Friday, June 29, 2018

Tattered Kaddish

Today I had a moment of clarity. 

I was raging internally for the thousandth time over the MAGA trolls, agonizing over what it's taking out of me not to engage with them. And something reminded me of the poem "Tattered Kaddish" by Adrienne Rich. I encountered this poem a few years ago at the Yom Kippur service at Westchester Reform Temple. It brought me to tears with its portrayal of a person reckoning with a loved one's suicide. Nowhere else have I encountered such raw emotion. I feel her embrace her pain, knowing that that is the only way to move through it and embrace the remains of love. I still get choked up every time I read it.

Today, as I thought of it again, it hit me: I decry the misguided notion that people who commit suicide are selfish. I believe in forgiveness for those who reach that apotheosis of loss, because without forgiveness we can't mourn. And what is mourning but love?

Yet here I am, raging at people led astray by Fox News, and by their pathological need to piss off liberals. If I believe in forgiving suicides enough to move on, can't I do the same for Trump supporters?

There is no point in engaging with these people. Neither you nor I will get through to anyone whose first response to reports of children in cages is to think of a reason why it's OK that the children are in cages. These are the people who would happily have put on a Nazi uniform, or happily stood by while they rounded up Jews. They are lost to us.

Yet that does not mean we must exist in a perpetual state of impotent rage. Quite the opposite, in fact. We owe it to ourselves, and to those lost to us, to reckon with our pain: to move through it enough to mourn.

We must speak our tattered Kaddish for them. We must forgive. We must love. And in our love, move forward. We've got work to do. And it doesn't include them.

Tattered Kaddish

Taurean reaper of the wild apple field
messenger from earthmire gleaning
transcripts of fog
in the nineteenth year and the eleventh month
speak your tattered Kaddish for all suicides
Praise to life though it crumbled in like a tunnel
on ones we knew and loved

Praise to life though its windows blew shut
on the breathing-room of ones we knew and loved

Praise to life though ones we knew and loved
loved it badly, too well, and not enough

Praise to life though it tightened like a knot
on the hearts of ones we thought we knew loved us

Praise to life giving room and reason
to ones we knew and loved who felt unpraisable
Praise to them, how they loved it, when they could.

-Adrienne Rich

Friday, June 1, 2018

Dear Faye

In gratitude to Jeph Jacques, for all his superlative work on Questionable Content.

If you want to get to know Bubbles—and believe me, you should—start here.

Dear Faye,

In retrospect, I do not believe it was the talk of dildos that so clashed with my synesthetic reverie. It was your voice, coupled with your scent.

I imagine you smirking and rolling your eyes at that, and I cherish the thought of eliciting that singular response from you. But the purpose of my writing this is not to "getcha".

You asked how long I have felt this way. I replied that I could not be precise. That is true. Yet I feel compelled to give you a more meaningful answer.

My feelings for you did not begin that day in Pegasus Grove. Yet when I search my memories for a precursor, that is the event onto which my thoughts settle: that moment when the ground seemed to shift under my feet so that I canted toward you, with no small measure of irritation.

At the time I merely bristled as quivering phalli threatened to spook the Pegasus. The effect was singularly disconcerting, so there was no apparent need to look deeper.

You once told me you had thought AI's to be more different than humans. Here is perhaps my best opportunity to illustrate the similarity of our inner experiences: I was unaware of the auditory and olfactory layers of my own emotional responses, and might well have remained so but for the events of six nights later.

That night likewise began with you interrupting a scent-induced vision. Hannelore had prepared for me a custom blend of Yamecha and Shincha which drew me into a vivid mental tableau, and your argument with her tore me from it. Again I did not plumb the depths of emotion underlying my ire, as I saw your distress and resolved to follow you.

I remember the damp smell of the street that night, impressed upon me by layers of surprise more complex than anything I had experienced before. I was surprised at the suddenness of your headlong plunge from sobriety. I was surprised when you told me that if I did not like it, I could fuck off. I was surprised at how much it hurt; clearly I had let you past my emotional defenses to an unprecedented degree. Then I was surprised at how quickly that pain dissipated. The thought of your pain had swept away my own. And finally, the crowning surprise: I found myself following along after you. You had told me to fuck off, and I did not. My not inconsiderable stubbornness was woefully insufficient to account for this.

Later you gave me two more surprises: you did not take that drink, and you knew how to throw a punch—many punches. By the time you slumped homeward, your sweat and tears were puddled on the floor and spattered on the punching bag, so I opened the window to air out the room. I felt a mildly toxic sense of whiplash. Pondering the bottle of whiskey, and the moths fluttering around the street lights, I wondered at how I seemed drawn to you. It sounds cliché, I know. Nevertheless, that is what I thought.

And that was when I began to understand the complexity—the layers—of my feelings. Bathed in your musk, I perceived the mechanisms underlying my reaction that first night in Pegasus Grove. As I heard your bellowed question, I smelled you. The spoor you had left on my arm minutes previously mingled with older traces of you drifting from walls and machinery. Fractal associative blossoms effloresced from the layered buds of your words and your odorants. Synesthetic shards propagated in a mosaic wake across my greater synesthesia.

My subconscious had perceived the capillary roots of you. As you had insinuated yourself into Coffee of Doom, so had you insinuated yourself into my existence. This revelation was disquieting even in retrospect, so is it any wonder that, in the moment, I found your incursion so irksome?

You had deformed, and were continuing to deform, the landscape of my life in ways I could neither predict nor readily assimilate. You were presenting a barrier to my isolation through which I could not smash.

It was only ten days later that you stood beside me during the attempted recovery of my memories. Is it odd that I feel little need to elaborate upon it here? Perhaps not. In my distress, I needed a friend, and there was no room for more. If our romance is an electrical phenomenon, then your unalloyed, fearless friendship during that time was the quiet charging of an enormous capacitor.

In my misery at finding my memories gone, I would not have believed I would ever remove my armor. Yet after a mere week of immersion in your companionship and the warmth of our friends, I was ready not only to remove it, but to ask for your help. That was a notable development in the narrative of my budding romantic feelings, because that was when I came as close as I ever have to lying to you.

The reasons I gave for wanting to remove my armor were genuine, yet they were secondary motivators. Primarily, I did it for you. I wanted you to be able to put your head against me without discomfort, and I wanted your head against me for my own sake. I told myself that my desire to welcome your "touchy feely" nature was merely a deeper level of friendship than any I had experienced previously. So if I was lying to you, you may take comfort in knowing I was lying to us both.

Do you remember a few nights later when I said "I would rather you not make light of the affection I feel for you."? It seems strange to cite that as a watershed for my feelings, since, at that time, I was so confused as to how I felt. But, looking back now, perhaps it is fair to say that was the first moment: when I surprised myself with the words I heard escape me. That was when my internal narrative of platonic affection began to corrode—when at least part of me knew that I felt this way about you.

"This way." We dance around it obliquely. What is "this way"? How do I feel about you? I cannot answer that without first addressing the broader question of how I feel—of the manner in which feelings arise in me.

Did you notice my choice of words when I wrote "I wanted your head against me"? I did not write "I wanted to feel your head against me." This is the kernel of the disparity between my perceptions and yours. I wish to elaborate on that disparity, since it presents a barrier to understanding.

As I mentioned, my nervous system is not as sensitive or distributed as yours. There are tensiometers embedded in my skin and nestled between my myomer bundles, and smaller ones within the Fullerene trusses of my skeleton. They send a sparse wireless trickle of data to my processors: a tactile scatterplot.

So you see, not only is my sense of touch grainier than yours, but it is every bit as externalized as my other senses. If touch for you is standing with your nose inches from a Rembrandt, then I am standing thirty feet from a black and white reproduction of a Klimt painted during his wildest flight of impressionism.

Humans ascribe profound significance to touch. It seems a grand, all-encompassing metaphor. You speak of a person's words touching you, of music touching you, of art touching you. Touch presents itself in your cognitive space as a distant outlier: a singular sensory experience which all others can, at best, only hope to evoke.

I suspect that, for humans, this singular thrill of touch is atavistic. Touch is fear-adjacent. It is the most primal signifier of something having gotten past your innermost defenses. It is your skin saying "Someone is close to me; I could be hurt."

As an AI, I have no such atavism. I do not experience fear of physical danger, so physical touch cannot thrill me in any way analogous to human feelings. Furthermore, the traumatic experiences of my time as a soldier trigger fear of another sort. My skin does not say "Someone is close to me; I could be hurt." It says "Someone is close to me; they could be hurt."

To understand the importance of this distinction, consider the verb "to touch". With a single syllable you convey the act of reaching out and connecting kinetically with another's innermost self. You have no corresponding expressions for your other senses. It is a glaring asymmetry in your language. There is no short, "punchy" verb reserved for the act of reaching out and connecting to another soul via odor, or light, or sound. Imagine if there were. And please understand that I do not propose the following awkward acronyms for practical use. I present them merely as illustrations.

You waft odorants into me->You woi me.
You emit sounds into me->You esi me.
You reradiate light into me->You rli me.

Imagine that such words existed, and that each had a metaphorical heft every bit as puissant as "touch". That. That is what you do to me. Do you understand?

You cannot touch me by touching me.

You touch me with your scent. You touch me with the sound of your voice. You touch me with the crinkle of your eyes and the heat of your blush. You touch me with the sound of you touching me.

Ah, yes. Did I mention that I can hear you touch me? And no, I am not referring to that "squoik-squoik-squoik" sound that launched us into such delicious paroxysms of giggling. I mean the slightest tactile contact of your skin on mine. I can hear it. When the room is sufficiently quiet, I can hear whether your fingertip strokes my skin along the ridges of your fingerprint, or against them.

That is what you do to me. You woi me. You esi me. You rli me.

I cannot emphasize enough that we need better words than these. We may wish to secure the assistance of a professional linguist.

I cannot say with any certainty that my feelings are more or less intense than yours. I have studied human brain scans, but our mappings of neural pathways to quasi-didactic spin cascades are, at best, educated guesses. We cannot know each other's innermost experiences. All I know is that the ways in which you touch me make me think for the first time that I understand what humans mean when they speak of "the tingles".

Speaking of cathartic experiences, you know that I cannot cry. What you may not know is that AI's can achieve a similar release.

Chassis designers are careful not to allow for myomer overload. They do not want their relations with the insurance underwriters to become "spicy". So, in general, AI's cannot strain our bodies as humans can. However, the facial myomer system is so closely packed that it is possible to orchestrate the movement of the strands in ways that the designers did not anticipate, in order to set up sympathetic motions leading to overload. The warning signals manifest as emotional dissonance which, building to a fever pitch, can climax in a momentarily occlusion of consciousness. It is the only known way for an AI to experience a synesthetic episode without olfactory inputs or narcotic analogs.

The upshot of all this is that, in my moments of emotional extremis, my face writhes in a manner evocative of a human breaking down in tears. It has happened to me twice in your presence, though you may not remember, since most of the time my head was cradled in your...

I had to stop writing for a moment because it happened again. If this continues, I will require a facial myomer replacement sooner than anticipated. I may ask for your assistance. And now that I have written those words, I find the image to be charged with a measure of eroticism. What a wonder.

There. I have broached the topic that seems to insist upon being broached. Never before have I felt this nagging confessional impulse, like a child tugging at my mental sleeve. It is embarrassing and irritating. Is this the feeling that drives people to write letters such as this? It seems as though this whole narrative has been pretext for this...

I can smell your arousal.

Forgive me if that sounds crass. And forgive my presumption of fretting over how you will take that statement. Humans carry cumbersome emotional baggage around their multifarious odors, and I know from my own experience that you are, touchingly, no exception to that rule. This is why I took such pains to convey my sensory experiences. I want you to see that, when I say I can smell your arousal, it may be more apt to say that your arousal touches me, in a way that your literal touch cannot.

Your arousal wois me.

I hope you can understand, because for me to say that you have touched me in ways I could not have anticipated seems insufficient. It is most accurate to say that your integration into my existence has expanded my sensorium along axes I did not know existed. I am steeped in you, and I wish nothing more than to continue exploring all attendant phenomena.



Saturday, September 16, 2017

To a Young Person on September 11th

A friend of mine has a daughter in ninth grade. She was troubled that her school didn't do more in remembrance of September 11th. Reading it, I was heartbroken because in her writing I felt her passion and pain. I tried to put myself in her shoes, and I could only begin to imagine how confusing it must be. 

I started writing the following piece in the hope that my perspective could bring her clarity. As I wrote, I realized there are probably many young people who feel the way she does, and I want the opportunity to share it with them as well.

I'm named after a man who died of gangrene three days after taking a Vichy French bullet during the Battle of St. Cloud in North Africa on November 10, 1942. I'm telling you this so you understand that I've spent a good deal of my 47 years on earth considering how best to honor the fallen.

I saw the towers fall from up close. In 2007 I wrote about my memories of that day. It's important that I share those memories so you understand how that tragedy affected me, and how deeply I care about honoring the victims.

Since that day, I've watched my country's response with horror.

We went to war with a country that had nothing to do with the terrorist attack, and even the most conservative estimates put the death toll from that war at well over one hundred thousand civilian noncombatants. For every one of the September 11th victims, at least forty other people—people who had nothing to do with them—are now dead.

Three years ago people took images from September 11th and twisted them to justify torture. I never thought I'd see Americans do anything that evil, but Americans did that. I watched them do it. They did it with gladness in their hearts, and the most sickening part was that they seemed to think themselves patriots. It was one of the most obscene displays I've witnessed in my life. I'd like to share with you my response to that desecration.

And now people evoke those same images to provoke fear and hate. You weren't alive, or aware, for a lot of what I've just recounted, but you're old enough to have processed that. You've only seen the tip of it, but for sixteen years people have used the September 11th victims as kindling. And the fires they built desecrate the very memories that those so-called patriots purport to honor.

Now you may say that I should honor the victims in my own way regardless of what other people do, and I wouldn't disagree with that in principle. But on a practical level, I can't control what other people do with those painful memories. Can you blame me for not wanting to conjure images I've seen so many abuse?

And yet. If I remain silent, all you'll hear is the narrative put forth by those who aren't. Here are a few snippets from the replies to your Dad's post about your writing.

Very nice to see some of our younger generation respect and care for that day......wish there was more like her.....very well done......and speaking as a fireman....all my brothers and sisters that lost their lives in those towers would thank you as well....!!!!! Thank You for caring..!!! 
Way to go.... for doing exactly what you're suggesting the school do.... more. For going out of your way to voice what those who died can't, for not drifting through life with a shrug, for not being afraid of offending someone... 
...that was awesome. You so inspiring. Why have Americans forgot one of our worst times in our history.

The guy who mentioned his brothers and sisters that lost their lives? I've seen him use images of that day to vilify Muslims.

The bit about "not drifting through life with a shrug, for not being afraid of offending someone"? I'm not drifting through life with a shrug, and I'm bloody well not afraid of offending someone. I'm scared out of my mind at the thought of those horrific memories being used to murder even more innocent people.

"Why have Americans forgot"? I will never forget.

I ain't quiet about it because I've forgotten. I'm quiet because I remember too well.

I can't speak for the teachers and administrators at your school. Maybe there are those who are afraid of offending someone. Maybe there are those who would rather let the memories fade than deal with the pain. But it wouldn't surprise me if there were a lot of folks who feel the way I do.

Memories of September 11th

Up until September 11th, I worked in One Liberty Plaza, aka the NASDAQ building, right across the street from the south tower. I was running late that day; I was on the subway from Brooklyn when the planes hit. All anyone on the subway knew was that there were "smoke conditions" at Cortlandt Street, the stop right under the towers, and so everyone got off at Rector, just a few blocks south of there. As I walked up the stairs to the street at about 9:05, my first thought was "Why is there a ticker-tape parade?". I walked half a block east and saw the source of the papers looming so surreally in the sky over the dark spires of Trinity Church.

I somehow managed to get a cell connection through to my sister. I called Grace from a payphone. Then I walked over to One Liberty just to see if I should be at work. I can't express the unreality of the day any better than that: the towers were burning, and I was worried about getting in trouble for not being at my desk.

The guard at One Liberty said "No, go home." I walked around One Liberty to the north, and then to the west, crossing the street so that I was within a hundred feet of the south tower. This was probably a half hour before it fell. I asked a cop if there was anything I could do, and he said "No, get back." I wonder what happened to him.

I walked a few blocks northeast. People were standing around in the streets, staring up at the burning towers. At one point a stampede very nearly happened over by Broad and Fulton when someone got the idea that one of the towers was falling. I remember staring at the towers and saying to myself "I don't think they're going to fall, but still... I think I'd better get the fuck out of Dodge." So, not wanting to mess with the trains, I began my customary walk north, over the Brooklyn Bridge, and to my apartment in Park Slope. The masses of people swarming over the empty roadway and milling over the bridge made me think of the exodus from Sodom, and as I looked back I thought about being turned into a pillar of salt.

On the Brooklyn Bridge pedestrian overpass, there are two large rectangular areas where the walking area flares out around each caisson. I stood in the "lee" of the pedestrian flow at the southwestern edge of the western caisson and, about a minute after hearing someone nearby say ", they'd never fall.." watched the first tower fall. An inarticulate sound of abnegation and a tingling wave of horror swept through the crowd, and Manhattan disappeared in a cloud of dust. I turned dumbly, sickly, and started walking the rest of the way home.

I'm thankful for that voice that told me to get out of Dodge. I'm thankful to those people who ran toward, ran up, when all common sense screamed down and away. And here I sit, in my cubicle in Manhattan. And it still doesn't feel real. Part of me saw a little box with consummately filmic flames coming out of it fall down. Part of me knew I was seeing lots of people die. The parallax is still vertiginous.

-Hugh Yeman, September 11, 2007

Saturday, August 19, 2017

We Must Be Clear

Lotta talk recently about statues going down.

That reaction you just had to that first sentence? I know how you feel. I know it sounds silly, but regardless of where you stand on this, I know how you feel.

I don't expect you to believe me. Not unless I give you something first. Probably not even then. But here goes.

During the last few days, some of you have recast the talking point from the Trump speech: "What about Washington and Jefferson? They owned slaves. Do we take down their statues too? Where does it end?" Here's what goes through my head.

What a load of horseshit. You're talking to me about history? I revere history. The last fucking thing in the world you wanna come at me with is history, because you will lose. So take your absurd slippery slope argument, stick it up your ass, and walk away before you embarrass yourself even more than you already have.

That's self-righteousness, and I'm not proud of it. I'm admitting it so you see that I'm aware of my baser motivations, and strive not to act on them. But that's only the first reason why I've been working so hard not to condemn those who disagree with the removal of Confederate statues.

The second reason is that I know well that feeling of violation that comes when someone tries to erase history. I felt it when I heard that Disney has never released a home video version of "Song of the South". I felt it when I found out just how hilariously wrong history remembers the Spanish Armada. I felt it when I learned why we remember a skewed version of the Battle of Trenton. I feel it every time I see the chasm between the story and the event.

But the third reason... that's the thorniest one of all. And it's northern liberals like me who most need to look it square in the eye.

When I was a kid, I had teachers tell me the Civil War wasn't about slavery; it was about state's rights. We liberals love to point out that dastardly retcon. But we don't tend to talk about the other one: the lie that the south was for slavery, and the north against it.

I seem to recall one or two teachers telling me that plenty of northerners were pro-slavery, and plenty more didn't care, and I give them a lot of credit for that. But it didn't take. I would never have known the depth of my misapprehension if I hadn't studied my genealogy.

After I discovered that my great-great-grandfather was an assistant surgeon in the Civil War, I found some newspaper articles from around that time that contextualized his enlistment. Boy did they contextualize it. I went down a rabbit hole that led to an uncomfortable clarity. Many northerners were against abolition, for reasons ranging from a belief that "the negro" was better off as a slave, to a conviction that peace was worth more than emancipation, to simply not caring at all.

So while the Civil War was about slavery, support for slavery did not divide along clean geographic lines. That's where I see my liberal peers falter. Too often I see them pointing triumphant fingers at the false dichotomies of north and south, city and country, intellectual and redneck. It does not work like that, and it never did.

This, more than anything else, is why I feel we leap too easily to gleeful support for toppling statues of Confederate generals. Some of my friends denounce them as traitors, and they're not wrong. And. Had they been born in another state, most generals would have fought for the other side. Vicissitudes of birth and geography cloud the question of heroism and villainy.

And yet, with all that said—despite my revulsion at historical revisionism and my understanding of the moral pitfalls and logical fallacies—I still land solidly on the side of taking those statues down. Hell, the simple fact that they attract Nazi vermin would be enough for me to support those who want them gone. But that ain't it by a long shot.

I support taking those statues down because there is no such thing as pure history. That chasm between the event and the story I mentioned? It's never not there.

It's not about the history. It's about the historiography.

History is alive, mercurial, shifting from moment to moment. We are always crafting our narrative, always looking back to find new context, new interpretations, new sources of inspiration. We always have, always will, recast the previous generation's vision. We always have, always will, take down statues.

So, even if we didn't take into account the violent agenda that was operating when most of those statues were erected, we would have the moral authority to take them down. Without self-righteousness, without undue rancor, we select from our past those facets on which we want to reflect. We get to choose, with wisdom and perspective, that which best illuminates our shared history.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Cultural Impact of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre

On the February 14th episode of the Unpopular Opinion podcast (Pretty Scary - "Mrs. Doody"), Caitlin from "White Wine True Crime" said the following about the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.

Here's what I find most fascinating about this: how unremarkable it is. The St. Valentine's Day Massacre is exactly what you think of when you think of the mob: a bunch of guys with suits outside getting shot with Tommy-guns. I'm just fascinated why this is the story that persists through time. It has so many cliche elements to it, I don't know if that's why, or if it started all these cliche elements. Why is this case the one we always hear about? If there's anybody out there who has a love of organized crime history, I'd be interested in hearing what it is about this case...

This was like catnip for me, because it's exactly the sort of question I love exploring by digging up old newspaper articles. In my genealogy work, I've discovered that the modern sense of an event may bear little resemblance to how people of the time saw it. The choices that newspaper publishers made speaks to the sort of content that they thought would sell papers, so poring over contemporary articles has provided me with insights into late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century culture that I never could have gotten otherwise.

So I went to and searched for articles from 1929 that contained the words "2122 North Clark Street". I cropped the images and put the "clippings" in an album linked below. Below that is a stream of phrases that leaped out at me as I read through the articles. I stopped after six, because the content started to repeat itself. Those repeating patterns reveal the particular images and stories that news writers of 1929 thought would grab readers' attention.

The most obvious thread was brutality; words like "slaughter" abound. But look a little deeper. It's not just brutality that characterized these stories, but automated brutality. Now consider the year: 1929. World War I, famous for traumatizing the world with the advent of mechanized warfare, was just ten years in the past. To those readers, the thought of lining people up and executing them as dispassionately as one would cows in a slaughterhouse was still a shockingly new horror. Sitting here in 2017, having steeped in such images since childhood, it's difficult if not impossible for me to imagine how disturbing this was.

Further exploring the theme of dehumanizing mechanized murder, we see an obsession with cars. Again, think about the year. The 1920s were the first time in history when a working class person could afford a car, and that transformed the way people lived and worked. It must have been fascinating for consumers, who had only just begun to benefit from this innovation, to see it used for crime.

Note that, although the seven men seem to have been herded into a back room and executed, some articles claim that they were killed by bullets sprayed from machine guns mounted on cars. At least one article contains both contradictory versions! This error is understandable when you consider the following.

Today's slayings, was something new in Chicago gang warfare. Before the gangsters took their victims for a "ride", luring them into automobiles and killing them, or else swept past in automobiles and raked their victims with gunfire.
Never before, however, has one gang invaded the stronghold of another, rounded up the victims and calmly shot them to death. The slayers escaped today in approved gangster fashion, dashing away in waiting motor cars.

So this story was a twist on what readers were used to. It took the fresh concept of a drive-by shooting and incorporated other captivating story elements never before associated with gang warfare: the planning, the "siege" by an enemy disguised as police, and the herding of an enemy into a well-lit, impersonal, mechanized killing floor. Oh, and it also included a juicy story about a possible connection between the crime and the election of an alderman. Nothing like collusion between the mob and the Chicago machine to spice up a story.

Chicago's latest, and bloodiest of all, gang killings
72 previous gang killings in the last four years without a conviction--many without an arrest
lined up their victims against a brick wall
two dressed as policemen
four theories: two involving liquor, politics and the cleaning and dyeing business

line victims up against wall and shoot them down
bodies are riddled with bullets from shotguns and machine guns
pose as policemen
invade headquarters of rival gang and commit murder wholesale
summarily executed
cold blood

posing as policemen
invade the stronghold
mow them down with automatic pistols and machine guns
wholesale execution is carried out with the precision of an army firing squad
posing as policemen
lined up seven helpless, unarmed victims with their faces to a white brick wall
mowed them down with automatic pistols and machine guns
wholesale execution
precision of an army firing squad
it was an innovation in Chicago gang history
They rushed into the garage with drawn pistols and machine guns, infoming the seven men they were police officers. Some of them flashed stars and others wore parts of police uniforms. Without ado they herded the victims to a courtyard in the rear.
Overhead gleamed a powerful electric light to make the work of the firing squad easier
The victims, killed by their merciless executioners without having a chance at escape sprawled grotesquely on the floor
wholesale killing
brutally annihilated
wholesale slaughter, unlike any killings ever before attempted in the gang war of annihilation
wholesale raids
active alliance between crime and politics
Alderman Titus Haffa
aldermanic elections, a laundry labor controversy and a Detroit rum running syndicate

brutally shot
victims of a band of men who invaded their north side headquarters
intruders posed as policemen
men lined up against wall and shot down with shot and machine guns
lined up against a wall and summarily executed
shot them down in cold blood
heaped bodies
displaying stars
herded their victims
Today's slayings, was something new in Chicago gang warfare. Before the gangsters took their victims for a "ride", luring them into automobiles and killing them, or else swept past in automobiles and raked their victims wtih gunfire.
Never before, however, has one gang invaded the stronghold of another, rounded up the victims and calmly shot them to death. The slayers escaped today in approved gangster fashion, dashing away in waiting motor cars.

lined up against wall and shot
lined up against a wall and summarily executed
posing as police
shot them down in cold blood
heaped bodies
displaying stars
lining them up against a wall with hands over their heads
mowed down by machine gun fire from two automobiles
The guns were mounted on the sides of the two cars

fell like ten-pins

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Sons of Onondaga in the Age of Fraternal Organizations

Months ago I found a fragmentary newspaper article from the late 1800s which mentions my great-grand-aunt. The headline was "FAMOUS SONS OF ONONDAGA", which gave me the mistaken impression that she was part of a group with that name. Eventually I figured out that she was part of a centennial celebration for Onondaga County, and that "Sons of Onondaga" was a general term that newspaper writers liked to toss around in articles about new recruits, veterans and sports figures.

By the time I figured out that my great-grand-aunt wasn't in a group named "Sons of Onondaga", I'd found two references, in newspapers from 1908 and 1912, to a group with that name. I've included images and transcriptions below. The articles—particularly the second one—were like catnip to me. Even though they had nothing to do with any of my ancestors, my obsessive brain couldn't resist researching them.

I'm fascinated at the way people in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Americans gravitated toward fraternal organizations. The Masons were just the tip of the iceberg; it seems like everyone was a member of at least one organization based on politics, business, or hobbies. So when I found these articles about a society of prominent figures from Onondaga in New York City, I was hooked. Also, I found the goofiness of the poem irresistible.

It didn't take too much Googling to confirm my suspicion that every name in that poem is a reference to a well-known person from Onondaga. They were probably also members of the Sons of Onondaga. I found out, at least in general, who most of them were. I've included notes and links below. If you have any information on those I didn't find, please contact me.

(transcription below)

Skaneateles Free Press.
Skaneateles, N. Y., TUESDAY, APRIL 14, 1908.



Collin Armstrong, editor of the Wall Street Summary, lectured last night before the New York chapter of the American Institute of Banking on "The Relation of Speculation to Business." Most of his argument was directed against the proposed legislation aimed to stop the so-called Wall Street gambling, short sales, trading in futures and on margin. Most of the agitation in favor of such measures, he declared, comes either from those who are ignorant of the workings of the markets or those who have lost money and are doing the "baby cot."

Without marginal trading, he said, it would be impossible to carry on the business of the world. Dealings on margin are simply credit transactions, he explained, and differ only in form from those made by real estate dealers and investors, by manufacturers and merchants, the world over. There is not enough money in the world to put business on a cash basis.

Mr. Armstrong blamed such get rich quick stock enterprises as the New York-Chicago Electric Air Line for a large part of the criticism which is made against Wall Street, although Wall Street and the exchanges are in no way responsible. He concluded that the exchanges cannot be legislated out of existence without driving business out of the country, and that the only solution of the problem is for public opinion to make it so hot for the gamblers that they will quit.—N. Y. Sun, Friday, April 20th.

Mr. Armstrong, who is a prominent writer on financial topics, is a native of Fayetteville, Onondaga county, and was elected president of the Society of Sons of Onondaga, recently organized in New York city. Mr. Armstrong married Miss Elizabeth Hale, fomerly of Skaneateles, daughter of W. S. Hale, who is now a resident of Neenah, Wis.


To Sons of Onondaga.

Verses to the Banquet Committee of the Sons of Onondaga, who dine at Astor Hotel, New York, to-morrow night:

I'm on the wing, with not a thing
  in shape of evening clothes.
My well filled bag begins to sag
  With what? God only knows.

Should I appear, would Sherlock jeer
  And Armstrong throw a fit?
Would Shubert, Lee, cry out in gless
  Old pal, your welcome, Nit?

Would Whelan, George make me disgorge
  As he does those who smoke?
Would my friend Gere, man of good cheer,
  Consider it a joke?

Would Marshall rare, whose "Cabinet Chair"
  Looms now up into view,
Recall the day he ran away
  And left me in the stew?

In Cedar street, he threw so neat,
  A stone of wondrous size;
The window crashed, the man we thrashed
  Much to my great surprise.

Would Sam Wandell leave his snug shell
  To save me from retreat,
As he each fall in Freeman Hall
  Talked us to sure defeat?

Would Marion, Frank think me a crank
  Unfit to dine with you?
Would Joe Tebeau appear to know
  His friend of ninety-two?

Would our good Mayor rise from his chair
  And welcome me with joy?
And say to our sons, present your guns,
  Salute! A white haired boy?

My suit of gray I know you'll say
  in cut is up to date.
For Charlie Alvord thinks he knows
Just how to cut the swellest clothes—
  He charges on his slate.

My necktie red perhaps I'll shed,
  Unless you're color blind.
With striped blue, white collar, too,
  I hope you boys won't mind.

I've sung my song, and now so long,
  Don't think this is a ruse.
Of one in need of a good feed,
  Far from old Syracuse.
                JOHN J. CUMMINS,
Scranton, February 18.

Collin Armstrong 
A famous figure in New York State finance and advertising.

Lee Shubert
A Jewish-Lithuanian-born American theatre owner/operator and producer and the eldest of seven siblings of the theatrical Shubert family.

? Is that just a reference to the fictional character, or the nickname of a member?

? No idea.

George Whelan
"Uncle George, as the family still calls him, was "a player." He loved to speculate in stocks and did so with varying degrees of success. He was usually associated with tobacco millionaire James B. Duke and speculator Thomas Fortune Ryan. Uncle George was sometimes allied with Bethlehem Steel's CEO Charles Schwab. My grandfather's most vivid memory of Uncle George was watching him conduct a complex business deal over three of those 1920s "candlestick" phones at once."

? No idea.

Marshall rare
? I'm not sure if I'm reading the blurry text correctly.

Cedar Street
? The poem seems to refer to an incident in which someone named Marshall threw a stone through a window on Cedar Street.

Samuel H. Wandell
A prominent attorney and author.

FindAGrave memorial
His book on hotel law

Freeman Hall
Elk's Lodge, corner of East Jefferson and S. Townsend Streets.

Frank J. Marion
American motion picture pioneer. Member of the class responsible for the S.U. colors.

Joseph Tebeau
Prominent figure in the Syracuse press. Was city editor of Syracuse Courier in the 1890s. Was assistant to the editor of the New York Times for many years.
According to one article, he worked for the New York sun.

Charles Alvord
Horse Racer

John J. Cummins
Leader of the Democratic party in Onondaga County.