Thursday, April 10, 2014

How the Chase Bank Logo Symbolically Tells You Right Up Front How Sketchy Chase Bank Is

(What follows is a brief little mini-article to try to fill the shamefully large gap between actual articles.  I will continue to update this blog, I promise.  In the meantime, here is a little interesting anecdote.)

So, some people seem really into finding the hidden conspiracy-type symbols in corporate and financial logos. I think this is pretty silly myself, as I am not a believer in Illuminati-type conspiracy theories...besides, money already has a dead, frequently slave-owning white man on it, so what else do you really need to remind you who's in charge?

HOWEVER, did you know that the symbol for Chase Bank totally evokes a conspiracy/scam pulled way back in the 18th century?

It seems that prior to the building of the Croton Aqueduct, New York City was without a major reliable source of clean water. Remember, the rivers were brackish, and also used as sewers. There were some wells, and water was a scarce enough commodity that bottled water was actually a thing at the time.  People were even starting to pipe water into homes and businesses by the end of the 18th century, just in a really sporadic and inefficient way rather than in massive, publicly funded reservoirs and water works. One company that formed to (supposedly) supply water was the Manhattan Company, which raised 2 million dollars for the stated purpose of establishing a water works.

They then went ahead and used about 5 percent of that money to establish a little bit of water infrastructure and used the remaining NINETY FIVE PERCENT to start a bank.

They had sold off the water works entirely to the city less than 10 years later. But they kept a "water committee" around for a hundred years after the formation of the company, just so they could pretend the whole premise had been legit. Of course, they didn't actually provide water. Just banking.

The Manhattan Company bank would eventually merge with Chase Bank, which acquired JP Morgan, so that all gets a bit complicated, but in the 1960s they acquired a particular logo that hearkens back to their origins: an octagon surrounding a square.

This one

That symbol, the octagon surrounding a square, is a representation of a cross section of the wooden pipes used to carry water in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Their logo evokes the way they scammed their way into establishing a bank.

So yes, I think that's an interesting story; tell it to your friends.

Note: there is some debate as to whether or not the logo was explicitly chosen for its reference to a water pipe, or if it's just a coincidence born of corporate "abstract symbols."  More research is required.  However, I think it's a good idea for us all to remember what the symbol means when we see it, whether Chase meant it to have that significance or not.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Anarchists Against the Wall: A Book Review

(unlike most of the rest of this blog, this is not an article about history; it is a book review.  Please excuse the aberration and enjoy the book review.)

Anarchists Against the Wall, an Israeli group that maintains active solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, recently published a collection of writing and speeches.  I was only somewhat aware of who AAtW were or the history of the group, and while this book is certainly not a comprehensive history, it serves as a fantastic introduction to AAtW and their work.  All of the writers are, or have been actively involved in activism in solidarity with Palestinians and their fight against occupation and apartheid, and the book offers a concise, but wide array of their thoughts and discussions of their experiences.  In addition to statements of principles and laying out of arguments in reprinted speeches, sentencing statements, and essays, the book also offers discussion of dealing with emotional self-care, talking to family, and a number of other topics relating to the life of activists involved in this sort of intense work.   

The book is by turns informative, inspiring, and incredibly moving; I found myself crying while reading it more than once.  It is the kind of book that fires you up for action, and simultaneously discusses strategies for doing so.  I emphatically recommend that anyone with an interest in the subject read it. 

Anarchists Against the Wall is available through AK Press, both as a book and an e-book.  It is edited by Uri Gordon and Ohal Grietzer, with a preface by Alfredo Bonanno

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Dorothy Day: Pissing off the Church by Acting Like Jesus



Dorothy Day was a Christian.  That doesn’t seem like much of a statement; Christianity is kind of a big deal these days, has been for a couple thousand years, and there are a lot of people out there who call themselves Christians, often loudly and publicly while exhorting everyone else to do the same, but if we use the word “Christian” in its most literal sense, as a person who actually follows the advice and instructions of that guy they call Christ, we find a lot fewer people.  Probably because a lot of the stuff  that Jesus guy said to do; selling everything you own to feed the poor, helping the sick, hanging out with people shunned by society, and  refraining from judging people while at the same time harshly judging yourself, are all time-consuming and fairly hard.  Not to mention pacifism; turning the other cheek can be really difficult, it turns out.  But when I say that Dorothy Day was a Christian, I mean that she actually did all of those things.  Except maybe for the not judging, but she generally did a good job of treating others as though she wasn’t judging them, which is close enough for most people.  (I don’t know if it’s close enough for Jesus.  I haven’t asked him.)
Ok, so, she was a Christian.  The particular flavor of Christianity she went with was Catholicism, which is nice if you like funny hats, and bad if you like birth control, but where it gets weird is that she was also an anarchist.  The Christian anarchist thing doesn’t seem so odd if you go with Quakerism or something, and there are people out there prepared to argue that there is no way to be a Christian without being an anarchist (though fewer, I’m guessing, prepared to argue the inverse), and it’s certainly not unprecedented for the two to go together, but the Catholic Church is one of the most hierarchical institutions you’ll find outside of the military.  So, how does someone hold Catholicism and anarchism inside one human brain at the same time without causing a messy explosion?  And, more importantly, how does someone live the ideals of both Catholicism and anarchism?
            The life story of Dorothy Day is basically the answer to that question.  A shorter answer would be “by having a lot of arguments with pretty much everyone.”
Dorothy Day did not begin life as a Catholic.  (Or, for that matter, an anarchist.) She was actually brought up in a fairly secular environment, something she seems to have resented when she got older, feeling that she had had “no one to teach” her about Jesus.  Her childhood was not a particularly bad one, but her family went through periods of poverty, and she lived through the famous San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, and she was both deeply traumatized by the devastation, and inspired, at the age of eight, by the number of people she saw coming to the aid of their neighbors.  (Christian charity, or anarchist mutual aid?  If you’re Dorothy Day, you don’t have to decide!)
Dorothy’s father spent quite a bit of her childhood out of work, and her family struggled as a result.  Possibly because of that, or maybe because sometimes people just do, Dorothy found herself being drawn to religion starting at about the age of ten.  By the time she was twelve, though, her father was working again, her family was doing better, and Dorothy shifted her focus to other things.  Like, for example, boys.  The distraction that they provided never quite pushed religion from her mind, though, and as a teenager, Dorothy spent a lot of time musing and agonizing about the nature of faith, spirituality, and fulfillment.  Weirdly enough, teenage Dorothy Day did not come up with much that was awesome.
Writing to a friend at the age of fifteen, she said “it is wrong to think so much about human love.  All those feelings and cravings that come to us are sexual desires.  We are prone to have them at this age, I suppose, but I think they are impure.  It is sensual and God is spiritual.  We must harden ourselves to these feelings, for God is love and God is all, so the only love is of God and is spiritual without taint of earthliness.  I am afraid I have never really experienced this love, or I would never crave the sensual love or the thrill that comes with the meeting of lips…Oh, surely it is a continual strife and my spirit is weary.”
So yeah, she was probably not the kid you’d want to sit with at lunch.  I promise Dorothy Day did some really great stuff later in her life, and I am not ever going to judge someone for something they wrote when they were fifteen (Dorothy herself looked at that letter years later and said that it was “filled with pomp and vanity and piety”), but if you’re waiting for her to get less...well, talking like that, then you’re in for a disappointment.
            There may have been a (to Dorothy) regrettable lack of religious influences in her life, but she was definitely getting good reading done.  She read Jack London, Upton Sinclair, Tolstoy, and Kropotkin, in addition to the lives of saints and all that other stuff.  She decided, quite correctly, that Eugene Debs was one of the best guys around, and when she went off to college she decided that socialists, rather than churches, were actually interested in helping people. She came to view religion as a source of complacency and an obstacle to action, and swerved temporarily away from her faith.  Like many young people who turn away from religion while in college, she did a little nude modeling, and when she graduated, headed to New York City, where she began working as a writer, contributing to, and for a time taking charge of, radical papers including The Call and The Masses.  Her main concern was poverty, but she also got involved in opposition to the First World War, or, as they were calling it then, The War, and the draft. 
            While protesting for women’s suffrage in Washington D.C. in 1917, Dorothy was arrested for the first time.  Closely followed by the second and third time.  After the third arrest, she and her comrades were sentenced to thirty days in jail. Once there, she and the other women promptly began a ten day hunger strike, in protest of the fact that they were being treated as common criminals rather than political prisoners.  (I could write a whole essay on why THAT’S super fucked up, but I won’t right now, because I’m in the middle of a story.)
Anyway, prison had the effect of radicalizing Dorothy, and when she got out, she was way more of an anarchist.  She became more involved in the anti-war movement, and trained as a nurse, in order to directly help people who had been screwed over by society.  Her gradual shift towards greater religiosity was continuing on its course as well, but then, as happened when she was younger, she found herself distracted by a dude.  This dude’s name was Lionel Moise, and as dudes go he was not a good choice.  It all ended in tears and back-alley abortions; Dorothy found she was pregnant in 1919, and Moise promptly left her, skipping town without leaving a forwarding address, even though she went and had herself a sketchy abortion in a last-ditch effort to save the relationship.
Dorothy would come to regret that abortion pretty deeply, and it’s no surprise; she quite clearly got it for the sake of her failed relationship, not because she didn’t actually want to have a baby. Later, when she turned to Catholicism, she would become extremely anti-abortion. It’s hard to say where the religious reasons for that and the personal reasons begin and end.
A brief marriage and some travels in Europe, followed, as well as one seriously sad attempt to rekindle her relationship with Lionel.  She moved around a lot, living in Chicago, New Orleans, and eventually back to New York, working as a journalist.  Some of that was actually pretty cool; like the time she went undercover as a taxi dancer, and wrote about the experience.  She also wrote a memoir called The Eleventh Virgin, which told the story of her life up till then (this was in 1924, so she was only like twenty seven, which is weirdly early to write a memoir, in the opinion of this currently twenty seven year old person), and while it wasn’t all that good, the movie rights ended up getting sold, giving Dorothy a little money to live on.  Which might have helped with the burning shame of having written it; Dorothy would later express a wish to track down every existing copy and burn it.  Similar to how George Clooney feels about that Batman movie he made, I think, and he doesn’t even have religious fanaticism to comfort him.
She ended up back in New York, and getting introduced to her next partner, Forster Batterham (pronounced Foster, because he said so), an anarchist.  By this time, anarchism would have probably been the most accurate word for her ideals as well.  She bought a cottage on the beach on Staten Island, where she lived with Forster, writing trashy romances for magazines, and just kind of enjoying life.  To her own surprise, this happiness brought her closer to religion once again, and she found herself praying every day.  Despite her lack of Catholic background, she wound up using the rosary a friend had given her a few years ago, and when she ended up pregnant again, and this time going through with it and giving birth to a baby she named Tamar Teresa, Dorothy made sure to have her child baptized in the Catholic church.  It was the true start of Dorothy’s conversion.
Despite his skepticism about the whole “having a baby in the kind of world that just went through the First World War” thing, Forster ended up loving Tamar, and their parenthood did not do much harm to his and Dorothy’s relationship.  Her newfound religiosity, on the other hand, did.  Remember back at the beginning, when I said that most people find anarchism and Catholicism tough to reconcile?  Forster was one of the “most people.” That group, as it turned out, also included the majority of her friends; one of them even suggested she seek psychiatric care when she started talking about religion.  Others reminded her of the political implications of the Catholic Church, which was and is a hugely powerful, wealthy organization.  Dorothy countered that it was the church of the working class, and went through with her and her daughter’s conversion.
Dorothy now had the two main philosophical influences of her life well in hand; Christianity and anarchism.  As has been previously noted, those can be tricky to reconcile, but fortunately, there was a guy out there already who had it pretty much figured out, as far as he was concerned.  His name was Peter Maurin, and after hearing about her and her ideas, he sought Dorothy out in 1932.   He was a Catholic social justice advocate and pacifist, and he took Dorothy under his wing in a major way that resulted in her taking her newfound sense of Christian anarchism and putting it into action.
First, she and Peter got to work establishing a paper called The Catholic Worker. It was full of a radical, social-justicey version of Catholic thought, as well as news and calls to action. The paper was sold on the streets for a penny a paper.  Still is, actually; the price has never gone up, so that it remains accessible to anyone who wants to read it.  Most disturbingly to those who liked their Catholicism traditional and fancy-hat-focused, it included a heavy emphasis on the elimination of poverty, and on pacifism.  
This would eventually land them in trouble with, roughly speaking, everyone.  In the 1930s, the Spanish Civil War was going on, and the Catholic Church took a strong pro-Franco stance.  Meanwhile, lefties and radicals everywhere, including the United States, took a strong pro-Republican stance.  The Catholic Worker and Dorothy, of course, took a pacifist stance.  Which just pissed everybody off.  But I mean, what’s a bunch of pissed off anarchists, right?  Anarchists being mad at other anarchists is pretty much a regular day in anarchism, but when one group of people who call themselves Catholics disagree with another group of people who call themselves Catholics, the ones who have control of the hierarchy and the hats, that can get dicey, and people sometimes throw around words like “heresy.”  In 1951, the church would pressure Dorothy to change the name so as not to imply official Catholic endorsement of its ideas.  Dorothy didn’t because being a Catholic is all well and good, but being a Catholic anarchist apparently means that you’re allowed to tell the church leaders to fuck off on occasion.
But the Catholic Worker was more than just a newspaper.  It developed into a collection of communities, farms, and “houses of hospitality,” where members of the movement fed, clothed, and housed those in need, generally living and working alongside of the people they were helping.  Dorothy saw these as a way to both help the poor, and also to lead them away from the lure of communism, and towards a more voluntary-association, mutual-aidy, type philosophy.  And also towards Jesus, obviously.  These houses came under a lot of criticism for the fact that they weren’t particularly concerned with whether people “deserved” help or not; alcoholics, drug addicts, sex workers, anyone who needed help got it.  People who preferred their charity to be in the form of soup handed out from a condescending arm’s length along with a lecture on Protestant work ethic did not approve, but Dorothy didn’t really give a shit, because hungry people were getting fed. 
Due to her anarchist philosophy, and opposition to the state’s tendency to be aggressively non-pacifist, Dorothy refused to get registered properly with the IRS and file for tax exempt status.  This pissed off the government way more than sounds reasonable to me.  Not to mention, the Red Scare eventually happened, and the houses of hospitality and Dorothy herself ended up under severe FBI scrutiny, but despite all of that, a lot of these houses still actually exist, all thanks to Dorothy Day, who established the first ones and worked like crazy to keep them (and the communal farms outside the city) up and running. 
So, just to add up that list, Dorothy had pissed off the left, the Catholic Church, anarchists, and the government.
Dorothy worked incredibly hard on the paper, the houses, and the farm, often going without good food, heat, a decent bed, and any number of other comforts.  She lived in voluntary poverty alongside those she wanted to help, partially out of practical considerations, and also because she found it spiritually fulfilling to do so.  Who doesn’t love fasting and mortification of the flesh? She also kind of disapproved of every method of recreation or relaxation; casual sex, drugs, alcohol…she even kind of disapproved of movies and books if they were too much fun and too much of a distraction from harsh reality. 
  She did enjoy prayer, though, and spending time in quiet contemplation out at the farm, so that was nice for her, I guess, though it makes it a little hard to take when she rants in her writings about people distracting themselves with the pleasures of all these various forms of entertainment she didn’t like, while at the same time talking about the hours she spent in an ecstasy of prayer. 
So that might be considered a little bit hypocritical, and extremely judgmental.  Dorothy Day, it happens, was almost as good at being judgmental as she was at helping people.  In the 60s she wrote “there is an element of the demonic in the air we breathe these days…evil is everywhere in the guise of sex and drugs, and words – “beautiful” – “love” – the “new family,” etc. Much lying and deceit and self-justification an arrogant taking over, a contempt for the old people, or tradition…”  Now, to be fair, she said this in the context of having a bunch of hippies in one of her Catholic Worker apartments, and I can see how that could make anyone cranky, and she eventually kicked them out in what members of the Catholic Worker movement came to remember as the Dorothy Day Stomp, which also sounds like a cool new dance move that someone should invent.  Despite her annoyance with hippies, she was happy to attend and support protests where young men burned their draft cards.  As long as no one was having too much sex, drugs or using words like “beautiful,” or “love,” I guess.
Dorothy more than made up for her occasional grouchiness by being generally awesome.  For instance, in 1957, she was visiting a racially integrated commune in Georgia.  Now, if there’s two things rural Southern racists in the 50s hated, it was racial integration, and communes.  Dorothy was into it, though, and volunteered for night guard duty.  By this point, she was nearly sixty years old.  In the middle of the night, a car drove up, and an unseen racist asshole shot at her, shattering the windows of the car she was sitting in and very nearly hitting her.  If she’d been a little slower to duck she would have probably died.
As another example of Dorothy’s badassery, take her opposition to mandatory civil defense drills during the Cold War.  During these events, Dorothy would go out into the streets with her comrades, instead of engaging in the mandatory shelter-seeking, and publicly pray for peace.  She wound up doing this and getting arrested so many times over the course of six years that she actually ended up serving ten days jail.  For praying in public.  She reported that her stay in jail was very enjoyable, which was probably true, since it was mostly likely the closest thing she had to a vacation in years.
And if you needed further proof that she was awesome, there’s always her FBI file, which was several hundred pages long and weirdly claimed that she was being “consciously or unconsciously” used by communist groups.  Remember, she set up her houses of hospitality partly because she didn’t want communism to be the only option for poor people to turn to. Communism rejected Christianity, which, I think it has been amply demonstrated, she was pretty into. But of course, she did like sharing, and I get that that’s a pretty suspicious thing in and of itself. The FBI’s never been known for their astute, nuanced, political analysis.  And she went to Cuba once after the US government had said that wasn’t ok.  J. Edgar Hoover called her “irresponsible” and “erratic,” which is not how I would describe someone who successfully established and maintained a newspaper, a communal farm, and houses of hospitality, but then I am notably not J. Edgar Hoover.  Anyway, I think having J. Edgar Hoover personally take time out of his day to say something mean about you is a pretty high honor.
At the age of 75 she spent two weeks in jail after being arrested at a demonstration of farm workers led by Cesar Chavez. As hardcore as that was, even she couldn’t keep it up forever, and her health eventually started to decline.  She spent the remaining years of her life being close to her family and friends, including Forster “Call me Foster” Batterham, the father of her daughter.  Though they hadn’t been close in years, he was the last person she’d had a real romantic relationship with, and he supported her as she battled cancer.  She was being honored by the Catholic Church by this time, for her work with the poor, and getting various honorary degrees and awards.  I guess it’s easier to honor the work that a good person does when you are not too busy supporting Franco, huh, the Catholic Church?
She died at the age of 83, and it was only a few years later that people started trying to make her a saint.  I think they mean that in a nice way, and her case is still up for review, or in limbo, or whatever you call it when the Catholic Church hasn’t yet decided if someone was a saint or not, and she is currently considered a Servant of God, which is apparently like, two or three steps down from sainthood, I guess.  I’m not sure what kind of hat it comes with.
In any case, I don’t think Dorothy would much approve.  She once said “don’t call me a saint.  I don’t want to be dismissed so easily.”  I take that to mean that she would feel that her canonization would imply to the rest of the world that the way she lived her life and the good work she did was somehow beyond the capabilities of ordinary humans, as if her successes were the result of miracles rather than hard work and dedication, and that the ideals she espoused were unattainable, and meant for heaven, not for earth.   So obviously the Catholic Church can make her a saint if they like (weirdly enough, I don’t seem to be on their list of people to consult for approval on these matters,) but I think Dorothy would, if she were alive, give them a piece of her mind for even trying.
Sainthood bid aside, I very much doubt you’ll find more than a handful of people in the world who would agree with Dorothy Day on everything she stood for and did.  It’s interesting the way the Catholic writers who write about how virtuous and spiritual and humble she was never really mention the whole anarchism thing.  I can kind of see why.  As someone who admires her, but is not so into religion, I find myself inclined to mentally downplay her religiosity, and have to keep reminding myself that that would clearly be a shitty thing to do.
             I think the reason for these inclinations is that a lot of people, with incredibly different worldviews, feel drawn to Dorothy Day for the undeniably, objectively great stuff that she did.  As much as we may act all open minded, if we admire someone, we don’t want to think bad things about them, and for pretty much all people, “bad things” includes not agreeing with everything we think.  And that’s clearly a huge problem, and one that I struggled with in writing about Dorothy Day.  I admire the hell out of a lot of the things she did in her life, and I think she was a truly amazing woman.  Because of that, I find myself wanting to gloss over the fact that she was also anti-birth control and abortion, and in many ways anti-feminist, or the judgmental attitudes she took towards other people’s sex lives and preferred forms of recreation.  Basically, I found myself being a fan of Dorothy Day the anarchist, but not of Dorothy Day the Catholic.  In thinking that way I was doing her a disservice, because her religion informed her anarchism and vice versa.  Which is a good reminder of that thing that I know, but don’t always keep in mind: that even people with whom I profoundly and fundamentally disagree can also be people that I deeply admire and support.
            So yeah, writing about Dorothy Day has probably made me a slightly better person.  Not in all the ways she most likely would have wanted; I still don’t believe in God or think that birth control is wrong. But because she made me a slightly better person, I feel it’s only right to end with a few notes for how she can help some other folks be better people too.
            White American Christians are fond of claiming to be a persecuted group.  Acts of persecution against them apparently include the teaching of biology in public schools (including both evolutionary theory and sex ed), the adoption of children who are in no way connected to them by couples they do not approve of, people they don’t know getting married, and retailers telling them “happy holidays.”  I’m not sure why they are so eager to be persecuted; most people who have lived under persecution don’t have a lot of good things to say about it, but the good news for them is that I have found a way for them, as Christians, to be persecuted in America.  Despite being, you know, Christians in America. 
            These last paragraphs will therefore be addressed to contemporary white American Christians who have persecution complexes.  The rest of you are free to read them too.  Please do note though that they will interpret your reading something reserved exclusively for them as an anti-Christian hate crime. 
            How to be a persecuted white Christian in America today:
            It’s easy; be a Christian the way Dorothy Day was a Christian.  Feed the hungry, and don’t file for tax exempt status.  Don’t support or participate in warmongering.  Stand against injustice, and with minorities.  Spend all your money, time, and energy trying to help people.  Live with the bare minimum of comforts.  Anything you sell, operate at a loss so that more people can get their hands on it. 
The good news is, you’ll live in poverty, you’ll face government scrutiny, be called disloyal and unpatriotic.  You’ll be accused of supporting alcoholics, criminals and drug addicts, not to mention the enemies of your nation and its traditional way of life.  Play your cards right and you may even wind up getting shot at by the Klan.  You’ll probably go to jail, like Megan Rice, Greg Boertje-Obed, and Michael Walli, a radical nun and two residents of modern-day Dorothy Day houses, who broke into a nuclear weapons plant in an act of pacifist protest. 
That’s a lot of persecution.
            The bad news is, you’ll be so busy helping the downtrodden and fighting the state that you won’t have time to complain that science and gays and holiday-well-wishers are persecuting you.  The good news is, you might finally be someone who Jesus would actually want to hang out with.