thought it was going to be easy, you are quickly disappointed.

{William Bingham class=}
Japanese Beetle

But the legions of cub scouts, happily swinging their hammers, swarm down on the rock piles, hitting every rock as they go. If there are enough of them, you hear plenty of clunks, but also an occasional ringing chime is heard, and the other cubs soon swarm around. At a rather daunting distance from the edge of the rock field, one cub scout after another discovers a rock that chimes like a cowbell. He attracts his friends, who have a whack at it. The chimes never quite outnumber the clunks, but the music rises as the scouts swarm over the property on agile little feet that soon defeat their elders' lumbering climb. A sudden thundershower made the rocks too slippery even for kids, and the place quickly emptied out. When we got back to he top of the hill, soaking wet, there were only a few cars still there.

"Sir,"

In 1938 when I was 14 years old, I entered a new virtual country with its own virtual language. That is, I went to an eminent all-male boarding school during the deepest part of the worst depression the country ever had.

{Privateers}
Boarding School

While it should be noted I had a scholarship, there is little doubt I was anxious to learn and emulate the customs of the world I had entered. My life-long characteristic of rebellion was born here, but at first it evoked a futile attempt to imitate. Not to challenge, but to adopt what I could afford to adopt. The afford part was a real one, because the advance instructions for new boys announced a jacket and tie were required at all meals and classes, and a dark blue suit with a white shirt for Sunday chapel. That's exactly what I arrived with, and let me tell you the green suit and brown tie were pretty well worn by the first Christmas, when I came home on the train for ten days vacation, and the opportunity to demand more clothes. As I remember, my disconcerted parents agreed to a new camel's hair jacket, for $10, which was also pretty worn-out by the following Easter vacation, permitting another campaign for proper clothes. Furthermore, the stigmatized "new boy" status was symbolized by requiring a black cap outdoors, and never, ever, walking on the grass. The penalty for not obeying the "rhinie" rules was to carry a brick around, and if discovered without a brick, to carry two bricks. But that's not what I am centered on, right now. The thing which really bothered me was unwritten, equally peer-pressured by my fellow students, the custom of addressing all my teachers as Sir. The other rules only applied until the first Christmas vacation, but the unwritten Sir rule proved to be life-long.

{Privateers}
Sir

And it was complicated. It was Sir, as an introduction to a question, not SIR!, as a sign of disagreement. You were to use this as an introduction to a request for teaching, not as any sort of rebuke or resistance. Present-day students will be interested to know that every one of my teachers was a man; my recollection is, except for the Headmaster's secretary, the Nurse was the only female employee. The average class size was seven. Seven boys and a master. Each session of classes was preceded by an hour of homework, the assignment for which was posted outside a classroom containing a large oval oak table. Needless to say, the masters all wore a jacket and tie, mostly of the finest style and workmanship. They always knew your name, and always called on every student for answers, every day. Masters relaxed a little bit during the two daily hours of required exercise, when they took off their ties and became the coaches, but were just as formal the following day in class. I had been at the head of the class of what Time Magazine called the finest public high school in America, but I nearly flunked out of the first semester in this boarding school. It was much tougher at this private school than I felt any school had a right to be, but they really meant it. Over and over, the Headmaster in the pulpit intoned, "Of those to whom much is given, much is expected."

I had some new-boy fumbles. Arriving a day early, I found myself with only a giant and a dwarf for company at the dining table. I assumed the giant was a teacher, but he was a star on the varsity football team. And I assumed the dwarf was a student, but he was assistant house master. One was to become a buddy, the other a disciplinarian, but I had them reversed, calling the student "Sir", but the master by his first name. Bad mistake, which I have been reminded of, at numerous reunions since then.

{Privateers}
Yale

When I later got to Yale, I began to see the rules behind the "Sir," rule. In the first place, all of the boarding school graduates used it, and none of the public school graduates, although many of the public school alumni began, falteringly, to imitate it. Without realizing it, a three-year habit had turned out to be a way of announcing a boarding school education. The effect on the professors was interesting; they rather liked it, so it was reinforced. The only time I can remember it's being scorned was eight years later, by a Viennese medical professor with a thick accent, and he was obviously puzzled by the significance. Hereditary aristocracy, perhaps. Indeed, I remember clearly the first time I was addressed as Sir. I was an unpaid hospital intern, but the medical students of one of the hospital's two medical schools, flattered me with the term. In retrospect, I can see it was a way of announcing their medical school knew what it meant, while that other medical school was just red-brick. Although they too had mostly graduated from red-brick colleges, their medical school aspired to be Ivy League.

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Boswell's Life of Johnson

If you travelled in Ivy League circles, the Sir convention was pretty universal until 1965, when going to school tieless reached almost all college faculties, thus extending permission to students to imitate them. Perhaps this had to do with co-education, since the sir tradition was never very strong in women's colleges, and denounced by the girls when the men's colleges went co-ed. Perhaps it had to do with the SAT test replacing school background as the major selection factor for admission. Perhaps it was the influx of central European students, children of European graduates for whom an anti-aristocratic posture was traditional, and until they came to America, largely futile. Perhaps it was economic. The American balance of trade had been positive for many decades before 1965; afterwards, the balance of trade has been steadily negative.

In Shakespeare's day, "Sirrah" was a slur about persons of inferior status. In Boswell's eighteenth Century day, his Life of Johnson immortalized his characteristic put-down with a one-liner. It survives today as a virtually text-book description of how to dominate an argument at a board-room dispute. "Why, Sir," was and remains a signal that you, you ninny, are about to be defeated with a quip. It's a curious revival of a new way of immortalizing small-group domination, and a very effective one at that, which even the soft-spoken Quakers use effectively. Whatever, whatever.

The tradition of addressing your professor as "Sir," is gone, probably for good, except among those for whom it is a deeply ingrained habit. Along with the tradition of female high school teachers, followed by male college professors.

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http://www.philadelphia-reflections.com/images/missing_img.gifNAFTA was a brilliant innovation by Poppy Bush, but it was perhaps a little too sophisticated.

Societies and Clubs
Most of us recognize no difference between a Society, and a Club. But essentially, a club must not discriminate in admitting members, but a society can do do. You will have to ask a lawyer to explain that.

Psychiatry: Last Cow in Philadelphia
Daniel Blain, just about the most famous psychiatrist in America, lived at 20th and Olney, West. Not only was that the place he lived, he kept a cow there. And this was within living memory.

Bring Your Own Hammer
Pennsylvania has 120 State Parks, but this is a Bucks County Park. The exposed bedrock is in an eight acre park of great big boulders, a few of which chime when you strike them. The rest just give out a clunking noise.

"Sir,"