THE JONESTOWN MASSACRE – Marilyn Armstrong

Jonestown_entrance_welcome

Koolaid anyone?

I run this every year because people forget. We should not forget where blindly following a leader can take you. This happened. I remember it. Everyone who was alive and able to read or watch TV remembers.


On this day, the 41st anniversary of the Jonestown Massacre grew a saying everyone uses. “Drink the Kool-Aid” or “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.” I feel sort of like those people these days, though no one is trying to poison me. Yet. I wonder how many people who say it so casually, referring to products, buying into a corporate culture, or political philosophy, or realize to what they are referring?

I’ve written this before, but this is a major revision and it bears repeating. It’s true. It happened. We need to make sure it never happens again.

Drink (or don’t drink) the Kool-aid

The popular expression “drink the Kool-Aid” has become a common verbal shorthand in American business and politics. Roughly translated, it means “to blindly follow or accept a set of beliefs.” At work, it means you endorse what your bosses tell you. In politics, it means you fully buy into the platform.

It carries a negative connotation, but not as negative as it ought.

Kool-Aid was the drink for children on summer afternoons in the 1950s. The saying is now just bland rhetoric, stripped of its context and thus the horror it ought to evoke.

The Peoples Temple

Jim Jones, cult leader, and mass murderer was a complex madman. A communist, occasional Methodist minister, he founded his own pseudo-church in the late 1950s. He called it the “Peoples Temple Full Gospel Church,” known in short as the “Peoples Temple.”

The lack of a possessive apostrophe was intentional. The name supposedly refers to “the people of the world.” Jones called it a church, but it was a twisted version of a Marxist commune. At first, it combined with miscellaneous Christian references Jones used in his diatribes, er, sermons.

jim_jones

It was not a church. The Peoples Temple was a straight-up cult requiring total personal commitment, financial support, and absolute obedience. The characteristics which define a cult.

Jones was the leader. A homicidal maniac, but he had positive qualities. Jones and his wife, Marceline, favored racial integration. They adopted kids from varying racial backgrounds and were the first white family in Indiana to adopt an African-American boy. They also adopted 3 Korean children, a Native American child, and a handful of white kids. They had one child of their own.

Jones called his adopted kids the “Rainbow Family.” He made a name for himself desegregating institutions in Indiana. Before you get all dewy-eyed, note that this climaxed in murdering these children.

The Peoples Temple expanded through the 1960s. Jones gradually abandoned Marxism. His preaching increasingly focused on the impending nuclear apocalypse. He specified a date — July 15, 1967 — and suggested after the apocalypse, a socialist paradise would exist on Earth. Where would the new Eden be?

Jones decided on Redwood Valley, California. Before the expected Big Bang, he moved the Temple and its peoples there.

When the end-of-the-world deadline came and went, Jones abandoned his pretense of Christianity and he revealed himself as a madman using religion to lend legitimacy to his views. He announced, “Those who remained drugged with the opiate of religion must be brought to enlightenment — socialism.” Prophetic words in view of the fact that Jones was a drug addict.

As media attention increased, Jones worried the Peoples Temple’s tax-exempt religious status was in danger. He was paranoid about the U.S. intelligence community — with good reason.

Jonestown aerial view

In 1977, Jones moved the Temple and its people again. This was a major relocation. He took them out of the United States and resettled everyone in Guyana, a poor South American nation. He modestly named it “Jonestown.”

It was a bleak, inhospitable place. On 4000 acres of poor soil with limited access to fresh water, it was too small for the number of people it had to support. Jones optimistically figured “his” people could farm the new utopia. He had put together several million dollars before getting to Jonestown but didn’t share it with his followers. He barely used any of the money at all and lived in a small, bare-bones shack.

All Hell Breaks Loose

U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan visited Jonestown in November of 1978. Rumors of peculiar goings-on were leaking out of Jonestown. Ryan decided to investigate the allegations of human rights abuses in Jonestown.

Jonestown headline Milwaukee

Ryan didn’t go alone. He took a contingent of media representatives including NBC News correspondent Don Harris and other reporters, plus relatives of Jonestown residents. During his visit, Congressman Ryan talked to more than a dozen Temple members, all of whom said they wanted to leave. Several of them passed a note saying: “Please help us get out of Jonestown” to news anchor Harris.

If the number of defectors seems low (there were more than 900 people in Jonestown), but the congressional party was unable to talk to most of the “fellowship.” It’s impossible to know how many might have wanted to leave.

Ryan began processing paperwork to repatriate Temple members to go back to the States. In the middle of this, Ryan was attacked by Don Sly, a knife-wielding Temple member. This would-be assassin was stopped before injuring Ryan. Eventually, the entire Ryan party plus the group of Jonestown defectors drove to a nearby airstrip and boarded planes, intending to leave.

Jim Jones had other plans. He sent armed Temple members — his “Red Brigade,” after the Congressional party  These creepy “soldiers of the Temple” opened fire, killing Ryan, a Temple defector, 3 members of the media, and wounding 11 others. The survivors fled into the jungle.

jonestown massacre anniversary

When the murderers returned to Jonestown and reported their actions, Jones promptly started what he called a “White Night” meeting. He “invited” all Temple members. This wasn’t the first White Night. Jones had hosted previous White Night meetings in which he suggested U.S. intelligence agencies would soon attack Jonestown. He had even staged fake attacks to add realism, though it’s hard to believe anyone was fooled by the play-acting.

Faced with this hypothetical invasion scenario, Jones told Temple members they could stay and fight imaginary invaders, or they could take off for the USSR. Another tempting alternative would be to run off into the Guyana jungles. Finally, they could commit mass suicide as an act of political protest.

On previous occasions, Temple members had opted for suicide. Not satisfied, Jones had tested their commitment and gave them cups of liquid they were told contained poison. They were asked to drink it. Which they did. After a while, Jones told them the liquid wasn’t poison — but one day it would be.

Jonestown Koolaid

Indeed Jim Jones had been stockpiling cyanide and other drugs for years. On this final White Night, Jones was no longer testing his followers. It was time to kill them all.

Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid

After the airstrip murders outside Jonestown, Jim Jones ordered Temple members to create a fruity mix containing a cocktail of chemicals that included cyanide, diazepam (Valium), promethazine (Phenergan — a sedative), chloral hydrate (a sedative/hypnotic sometimes called “knockout drops”), and Flavor Aid — a grape-flavored powdered drink mix similar to Kool-Aid.

jonestown_massacre

Jones urged his followers to commit suicide to make a political point. What that point was supposed to be is a matter of considerable conjecture.  After some discussion, Temple member Christine Miller suggested flying Temple members to the USSR.

Jones was never interested in escape. There was only one answer he would accept. Death. Lots of it. He repeatedly pointed out Congressman Ryan was dead (and whose fault was that?) which would surely bring down the weight of American retribution. An audiotape of this meeting exists. It is as creepy as you’d expect.

30-years-jonestown

Then it was time for the detailed instructions which the followers followed. I will never understand why. Probably it means I’m not insane.

Jones insisted mothers squirt poison into the mouths of their children using syringes. As their children died, the mothers were dosed too, though they were allowed to drink from cups. Temple members wandered outside — where eventually more than 900 lay dead, including more than 300 children. Only a handful survived — primarily residents who happened to be away on errands when the mass suicide/massacre took place.

Jones, his wife, and various other members of the Temple left wills stating that their assets should go to the Communist Party of the USSR.

Jones did not drink poison. He died from a bullet to the head. It’s not clear if it was self-inflicted. Jones likely died last or nearly so. He may have preferred a gun to cyanide, having seen the horrendous effects of death by cyanide.

Why Kool-Aid?

In the wake of the tragedy at Jonestown, the phrase “drink the Kool-Aid” became a popular term for blind (or not-so-blind) obedience. Temple members had apparently accepted their cups of poison without argument or objection. Various accounts say the beverage used at Jonestown was mostly Flavor Aid, sometimes “Flav-R-Aid”). It doesn’t matter, does it?

Kool-Aid was better-known than Flavor Aid. It was introduced in 1927 in powdered form, so when Americans thought of a powdered fruity drink mix (other than “Tang”), “Kool-Aid” sprang to mind.

Jonestown-Tomb-Flower

Kool-Aid and Flavor Aid were at Jonestown, but the phrase “(don’t) drink the Kool-Aid” is popular lingo. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not. Does it help sell Kool-Aid?

I never touch the stuff.

MORE THAN EVER, THIS MATTERS

I’ve written about Jonestown before, but it bears repeating. I write it on the same day each year. Fewer and fewer people even know about it, but everyone should know.

It’s a cautionary tale for our times, reminding us where fanaticism and hatred can lead. Over the course of history, fanatics and those who blindly follow them have caused millions of deaths. Untold misery. Incalculable harm.

When you follow your “leader” into the darkness, there is no “good” side, and nothing positive will ever come of it.


This is where blind obedience leads. This is the result. This was the biggest horror story, but it has not been the only one. When you follow blindly, beware of cliffs.

VISIT TO THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM, PART 3 – BY ELLIN CURLEY

This is the third installment of photos from my trip to the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. We only covered the furniture and decorative arts section of the American Wing. Here are more photos, this time of miscellaneous things that caught my eye.

Ceramics from the Arts and Crafts movement of the early 20th Century

I loved this early 20th century piece

Very contemporary looking vase

An assortment of old clocks

Early American doll and doll accessories. I love the coach!

More doll furniture and an adorable toy horse for the dolls!

Painted wood chest from colonial times

Another example of a painted wood chest

Plates painted in the American style

Plates painted in a more typical Oriental Style

Ceiling from the recreated Frank Lloyd Wright room

Door and wall lamp designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, in the Frank Lloyd Wright room

Ornate street lamp just outside the American Wing of the Met

Silver vase with gemstones

Odd work desk with bag hanging underneath to store work materials, like for sewing.

Unique piece pairing wood and stained glass

Recreated room with wallpaper on all the walls with different views of a single scene

Another wall of wallpaper with no repeat patterns, just a continual scene going around the room

Wall over the fireplace continuing the rustic scene

 

AMERICA FIRST IS RACISM FROM OUR PAST – Marilyn Armstrong

This post is primarily composed of quotes from HuffPost and other sources. “America First” has a rather long and ugly history … and it started long before Donald Trump.

If anyone thinks what Trump is doing is new, it isn’t. This is Fascism on the rise. It’s easy to suddenly discover that “free” now means “people who agree with The Leader.” We are far too close to that now. I’d hate to see what a second term would accomplish.

Democracy is a slippery slope. Ours is covered in ice.

Dr. Seuss Cartoon from 1941 on antisemitism. The old story, just updated with a red hat.


Trump Was Not First To Use The “America First” Slogan. It has a long history.

In his Inaugural Address, President Donald Trump repeated a theme from his Presidential Campaign, telling the world: “From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.” Many Trump critics point to the fact that this was a watchword for those who opposed U.S. intervention in WWll before the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor. Actually, the phrase has a longer history.

President Woodrow Wilson, a hardened internationalist, ironically coined the term today associated with Nationalism. In 1916, Wilson was running for re-election by promising to remain neutral in WWl. His campaign slogan was: “He kept us out of War,  America First.” Once Wilson was safely re-elected, he ordered troops into what was, at the time, called “The Great War.” My mother who had the “luck” to live through both world wars always called it “The Great War.”

Once the U.S. was enveloped in the war, newspaper Publisher William Randolph Hearst, a vociferous critic of Wilson, used the slogan against the President.

Hearst was sympathetic to Germany and warned the U.S. not to aid the allies in the fight against Germany. Hearst exclaimed: “Keep every dollar and every man and every weapon and all our supplies and stores at home, for the defense of our own land, our own people, our own freedom, until that defense has been made absolutely secure. After that, we can think of other nations’ troubles. But until then, America first!”

This slogan soon became an imprimatur for non-interventionists in both major political parties. Once WWl ended, the Americans became wary of foreign intervention. Wilson failed in his efforts to garner the requisite two-thirds majority needed in the U.S. Senator to ratify the Treaty of Versailles, which included allowing the U.S. to join a collective security alliance called “The League of Nations.”

Some Senators would have supported the agreement if the President agreed to certain reservations. However, the bi-partisan group that steadfastly opposed the treaty came to be known as “the irreconcilables.”

Complete post: TRUMP WAS NOT THE FIRST TO USE AMERICA FIRST” – Huffpost 

QUOTES ABOUT FREEDOM – Marilyn Armstrong

I really hate that we fought this war for civil rights before and it has come back. But more than that, I hate how easy it was for one detestable human being to make it happen. It took less than three years. I never imagined our freedom could be chipped away so fast … and I hate it!


“If the freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” ― George Washington

“To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile but is morally treasonable to the American public.” ― Theodore  Roosevelt

“Because if you don’t stand up for the stuff you don’t like, when they come for the stuff you do like, you’ve already lost.” ― Neil Gaiman

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” ― George Orwell

LIVING WITH ANTI-SEMITISM – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I am Jewish. My parents were both born in America but my grandparents were all born in Russia/Ukraine. I grew up on stories from my maternal grandmother about living in a Shtetl, where murderous, anti-semitic rampages by the Kossacks were commonplace. Jews were not allowed to integrate freely with the gentile population, let alone socialize or intermarry. My great grandfather was a respected Rabbi and one of the rare Jews who was allowed to do business with the Gentiles in the big town of Minsk.

In addition to these stories, I heard a lot about the plight of the Jews in Germany and Eastern Europe as the Nazis came to power. As a child, I used to think about what I would take with me if that ‘knock on the door’ came one night to take me away from my home and my life. I often wondered if I would be the kind of person in a Concentration Camp who shared my bread and tried to help others, or if I would do whatever I had to do to protect myself.

Nazi Concentration Camp inmates

I am terrified when I read some of the anti-semitic stereotypes and accusations that are used today. They sound just like the propaganda used against Jews, not just in the ’30s and ’40s but all the way back to the Middle Ages in Europe. Romans probably also used similar rhetoric against Jews even before they started hating Christians as well.

Anti-Semitic propaganda from the Middle Ages in Europe

Overt and virulent anti-semitism has been relatively dormant in America for decades. Jews seemed to have assimilated into the mainstream to the point of almost becoming invisible. Or so I thought. Anti-semitism has clearly not been socially acceptable for a while. So it wasn’t expressed openly that much and I didn’t have to think about it or experience it.

American Anti-Semitic propaganda from the 1930s

I always knew that it was still ‘out there’. But I assumed it was less prevalent, less vicious and less relevant. Now I have to face the fact large numbers of Americans, in fact, do still nurse the same hatred and stereotypes that have plagued Jews for literally centuries. Americans are more tolerant and enlightened overall today, but some things just won’t die out.

I never thought that I would have to sit and watch a Nazi rally in an American city, complete with swastikas, arm salutes, and anti-semitic chants. Charlottesville was a wake-up call for many American Jews.

Charlottesville, NC Rally

For now, it’s ‘just words’. But my family is a testament to the fact that words can turn into acceptable attitudes than actions and finally into social norms and policies. I don’t think we are poised to become a Nazi state. I don’t think that anti-black, anti-Muslim, anti-Mexican or anti-semitic language or behavior will be tolerated by the majority of Americans.

Anti-Anti Semitism

But it is still uncomfortable for me to deal with the hatred that I know is there for me because of my lineage and/or the religion I don’t even practice. I liked it better when all the haters had to hide under a rock somewhere and were afraid to come out in the open. I hope we can send them back to that place where they are afraid of us instead of us having to be afraid of them.

WE KNEW WHO WE’D BE – Marilyn Armstrong

It has been pointed out to me that there’s a lot we don’t know about the people who came before us.

How — why — they dressed and spoke and related to each other as people in their society. We are fuzzy about a lot of cultural material and mostly, we take our best guess as to what they were thinking as they lived from one day to the next in whatever capacity they lived it.

We have no clue about how our great-grandfather confessed his love for great-grandma. We don’t know what words he used, or his tone of voice. We don’t know if they had a moment of passion because they left no evidence for us. They spoke differently, yet surely they held the same emotions we do.  We base our fiction on that assumption.

We could be entirely wrong. It’s guesswork based on some facts.

The United States Slave Trade

On the other hand, we know precisely — anyone could know this because it’s easy information to find. The people who drew up our Constitution understood how deeply wrong slavery was. They knew failing to remove this horror would cause a war. A big war.

Many expressed gratitude they would not live to see it.


They knew right from wrong.

They spent agonizing hours, weeks, months and years writing about it. Discussing it. Keeping notes about what they said and what others said. They didn’t for a minute think building a nation on slavery was “okay.” Abigail Adams, for one, didn’t want to live in the White House — not merely because it wasn’t finished, but because slaves built it. Yet without the compromise of making slaves three-fifths of a person – a person who would never vote or have anything to say about his or her own life – there would not have been a Constitution or a country.

I used to think it was the right decision, but I’ve changed my mind. We should have fought to do the right thing.


When you start doing what you know is evil, righteousness
does not follow.

Getting the country to be a country was, ultimately, what mattered. Under this devil’s decision lay the future in which we are now living.


We didn’t get here by accident. It wasn’t a bad election or even a few. It was not a couple of unfortunate choices. The path on which we are walking was being laid out for us before our nation existed. The issues we now face have always been there. Waiting. 

The northerner’s objections to slavery didn’t mean there were no slaves in New England or New York. Southern plantations bought slaves, but New England sea captains brought them here.

The first port of call for southern slave owners were the slave markets of New York and New England. Until the Constitution when northern slavery was formally abolished, there were plenty of slaves up north, too.

About those Native Americans from whom we grabbed this land and who we slaughtered to keep it? We knew it was wrong.

Maybe not every unread slob understood it, but anyone with a trace of education got it. We still know it, even if we have tried our best to tuck the information as far from “common knowledge” as we can. We don’t want to think about what we did to get this place — and what we are still doing.

Did our ancestors understand this? Yes.

But they wanted this country. They wanted it beyond any moral compunctions. If that meant slaughtering entire tribes — see Andrew Jackson for more on that — so be it. Why should “those savages” get this rich and beautiful country?

They didn’t deserve it. It should be ours. To make this officially righteous, we made up a bunch of crap about white being better than not white, but we didn’t get that from anyone’s religion. We quite simply made it up because we needed to believe it.

So, as has happened throughout history, we did what we wanted. We took everything, killed anyone who got in our way.

We have pretty much continued to do that ever since. Was it the first or last time an invading group of foreigners stole a nation from its native inhabitants? Obviously not.


I do not buy any concept which says “we didn’t understand what we were doing.” We knew. Our ancestors might not have talked the way we do, but they were better at acknowledging good and evil. 

Again: How do we know this? Let me reiterate.

They wrote about it. At great length. In documents, diaries, letters, newspapers, and books. We don’t have to guess: they told us.

What a great job we’ve done with the place!

The reason the Trump White House can do what it is doing is that there’s so much hatred in this country. All he needed to do was play to the haters and leave the windows open.

We don’t know what our so-called “leaders” believe, but we know who and what they hate. I don’t care how many other countries are pursuing the same ugly scene. That doesn’t justify it happening here. If the whole world needs to clean up its act? So be it.


The majority is not necessarily right.

For my entire life, I believed my country was improving and becoming more of what it said it wanted to be. We were struggling but trying to become a moral light in the world.

I’m not seeing that today.

Are there many individuals still fighting the good fight? Yes. But as a nation, that isn’t what I see. I cannot begin to tell you how deeply disturbing I find this. How is your conscience doing these days? Having a bit of a rough patch?

SIDEWALK WARS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I never really gave sidewalks much thought. If I had thought about them at all, I would have imagined they had always existed, which is only partially true.

The first sidewalks came into being around 2000 B.C. – a millennium or two after the invention of the wheel. Here’s the interesting part: they were rare luxuries in most of the world until as late as the 19th Century.

Ancient Roman road with no sidewalk

That’s when big cities like London and Paris built hundreds of miles of sidewalks to deal with the chaos in the roadways. Until then, “For most of human history, vehicles, pedestrians, vendors, musicians, drinkers and strolling lovers all mingled in the same amorphous muck of the avenue.” Washington Post, June 30, 2019, “The Death of the Sidewalk,” by Avi Selk.

The 1800s saw the first attempt to make the roadways more efficient by dividing them up into sections with regulated use designated for each section. The word “jaywalking” didn’t even exist until the early 20th century. That’s the first time pedestrians were fined for using the part of the street where they weren’t supposed to be.

Non-walkers were also penalized for using the sidewalks without proper authorization. Cities started prohibiting and/or regulating all kinds of sidewalk activities, like vendors, food stands, musicians, panhandlers, and prostitutes.

Cobbled street with narrow sidewalk

The division of space into walkers and vehicles eroded over time with bicyclists and stationary homeless people, among others, invading the precious territory of the walkers. Cities kept coming up with new limitations, like bike lanes, to try to deal with the problems that came up. But as vehicles became more prevalent, from horse-drawn carts to trolleys to cars, streets got widened and sidewalks narrowed.

Urban bike lanes

In 1896, The Times started a “Crusade against the sidewalk grabbers.” It wrote, “The pedestrians now … must spend their time in a hurdle race over skids, climb platforms, dodge moving boxes or else run the risk of being crushed under horses’ hooves in the street.” Washington Post article cited above. Apparently, pedestrians felt they had to fight for a safe walking space among the vendors and construction crews that were encroaching on their walking space.

Today there’s a new threat to the safety and sanity of pedestrians all across America.

Electric scooters are usurping sidewalk space at a dangerous, 10, 15 or even 20 miles per hour. They clog the sidewalks, endangering walkers and creating obstacles when they are left strewn carelessly in the streets. There have been many reported injuries from collisions as well as from people tripping over randomly abandoned scooters.

Scooters on a modern city street

As in the past, there’s a backlash of pedestrians trying to “… restore the sanctity of the sidewalk, with anti-scooter vigilantes appearing wherever the machines do.” Washington Post article. Disgusted pedestrians are throwing scooters into dumpsters and rivers, setting them on fire and hanging them from bridges. So cities now have to try to make peace in the scooter/pedestrian wars. Washington, D.C is experimenting with solar-powered charging docks in the hopes of getting people to stop dumping scooters wherever they happen to stop.

Another possible solution is limiting scooters to the bike lanes, where those already exist. Nashville gave up trying to negotiate a cease-fire and is trying to ban scooters from the sidewalks entirely.

Scooters left randomly on the street

Understanding the history of urban roadways gives perspective to the current sidewalk wars. This situation keeps cropping up periodically as new uses for sidewalks come into vogue. Cities have been dealing with these issues for centuries so this will be resolved over time – until the next sidewalk crisis emerges.