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John Birch Society - the USA's extreme right wing

The New Deal (1933-6) was Democratic Pres. Franklin D Roosevelt (ruled 1933-45)’s progressive and inspired response to the comm­unity’s desperate need for relief and reform after the Great De­pression. Even then the Rep­ub­licans were split, with conservatives opposing the entire New Deal as hostile to business and economic growth. Surprisingly to me, a citizen of a British Commonwealth country, the New Deal dominated president­ial elections for decades.

Lolly magnate Robert Welch (1899-1985) founded the John Birch Society/JBS in 1958 to oppose the growing Commun­ist influence in America. Welch’s anti-New Deal views contained an emerging radicalism that expanded during the Cold War. Welch’s great political heroes were a] Wisconsin Sen. Joe McCarthy and b] Robert Taft, son of a past president and the 1952 Republican presidential nominee. Welch believed they had both been bet­rayed in their careers by the Rep­ub­lican establish­ment. Taft’s de­feat by Dwight Eisenhower at the 1952 Convention was miserable for Wel­ch, providing a launching pad for his conspiracies.

The John Birch Society was formally created in Dec 1958, when 11 rich businessmen met Welch in Indianapolis. Welch named the John Birch Society after an Amer­ican military advisor in China who had been killed by the Communists in 1945, a suitable model for anti-Communists.

In The Blue Book of the John Birch Society, Welch explained that an Internat­ional Communist Conspiracy had been hatched by power-hungry, God-hating, government worshipers who had infiltrated news­rooms, public schools, legislative chambers and houses of worship. And the Communists, who would rule the world, were very close to total victory!

The list of Welch’s beliefs was well documented:

JBS was opposed to:
Democracy i.e mob rule
Anarchy i.e no government
Monarchy and oligarchy
Federal Reserve and Federal Income Tax
The Social Security System
One World Government and no national sovereignty
Government control of property and socialism
The Civil Rights Movement
Fluoride in the public water supply
NATO, World Health Organisation, UNICEF, United Nations.
Compulsory vaccinations

A John Birch Society booklet
attacking the Civil Rights Movement

JBS believed in:
Constitutional Republic with a Bill of Rights
Individual responsibility; free association of people
American patriotism
Private ownership and control of property
Free enterprise and competition
Government's sole function - to protect, not provide
Family as the basic unit of society
Humanitarianism through surplus of capital
Judeo-Christian morality based on Ten Commandments

The timing was perfect. Sen Joseph McCarthy died in 1957, so the Bir­chers specifically built on McCarthy’s anti-Communist legacy. [Note that later, in 1989, the Society moved its head­quarters to Appleton Wisconsin, Sen McCarthy’s hometown].

By the mid-1960s the society’s membership peaked at 100,000. Instructed by the Blue Book and updated by its magazine American Opinion, members participated in ef­forts to cancel USA-Soviet summits, by petit­ions and posters. Welch circulated a letter calling President Dwight D. Eisenhower (president 1953–61) a possible "conscious, dedicated agent of the Communist Con­spiracy". In his book The Politic­ian (1956), Welch said the Communists had put one of their own in the Presidency. Eisenhower’s actions were purely treas­onous; he needed to be impeached. Welch also wanted to impeach Chief Justice Earl Warren and the very anti-communist Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles. Plus he accused Defence Secretary Gen. George Marshall of being in league with the Soviets.

But accusing Pres. Eisenhower of being a Communist was going too far. The country still liked Ike, and Welch began losing followers who doubted his judgment. Moderate conservatives were alienated, especially with claims of a] Jewish conspir­acies and b] President Kennedy being killed by his Soviet bosses.

J Allen Broyles’ book, The John Birch Society: Anatomy of a Prot­est, 1964 was published the year after Kennedy’s death. Welch explained how Lee Oswald received his orders from Americans in the international Communist conspiracy. Welch emphasised that the USA was a republic; that a democracy was actually a weapon of demagoguery.

William Buckley, important in the new con­ser­v­ative move­ment, den­ounced the JBS and urged the Republican Party to distance itself from them. By 1961, Buckley saw the Society as a threat to the nascent presidential campaign of Sen. Barry Goldwater, the conservative who Buckley wanted to win the GOP’s presidential nomination in 1964. Buckley wrote in National Review (April 1961) that the left could “anathematise the entire American right wing.” Buckley thus seemed to expel the Birchers from the conservat­ive move­ment. But in real­ity the John Birch Society was weak­ened only temporarily. [The increased popularity of par­anoid, conspiracy-minded conservatism it pion­eer­ed suggested that an anti-government ideology returned.]

Senator Goldwater welcomed the Society’s support during the 1964 race, helping him win the Republican nominat­ion. But Goldwater believed that, although the Society itself was full of up­standing citizens working hard for America, Welch was a crazy extremist with addled views. Goldwater hated Welch’s Eisenhower conspiracy. 

A JBS "Impeach Chief Justice Earl Warren" poster

 A JBS "Get the USA out of the United Nations" poster

By 1968, Richard Nixon became President and cemented his con­servative identity. At the White House, the dignified, mainstream sufferings of the Silent Majority, and not the rants of the Birchers, became the engine of Nixon’s con­ser­vat­ism. He visited China in 1972! Needless to say, Nixon was loathed by the Birchers for a lack of true belief.

Another factor contributed to the decline of the JBS. Thousands of Americans had already died in Vietnam, and thousands were yet to die. Many Americans, particularly those of conscription age, wond­er­ed if the great crusade to stop Communist expansion was worth it.

Recently the JBS stressed that the Federal government had overst­ep­ped its constit­ut­ional authority and encroached on states’ rights. They’ve also advocated that the Federal Reserve be abolished and the USA return to the gold standard. All government programmes and socialism were bad. Children had been taken and given to the state.

What remains in the C21st is a JBS assortment of isolationist, religious and right-wing goals that that don’t look different from today’s White House id­eology. It wants to pull the USA out of NAFTA, return to Christian foundat­ions, defund the UN, abolish the Depart­ments of Education and Energy, and slash the Federal Government. 

JBS’s once-fringy ideas are more mainstream in today’s Re­publican Party. JBS is “ready to fight the liberals who preach globalism and want to take away our freedom, our guns, rel­igious values and our heritage.” Read DJ Mulloy’s book, World of the John Birch Society: Conspiracy, Conservatism and the Cold War (2014) and Chip Berlet's book Right-Wing Populism in America (2000).


A chip off the old block - my men and King Edward VI

Prompted by the Fifty Shades of Fire exhibit of redheads in Israel, I was very interested in fathers, sons and grandsons looking like each other and sharing behavioural tendencies. These are the photos I put on my desk next to each other, with my son in the left, husband in the centre and grandson on the right. All are redheads with white skin, blond eye brows & lashes, a passion for science & maths, and a love of camping, hiking and riding in non-English speaking countries.

Underneath these two photos, unbelievably, was a journal article called "Another Chip off the Old Block" (BBC History Magazine) dealing with the similarities between King Henry VIII and his only son Edward. Henry and his divorced wife Cather­ine of Aragon had a daughter Mary who was born in Pal­ace of Placentia Greenwich. El­iz­abeth, daughter of Anne Bol­eyn, was only 3 when her father had her mother be­head­ed, and she had a miserable childhood. For 25+ years the King had desperately wanted a son, to avoid civil war after his death. So he quick­ly marr­ied Jane Seymour. 

Edward Prince of Wales (1537–53)’s birth caused great rejoicing. The prince was baptised in a splendid ceremony in the Hampton Court Palace’s chapel. Alas Queen Jane soon fell ill with childbed fever, and died. Prin­cesses Eliz­abeth & Mary were de­c­lar­ed illeg­it­im­ate.

Ed­ward’s formal royal household was under the control of Sir Will­iam Sidney, and later Sir Rich­ard Page, step­-father of Edward Seymour's wife. King Hen­ry demanded exacting standards of security and cleanliness in Edward's house­hold; plus the boy was lavishly provided with toys and fun.

From 1538 King Henry took two wives in quick suc­c­ession. Sadly Anne of Cleves was discarded because the King found her ugly, and Cath­erine Howard was executed for adultery. In 1543 Henry married Cath­erine Parr, who became a loving, educated stepmother to Edward, Mary and Eliz­abeth.

The King arranged for an elite group of well-born children to share his education, in an exclusive palace school. His young companion included Henry Brandon, Duke of Suffolk; Henry, Lord Hastings; Robert Dudley; Henry Sidney; and his cousin, Lady Jane Grey. Like his father, Edward's tutors taught him geography, government, his­tory, French, German, Greek, Latin, etiquette, music, fencing, horse-riding etc. Unlike his father, Edward displayed little int­erest in trivial sports, preferring intellectual pastimes and martial activities.

King Henry VIII, c1537
by Hans Holbein the Younger,  
Windsor Castle

Although Edward was studious, he looked like his father and displayed a savage temp­er, just like his father had done for years. The Archbishop of Canterbury reported that in front of his tutors, the young King tore a living falcon into pieces in a fit of anger.

When Henry died in 1547, the 9-year-old prince became King Edward VI, with his good and bad tempers now ruling the entire nation. A Council had been appointed by his father to rule during his min­ority. But Edward's uncle, Edward Seymour Lord Hertford (Jane Seym­our's brother), wanted to be Protector of the country. In Feb 1547 Lord Hertford was created Duke of Somerset and Earl Marshall. And he became Master of the Horse, Knight of the Garter and a steward of royal prop­erty in the West.

The Duke of Somerset's brother, Lord High Admiral Thomas Seymour, was jealous of Somerset and schemed to put himself in power. But Thomas Seymour had played Edward VI for a fool, counting on him being the favoured uncle. Instead young King Edward was showing signs of becoming independent and more self-reliant!

Edward VI as a child, c1538
by Hans Holbein the Younger
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

The Admiral was arrested and charged with treason. The Duke of Somerset hesit­ated to sign his brother's death warrant, so Edward gave the coun­cil permission to have his uncle beheaded.

Somerset himself later fell from the king's favour and lost his role as Protector. John Dudley, Earl of Warwick and Duke of Northumb­er­land, took control of the King and council, and eventually Somerset was also arrested for treason. Under pressure from Dudley, 14-year-old Edward signed Som­erset's death warrant; he was executed in 1552. Never mind! Edward VI uncles' deaths was just Royal Business As Usual. Like father, like son!

If he had lived longer, Edward may have persecuted non-conformists with increasing severity – perhaps more than Mary did.

Richard Cox and Sir John Cheke became Edward’s tut­ors, teaching languages and history. His his­tory’s lessons had to be put into practice; so the lad took notes on English rule in France during Henry VI's reign. Edward stud­ied geog­raphy, learning all the ports and havens in England, France and Scotland, and the favourable tides for entering them. A king needed strategic inform­at­ion! He learnt the names and rel­ig­ion of every magistrate, the better to govern.

On the issue of religion, Edward had all the passion of a zealot. And he learned the scriptures well. The king's youthful passion was to hear sermons and notes, especially when the preachers discussed the duties of kings. Here was a prince who prepared himself with great discip­line for what he saw as his divine obligation.

Look at the impact King Edward had on noble families. Henry Herbert's wife, Anne Parr, was a sister of the Cather­ine Parr who married King Henry VIII. He rose with the Parrs after the royal marriage and was knighted in 1544. He had been granted Wilton Abbey and other land by King Henry after the Dissol­ution, and built the first Wilton House in the 1540s. On the king’s death, William Herbert was made an executor of the king's will and a guardian of young King Edward VI. As a reward for loyalty, in 1551 Edward VI raised Her­bert to the 1st Earl of Pembroke.

Woburn was another medieval abbey that had been cl­osed down in 1538 by King Henry VIII. Hen­­ry kept much of the land and gave the rest to his loyal supporters at court. King Hen­ry ennobled the Russell fam­ily and gave them Wo­b­urn; King Edward rai­s­­ed them fur­th­er to the Earldom of Bedford.

By this time, Edward had completed his education and was particip­at­ing in council meetings. When it was decided that the King would take charge of the country at age 16, his ardently Catholic half-sister Mary refused to cooperate with Edward's religious reforms. Edward was in any case closer to Elizabeth (only four years his senior) than to Mary.

Edward contracted smallpox in Apr 1552, and his health soon spiralled downwards from TB. King Henry’s will had specified that Mary should become Queen, if Ed­ward died without children. But the Duke of North­umberland persuad­ed Ed­ward to name Protestant Jane Grey as his successor. Lady Jane was the grand­daughter of Henry VIII's sister Mary; she was also Northumb­erland's daughter-in-law! In Jul 1553 Edward died, at 15. Mary took the throne and married Catholic King Philip II of Sp­ain.


Hays Code in Hollywood: sex and violence (1930-1967)

Tim Stanley’s article was wonderful. Seeing a film in the early 1900s could be shocking, not just for the content, but for the darkness of those early films. Birth of a Nation (1915) depicted suic­ide, lynch­ing and racist vigilantism. And nud­ity was rampant in The Legend of Tarzan.

Pre-Code films did not go uncensored, but they were covered only by local laws. So Holly­wood had to instigate its own self-censorship. In 1922 the stud­ios created the Motion Picture Prod­ucers and Dis­tributors Assoc­iation/MPPDA. They gave Will H Hays, a Republican lawyer and Presbyt­erian deacon, a huge salary to launch a camp­aign against Federal censor­ship. A unified, industry-wide censorship programme was needed.

Marlene Dietrich, 1930
in Morocco
The actress embraced bisexuality, glamorous mystique and provocation

The first official industry’s list of rules, written in 1927, was largely ignored. It was only with the arrival of sound films that the campaign for active self-censorship within Hollywood increased. In­volved Cath­olic bishops and lay people included Catholic layman Martin Quigley, publisher of a trade mag­az­ine. During 1929, Joseph Breen, Father Daniel Lord and the Cardinal of Chicago auth­ored a new, stringent Code for films, later known as The Product­ion Code or Hays Code. Will Hays was delighted.

The studio heads agreed to make the Code the rule of the industry, albeit with many loopholes to override the Hays Office. From 1930-4, the Code was only slightly effective. Here are some Code “failures”. In Mor­oc­co (1930) Marlene Dietrich played an andogynous cabaret singer who dressed in a man’s white tie suit and kissed a girl in the aud­ience! Barb­ara Stanwyck and Joan Blondell showed off their lingerie in Night Nurse (1931). Little Caesar (1931) dep­icted Edward G Robinson going down in a hail of bullets. Homosexual char­act­ers were on view in Our Bet­t­ers (1933), Sailor’s Luck (1933) and Caval­cade (1933). Jean Harlow casually undress­ed in Red Headed Wo­m­an (1932). In Gold Diggers (1933), parts had to be rewritten to circ­um­vent the censors.

In 1934 there were serious threats of Catholic boycotts of im­moral films. The Code clamped down on prof­anity, sex pervers­ion, nudity, childbirth, brutality, sedition, clergy abuse and miscegenation i.e inter-racial breeding. Instead the Code urged promotion of wholesome, American values.

In 1934 the Production Code Administration/PCA required all new films to obtain a certificate of approval. Joseph Breen, a Catholic chauvinist with very mixed attitudes towards Hollywood, became head of the PCA that year. The studios granted the MPPDA auth­or­ity to enforce the Code, creating a strict regime that lasted until 1967.

Jean Harlow, 1932
under-dressed in Red-Headed Woman.

Joan Blondell's banned promotional poster
for Night Nurse 1932, 

The Code was a Good Thing
Clearly the Code ushered in an era of moral conserv­at­ism that rev­ersed the earlier liberating trends. But here is where Tim Stanley and I part ways. Stanley noted that the Code was ad­her­ed to volunt­arily by the studios, in order to make Federal censor­ship unnec­ess­ary. Its supporters believed that it presented liberal, free market princip­les that created citizens free from antisocial sex and violence.

How effective was the Code in achieving its own goals? The first film to fail the Code-test was Tarzan and His Mate (1934). When the PCA refused to approve the Tarzan film, MGM protested. MGM lost the fight and cuts had to be made, proving for the first time that the Code had real teeth!

Dark Victory (1939) starred Bette Davis who drank, smoked and socialised in bars. The Code insisted that when Dav­is’ char­acter discovered she was dying from brain tumour, she decided to give up fast living and settle down with her loving doctor.. as a satisfied housewife. Job done!

Jon Elster gave examples of the Code actually increasing the sex­ual or dramatic tension of a scene. Key Largo (1948), for example, initially had Ed­ward G Rob­inson taunting Laur­en Bacall with sexual suggestions. Recognising that Breen would never tol­erate the scene, the words were whispered inaudibly instead. This invited the audience to imagine their content, adding an electric charge.

Regarding The Seven Year Itch (1955), in which Marilyn Monroe stood above a grate and her dress ballooned upwards, the PCA said Mon­roe’s sexy smile, bosom and skirt hinted at sensual poss­ib­il­ities just out of reach! 

Nor did the Code entirely reduce women to passivity. In Out of the Past (1947), Jane Greer was a victim: a pretty gangster’s moll who had fled her violent lover. But halfway through, untrustworthy Greer killed a hood­lum and set up Robert Mit­ch­um as a patsy. Similarly, women viewers could watch Greer or Bet­te Davis in All About Eve (1950) or Mary Astor in The Maltese Falcon (1941) where women used their sexuality to dominate men.

Tim Stanley concluded that the film industry’s negotiation with Am­erican morality proved to be a source of inspir­at­ion, so the film industry thrived!

The Code was a Bad Thing
If there was a kiss in Hollywood films, the part­ies had to keep one foot on the floor. In films like Notorious and Seven Year Itch, this was said to create an atmosphere of erot­icism. I strongly disagree with this argument; implied smuttiness created juvenile sniggers, not adult excitement.

In any case, the Code was often ignored or modified. In 1941 The Outlaw’s Director Howard Hughes wanted to maximise Jane Russell’s cleavage. The PCA disapproved. Hughes calculated that a campaign to ban The Outlaw could be great publicity, so he act­ive­ly en­couraged conservatives to ban the film. The film was held back and then given a much publicised release in 1946. A box office hit!

In 1954 Jane Russell appeared scantily clad in The French Line, far beyond the Hays Code limits. The PCA refused to give The French Line a certific­ate and the Catholic National Legion of Decency wanted a boy­cott. 

I found precious little about guns in the Code, arguably the worst Hollywood offence. Regarding murder in films, they ruled that “the technique of murder must be presented in a way that will not ins­p­ire imitation.. or throw sympathy with the crime”. In Dec 1938, the Code merely added that there must never be a display of machine guns in the hands of gang­sters. Oh dear.

And I found even less discussion about the overlap between Church and State powers. Especially since the Catholic Church accounted for only a minority (c24%) of the citizens in the USA back then.

Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman kissing in
Alfred Hitchcock's 1946 film Notorious.

Jane Russell, 1943
in Howard Hughes' western, The Outlaw

The Code continued as long as the studios deferred to it, partially because cinemas refused to show uncertificated films. But when the public’s appetite for sex (and violence) was becoming more profit­able, film makers ignored the Code. Some Like It Hot (1959) and Psycho (1960) were both released with­out a certificate, yet made enormous profits. Rather than reject works of obvious quality & mass appeal, the MPAA broke its own rules & passed them. By 1967 The Code effectively ended.


Marc Chagall, Arthur Boyd and bridal couples

The Antipodeans Group consisted of 7 painters plus art historian Bernard Smith. They compiled The Antipodean Manifesto, a declaration fashioned from their commitment to modern, figurative art. The artists were Charles Blackman, Arthur Boyd, David Boyd, John Brack, John Perceval and Clifton Pugh (all from Melbourne) and Robert Dickerson from Sydney. I want to focus on just one of them.

In 1950 and in 1954, Arthur Boyd (1920–99) visited Central Australia for a month, travelling from Melbourne by train to Alice Springs. Then he went by jeep into the desert where people lived in forlorn humpies clustered on the outskirts of towns. Boyd was shocked and depressed to witness the plight of Indigenous peop­le, seg­reg­ated and dehumanised by the white population. He was equally distressed by the situation of those of mixed descent, isolated from both the indigenous and white communities, suspended in a no-man’s-land. Boyd was always the cons­c­ientious objector.

It was on the road to Alice Springs that Boyd witnessed a truck carrying a group of Indigenous brides, whose white wedding attire contrasted sharply with the rattly vehicle normally used for transporting cattle. Back at home, The Contemporary Art Society’s annual exhibition was imminent, so Boyd made a single painting based on his Alice Springs memories, to submit for that show.

Chagall, The betrothed and Eiffel tower, 1913, 
77×70 cm,  National Museum Marc Chagall, Nice

Marc Chagall, The Bride and Groom on Cock, c1939, 
oil, 46 x 36”, private collection in Munich. 

The bride theme came from Marc Chagall, a jumble of out-of-scale figures and animals, often floating in the air defying the gravity of a troubled Russian world below and of the trauma of Jewish life. Boyd loved Marc Chagall’s beautiful and serene bridal paintings, but the Australian didn’t want his own wedding paintings to be pretty; he wanted a more menacing atmosphere. We can often see a surreal wilderness in Boyd’s works, a strange place of nightmarish dreams.

Later, by 1960, he created The Love, Marriage and Death of a Halfcaste/aka The Bride series, an elaborate morality tale of an Indigenous trooper and his half-caste bride. For Boyd, the half-caste was the neglected outsider, neither black nor white, a nobody. Half-castes suffered the fate of the marginalised, isolated in a world of greed and selfishness.

The series repres­ented a peak in the artist’s career and in C20th Australian art, offer­ing a humanist critique of Australia’s racial divide. The two main protag­onists in the allegory, an Aboriginal man and his mixed-race bride, faced a love upset by pers­onal and cultural conflict. The Brides were produced in stages, with the first lot exhibited at Australian Galleries in Melbourne in 1958, then again with new additions at Zwemmer Gallery London in 1960. The series earned Boyd critical acclaim, before his 40 bride paintings were gradually spread across international public and private collections.

Boyd may have been influenced by Charles Chauvel’s film, Jedda, released in Jan 1955. The film was the first to feature Indigenous people in the leading roles, telling the story of an Indigenous girl reared by a white family who was wooed by an Indigenous outcast, Marluk. The film ended tragically after the couple were chased by the white police. Boyd’s paintings responded to a contemporary trend among artists and writers who argued in favour of improved conditions for Australian Indigenous people. Yosl Bergner, Noel Counihan, Russell Drysdale and David Boyd etc sought to make a moral issue of the desp­erate plight of Indigenous people. But I cannot tell how welcomed these comments on indigenous and rac­ial issues were, in mid-century Australia. 

In 1975, Arthur Boyd gave many of his works to the National Gallery of Australia. But this collection did not include any of his works from the Bride series. In 1999, the NGA happily accepted the splendid Reflected bride 1 (1958). His painting called for recon­ciliation, understanding and a tolerant acceptance of old cultures in modern Australia.

Boyd, Bridegroom waiting for his bride to grow up, 1958, 
Oil and Tempera, 137 x 183 cm, Artnet 

Boyd, Persecuted Lovers 1957-8, 
oil and tempera, 137cm, Heidi 

Boyd, Phantom Bride, 1958
160 x 137 cm, Artnet

Boyd, Three shearers playing for a bride, 1957,
oil and tempera on canvas,
150 × 176 cm, NGV

Boyd, Reflected bride,1958, 
oil and tempera, 122 x 91 cm 
National Gallery Australia

Boyd's Bride paintings from the late 1950s were reunited at Melbourne's Heide Museum of Modern Art in 2014-5. His menacing brides lined the walls of the main gallery, presenting vivid, powerful tableaux of strong, dark colours. There was a sombre and surrealist edge to many of them.

The book Arthur Boyd: Brides (2014) by Kendrah Morgan, Marcia Langton and Stuart Purves is well worth reading. Heide curator Kendrah Morgan saw the bridal paintings for the first time and was struck a] by how they were unlike anything else in Australian art back then, and b] by the political aspects of their subject matter. In terms of Boyd’s attempt to raise awareness of dis­crimination against Indigenous people and highlight social issues, the series advanced local modernism. What was new was that Aboriginal scholar Marcia Langton’s analysis represented the first indigenous reading of Boyd’s Brides. Throughout this series, Boyd’s protagonists were an Aboriginal man and his mixed-race bride - a collection of enigmatic, dramatic and ambiguous moments in their journey. Mind you, Boyd had explored these themes throughout his career: disfigured subjects, tormented lovers, beasts, fear, injustice and conflict. Also read Christopher Heathcote in Quadrant


The desires of both body and soul – Leonard Cohen

The Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal curator, John Zeppetelli and the show’s co-curator Victor Schiffman were deciding how to celebrate Montreal’s 375th anniversary, and how to draw in visitors who might not normally travel to see contemporary art. The curators were even happier when Leonard Cohen (1934-2016) released his 2016 album You Want It Darker at the age of 82. They wanted to celebrate a living legend, an active musician, poet and cultural figure who’d been prominent for five decades.

So Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything was put together with the late singer-songwriter’s blessing, shortly before his death in Nov 2016. The Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal/MAC exhibition was inaugurated in Nov 2017, a year later. A record number of 315,000 visitors attended the exhibit, one of the most viewed programmes at the MAC!

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
       —Leonard Cohen, 1992

22-storey mural of Leonard Cohen 
in Crescent St Montreal. 
painted on his first yartzeit/anniversary of his death

The Jewish Museum calls him a world renowned novelist, poet and singer-songwriter who inspired generations of writers, musicians and artists. He was an extra­ordinary poet of the imperfection of the human condition, giving voice to what it means to be fully alert to the complexities and desires of both body and soul. For decades, he supplied us with melancholy observations on the state of the human heart, in songs such as Chelsea Hotel, SuzanneBird on a Wire and Hallelujah. With equal parts gravitas and grace, Cohen teased out an inventive and singular language, depicting both an exalted spirituality & an earthly sexuality. His inter­weaving of the sacred and the profane, of mystery & accessibility, was such a compelling combination it became seared into memory. He was truly the high priest of pathos.

A Crack in Everything is the first exhibition entirely devoted to the imagination and legacy of the influential singer-songwriter, man of letters and global icon from Montréal.  Beyond the works that will be created especially for A Crack in Everything, the exhibition also includes innovative multimedia environments in which Cohen’s songs will be covered and performed, based on archived writings, drawings and recordings that he produced over the past half century. And see  a video projection showcasing Cohen’s own drawings and his self-portraits.

There is an multimedia gallery that  includes commissioned works by a range of internat­ional artists who have been inspired by Cohen’s style and recurring themes in his work.  Each of the 18 artists was offered the opportunity to perform & record his own version of Cohen's comeback album I'm Your Man 1988 in a professional recording studio. The album's backing vocals were richly provided by the Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue Choir from the Westmount congregation in Montreal that Cohen belonged to all his life.

A Crack in Everything went on an international tour from 12th April 2019 until Jan 2021 at The Jewish Museum New York; Kunstforeningen and Nikolaj Kunsthal Copenhagen; and Contemporary Jewish Museum San Francisco.

Leonard Cohen and the entire band
singing at Rod Laver Arena Melbourne, 2009
Helen was there

On the first anniversary of his death, Montreal poet Leonard Cohen was honoured with a mural on Crescent St Montreal. The 22-storey portrait took two artists, 13 assistants, 240 cans of paint and thousands of hours of work. Part of the reason Cohen gave it his blessing was because the mural was based on a photo his daughter Lorca took in 2008.


Pope Pius XII and Benito Mussolini - opening the papal files

Beginning in 1965, 12 volumes containing thousands of Papal documents were published. Many suspected that the Jesuit editors selected out documents unflattering to the Church, but the volumes did show that following Mussolini’s over-throw in 1943, the pope’s Jesuit emissary urgently sought out the new government’s justice minister. While the Vatican thought the anti-Semitic racial laws that the Fascist government had enacted several years earlier had many good qualities and should be retained, they stated that the government should no longer take baptised Jews to their demise.

Decades later, John Cornwell published his book Hitler's Pope, the Secret History of Pius XII (2000). Pope Pius, who  reigned 1939-58, was exposed as displaying culpable pass­ivity in the face of the persecution of Italian Jews.

In the book The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe (2015), author David Kertzer announced that the Catholic church was generally portrayed as the courageous opp­onent of Fascism, but it wasn’t always true.  Kertzer argued that much of Fascist ideology was inspired by Cath­olic tradition – authoritarianism, intolerance of opposition and profound suspicion of the Jews. It certainly found a soft spot with Pope Pius. The accession of Benito Mussolini (Duce 1925–1943) didn't augur well for the papacy - the Fascist squads had been terrorising clerics. But Mu­ss­olini wanted to use the church to legitimise his power. So after two generations of secularism, there were again crucifixes in It­aly's public facilities. Slowly the Pope became persuaded that, with Mussolini's help, Italy might become a Catholic state again.

Pope Pius XII

In Jan 1938, Mussolini called 2,000+ priests and bishops to par­tic­ipate in a celebration of his policies. The Pope feared off­end­ing the dictator so the priests marched in procession through Rome and laid wreaths on a monument to Fascist heroes. They saluted Mussol­ini as he stood on his bal­cony. That the Fascists used Cath­ol­ic rituals could perhaps be taken as a compliment to the church, but not to rec­ruit its priests for the worship of a Duce. It was easy to manipulate the Church, Mussolini told his allies in Nazi Germany.

The Vatican believed its first priority had to be to pro­tect the institutional Church; everything else came second. Pius was concerned that the Fascists could work against the Church, and so did what he did to work against their power base, without taking into account the help­less victims caught in the middle. Presumably Mussolini granted favours to enhance the role of the church in Italy, and the Pope saw many advantages to be gained from a strong and sympathetic government in Rome.

After decades of controversy, Pope Francis has finally said he’d be opening the Vatican’s sealed archives from the WW2 papacy of Pius XII. Papal archives are trad­it­ionally opened 70+ years after a pope’s death, meaning no one ex­pected the secrets of Paul XII, who died in 1958, to be made ac­ces­sible until 2028. By decid­ing to open them early, Francis ackn­ow­ledged that the archives of Pius may not be entirely fav­ourable, but he claimed the Church wants true history. Francis said Pius had “moments of grave difficulties, tormented decisions of human and Christian prudence, that to some could appear as reticence.”

It is indisput­able that thousands of Jewish people were dragged from their homes in Rome and taken to camps under the shadow of the Vatican. In one incident in Oct 1943, 2,000+ Italian Jews were taken away, of whom only 16 survived.

Some Catholics authors claimed the Pope may actually have helped save Jewish lives by not condemning Hitler publicly. Historian Mark Riebling, author of Church of Spies: The Pope’s Secret War Against Hitler (in 2015), documented how Pope Pius XII chose to resist Adolf Hitler with co­vert action, in lieu of overt protest. He drew on wartime docum­ents and interviews with American intelligence agents to tell how Pope Pius XII secretly provided support for three attempts to overthrow Hitler.

Other scholars studying the WW2 pope’s actions have argued that the Vatican did absolutely nothing to stop the atrocities. So Pope Francis, who met the International Jewish Committee on Inter Religious Consultation regarding the opening of the Roman archives, lamented rec­ent anti-Semitism. With study, Francis said, scholars would find the small flame lit of human­itarian initiat­ives, of hidden but active diplomacy - dur­ing periods of the greatest darkness and cruelty.

And Lorenzo Cremonesi,  a member of the Vatican-appointed commission of Catholics and Jews, revealed that Pius XII knew about the Holo­caust as early as June 1942. Yet he cautioned against giving the Catholic Church credit for the initiatives of local churches in many count­ries who on their own took action to save their Jews. Cremonesi said Pius XII was very open to the German cause; not to Hitler but to Germ­any. This was because he saw the Germans as a bastion against the Communists, the Comm­un­ists being the primary concern of the Vat­ican.


German Pope Benedict XVI endorsed Pius for sainthood in 2009, but the process has stalled. So the opening of these archives early is a special favour to Pope Benedict, ill since he resigned in 2013. If the archives prove that Pius DID protect Jews, his cause for sainthood would advance. And Benedict would love to be alive for the beatification of Pius!

While it will take a long time for them to catalogue 17 million pages of documents in the central Vatican archives, will the Vatican be entirely open and honest? There would be no way to cover up huge gaps since many hist­or­ians are going to be checking the files against already available docum­ents, unless those record were destroyed long ago.


History of the best game in the world - Scrabble

Australia didn’t have television until Nov 1956, and computers came even later. So our family entertainment back then consisted of radio programmes, swimming, card games, Monopoly and Scrabble. In that era, I assumed these activities were all Australian or British.

But not Scrabble, clearly. New Yorker Alfred Mosher Butts graduated from the University of Pennsyl­vania with a degree in architecture in 1924 and worked for a few years before the Great Depression hit and he lost his job. Butts saw that millions of other Americans could use some fun during the bleak economic times. After determining what he believed were the most enduring games in history — board games, numbers games like dice or cards and anagramic letter games — he combined all them all. He then chose the frequency and the distribution of the tiles by counting letters on the pages of the most im­p­ortant New York ­pap­ers. 

For more than a decade he re-examined the rules, and designed the 15×15 gameboard, while trying to att­ract a corporate sponsor. Unfortunately the Patent Office rejected his applic­ation several times. At first he simply called his creation to Lexiko (in 1931), then Criss-Cross Words

In 1948 a retired social worker/ game-loving entrepreneur James Brunot approached him with an offer to mass produce and sell the game. Butts readily handed the operation over. In Newtown Connecticut, Brunot brought in the now well recognised colour scheme (pastel pink, baby-blue, indigo and bright red), invented the 50-point bonus for using all 7 tiles to make a word and changed the game’s name to Scrabble.

In 1949 Brunot and his family made up the boxed sets in a con­verted former schoolhouse in Dodgingtown, part of Newtown - Brunot and several generous friends manufact­ured 12 games an hour. When the chairman of Macy's, Jack Straus, saw the game on holiday in Florida and decided to stock his shelves with it, the game expanded rapidly. Brunot made 2,400 sets in the first year of business but the venture was still losing. By 1952, Brunot's home grown assembly line was churning out more than 2,000 sets a week. Nearly 4 million Scrabble sets were sold in 1954 alone.

Alfred Mosher Butts

In 1971 Brunot sold the rights to Selchow and Righter Co., to mar­ket and distribute the game in the USA and Canada. Ironic­ally this was one of the game firms that had previously turned down Butts’ product. In 1972 they bought the trademark to the game. Butts received a total of $265,000 in royalties; Brunot got nearly $1.5 million. 2 years later they made and sold c4 million sets.

Coleco Industries Inc. took over after Selchow collapsed in 1986 and when Coleco in turn went bankrupt, when the game was sold to Hasbro. Today, Scrabble is owned by Hasbro in North America, while rights in the rest of the world belong to Mat­t­el.

In 1994, the Scrabblesphere changed when Hasbro announced plans to remove nearly 200 words deemed too offensive for the official Scrabble dictionary. The list of words ranged from ethnic slurs to playground phrases like turd. Hasbro eventually compromised and published two officially sanctioned dictionaries — one for recreat­ional and school play and the other for official tournaments and clubs; the latter contains a total of 120,302 words. Are there more words still, if British English spelling (used in UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India etc) is differentiated from American English spelling.

Scrabble has been translated into 31 non-English languages. Oddly, the game is sold outside the USA by Hasbro's rival, Mattel Inc. By the early 1990s, thanks to its acquisitions of Milton Bradley (maker of Yahtzee) and Parker Brothers (makers of Monopoly and Trivial Pur­suit), Hasbro owned over 50% of the $1.1 billion USA games market. But in 1993, Mattel outbid Hasbro, paying $90 million for the international rights to the game.

As Scrabble grows old, it still ranks as the 2nd best-selling board game in American history, beaten only by Monopoly. How many sets have been sold? c150 million sets have been sold world-wide. In the UK (where Scrabble was originally manufact­ured by Spears Games, a sub­sidiary of Mattel), it’s believed that one in two households own a set. And with the on-going evolution of the English language over the decades, will the Scrabble tiles need to be revalued?

I wonder if anyone remembers Alfred Butts; he died in 1993 aged 93. Fortunately Butts typed every detail on a docu­m­ent titled Study of Games, which, with many other artef­acts from the history of Scrabble, now belongs to Butts’s great-nephew. Thanks to BBC History Magazine, 12th July 2018; BBC, 11th Sept 2015 and Time, 7th Dec 2008.

Official Scrabble Dictionary

In the film Sometimes, Always, Never, a Scrabble-obsession is emblematic of a complex communication crisis. Alan (Bill Nighy)’s mastery of the game has taken him along a certain type of loneliness spectrum. He is simultaneously very good with words and absolutely terrible with them. He can’t make contact with son Peter (Sam Riley) and vice versa.

And yet, Alan has far from given up on life: to Peter’s exasperation and dismay, he continues to be an assertive personality, airily dapper, liking everything just so in ways that can’t simply be written off as dysfunctional. He has a positive effect on Jack, showing him the correct way to wear a suit. The “tailoring-mentoring” scenes here have great wit and humanity. Alice Lowe, Tim McInnerny and Jenny Agutter are also superb in their roles


Early modern medicine in Naples - Incurables Hospital c1520

Thank you to The 18th-century Apothecary in Hampshire for reminding us that they delivered most of what we would now term primary health care. Now to Naples.

Religious duty did not clash with medical science in the early C16th; in fact many of Naples’ hospitals staff had been made saints by the Catholic Ch­urch eg St Cajetan (1480-1547) who founded and worked in hospitals for incurables around Italy. In Naples St Cajetan set up the Mount of Piety to help the poor, so they did not need usurers to pay for medical costs. This later turned into one of Italy’s oldest banks, Banco di Napoli. A statue of him is outside the Basilica of San Paolo Maggiore in Naples.

Saints flourished in Southern Italy, relying on their relics’ mir­aculous healing pow­ers. So a thriving trade in relics grew up which church author­it­ies tried to control, concerned as they were about diabolical cults. Even more specifically, many diseases had their own patron saints eg St Roch for protecting against plagues.

Pharmacy interior
5 m-long walnut table, cabinets with decorated blue and white majol­ica jars
Sculpture of a post-operative uterus on the wall

Medieval medicine was largely built on theories, not on research as to which treatments actually worked. Only when Europeans learned from Islamic medicine in Baghdad and Cairo did research start to become import­ant. The earliest European pharmacies that I can find were a] in the Fran­cis­can Monastery in Dubrovnic Croatia (opened 1317) and b] in Tallinn’s town hall square in Estonia (opened 1422).

The Hospital for Incurables in Naples is an old, extant hospital in the centre of town. It is important to us because it linked elements of early medicine, magic, alchemy and religion, all dedicated to helping the poor and sick. Founded in c1520, the Hospital was set up by a noble Catalan woman called Mar­ia Lorenza Longo after she had suffered and recovered from a paral­ysing illness herself. By combining her family wealth with that of the wealthy Genoese Ettore Vernazza, Longo was able to fund a big hospital complex in Naples. Over time med­ical research­ers from around Europe travelled to Naples, to learn about treatments.

Pharmacy entrance, double stone staircase

Private charity in the city centred on this Incurab­les Hospital which also help­ed people from outside Naples. Initially their main role was to handle the spreading of venereal diseases.  Gradually the Incurables Hospital broadened its services and under Longo’s guidance, it started to specialise in helping pregnant wom­en with Caesarean sections. Princesses and noble woman came to the Incurables Hospital to give birth, whilst poor women were look­ed after by the nuns in the Order of the Capuchin Poor Clares.

Note the impress­ive double stone staircase and a bust of Maria Longo. And note the two sculptures depicting a virginal uterus, and a post-operative uterus that has undergone a Caesarean, reflecting the Incurables’ focus on helping women through childbirth.

The hospital was renovated in the C18th by architect Bartolomeo Vecchione and Domenico Antonio Vacc­aro in the baroque-rococo style. Additionally many works of art were added to the hospital build­ings, in the belief that art and beauty could be used to help treat sick people. Beauty was particularly important once the hospital started to look after hundreds of mentally ill patients, separated in dormitories according to their diagnosis.

The hospital later included the splendid Pharmacy and a laboratory in which medicines and drugs were pre­pared. Baroque and Rococo styles were utilised in a bigger complex of halls, marble stairs, majolica pavements, bronze sculptures and refined furniture of walnut wood. The ceiling was dom­­inated by a great Homer's Illiad painting by Neapolitan Pietro Bardellino, show­ing scenes from the Trojan War related to medicine. See the rock staircases, a fres­coed ceiling, el­egant inlaid wooden furniture and shelves with decor­ated majolica jars.

One section of the pharmacy was where the medicinal invent­ories were stored and cures were prepared. There was a monumental 5 m-long walnut table in the room and the surr­ounding walnut cabinets held many blue and white majol­ica jars dec­or­­ated with biblical and allegorical scenes, and filled with ointments.

The cabinets also contained products of mineral origin and teeth of marine animals, linking back to old alchemical traditions. It was only through the use of chemical drugs that progress was made in the history of Medicine. The very creation of the pharmacy made the hospital into a place of treatment, rather than just a hos­pice, particularly with common diseases like ven­er­eal infections.

See the Medicinal Gardens where homeopathic mixtures were devel­op­ed to soothe pat­ients. The medicinal gardens, since modernised, have a huge camphor tree and other medicinal plants that went into the medications.

The tour then leads through to the Great Hall, which was used as a reception and assembly room for medical experts and auth­orities. Its walls are lined with yellow and blue majolica vases and jars, painted by Lorenzo Salandra, and Donato Massa who painted the majolica floor.

Nearby is the cloister of the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, run by an order of hermits. The ceilings of this “Cloister of Maternity” were painted by Flem­ish artists. Parthenope, Naples' mythical siren founder, was ? buried in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Parthen­ope’s possible burial place had strong signif­icance for a Neapol­it­an literary humanist group which founded The Academy of the Idle in these beautiful cloisters in 1611. 

Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie
Cloister of Maternity

Inside the Museum of Sanitary Arts there are many interesting old medical tools, old irons, prints and books that together memorial­ise the Neapolitan medical school and health history. Visitors will be interested in the histories of Italian research into diseases and treatments, and the init­ial Italian discoveries en route to anti­biotics. There is also information on the life of the Domenico Cirillo (1739-1799), an Enlightenment physician-botanist at the Incurables.

This pharmacy was one of few remaining examples of the hundreds of similar apothecaries that once spread out across Naples. Visit the pharmacy, along with the museum of sanitary arts, the medicinal garden and cloister of the nearby Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie a Caponapoli.


First organised Australian team to go to England: Aboriginal cricketers

Many thanks to the National Museum of Australia for opening this amazing story to analysis. Friendly cricket games were an important aspect of early colonial society in Australia. Then by the 1850s, First-Class Cricket developed as a result of clubs being formally established. In 1851 the first inter-colonial match was played at Launceston between a Port Phillip team and a Van Diemen’s Land team.

So it was inevitable that Australian cricketers would want to travel back to England. What was not inevitable was that the first Australian cricket team to travel overseas was an Aboriginal team! Starting in the Western District of Victoria, where cricket was played on many stations, the Aboriginal team consisted of station hands and stockmen. Coached by local pastoralist William Hayman, this owner of Lake Wallace station formed a team of 13 men from three tribes. Hayman arranged a match in Melbourne for Boxing Day 1866 and whilst the team lost to the Melbourne Cricket Club, the large crowd loved the match.

Entrepreneur Captain Gurnett persuaded the men to begin a planned tour of the Australian colonies and England. However, after their arrival in Sydney, Gurnett embezzled the funds raised to finance the enterprise, leaving the team stranded. Charles Lawrence, an ex-All England player who had remained in Australia after the 1862 tour, took over coaching the team and raised enough funds for them to continue. They completed a tour of NSW before returning to Victoria in May where four players unfortunately became very ill.

Another attempt to organise a tour of England was started by new financial backers; the new Aboriginal team included the surviving members of the 1866 side, plus a handful of new players. On Boxing Day 1866, in front of 10,000+ spectators, this team played the Melbourne Cricket Club.

Bell's Life in Victoria and Sporting Chronicle reported: "Seldom has a match created more excitement in Melbourne than the one under notice, and never within our recollection has a match given rise to so much feeling on behalf of the spectators." The Sydney Mail said "A dark skin suddenly became a passport to the good graces of Victorians."

A poster was produced as part of the promotion of the 1868 tour that depicted each of the players, either in a traditional cricket stance or holding an Indigenous weapon. The photos were taken in Warrnambool and assembled into a composite souvenir lithograph: Australian Aboriginal Cricketers. 

Australian Aboriginal Cricketers 
The cricketers were selected from the stations the men worked on.
National Museum of Australia. 

Led by William Hayman and coached by Charles Lawrence, the First Aboriginal XI Australian cricket team left Sydney in Feb 1868, the first time an organised sporting group had travelled to England as Australian representatives.

The players were Johnny Mullagh, Bullocky, Sundown, Dick-a-Dick, Johnny Cuzens, King Cole, Red Cap, Twopenny, Charley Dumas, Jimmy Mosquito, Tiger, Peter and Jim Crow. Some were exceptional athletes and some just made up the numbers. The top player was all-rounder Johnny Mullagh - he made 1,698 runs, took 245 wickets and made 4 stumpings as wicket-keeper.

Sadly King Cole died from TB and was buried in Tower Hamlets in London. Sundown & Jim Crow went home from to ill-health. Cuzens died of dysentery the following year.

As well as cricket, the team also performed a range of traditional sports and displayed skills like boomerang and spear throwing at the conclusion of a match. These Aboriginal sports often drew large crowds, impressed by the unusual skills.

The first event was at Surrey’s home ground, drawing 20,000 spectators! They played a total of 47 matches across England in a six month period, winning 14, losing 14 and drawing 19; a surprisingly good result for the Australians.

The tour earned mixed reactions in England. The Sporting Life said: The Australian Aboriginal cricket team arrived in London in May 1868 and were met with fascination - that being the period of the evolutionary controversies following publication of Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species in 1859. The Times described the tourists as, "the conquered natives of a convict colony’a travestie upon cricketing at Lord's and the conquered natives of a convict colony." The Daily Telegraph said that, "nothing of interest comes from Australia except gold nuggets and black cricketers."

Advertising poster for the 1868 tour

Questions about the civilising aspects of cricket, the intentions of the organisers and the skill of the players were also raised. The Times said “it must not be inferred that they are savages; on the contrary … They are perfectly civilised, having been brought up in the bush to agricultural pursuits under European settlers, and are quite familiar with the English language." Good grief.

The team arrived back in Sydney in Feb 1869 and split up. Twopenny moved to New South Wales and played for the colony against Victoria in 1870. Mullagh became a professional with the Melbourne Cricket Club and represented Victoria against England’s 1879 touring team. The other cricketers returned to rural station life.

The Central Board for Aborigines introduced the Aboriginal Protection Act in Victoria 1869, making it illegal to remove Aborigines from the colony without the approval of the Government’s Protector of Aborigines. This Act made it very difficult for Aboriginal cricket players to play competitive cricket. Apparently the successful tour in Britain had changed nothing at home.

John Mullagh lived, worked and died in Harrow in the Wimmera; his statue stands in the Harrow Discovery Centre, along with other 1866 artefacts.

The Aboriginal team sailed from Australia in 1868 for a series of matches against county teams, ten years BEFORE the first Australian XI team travelled to England. The 47 matches the men played between May and Oct 1868 created a gruelling schedule against middle-level English teams. The tour made headlines in England and Australia, marking an important moment in British Empire cricketing history, racial relations and Australian national identity. But how celebrated were the cricketers, once had they finished the tour?



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