It was about 2,067 years ago this day, (give or take a few calendrical corrections in the interval) on 15 March, 44 BC, known in the Roman calendar as “The Ides” (“IDVS” meaning, most likely, “mid-month”) that the last leader of the Roman Republic, the dictator Gaius Julius Caesar, fell victim to a bloody, brutal murder by a group of generally well‐meaning, if arguably incompetent conspirators as the Senate gathered to conduct business in Pompey’s theater in Rome.

These men styled themselves saviors of the Roman Republic and Marcus Junius Brutus, in his capacity as the commanding general of the “Republican” forces, had coins minted which featured the phrase IDVS MARTIVS abbreviated “EID MAR” (The Ides of March) and depicted a “Liberty Cap”, the emblem of a freed slave, between two of the assassin’s daggers. Brutus and his co-conspirators hoped to convince the people of Rome that Caesar’s murder had saved their ancient republic and freed them from tyranny. Unfortunately, and quite oppositely, in the wake of the assassination of Caesar, civil war, domestic strife, and chaotic uncertainty dominated the political landscape for the next 17 years, ending only when Julius Caesar’s adopted son, his nephew Octavius, took control of Rome as the first true Emperor of Rome, Caesar Augustus.

Under Augustus, Rome’s political situation stabilized and the economy regained its former vigor. Rome regained its international prestige and expanded its already unprecedented empire. Materially, Rome prospered, but its proudly cherished heritage of more than 500 years of civil liberty and republican government had vanished, killed more by decades of short‐sighted petty politics among Rome’s competing factions coupled with the indifference of the electorate, than by the daggers of Caesar’s assassins.

Whether one admires Caesar or detests him, it nevertheless remains that he’s still a pretty big part of our daily lives: our calendar is the one he promulgated (with one small but important amendment by Pope Gregory XIII in the 16th century) and we have the month “July” to honor him (and “August” to honor his heir, Augustus.) Notably, the famous checks and balances in the Constitution of the United States of America were emplaced by our founders specifically to prevent a modern‐day Caesar from arising here.

Because the name Caesar became so inextricably associated with imperial power, it came to mean “emperor.” The German term “Kaiser,” meaning “emperor,” as well as the words for “emperor” in Danish, Dutch, Estonian, Faroese, Finnish, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, (via the Dutch) Norwegian, Swedish, and Swahili (most likely from German) all derive from Gaius Julius Caesar’s cognomen. Likewise, in the Slavic languages, terms such as the Czech “Car” and the Russian term “Царь,” “Tsar,” derive from Caesar, as do the words for “emperor” in Macedonian, Polish, Slovak, and Slovenian. It is nearly astonishing to consider: from early 44 BC when the Senate conferred the status of Dictator Perpetuo upon Caesar, (dictator without a fixed term) until the forced abdication of Simeon II, last Tsar (and future prime minister) of Bulgaria, in 1946 — nearly 2,000 years — the world was never without a ruler somewhere whose title derived from Caesar’s name. (The former Simeon II is with us yet at the age of 85, though no longer entitled Tsar.)

“Caesar salad”, however, is not named for Julius at all, or at least not very directly: it was created at Caesar’s Hotel in Tiajuana, Mexico during the prohibition era when the Hollywood elite would drive to Mexico for cocktails and dinner. A “Caesar” salad was named for Caesare Cardini, the hotel’s Italian-born proprietor.

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

The strangest poison ever known
Came from Caesar’s laurel crown.

— William Blake

Pride Matters

In the Fall of 1977, I started my freshman year in college, directly across the Bay from San Francisco. Though city elections in San Francisco did not directly affect most of the population of the Bay Area, it was naturally big news that an openly gay candidate was campaigning for a seat on the city’s Board of Supervisors. For all that one might dig up many flaws of Harvey Milk, he had a certain genius for publicity, and his campaign was on broadcast news nearly nightly, and was regularly covered on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle.

It may see difficult to imagine in the 21st Century, with such progress having been made as we have come to see, but in 1977, it was a HUGE story that an openly gay candidate was running for office in a major city. It made the news in many markets around the country. And, despite San Francisco’s reputation as a haven for homosexuals, and despite its large and visible LGBTQ population, it was by no means a foregone conclusion that Milk would win the seat. But the year before, San Francisco had created districts within the city which allowed its “neighborhoods” to elect a supervisor, rather than electing all candidates “at large.”

Milk already had a reputation for effective politics in the City’s Castro Neighborhood, and that voting district voted for Milk in November of 1977. This news — an openly gay man winning political office in a major city — was reported nation-wide, and spawned countless editorials both praising and deploring the result. And, inevitably, it also fostered numerous death threats, prompting Milk to say, “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door”.

Milk was in office lass than a year, but in that year he continued to display a talent for publicity. He sponsored an ordinance that prohibited discrimination against people because of sexual orientation. It was, then, the most comprehensive and powerful such protection enacted in the nation. Only Supervisor Dan White voted against the measure. Milk also sponsored a stringent “Pooper-scooper Law” that occasioned both publicity and broad approval. I will never forget KRON news footage of Milk launching his drive to pass this ordinance, during which Milk (surely by design and planning) “happened” to step in a pile of dog excrement as he walked with his interviewer!

On Monday 27 November 1978, my brother and I were returning home from Thanksgiving break, riding a bus back to campus when we heard the horrible news. A passenger who had a small transistor radio cried out, “They’ve shot the mayor and Harvey Milk!” By the time we reached our residence, the news was everywhere. The campus was stunned and everyone in the house was glued to the TV in the basement. I wanted to cry. I wanted to shout out how hideous this was. I wanted to scream. But I did not. The crowd was focussed on the killing of Mayor George Moscone; Milk was hardly mentioned.

At that time, at that age, I did not acknowledge to anyone that I was gay. It would take me many more years to start the process of accepting myself for who and what I am. But Harvey Milk had shown me a possibility for hope. Harvey Milk’s election gave me an inkling that one day it might be possible to be openly gay and to accomplish things beyond the negative, pervasive stereotypes. But Milk’s assassination also showed me something else.

With all the commentary and talk being focussed on the killing of the Mayor, I ventured to comment, “Supervisor Milk was killed too!”

I cannot recall who said this, but the reply I received dropped on me like a giant stone.

“What did he expect?”

“A Christmas Carol” Turns 177

I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.

Their faithful Friend and Servant,
C. D.
December, 1843.

In the Fall of 1843, English writer Charles Dickens found himself short of cash. With his wife expecting their fourth child, he decided to write a novel – rather than the stories which he had been supplying magazines and periodicals – which he could publish himself, thereby earning all the profits.

Dickens immediately hit upon the idea of writing a Christmas story, since he felt he could write such a tale rapidly enough to see it published before the holiday. Today, we can readily see the sense of his notion; we all know Christmas as a hugely commercial bonanza, but in 1843, Christmas was not quite the retail boom that it later became. Dickens’ wife is supposed to have asked him to write an uplifting, moral tale, because she felt it would be most apt for the season, and perhaps would help offset the fairly crass commercialism of Dickens’ motive. It is also true that Dickens had a frankly political motive in mind as well: he wanted to call attention to the plight of England’s poor and uneducated, and he felt a Christmas tale would provide just the right setting. [1]

Dickens right away set about to write his book, but he experienced an uncharacteristic “writer’s block.” He started several drafts of different stories, but none seemed sustainable. With Christmas less than eight weeks away, Dickens had yet to produce any usable material. Working late one night, the story goes, Dickens drifted to sleep over his writing desk. He awoke with a start at 1:00 in the morning, his candle nearly guttering and his fire gone cold.

Ever after, Dickens claimed that the story’s key features came to him – complete – in a sudden flash of vivid inspiration. He lit a new candle and started feverishly working on his story, writing rapidly. As far as can be determined from the surviving manuscript, Dickens worked with no outline and needed very little editing. The story apparently flowed from his pen nearly in its final form. [2]

With less than a month before Christmas remaining, Dickens took the book to the publisher. There was quite a bit of wrangling over the exact nature of the final product. Dickens insisted that no expense be spared, and he finally triumphed. The first edition of A Christmas Carol – among the most valuable first editions in English literature; a good condition copy was offered for auction in 2010 by Sotheby’s, fetching £181,250.00 ($288,555.44) [3]; currently the price is estimated to be half a million dollars [4] – was a work of art: decorated with engravings, six color plates, and a handsomely adorned fine fabric binding.

The book was published Tuesday, 19 December 1843.

The rest as they say is history: that first edition of A Christmas Carol sold out rapidly; it has not been out of print a single day in the past 175 years. There have been dozens of plays, musicals, movies, radio dramatizations, and television specials, more or less based upon the timeless tale of hope and redemption. So closely did Dickens become associated with Christmas in his own day, that when he died in 1870, children in England were said to have feared that Father Christmas would have to die as well.

It is of interest that Dickens’ tale – while requiring apparent supernatural agents – does not emphasize the religious and specifically Christian nature of Christmas. One may interpret the ghosts in various ways, but they are not angels. No Christ Child appears, though Mankind’s children are featured. When Scrooge asks about the wretched, frightful imps which the Ghost Of Christmas Present reveals to him, the ghost replies, “This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.” This sentiment seems to as much convey a political message as a moral one.

In our own time, Ted Geisel, Dr. Seuss, distilled the key points of Dickens’ masterwork into the modern classic How The Grinch Stole Christmas, which has developed a life of its own.

Dickens’ prose is rather convoluted and florid by today’s tastes, and his story is filled with digressions, so that abridged versions are most popular these days, but the basic plot of A Christmas Carol, its archetypical characters, and its message of the true meaning of Christmas are as valid today as they were in London in late 1843.

As we approach this Christmas in our frenetic and anxious modern world, I can do no better than to quote from the last paragraph of A Christmas Carol: … and it was always said of [Scrooge], that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

I haven’t missed it. The Spirits have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like. Of course they can. Of course they can.

— Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, 1843


[1]Dickens and the Popular Radical Imagination, Sally Ledger; Cambridge University Press, 2007; ISBN 9780521845779


Charles Dickens Rare Book: A Christmas Carol




When first I wrote this brief piece 22 years ago, there was no Wikipedia to give easy access to this story. The current Wikipedia article is much more detailled and extensive than my piece, and it is well worth reading:


The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits, Les Standiford; Crown Publishers, 2008; ISBN: 9780307405784

In this wide-ranging book, Standiford explores the circumstances of Dickens’ unhappy childhood which profoundly influenced both his inclination to randical politics and his views of contemporary British society, the development of international copyright law, aspects of 19th Century British publishing, and manages to fit in the actual story of A Christmas Carol as well. All the while, he keeps the subject fresh and compelling.

The Annotated Christmas Carol: A Christmas Carol in Prose, Charles Dickens, Michael Patrick Hearn, Ed.; W. W. Norton & Company, 2004; ISBN: 9780393051582

Both an invaluable reference work and a lovely presentation of the work, copiously illustrated with samples from every famous edition’s illustrations.



4 – 5 cups all purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar, plus 1 teaspoon
1 teaspoon salt
2 heaping tablespoons of active dry yeast (2 packages)
1 cups of milk (whole or 2%)
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) butter
1/2 cup of water plus 1/4 to 1/2 cups more to be used as needed

Warm 1/2 cup of water to about 115F – 125F (about 30 seconds in a microwave on high works well for this.) Add 1 teaspoon of sugar and a pinch of salt to the water and stir well. When the sugar and salt are dissolved, stir in 2 heaping tablespoons of yeast. Set aside and let proof for 5 minutes or so – the yeast will produce a frothy “head” on the water.

In a large mixing bowl, combine 4½ cups of flour, the sugar, and 1 teaspoon of salt, mixing well.

Heat the milk and butter to about 115F – 125F. The butter will start to melt, but you do not need to let the whole stick melt.

Stir the milk and butter mixture into the flour mixture, and add the proofed yeast and water. You will most likely need to add some more water a small amount at a time until you have a smooth and elastic dough. If the dough is sticky, add some more flour at about 1 tablespoon at a time. If mixing by hand, this is a laborious process. In a large stand mixer, it should take about 6 – 8 minutes. Once the proper texture has been reached, knead for an additional 6 – 8 minutes. Put the dough in a covered bowl and let rise for about 15 – 20 minutes, until nearly doubled in bulk.

Grease and flour a 9″ x 13″ x 2″ baking pan. Set the oven to 425F.

When the dough has doubled, punch it down and roll it out to 1″ thickness. Use a 2.5″ biscuit cutter to cut the rolls. Place the rolls into the baking pan in a grid — the rolls should be just barely touching one another. (You may have a good bit of leftover dough, so maybe you should also grease and flour an 8″ square baking pan also for any remaining dough.)

Let the rolls rise about 15 minutes more, then place into the oven on a center rack. Bake for 12 – 13 minutes. The tops of the rolls should be golden-brown. Take a wooden spoon and lightly tap the rolls in the center. The sound should be clear and “hollow-sounding;” a dull “thud” indicates that you should let the rolls continue to bake another 2 – 3 minutes.

For a whole wheat variation, use 2 cups of whole wheat flour and 2½ cups white flour, adding more white flour as required; use 3 tablespoons of honey instead of sugar.

U.S. Election Day 2020


For the United States of America, today is a truly historic national Election Day. It is election day in across all of the United States, from Nome, Alaska to Key West, Florida; people will go to the polls in Honolulu, Hawaii, Chula Vista, California, and Eastport, Maine, and here in my home of Flower Mound, Texas. Because of our system of a College of Electors, votes in some states have far more impact than votes in others, a legacy of the 18th Century compromise that led to the adoption of our present Constitution. Nevertheless, as always, voting matters. Every Election Day represents an occasion to have important impact upon the future, but today is the most important election of my lifetime, without a doubt, and the results will directly and deeply affect our future as a nation of equality, opportunity, character, resolve, accomplishment, and consideration. And there is so much more at stake than just the immensely high-profile presidential race: every race matters all the way down the ballot; local races have immense impact upon our daily lives. Vote. Vote completely. Every qualified American Citizen can have an impact. Having that impact, of course, is only available to those who vote.

While the United States was still in the throes of the ferocious fighting of the Second World War, President Franklin Roosevelt took to the radio on 5 October 1944 to address a nation about the need and the obligation to vote:

Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves, and the only way they could do that is by not voting at all.

The continuing health and vigor of our democratic system depends upon the public spirit and devotion of its citizens which find expression in the ballot box.

Every man and every woman in this nation, regardless of party, who have the right to register and to vote, and the opportunity to register and to vote, have also the sacred obligation to register and to vote. For the free and secret ballot is the real keystone of our American constitutional system.

The American Government has survived and prospered for more than a century and a half, and it is now at the highest peak of its vitality. This is primarily because when the American people want a change of Government, even when they merely want “new faces,” they can raise the old electioneering battle cry of “throw the rascals out.”

Roosevelt also frankly acknowledged the serious defects which then plagued America’s voting rights then, saying:

It is true that there are many undemocratic defects in voting laws in the various States, almost forty-eight different kinds of defects, and some of these produce injustices which, prevent a full and free expression of public opinion.

The right to vote must be open to our citizens irrespective of race, color or creed, without tax or artificial restriction of any kind. The sooner we get to that basis of political equality, the better it will be for the country as a whole.

Two decades would pass before Roosevelt’s ambition for equal access to voting would be made into law. For many Americans today, access to voting may be more difficult than it should be. Polling places are often fairly distant, lines will likely be quite long, and even registered voters may be challenged. But exercising one’s right to vote is a very worthwhile thing, and worthwhile things do not always come easily.

I have heard from many folks that they either have already voted, taking advantage of early voting options, or that they surely intend to do so today. I have also heard from a variety of folks who tell me that they have been praying and plan to pray about this election. That sounds like a good idea.

This conflation of voting and praying is wholly apt, as it turns out, at least from the etymology and origins of the word “vote.”

Our English word “vote” derives from the Latin VOTVM, which means a prayer, a wish, or a promise to God (this last is reflected in our words such as “devotion” and “votive” offerings.) The word VOTVM is in turn derived from the verb VOVERE meaning to pray, wish or to vow.

When we vote, then, we express our wish. Perhaps we avow our preference. Possibly we pray. And maybe – just maybe – our prayers will be answered.

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them:

1, To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy:

2, To speak no evil of the person they voted against: and,

3, to take care their spirits were not sharpened against those who voted on the other side.

– John Wesley

From The Works of the Reverend John Wesley, A. M., Volume IV, 3rd edition, London: John Mason, 1829, entry from Thursday, October 6, 1774:

2020 At Its Mid-Point: “The Disaster Year?”

Why am I writing about the infamous Dutch “Disaster Year,” today?   Though today marks merely the half-way mark of this calendar year, I have a sense that for decades to come, and quite possibly for centuries, this year, Anno Domini 2020, may well be known by an epithet such as “The Disaster Year.”

In Dutch history, the year 1672 has from that time to the present been known as “Het Rampjaar,” “The Disaster Year.”  So many catastrophes and calamities befell the Dutch Republic in that year, that to the Netherlanders of that day and later, the whole year merited the description “Disaster.”  The Dutch today describe their forebears of 1672 as “Het volk redeloos, de regering radeloos, en het land reddeloos;”  “The people, irrational; the government, irresponsible; the country, irredeemable.”  

Prior to 1672, the tiny nation had seemed to be enjoying a charmed and fortunate existence: After decades of struggle, the United Provinces of The Netherlands had finally achieved independence from Spanish rule and in 1648 had secured international recognition as a nation.  Unusually, in an age of emperors and kings and princes, the United Provinces formed a republic to govern themselves; this proved a brilliant boon to the nation.

The governments of monarchs were notoriously bad risks for money lenders, for if a king died in debt, his debts passed with him.  But a republic, well that was another thing all together.  A republic, like a corporation, is intended to be immortal.  This stability also means that a republic cannot simply shed its debts upon the death of a leader.  So the Dutch Republic quickly became known as a uniquely good risk for money-lending.  Basically, the Dutch Republic had a really high credit score, and the result was that it could borrow money far more cheaply than the great kingdoms around it.  Wars cost lots and lots of money.

Thus it was that the tiny Dutch Republic could rival England and France and the sundry German potentates on fields of battle, and utterly outdo these rivals in the commercial arena.  Small though she was, the Dutch Republic in the 17th Century sailed the largest merchant fleet in the world, and a navy that was numerically on par with France and England, and which had by far the fastest, most maneuverable ships.  This is why the reach of The Netherlands extended from the West Indies, where today’s Kingdom of The Netherlands still holds sovereign possessions, to the East Indies and from New York (“Nieuw Amsterdam,” originally) to Cape Town.  Such a trading empire also afforded the ability of the urban middle class of the Dutch Republic to become the wealthiest in the world, allowing them to build comfortable urban residences and to become patrons of a luminous constellation of portraitists and landscape painters of unsurpassed ability so that their compact and efficient homes could be adorned with artworks.

But “Het Rampjaar” changed everything.  In the wake of the Disaster Year, Prince William of Orange and his supporters gained control of the government allowing William to be granted the title of Stadtholder, “keeper of the state,” and act as a de facto monarch.  Though the Dutch Republic was not destroyed — it would officially persist until the time of Napoleon some 130 years later — it became less and less meaningful and finally yielded to a royal kingdom in the early 19th Century, a status it retains today.

So what happened during Het Rampjaar?  In the main, too many wars on too many fronts happened simultaneously.  England, France, and a coalition of German Princes and Electors all attacked The Netherlands, and the invading armies conquered much of the nation’s territory.  Cities were pillaged, immense stores of goods were looted or burned in merchants’ warehouses, people were forced to refugee to safety, and civil disorder completely disrupted normal trade and commerce.  Of particular note is that tensions which had strained the Republic’s politics for generations, the conflicting desires of some to retain their republic, and the aims of others to install a proper royal monarch, exploded.

Johan DeWitt, the “Raadpensionaris” of the Republic (“Prime Minister,” effectively) and his brother were attacked at the instigation of Admiral Cornelius Tromp, by a mob of Orangists — supporters of Prince William of Orange who were in the pay of Tromp — who tore the DeWitt brothers from limb to limb and are said to have roasted and eaten their flesh!  After two generations of unparalleled prosperity and success, the Dutch were unprepared for defeat and temperamentally unsuited to cope with it, and the nation was riven at precisely the time when it could least afford any disunity.

Of course, the Dutch Republic was, in the end, utterly lost, but The Netherlands remains a vital and vibrant nation to this day.  Despite the upheavals of the Disaster Year, the country did not vanish; the people did not fade away.

So, why am I writing about Het Rampjaar today?   Precisely because 2020, may well be long known by an epithet such as “The Disaster Year.”   While the United States of America has not been beset by multiple foreign invaders – thanks be! — we have seen an almost unrelieved stream of incomprehensible crises and often inexplicable action and unfathomable utterances from our leadership at every level. Far worse, in many ways, we have also seen incomprehensible inaction and utter silence from our leadership especially when leadership was most desperately needed. Too, protests against racism have been condemned while undeniable racism has been praised from the very top of our government, and our leadership still declines to take any meaningful action at all. And with every action Americans make being framed as a purely political litmus test, and considerable portion of our population declaring their complete lack of concern for the well-being of others in this country, the pandemic rages unabated. A mask is too much to ask. So, as many urban areas remain tense and volatile, as the international community works to literally isolate the U.S., as the number of cases of COVID-19 continue to rise at alarming rates, and the Butcher’s Bill continues to climb, the nearly 350 year old observation seems, tragically, frightfully fitting:

“The people, irrational; the government, irresponsible; the country, irredeemable.”

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

We can communicate an idea around the world in seventy seconds, but it sometimes takes years for an idea to get through a quarter-inch of human skull. 

  Charles F. Kettering

Juneteenth: A Day To Recommit To Making Freedom A Reality

In America today, June 2020 has been rent by massive outrage and violent protest due to the inescapable fact that in more than a century-and-a-half, so little real progress has been made toward making that freedom a meaningful fact of daily life for millions in this country who are descendants of those who were formerly enslaved, and others. The frequency and the rate at which African-American men die at the hands of police is stunning evidence that there remains a grotesque and shameful, systemic inequality that makes a mockery of the notion of full freedom for all. In an especially egregious example of – to be generous – cluelessness, (or something far more repulsive) a major political rally for a candidate, one who has demonstrated contempt for both June’s protesters and the cause of their protest, was planned for today, 19 June 2020, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which ninety-nine years ago this month was the scene of what is likely the most destructive and deadliest “race riot” in this nation’s history: The Greenwood Massacre.

So it is that we find 19 June 2020 does not arrive in a time where celebration and rejoicing seem apt. We are in a time that demands reflection and remembrance as well as education. And we are in a time that demands action. No longer can “business as usual” continue. I therefore write about the event in 1865 to educate. But I also resolve to work to bring about tangible improvements in the state of this country. Writing is no major action, but helping to educate is a needed step.

One hundred fifty-five years ago today, on this date in 1865, a Monday, Major General Gordon Granger of the United States Army, landed at Galveston, Texas and proclaimed that the Emancipation Proclamation of two and a half years earlier was thereafter in effect in the Department of Texas. Granger posted notice, by broadsheet and by cryer, that the enslaved people in Texas were thenceforth and forevermore free, that the relationship between them and their former masters would be one of “absolute equality,” and that former masters were to become employers while the formerly enslaved were free labor.

The impact of General Granger’s delivery of the news is debated to this day. Accounts differ about the immediate impact; there may or may not have been dancing in the streets and spontaneous revelry that particular day in 1865, though it seems likely. But quite quickly in the years that followed, June 19th, contracted into the euphonious “Juneteenth”, became a day of celebration, feasting, rejoicing and prayer throughout Texas. As formerly enslaved Texans migrated to other states, Juneteenth celebrations and traditions were carried with them.

By the early 20th century, Juneteenth observances had become less common as the generation who had been present in 1865 faded away. But in the 1950’s and 1960’s, in the midst of the Civil Rights movement, interest in Juneteenth revived. Today some of the largest Juneteenth celebrations are held far from Texas, in California, Minnesota, and Wisconsin! Juneteenth celebrations mark a recognition of the vast difference between a legal status, as when the enslaved people were theoretically freed in 1863, and a real status, as when Union troops arrived in Texas with the news.

I think that Juneteenth is really an appropriate day for all Americans to take note; freedom is truly meant for all people, and it cannot mean much to a free people if they permit or engage in the enslavement of other people. Equally true, is that freedom means little to people for whom the fact of their birth and heritage effectively continues to impose shackles, metaphoric shackles as well as metal shackles, in fact, upon them and their families. It is clear that there is so much work to be done. Freedom can never be taken for granted. It is not enough to speak of it, or even to write of it. Freedom demands our active involvement to address and to resolve the continued wrongs born of an invidious past and nurtured by ongoing indifference.

Therefore, on Juneteenth 2020, take a moment to be grateful for the freedoms we have, and remember they must never be taken for granted. Reflect upon the unspeakable joy that must have been in the hearts of those who were still enslaved when they heard the glorious news that fine June day so long ago, “You are free!” And recognize that the unfulfilled promise of 1865 requires our renewed and vigorous commitment to its realization.

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

Free at last, free at last
I thank God I’m free at last
Free at last, free at last
I thank God I’m free at last

Free At Last, a Spiritual

Leadership Matters

Throughout the History of The United States of America, through our times of gravest peril as a nation, our country has been blessed with the presence of a leader who was able to rise to the challenge to overcome the difficulties to bring the nation safely through the danger and achieve a successful conclusion. The examples are many.

Even before this nation was a nation, we were astonishingly fortunate to have George Washington step up to the demands of leading the Continental Army against the vastly superior forces of the British Empire. Washington’s particular military skill was to know that winning crucial battles mattered more than winning every battle, and to understand that simply keeping the British forces in the field would wear down the resolve of that mighty Empire. So Washington was able to bring about victory for the cause of independence and to see The United States of America come into being.

But this was not all that Washington was to do for our country, as is well known. When the fledgeling United States was foundering under the ineffective and unwieldy Articles of Confederation, and a Constitutional Convention was called, it was Washington who presided over that fractious body and who ultimately saw the creation of our present Constitution with its carefully crafted scheme of checks and balances to foster liberty and good governance. And of course, Washington finally served this nation as its first chief executive, and established many precedents for the office of President that have served this nation so well for so much of its history.

So ably did Washington serve in these three demanding and difficult roles that upon his death official observances of mourning were decreed not only throughout the United States, but in Paris, London, and much of Europe. Through dangerous and fraught times, and immense, daunting challenges, The United States of America had the incredible good fortune to have a leader who was equal to the need.

When next the nation was faced with a genuine existential crisis in the face of the irresolvable problem of slavery existing in a land which proclaimed its dedication to Liberty, and the perpetual union of states was violently fractured by the slave-holding interests of the southern states, this country was gifted with Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln understood that The United States of America mattered to the world and to world history, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, could not be allowed to vanish from the earth. Lincoln also understood that a nation with so high a calling as that of Liberty could not endure with slavery in its borders.

Through our deadliest, most destructive war, Lincoln provided the leadership and the vision, and inspired the nation’s loyal citizens to commit, even unto their last full measure of devotion, to preserving our union and to doing away with slavery. Upon achieving hard-won victory, Lincoln also exhorted a nation that: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” Once again, America was hugely blessed through a time of greatest peril.

Almost seven decades later, The United States found itself in the midst of an economic disaster so great that ever after the term “The Depression” has meant only one such event. So profound was the impact of the economic collapse of the U.S. and its trading partners that one-third of the nation could be described as “ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.” The average American’s confidence in the economic system of the United States was profoundly shaken as millions became unemployed, and bank after bank failed, wiping out the life savings of millions. President Herbert Hoover was committed to a laissez-faire, hands-off approach to the economic crisis, and was on principle opposed to government assistance to individuals in any form, and the nation suffered grievously.

In the presidential election of 1932, the country voted overwhelmingly for Franklin D. Roosevelt, governor of New York and possessor of a respected and beloved family name. Roosevelt immediately set himself to the task of addressing the myriad problems that beset the nation, including reassuring the public about the stability of the nation’s banking system. Before his inauguration, Roosevelt announced a “Bank Holiday,” promising that auditors would assess every bank, and only permit solvent, stable institutions to reopen for business. This declaration brought an end to the calamitous bank runs of early 1933. FDR famously accomplished so much in his first three months or so in office that ever since, presidents have been evaluated on their “first hundred days.”

Roosevelt’s strenuous efforts did not bring an end to the Depression, however. As is clear from his second inaugural address, (wherefrom the above observation about one-third of the nation is drawn) the Depression was still in full force in 1936. And, in fact, it was not until the massive economic surge demand for military readiness and wartime production from 1940 – 1945 that the Depression was truly overcome. But by 1939, an even greater danger had arisen.

With the Axis powers waging wars of aggression and conquest across Europe, Africa, and Asia, the United States tried to walk a tightrope of non-involvement, a tightrope walk that proved impossible to continue. In the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor, FDR rallied an isolationist nation to full wartime footing. Again and again through bad news and setbacks, Roosevelt reassured the country that victory would ultimately be achieved. So much had the nation come to depend upon Roosevelt’s leadership that he was returned to the presidency for unprecedented 3rd and 4th terms. Though FDR died before the final victory was achieved, the United States of America had once more had the great fortune of a leader who was able to guide the nation through dark days and peril to achieve victory.

In times of crisis and peril, in periods of grave, existential threats to the nation, The United States of America has been astonishingly fortunate in its leadership.

I suppose every winning streak must come to its crashing end.

— Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

“The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision.
You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.”  —  Theodore Hesburgh

Shielding The Shield

To those of us of a certain age, who vividly recall the civil unrest and social upheavals of the latter 1960s and the early 1970s, one observation seems notable. Despite the cries of “Police brutality!” which punctuated so many of the protests and violent responses of that era, it seems that cases egregious abuses of individuals by police were less prominent, and that cases of police excesses that result is serious bodily harm or even death of those in police custody were less common than they have been in the past three decades or so.

It is, of course, quite possible that reporting and coverage is simply more complete and more thorough than it had been in the past. As became clear with the case of Rodney King in 1992, the widespread availability of video cameras has meant that many actions that were once undocumented have been recorded in ways that drew natural public outrage. While it is true that we must always be alert to the fact that any single video is only one perspective, video evidence is very persuasive, and it could well be that this one technology, which has expanded by multiple orders of magnitude with the advent of smartphones, could explain the more frequently identified cases of official abuse.

However, it is of crucial importance to note a legal development that came about a decade before Rodney King’s high-profile beating at the hands of the LAPD. In 1982, our Supreme Court created a new and broadly applicable doctrine known as “qualified immunity” which broadly protects government officials from being sued to be held to account for their actions which violate Civil Rights and even established law. This doctrine was established in Harlow v Fitzgerald. It has been invoked in hundreds — possibly thousands — of suits asserting official abuse since it was created. An extremely high standard is established in this doctrine. Government officials are generally immune from being sued unless their actions violated clearly established federal law or Constitutional Rights.

This potent doctrine has been increasingly used to essentially excuse even cases of fatal force from police; concomitant with this increased application in cases of deaths at the hands of officials has been an increase in cases of public outrage and protest. One may well wonder: how can taking the life of a non-violent suspect not be a clear violation of an established right? Well, the courts have determined that Life is not a clearly established right, that’s how.

One could be forgiven for imagining that the words of our Declaration of Independence might serve as ample confirmation of a clearly established right to life: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

It can certainly be argued that this declaration is not organic law. It can equally be argued that this declaration is the de facto organic law of our republic ab initio; this is precisely what Abraham Lincoln asserted during his public and political career. Such an interpretation would mean that we Americans of any race, creed, or economic status are by right and organic law entitled to a right to life. From this follows that forcibly depriving anyone who is not acting with deadly, offensive force of life without clear due process is, in fact, a violation of their rights.

But such an interpretation does not currently exist. The deck is stacked. One can readily understand the volcanic frustration of those who see abuses continuing unchecked.

Jamie Rawson
2 June 2020

“I am ashamed the law is such an ass.” — George Chapman, 1598

Our Original Sin

This commentary was written by my sister Susan in reflection of current events:

Re: George Floyd et al. Our country was born with original sin that has never been atoned.

The Civil War was brutal, long and bloody, but it could not atone. The 13th and 14th amendments could not atone. Jim Crow and the KKK ensured our sin continued. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 could not atone. One could argue, and make a very good case, that the south did not lose the Civil War. Slavery continues through deliberate and determined efforts to keep black people uneducated, poor and unhealthy.

The south is awash with rabid ultra-conservatives which as a bloc in Congress can swing the entire country. And they do. Mitch McConnell was born and raised in Alabama, the heart of the Confederacy, where white men continue to work tirelessly to ensure their dominance and steadily build their wealth. Until this country atones for its sin, all that Adams, Jefferson, Franklin and their colleagues approved in Philadelphia the summer of 1776 will come to naught. Until the US Constitution includes all people in fact as well as word, we are doomed. We must correct the wrong. Now.

After over 400 years, it’s time we live up to our ideals. What started in Jamestown must end now.

Our original sin is ripping us apart.