NPF: IT WAS A SIMPLER TIME

No Politics Friday has taken a beating since I moved to Chicago. It made my commute pretty exhausting and by the time I reach the front door on Thursday evenings I rarely have the energy to get a Friday post ready. That said, I'm working on carving out the time. Like this week, for example. This week I carved out the time.

On April 3, 1956 a woman who identified herself as Julia Chase sneaked away from a public tour of the White House. Having joined the tour group alone, without any companion who might notice her absence, nobody knew to look for her or sound an alarm. She made her presence known by spending nearly five hours sneaking around the building starting fires. To recap, then, a 53 year old woman spent half a day committing minor arson around the White House. Here is the front page of the next day's Chicago Tribune to prove it.

It's not just amazing that this happened. What really blows the modern mind is the response.

The woman…was taken into custody by government guards after the fifth fire and was sent to DC General Hospital for observation…Hagerty said the woman appeared to be 'not quite lucid.' She told police she did not know where she had come from…She explained that she 'had a lot of trash and wanted to burn it.'

The story continues to explain that she was released from the hospital into the custody of her family. And White House public visitation continued as normal for the day.

When older people refer to "simpler times" my first reaction is to gag on the sentimentality for a time period in which society was as staggeringly unequal and unjust as it was in the early post-War era. My second reaction is to remember this story and think, I bet it was pretty nice to live in something short of a state of constant fear that encourages law enforcement to overreact without restraint to anything perceived as a threat.

Shit. This got Political. Well, at least it's a Friday post. That's a start.

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35 Responses to “NPF: IT WAS A SIMPLER TIME”

  1. ConcernedCitizen Says:

    Does security protocol ever do anything besides ratchet upward? (That was a serious question. Besides minor reductions to the draconian minimum-sentencing standards of 1980's drug laws, I can't think of any instance in which law enforcement officials have taken a deep breath and a step back from their police state ideal.)

  2. Mostly lurking Says:

    ConcernedCititzen, security that ratchets upwards is a result of "cover your ass security", says Bruce Schneier:

    https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2007/02/cya_security_1.html

  3. mm Says:

    July 4, 1950–a fan was shot at the Polo Grounds in New York and the game between the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers went on.

    http://archives.chicagotribune.com/1950/07/05/page/1/article/mystery-shot-kills-baseball-fan-in-crowd-of-49-000

  4. geoff Says:

    Hey Ed, I think everyone here would agree with me that it's worth missing out on NPF if your living in Chicago helps to keep you sane. I kinda miss the Cold War stuff, but it looks like we have a brand new one coming on, so whatever.

  5. Tim H. Says:

    An example, when a statue of Harry S Truman was erected on the Independence, MO square, Gerald R. Ford came to speak, while the Secret Service was present, they were unobtrusive, I saw no one in the crowd searched and saw no military aircraft in the vicinity. 1974 was a different world.

  6. Tom Says:

    @ConcernedCitizen sometimes organized society breaks down entirely!

  7. Droppy Says:

    I have that same feeling about "the good old days" comments one hears. Yeah, it was a time when racism and misogyny were all but officially sanctioned; and yeah, it was a time where kids left the house after breakfast and wandered home whenever supper was on the table. I look at these over-scheduled kids now and feel for them that they've probably never played a spontaneous, choose-up-sides game of baseball with a tree in right field and whatever was lying around for bases. The official fear that would now shut down White House tours for a month if something like the arson lady happened has leeched into our culture generally – we are voluntarily putting out our wrists to be cuffed.

  8. democommie Says:

    Ed:

    You forgot to mention that she was white. I'm only guessing, but considering the date and the fact that BBIA* was still a fairly iffy proposition back in the day…Aside from that, yes.

    @ Tim H.:

    I liked that simpler time when Jerry Ford was still just a bumbling GOP suit, only later to become the moron who pardoned dirtbag Nixon and pretty much let the scum know that ANYBODY can grow up to be president, so long as they have the requisite vaccuity, venality and absence of a conscience.

    Too bad that Trickydick didn't make the trip then you could have had on erection being honored by another. Well, we'll always have Trumpligula (I fear).

  9. Skipper Says:

    When LBJ was VP, he visited our (small) college campus. He spoke from the top step of the science building, which had three steps. The students gathered around so close that he didn't need or use a microphone. There was no phalanx of security, just a handful of Secret Service, a few state and local cops, and our campus cops (about the equivalent of elderly mall cops).

    I was listening to him while I was leaning on his car with my ass on the fender and was shooed away gently by a SS agent. No fuss. I moved a foot away, and all was good.

    That was in the first week of November, 1963. A couple of weeks later, everything changed.

  10. Mothra Says:

    I believe people were also permitted to picnic on the White House front lawn in the 50's. But I do have to agree that if the lady had been black, the outcome might have been completely different.

  11. Safety Man! Says:

    @geoff
    I laughed, but then I sobered up pretty damn quick…

    A year or two ago with the White House fence jumper, I was shocked at all the people asking why the guy wasn't gunned down. My response at the time was that it wasn't the Forbidden Palace, but let's stick a pin in that.

    I have seen them call the family of some of the obviously mentally ill and give them bus fare home, so it's not all gone, yet.

  12. democommie Says:

    "I have seen them call the family of some of the obviously mentally ill and give them bus fare home, so it's not all gone, yet."

    True, otoh, if we had a functional national healthcare system, persons with obvious mental problems would be cared for rather than put on a bus.

    I used to live in a town that had a few nursing homes that were filled with people who were pretty clearly mentally ill. None of them, afaia, were violent or violence prone. They were, in all of my dealings with them, pleasant and in some functional way, disconnected from reality. That was before the State of MA, like many other states decided that rather than fix their horrendous in-patient mental health facilities they should just close them. Now there are lots of very fucked up people roaming the streets, sleeping "rough", being preyed upon by all sorts of asswipes, etc.

    Sorry, Ed; I just don't think that we have a societal ill that can't be linked to political fuckwaddery.

  13. stm Says:

    A great start, Ed. Keep it up, I like what you have to say.

  14. Dumbspear O'Sparrow Says:

    "Staggeringly unequal"? It depends on what you are talking about. The income share of the top 1% was just around 10% in the 1950s, less than half of what it is today. CEO pay was less than 50x the average worker's pay then compared to over 400x today. I'm talking about class here, of course. When it comes to race and gender the situation was very different.

  15. Robert Walker-Smith Says:

    I had the chance to tour the White House pre-9/11. My husband commented on how it contrasted with the Capitol building – the latter is a huge pile of monumental masonry, the former is a big house. Granted, these days it has two small office buildings grafted onto the sides, but it's not a palace.

    That the WH looms larger in the public imagination than Congress is an indicator of how the imbalance of powers has evolved.

    To continue the politics, I wonder if eight years of demonizing Obama as a ruthless, unconstrained dictator has bamboozled the yowling hammerheads into believing that Dolt 45 actually has the power he seems to believe he has. (I'm glad that I don't have to diagram that sentence).

  16. Ursula Says:

    Ed, have you considered thinking of posts during your commute (well, I assume you have) and then recording what you might write as you drive with a tape recorder or audio recording app on your phone?

    My mother had a book called "The Good Old Days: They were Terrible" that I perused often as a child. As an adult, I have purchased several inexpensive copies and given them to friends.

  17. chopper Says:

    "Dolt 45"

    I like that.

  18. Kaleberg Says:

    It's been embarrassing being an American since 9/11. If Walt Whitman were alive today, he'd have written "I hear America clucking." What a nation of cowards! I'd call us chickenshit, but that would be an insult to poultry and fecal matter.

  19. Lalo Khezia Says:

    Yes! Dolt 45 goes on the list I am compiling, along with
    So-Called Ruler Of The United States (i.e. SCROTUS).

  20. sluggo Says:

    @robert

    Diagram a sentence? Speaking of the good old days, to be sure.

    Hope you stay dry.

  21. Skepticalist Says:

    Back when I was a ten year old white kid in the fifties, being drunk rarely put locals behind bars or run through the system. When the bartender called the cops they'd drive uncle Ned home to face the wife. Today, it's handcuffs, slammer time, a court appearance and a newspaper story.

    Of course if Ned then beat the shit out of his wife and family that was rarely considered a real crime.

  22. Peggy Says:

    Ed, this is a great post and doesn't at all make me long for a simpler time, back when Fridays could be No Politics. It's all politics all the time now, because this cabal requires CONSTANT VIGILANCE!

  23. jcdenton Says:

    @Kaleberg

    Don't you mean "I hear America cucking"? :p

    Putin fucks Lady Liberty, while Trump stands in the corner and rubs himself against a podium.

  24. quixote Says:

    People in the US have in general always been quicker to fall into conniption fits than foreigners, for as far back as this Russian-derived foreigner can remember. And the tendency seems to strengthen with each passing decade as the new cohort out-conniptions the previous one. Although we may have slowed down. The high water mark may have been the late 90s or the noughts when kids stopped walking to school or bicycling because their parents were convinced They would swoop down on you if you were caught on The Outside.

    The only cause I can imagine is that this nervousness comes from how exceptionally safe white USians are in general. (Except, of course, on freeways, but that doesn't seem to worry them.) I'd almost be willing to bet data would show that black USians who live in dangerous neighborhoods have a much more reality-based attitude to danger and are less frantic when confronted with it.

  25. April Says:

    @Quixote…you have to consider that it's not all the parents who feel that way, but societal pressure is forcing "free-range" parents (like I was) to curtail their kids' freedoms, or else face consequences. Parents can now have kids taken away for allowing them to do things we boomers did without a thought.

    And the critics are not just the aging boomers…this fake panic comes from all the demographics.

  26. quixote Says:

    Yes, I know that plenty of parents thought it was fairly la-la. It's one of these statistical, by-and-large things that doesn't necessarily apply to any given individual. And yet, taken all together, there's enough of those goofballs to set the tone while the rest of us get carried along feeling out of tune.

    I wish there was some way to figure out what are the critical differences that allow some people to keep their hair on while others just lose it over completely magical thinking. (Remember that school in Maine where the parents kept their kids home because a teacher visited Dallas where there was a hospital in a totally different part of town with one patient in quarantine for Ebola?)

    If we could figure out what the la-la or anti-la-la factor is, we could bottle it and cure the nincompoops.

  27. Katydid Says:

    I was, well, not exactly a free-range parent, but a "go outside and play" parent…and you would not believe the craziness that ensued from the neighbors. We had one of those standard suburban 6' fences around the yard and we lived in a cul-de-sac in a quiet, tucked-away area…and my kids were the only ones drawing on our the sidewalk with colored chalk or playing in the tree fort in the backyard. We limited our kids to one activity at a time–they did soccer or baseball or tae kwon do or robotics or Chinese club–not all of them, like most of the neighbor kids. We didn't join travel league sports (here, once the child turns 8, they're expected to go on the road as much as a hundred miles from home on the weekends to play the same things they'd be perfectly happy to play in the backyard).

    There was also an awful lot of "mommier-than-thou" stuff going on when my kids were younger–not sure what the birthday scene is now. Kids' birthday parties in my neighborhood got completely out of control with bounce houses and ponies and makeup-consultants for 8-year-old girls (complete with little gift bags of cosmetics!). I was the "weirdo" mom with cake and kool-aid on the back deck and entertainment like pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey and freeze tag in the yard, not a troupe of clowns.

  28. democommie Says:

    "I was the "weirdo" mom with cake and kool-aid on the back deck and entertainment like pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey and freeze tag in the yard, not a troupe of clowns.

    And making fun of all of the goofball paranoid neighbors and their, duck'n'covercellarmakeoverintoabombshelter mentalities–let's not forget that sort of entertainment. Kinda like a white, suburbanite version of "the dozens".

    "Hey, your mom is so paranoid she does cavity searches of all delivery persons!"

    "Oh, yeah, YOUR mom is so paranoid she makes her own kids walk through metal detectors when they come from their bedrooms into the rest of house!". /s

    When Gorbachev accelerated the slow, if massive, train wreck that was the end of the USSR, the GOP was quick to credit Reaganomics and Ronnieresolve for ending it. The neocons scrambled to find/make new bogeymen and despite a clamor from economists, sociologists and others who had the same level of conciousness–but chose to use it–ignored the russian people's plight and let the country sink into anarchy in the interest of making some money and having a wonderful free-market democracy in a country which had briefly, if ever, really had the former and had never had the latter.

    There WAS a problem, we ignored it (not me and you, the policy makers) and now we have a new dictatorship in Eastern Europe, making their neighbors nervous again.

    Some guy said to me, last night, "You know that there are Russian subs 17 miles off the coast of Virginia?". I didn't, I still don't. I do know that there are massively more megatons of hot'n'nastynukedeath within 15-20 minutes of anything important in Russia. It's not a new game. I'm much less worried about Putin at this point than the POTus*.

    * Petty Orange Tyrant, uzzing shit (yeah, I know it should be "oozing", so sue me).

  29. Katydid Says:

    @Democommie: Some guy said to me, last night, "You know that there are Russian subs 17 miles off the coast of Virginia?".

    Yup. That just means they've got the money to pump into their military again.

  30. democommie Says:

    Hey, that means it's time for regimeme change.

    THANKS, Trumligula!

  31. Major Kong Says:

    Whenever the Russian missile submarines would come within a certain range of the US, it would force us to go to a higher level of alert in SAC.

    This usually wasn't a problem at Barksdale (Shreveport LA) because they seldom came into the Gulf of Mexico. We normally had the run of the base when we were sitting alert.

    The guys up at Loring Maine spent half their lives on Restricted Alert (confined to the alert facility) because of the Russian subs in the North Atlantic.

  32. democommie Says:

    It's not actually funny, but I used to wonder where the idiots who worried about our ICBM's targeting were when they showed the nuke test films. Being a mile or thirty off was gonna matter a lot less with multiple megaton warheads, particularly if you knew that there was more than one that had, "Fuck You, Boris, you russkie shit" headed for Moscow.

  33. jcdenton Says:

    @democommie

    That was the Soviet strategy as I recall. Larger warheads to compensate for poorer aim. Of course, even if every single warhead missed every city by miles, we would still wipe out most of human civilization thanks to ensuing fallout and irradiation. We're really close to The Great Sieve here.

  34. democommie Says:

    @ jcdenton:

    I was chatting with a rating on the deck of HMS Sirius, about 30 years ago in Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and he was telling me that his boat, a gas turbine powered speedster could outrun any soviet surface ship of the day. He also said it wouldn't mean a damned thing if the balloon went up and they started slinging nukes.

  35. John M. Burt Says:

    ANd of course the Good Old Days of the 1950s were when terrorists opened fire with machine guns inside the Capitol during House floor debate, wounding five Congressmen:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4iL42L0HewY
    And yet, when you ask people to identify population groups which have carried out terror attacks in the U.S., Puerto Rican nationalists are basically never mentioned.

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