The Central European Roots of the Word “Honkey”

"I'm not looking for a relationship I just need an oily bohunk to play with." | Photo from the 1984 John Hughes film 16 Candles

“I’m not looking for a relationship I just need an oily bohunk to play with.” | Photo from the 1984 John Hughes film 16 Candles


Honky, Honkey, Honkie

July 26, 2016

Allan Stevo

Honkey is a word I remember being called as a child. It is a word to boil the blood, a word to incite, a word meant that you were the “other” and didn’t belong. The way it was said could make it so effective at converting its meaning from mere words to emotion. Alternately, I also remember being a child and laughing and playing where the word was thrown around in jest, with other words, and it was all very fun. Anyone could say it. It was how you said it that made the difference.

I get the feeling that in Chicago we grew up in the 1980s a little “behind” the rest of the country. Race and ethnicity were very much a part of my home city, where everyone works together and then goes home to their separate neighborhoods at night. Race and ethnicity are not a theoretical topic or an ivory tower topic in a blue collar place like Chicago. In Chicago even the white gloves of society have the air of the blue collar.

While reading Norman Mailer’s fascinating “Miami and the Siege of Chicago” the other night, Mailer, in describing the many ethnic enclaves of Chicago mentions the word “honkey.”

While referencing “the Negroes,” “Polish,” and “Hunkies” working the various stages of the assembly line in the Chicago stockyards, he pauses for a moment and calls Honkie “a Chicago word,” referencing its origins in the word “Hunkies.”

Hunkie wasn’t a word I’d ever heard. My mind recalled once when a Texan friend of mine used the word “Bo-Hunk,” an ethnic slur meaning “someone from Central and Eastern Europe.” The word bohunk is literally (Bo)hemian and (Hung)arian together in one. Hunkie and Bohunk seemed like they could be related.

Seeking more conclusive evidence, I sought the counsel of a dictionary to solve this question of what Hunkie meant:

Hunky – noun. slang, See bohunk.

Bohunk – noun. a person from East Central Europe, especially a laborer. Used disparagingly. Also shortened to hunky.

Hunky is the shortened form of bohunk. Honkey therefore comes to us from a slang word that has at its roots a contraction of “Bohemian-Hungarian.” The word Honkey then came about as a Chicago way of referencing the immigrants from Central Europe.

An interesting thing about the word Bohunk is that Bohemia (which is the Western part of the present-day Czech Republic) and Hungary do not even touch each other. Depending on the path taken, several lands separate the two from each other: the lands of the Austrians, the lands of the Moravians, and the lands of the Slovaks.

As a conjunction from the names of two places that do not even touch each other, there is an unspoken something in between Bohemia and Hungary that is not clearly acknowledged in the word.

If Honkey is the even more slang term for the slang Bohunk, then Slovaks are the ultimate Honkies, for over the centuries of recent memory there was no tribe caught between Bohemia and Hungary like the Slovaks. To be even more specific, the Slovaks of southern Slovakia would most fit this description, perhaps part Hungarian, part Slav, many spoke both Hungarian and Slovak out of the house and at home. The runner-up for the ultimate Honkeys are the Moravians to the northwest, a group of people often grouped in with the people of Bohemia though they have some obvious distinctions between them. In the word Bohunk, these are the forgotten people who resided somewhere between Prague and Budapest, who helped labor in the mines, railroads, farms, and factories of thriving industrial America over the last century-and-a-half.

pic

I recognize that some journalists tend to lie and obfuscate. It’s possible that even highly decorated journalists like the best-selling Norman Mailer who founded the Village Voice, won two Pulitzer Prizes, and a National Book Award is capable of doing so as well.

If Norman Mailer is to be believed then the slang term Honkey is among Chicago’s own additions to the English lexicon and Slovaks are among the family of people, and perhaps the most clear example of who exactly the word Honkey was meant to describe.

“Semantic generalization” or “semantic extension” are terms used by linguists regarding this shift in the focus of a word’s definition from something more specific to something more broad.

With its linguistic roots specifically referencing Central European ethnic groups, today, the word Honkey has come to meet a general term for Americans of European descent. Before this instance of semantic generalization changed the meaning, Slovaks were the original Honkey.

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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Dark Jokes from Soviet Times

Photo: news.sl

Photo: news.sl


Jokes

July 25, 2016

Allan Stevo

Last night I was out with three friends enjoying their company and a beer after a relaxing Sunday. We somehow got onto the topic of the Clinton family and the numerous unusual deaths that surround them.

Leave it to the Slovak in the group to draw parallels without even saying the words “You know like the Clintons, the Russians during Soviet times were famous for killing those who didn’t go along with the program.” That would be too direct for a Slovak to state the obvious, especially in controversial political matters.

He resorted to humor, which has always been a good way to deliver brutal honesty while making it hard to accuse the joke teller of dissent. There were times in Slovak history where telling a joke might be the most openly truthful one could be precisely because open dissent of authority figures carried too many risks. These two jokes from the communist era in former Czechoslovakia (1948-1989) came from precisely such a time.
 

Clinton / Soviet Joke #1:

An American envoy attended a funeral for five Soviet generals.

American envoy: “This is a great tragedy. Five generals died all at once. What happened?”

Soviet diplomat: “Yes. It was a great tragedy, they ate poisoned mushrooms.”

American envoy: “But that one all the way on the left has a bullet-hole in his forehead.”

Soviet diplomat: “Yes. It was a great tragedy. He refused to eat poisoned mushrooms.”

* *


Clinton / Soviet Joke #2:

What were the last words of the Soviet poet and propagandist Mayakovsky before his death by suicide?

“Don’t shoot comrades!”

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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Mamin Mrezovnik by Milan Rufus

July 24, 2016

Allan Stevo

It’s been five years since my translation of Slovak Nobel Prize Nominee Milan Rufus’s “Mamin Mrezovnik” was published in Spring 2011 edition of the International Poetry Review.

I’ve just received the Spring 2011 edition of the International Poetry Review in the mail and am pleased to report that my translation of “Mamin Mrezovnik” by Milan Rufus was selected for publication.

The International Poetry Review is published by the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and was founded in 1975. Milan Rufus (December 10, 1928 – January 11, 2009) was Slovakia’s unofficial poet laureate. The poem “Mamin Mrezovnik” appeared in his final collection of poetry – Ako stopy v snehu (Like Footprints in the Snow).

To date 16 of my translations of Rufus’s poems from Ako stopy v snehu have been accepted for publication in the U.S. Currently, I am seeking an American publisher for the full-length translation of the book.

Click here to keep reading Mamin Mrezovnik by Milan Rufus

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time travelling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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Communist Motifs – Ramsey Route 17 Train Station – Ramsey, NJ

Mosaic at Ramsey Route 17 Station. | Photo: flickr.com

Mosaic at Ramsey Route 17 Station. | Photo: flickr.com

Communism in Art

July 23, 2016

Allan Stevo

As I walk around during the course of the day communist motifs tend to stick out in public art. After years spent living In the midst of the art of former communist countries, some of these communist motifs are hard to overlook because they have become almost second nature to identify.

While on the way to speak at a college in New Jersey, I came through the Ramsey Route 17 train station, built into one of the walls of the pedestrian bridge that crosses over the rails is the above image.

The feel of the piece is one of socialist realism, though it does not portray a human, a common aspect of socialist realism. Nonetheless, this interesting image contains numerous socialist or communist motifs.

1. Industry – Factories or industrial equipment are a common motif of socialist art. The strength of industry, salvation through technology, overcoming human nature through the building and imposition of an iron system, all which require and seek to glorify the symbol of the diligent worker.

2. Flames – The flames of heavy industry and the flames of revolution. One thing is destroyed and something new can be created, perhaps arduously or painfully, even dangerously. The flame was a common communist symbol. The idea that a mind properly reached at a young age could be possessed by the educator for life has long been a concept understood by tyrants. Former communist countries were not exempt for this understanding. The international group know colloquially as “the Pioneers” or the “Vladimir Lenin All-Union Pioneer Organization” was a series of youth groups for different ages. Their pins worn by members to show support and affiliation commonly contained the flames of revolution, often along with the head of Lenin.

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3. Color red – Red is symbolic of many things, including international communism. In a country like Slovakia, depicting a politician in a red tie in a comedy sketch or political cartoon is enough to allude to his communist past. It’s prominent use is indicative of communism, as in the case of the flag of the former USSR. Along with the other motifs presented here the red is a natural added representation of communism.

4. Five point star –
Instead of using the name of the railroad at the front of the locomotive pictured here or the number of the train, the artist very clearly put a star there. The star is at the focal center of the mosaic. This star is clearly not red, which would make it an unmistakeable symbol of communism, perhaps a little two obvious. In communist motifs, the five fingers of the workers hand, the five traditional continents, the five groups of society that would collaborate to bring in the ideal communist state: youth, military, industrial labor, agricultural labor, intelligentsia; are all represented in the five pointed star.

What type of communist motifs do you notice in your day? I invite you to send a photo to 52WeeksInSlovakia@gmail.com listing where you saw it and what it means to you and I will post those details on the website.

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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Six All-American Readings for the Fourth of July

Photo: bigmaud.com

Photo: bigmaud.com

Read Me

July 22, 2016

Allan Stevo

On the anniversary of America’s Independence, there are two texts I always find myself returning to that capture the essence of what the core spirit of America is at the time of its founding and two texts, that I say truly celebrate the Spirit of 1776. The Spirit of 1776 is a very different spirit than the Spirit of 1787.

1787 is a year to celebrate the Constitution and the state. The Spirit of 1776 is practically the opposite, it is a spirit of the victory of the individual over the state. This is a unique spirit present in the American experiment not present elsewhere in the same way and in my experience is a quintessential ingredient in what makes America special.

There are many American holidays for celebrating the state

  • Constitution Day – when a group of people known as the federalists overcame the tremendous opposition to a strong central government and put into place a document that empowered a government that puts so many limits on individual freedom. A celebration of the Constitution is a celebration of the state (ostensibly over the individual though it is a state that takes steps to protect individual freedom), a state that is in so many way contrary to the American Revolution, and the founding document that empowered that state to trample so many of the ideals of 1776.
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  • Presidents’ Day – this is the day we celebrate highly fallible men as if they were infallible kings, descended from God. American presidents have with few exceptions grown government and become increasingly tyrannical in a country that was founded out of a revolution meant to escape a despot. Not only is this a celebration of the state, it is a celebration of concentrated power in the structure of the state.
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  • Lincoln’s Birthday – The Civil War was not a civil war. South Carolina did not want to wrestle control of Washington DC from the federal government and take over the administration of the country. It was a war of independence, or a war of secession, just like the America Revolutionary War. In both instances a group of people wanted to walk away from a central government that it did not feel represented it any longer. Lincoln preserved the Union (the Spirit of 1787) that was created by the Constitution, while tyrannically thrashing the ideals behind the Spirit of 1776, such as the ability of a people to peacefully dissolve temporary political ties with other people. To Lincoln’s benefit, this inveterate racist (Yes, Lincoln was tremendously racist in public speeches, writings, and public and private correspondences), finally saw to it that the slaves were freed. Because he did that, this period in American history has been whitewashed by ninnies as being about slavery. If you are intellectually honest and ever find yourself telling people that this period in American history was about slavery, I suggest you immediately silence yourself and seek out broader reading material on this subject matter. Slavery was an aspect of this time, and was certainly not the cause for war. The Civil War was an incredibly complex time in American history. The hagiography of Lincoln is an important touchstone in American history that identifies who asks themselves the intellectually tough questions and who merely finds comfort in pretending that they know what they are talking about. Born in Illinois, the Land of Lincoln, this is a particularly evident trend in American thought and letters for me.
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  • Flag Day – Flags represent states not people. Flag Day is a celebration of the state. It is a celebration of the Spirit of 1787 and not the celebration of the Spirit of 1776. As much as I appreciate shows of patriotism and national pride, it would please me beyond belief if July 4 became the day that no American Flag was flown. Flying the American Flag on July 4 is inconsistent with the Spirit of 1776, when the great victory of the individual over the state was in vogue. And while I love the text and tune of “The Star Spangled Banner,” it would please me beyond belief if this song were never played on July 4. This song is about the War of 1812, a war in which the American government acted as aggressors and got their butts kicked to the extent that the White House was burned to the ground before the British graciously stopped kicking our punk butts up and down the Eastern seaboard. One of the reasons the insightful anti-federalists did not want a Constitution was because centralized power in a pigheaded president would lead the people into senseless wars that the pigheaded president was certain were necessary. The War of 1812 is a particularly sad part of American history. The fact that such a foolish war could take place demonstrates much power already at that early stage taken from the individual and put in the hands of the state. That brings me to the next two American holidays.
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  • Memorial Day & Veterans Day – are the celebrations of the soldiers of the federal government. War is the health of the state. The military draft, the concept that the individual is subservient to the state, is anathema to a free people, as is a standing army. There are more holidays that celebrate the Spirit of 1787 much more than the Spirit of 1776. Am I grateful to hail from the world super power rather than some vassal state? Absolutely. Do I value these holidays? I certainly do. I also recognize they are more consistent (like many other American holidays) with the Spirit of 1787 than the Spirit of 1776, a time and spirit that I like to recall on the unique and single holiday we have for recalling it, July 4, on and around which I like to read the following, which I hope you will too:

 

1.) The First Draft of the Declaration of Independence

Thomas Jefferson, a man of great intellectual consistency in many ways, wrote a document in 1776 that so brilliantly elucidated the principles of the victory of the individual over the state. That was the first draft of the Declaration of Independence. In it Thomas Jefferson writes that all men are created equal. He shortly thereafter announces that in America there will be no slavery henceforth. Thomas Jefferson stood before his peers in a national body in 1776 and insisted that if America were to be a free place that slavery would have to be no more. What a tremendous idea. How revolutionary and consistent.

Unfortunately, like all writing created by a committee, the document was significantly watered down and, well we ended up with the better polished, not so totally awful document we now have – the third draft of the Declaration of Independence, but far inferior to the first draft. This might be the lone exception I know of to Hemingway’s truism “the first draft of anything is shit.”

In addition to the beautiful first draft, every year, I read:

2.) On Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau

The text inspired Gandhi and MLK and was written by a total gadfly of a man. If there were one text that I had to pick as the best work of American letters ever given to the world it would be this one – intellectually challenging, civically minded. Thoreau embodies the Spirit of 1776 as he writes it. I cannot read a single page without either underlining a concept or breaking off to write about one of his ideas. This essay, a few dozen pages long is brilliant and can be read in just one or two hours. If you’ve never read it, or haven’t read it lately, please pick it up and channel the Spirit of 1776 as seen by this challenging and inspiring thinker.

Why Stopping There Is Not Enough

There is an economic component to what happened in 1776. As the history teacher in the movie Dazed and Confused states before they let out for the summer of 1976, “Okay guys, one more thing, this summer when you’re being inundated with all this American bicentennial Fourth Of July brouhaha, don’t forget what you’re celebrating, and that’s the fact that a bunch of slave-owning, aristocratic, white males didn’t want to pay their taxes.” There was undoubtedly an economic component to 1776 that was indivisible from the overarching concept of freedom.

Personal freedom and economic freedom are indivisible concepts. Some on the American political right will tout economic freedom while undermining personal freedom, some on the American political left will tout personal freedom while limiting economic freedom. Both people get it wrong.

Many of the founding fathers got it right. Freedom is one. Intrusions on freedom are intrusions on freedom. A free country must not have intrusions on the economic freedom of an individual or the personal freedom. July 4th is a holiday to celebrate this unique victory of the individual over the state that is at the essence of America.

Europe has run a different experiment – one of democratic socialism in small ethno-centric nation states. This has been largely successful for Europeans where they love their lagging, restrictive economies and watered down concepts of what a free individual is. America through it all for the entire world has been able to be a beacon of freedom in the world – not through television or McDonald’s or politics or being the world’s policeman. Those are mediocre things. America has a few points of individual freedom that simply make it a much more free place in a lot of respects. It is far from perfect, but still very good.

When speaking to friends, clients, or even strangers who are at a loss for what their proper next step is in life, I often identify with them what it is that makes them who they are. What the core values and behaviors are that make them unique. This is often where the greatest happiness and success is for most people. Leveraging those unique aspects tends to be the ideal for the individual.

In a similar way, it is often important to me to recall what exactly it is about America that is unique. America as a country composed of individuals is good at many things and mediocre at many more things.

There are a host of European countries that are better than America at military occupation as one example. They have been doing it longer and have a history of the cruelty it requires. There are a host of countries that are better at socialism, it speaks to the core of what those people truly desire – limited social mobility and limited worry because they can always be safely ensconced in the success or failures of the herd. There are countries that are better at religious extremism, while America has religious extremism, and it is a component of our culture, it is not that thing that we best excel at.

What America best excels at is the primacy of the individual over the state, the ability of the individual to have as much individual freedom as possible and as much personal freedom as possible. When America does exactly that we are pursuing the thing that culturally we excel at, which challenges the social organization we have by constantly innovating and pushing it to new limits, and it sets an example for the rest of the world of what good can come from human freedom. In that respect there are four more texts that are perfect reading for July 4, as a way to celebrate the Spirit of 1776, for they illustrate the economic freedom that is so easy to overlook and to loose sight of amidst the complicated world of technocrats and talking heads obfuscating very basic economic tenets to the point that the average person is left unable to have any input on the matter.

3.) Isaiah’s Job by Albert Jay Knock
speaks to the value of the remnant, the value of speaking to a small body of believers in a cause rather than the masses, the intelligentsia, or the decision makers. This is a truly inspirational essay.

4.) I, Pencil by Leonard E. Read
in a short essay speaks to the important interplay of economic factors that come into play simply to create a pencil. In it he tells of the beauty of that cooperation that occurs and how the world is far better off when that cooperation is left alone to spontaneously take place.

5.) Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt is such an amazing primer on economics. In little 3 and 4 page snippets, Hazlitt demystifies economics in about 200 pages. I hate to say that everyone should ever read one text, because we are never served as a society when we share the exact same reference points, because groupthink inevitably ensues. This text is so effective at demystifying economics, an intentionally and overly mystified topic, that it makes for such a good economics primer for anyone interested in the topic. If you have not read Hazlitt, you probably have little place talking about economics. He addresses simple and common fallacies based on a short one lesson introduction to economics that you can read in just a few minutes. If you are economically minded, or if you feel lacking on the topic of economics, please pick up a copy today.

6.) The Law by Frederic Bastiat
, a French parliamentarian of the 1800s who wrote so convincingly and so simply about freedom does such a good job of illustrating basic concepts of personal and economic freedom in one. This book is under 100 pages and like Hazlitt, the subject matter is handled in brief snippets that so effectively communicate and simplify.

After reading so much (at some periods in my life as much as a book a day) while constantly asking everyone I meet about their favorite books, seeking to constantly find reading that offered new insight and challenged both my opinion and established orthodoxy, there are tomes more I can recommend that get into the nitty gritty of discussions, but these texts here illustrate founding concepts of America freedom and point to the roots of the success of the American experiment with such tremendous simplicity and clarity. These are the texts I turn to during the week of July 4 to re-invigorate in me the Spirit of 1776.

What do you like to read or do at this time of year that re-invigorates the Spirit of 1776 in you ? What are you reading now? What are the most challenging and impactful books you’ve come across in recent times or over the course of your life? What would you like me to read ?

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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Most Americans Never Mention These Seven Fundamental Facts About July 4

Photo: twitter.com

Photo: twitter.com

July 4, 1776

July 4, 2016

Allan Stevo

Historian Murray Rothbard in his impressive four volume history of the US, Conceived in Liberty, depicts an America in the 1760s and 1770s that was undergoing a revolution. The people in America had adopted a different philosophy on rights and had stopped viewing themselves as colonists. That change in people’s hearts and minds was the actually what Rothbard called the American Revolution.

By 1776, the American Revolution had occurred in the hearts and minds of the people in the colonies. The Declaration of Independence can be looked at as an important moment that celebrates that change of perspective of these free people. That change in hearts and minds is not what we usually call the American Revolution however.

What followed that revolution, that change in hearts and minds, was a bloody rebellion, that could have just as easily been avoided if only the Crown understood that the colonists had gone beyond a point of no return and were no longer able to find justice in the method of governing that the Crown insisted they abide by. Every year, the spirit of 1776 is celebrated in America on July 4 by virtue of being enshrined in a holiday. That spirit of 1776 tends to incorporate that very important change in hearts and minds and the bloody rebellion that followed.

In the midst of BBQs, fireworks, and festivities it’s a spirit that Americans do not seem to spend much time contemplating or discussing. Below are 7 aspects of Independence Day that Americans never mention.
 

1. Getting Rid of King George in 1776 is the Equivalent of Getting Rid of George Bush in 2008 or Barack Obama in 2016

I do not mean getting rid of those people by assassination or overthrow – that would be a civil war, but by removing their influence over you – a secession. The American War of Independence, like the war between the states that occurred in the 1860s was not a civil war, but a war of secession. South Carolina was not trying to wrestle control of the country from newly elected President Lincoln. South Carolina was merely trying to wrestle control over South Carolina.

The modern day equivalent of July 4, 1776 is telling DC that it is not in control of you or your neighbors anymore and that you will rebuff any attempts to the contrary and even go so far as killing any soldier they send who tries to force you to behave otherwise.

Can you imagine getting a group of friends together taking the next IRS auditor you find, beating him up a little and then to add insult to injury dragging him into your back yard, dunking him in roofing tar used motor oil, flashing cement or some similarly gooey substance and then tearing open some old down pillows you have around to finish up the job of tarring and feathering him before you drop him back off on the street, at the nearest IRS office, or some similar ‘customs house’ ?

That’s a thing that Americans used to do in a much lower tax era where tax collectors were seen as cheats and scoundrels. Today working for the IRS can be seen as respectable in American society.

The American Revolution and the War for Independence was about adopting the mindset that you are a free person and you are willing to fight and even kill anyone who be hard-headed enough to deny you that freedom.

The fact that something like this is generally considered radical saddens me, because it shows that Americans have such limited understanding of their own founding. One could say that Americans have lost touched with an aspect of life that makes America so special, but even during the American War for Independence these ideas were not ideas celebrated by the majority. They are ideas that a vocal minority cherished and advocated for.

Maintaining this rebellious spirit makes a segment of Americans so fascinating to me and projects significant effects onto the rest of society, by helping shift the political debate toward a more populist answer for society rather than a political class answer. Populist is not enough for a response to be good, but it can be a step in the right direction.

I’ve heard it from gun toting people on the political left from Vermont, upstate New York, Nevada, and Minnesota. I’ve heard it on the right too. I’ve heard it from Tea Partiers in Illinois, I’ve heard it from conservatives in Massachusetts, I’ve heard it from libertarians in Hawaii, I’ve heard it from anarchists in Virginia. I’ve heard it from average people in New Hampshire, where so many of the people I’ve met seem to be passionate about such things.

This is a beautiful segment of American culture, with a pronounced passion for freedom and a philosophical understanding of it, that I don’t know to exist anywhere else in the world. There are ethnic groups that want their own land across the globe and are willing to fight for it. There are civil wars where people want to fight to see who rules an entire country. Nowhere else do I know of regular folks with a sense of constant dissent bubbling under the surface with a gun toting population ready to pick off the federal government if the moment ever becomes ripe for revolt.

That would be an aspect of the spirit of 1776 that never gets talked about. Once you start talking about it, it’s surprisingly present in the minds of many Americans, always ready somewhere just below the surface.

This feeds the inherent stability of the US in a way that the Michael Bloombergs and other nanny state do gooders don’t seem to understand. We are ready to risk everything for something better. That is at our very core culturally. We do not crave European stability or Asian ancestor worship, we do not crave the Indian comfort of caste or respect the British or African appreciation of royalty and established hierarchies. We are the nation that loves destabilizing upstarts, and cheers underdogs, we are the nation that loves innovation. This is fundamental to the American spirit.

Where this breaks down is that some Americans recognize that others may not want that same upstart attitude. In an attempt often to protect others they create nanny state programs that tend to deny others that sense of what is so quintessentially American. A home, a car, and 2.3 kids is not as quintessentially American as that belief in upending society. This can sometimes to be an aspect of the political divide between right and left in America, but by and large, across the spectrum Americans appreciate the theoretical concept of political revolution and the existence of the destabilizing upstart in the world – manifesting itself most recently in technology, but welcome in many areas of life – from religion to literature to policy.
 

2. Revolutionary Spirit Should Be Stoked on a Day Like July 4, because It’s Good for Us

July 4 is a day I like to read the work of great Americans who follow this revolutionary sentiment. I like reading Thomas Jefferson’s first draft of the Declaration of Independence, in which he makes a decree in 1776 that frees the slaves of the colonies, 87 years before the Emancipation Proclamation. It was not the publicly released version though. Several drafts later, after a committee of people got ahold of the document and watered it down, standard behavior for a committee, we were left with the document now known as the Declaration of Independence. It’s a pretty good document, it’s simply not as good as the much more intellectually consistent first draft.

Each year on July 4, I also like reading Henry David Thoreau’s essay commonly called Civil Disobedience, a brilliant piece of writing that encourages revolutionary thought. It was a text that both Gandhi and MLK saw as formative to them. I can’t seem to read even a single page without underlining an excellent quote or breaking off into writing of my own inspired by the excellent Thoreau. That seldom-read essay from Thoreau is a truly great contribution that American literature has given the world. If I had to choose one, I would likely call that long essay the most powerful work of American letters.

It’s good for us to stoke that revolutionary spirit and to remember that government rules only with the consent of the governed. There is no tomorrow promised to Washington DC or any other government. If they cannot get the job done, they can be relieved of their authority through a violent or non-violent revolution. DC, a non-state, a city that exists only because of the federal government, is an easy unnatural creation to imagine throwing off. It’s easy to imagine demanding that the city figure out how to live on its own devices. It is a pretty to look at, leach of a city that, much like Disney World, is fun for tourism but offers little more in the way of value to society. My apologies for Disney for the comparison, Disney offers much more good to society than DC. To begin with, anyone who spends money with Disney does so voluntarily. Checks written to the federal government are not often voluntary.

Revolutions can be violent or non-violent. The threat and the belief that a violent rebellion could occur is important in ensuring that a free people be dealt with decently by their government.

As someone with more than a quarter century of experience in politics and government, I know how intimately important it is for a politician to feel pressure from the public. Politicians feel pressure all day long – from staff, from spouses, from confidants, from donors, from lobbyists, from colleagues, from the media. The least likely pressure that they will feel through the course of the day is from the people, which means that whatever the people say, think or feel about that politician doesn’t really matter, because it has no effect on his or her daily life. The amorphous concept of “The people” is a useful tool that politicians believe they can fairly accurately manipulate provided that politician has enough money on hand. There is some truth to this cynical belief, which makes it fairly easy for politicians to dismiss the voting public in all but the most threatening of situations.

There is no loss to turning up the pressure on a politician and to make him or her feel like revolution is a constant option that is on the table along with civil war, nullification of federal laws, flat out laughing at them, and disobedience toward bad laws. It’s good to leave these options on the table and keep them as realistic options in the mind of every politician lest that politician grow too comfortable and too cynical in office.
 

3. The Spirit of 1776, Was Very Different Than the Spirit of 1787

The Declaration of Independence clearly in many ways refers to America as a grouping of states. 1787 was an attempt by the federalists to forge them into a union together. The group known as the anti-federalist were the better speakers for freedom at the time and accurately predicted significant difficulty in adopting the US Constitution and expecting it to be a document under which a free people would be governed. While following the constitution would be a nicer method of governing than we have now, the Constitution also has some flaws built into it that make it a difficult document for governing a free society.

We refer to them both, the Declaration of Independence (1776) and the Constitution (1787), in the same sentence as our founding documents, but they are certainly very different documents.

The US turned even further away from the spirit of 1776 and towards the spirit of 1787 in 1865. Lincoln, a legitimate tyrant, was killed toward the end of a bloody war of secession. Historically speaking, it was a just fate for a tyrant and it also made a martyr out of him.

Like many young Americans, and especially many young Illinoisians, I grew up idolizing Lincoln. It’s okay to appreciate his good and attack his bad. The guy was a legitimate tyrant, a word more accurately applied to him than any other US president. Every marriage has this hard to answer question hanging over it: How do we end this if it ever comes to that? Anyone who has had to entertain that question knows how complicated that is. Divorce is a common part of life in marriages between two people and in “marriages” among groups of people. Greece and the EU seem to be answering that question right now, less than 2 decades after the “wedding.” It’s fascinating watching the EU address the issue of Greece. South Carolina tried to answer that question some four score and seven years after the American Revolution had occurred and were given a brutal response much like the colonists were given. A key difference was that the old blind and tyrannical King George across the ocean preventing secession was replaced by the awkward Lincoln on this side of the ocean preventing a secession. America had a home grown tyrant more excited in going to war to preserve the spirit of 1787 than allowing South Carolina to leave the union in the spirit of 1776.

The Civil War is an inaccurate term, since the war was fought by states seeking to leave the union and govern themselves (a secession) instead of states seeking to wrestle control of the White House and control the entire union (a civil war).

July 4 is more of a day to honor the rebel fighters like stonewall Jackson and Robert E Lee and less of a day to honor the government men and punitive enforcers of the status quo like Ulysses Grant or General Sherman. It is a day to honor Sam Adams more than Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Paine more than Roosevelt. It’s a day for the free man to honor the free mind, rather than the day for the government beauracrat to praise the state’s conquest of the human mind and its desire to be free. We have many holidays to celebrate the latter, July 4 is not one of them.
 

4. The American Flag Is the Antithesis of this Day, It Is the Antithesis of July 4

The American flag represents the central government. It represents a federal government. It doesn’t represent a people, it doesn’t represent a loose confederation of states that can leave the confederation whenever they want. The American flag represents a big intrusive state. Getting away from a much, much smaller big intrusive state was what the Declaration of Independence was about.

The growth of contemporary government, the most intrusive aspect of anyone’s life in our age, would astound those who lived in 1776. It is practically a standard part of daily life in America to simply accept the latest government intrusion in life as an inevitability that must be accepted. Supplication is demanded of the average American. For some near total supplication is demanded, in order to live peacefully in America. To supplicate and allow government to do as you say for the honor of living in such a great country is ultimately what the American flag has come to represent. It is the much more valuable individualistic spirit of 1776 however that makes America such a great country.

The flag can be a symbol for many things, with each person understanding it differently. My interpretation of the meaning of the flag is very much a historically and intellectually consistent interpretation that separates the Spirit of 1776 from the Spirit of 1787.

To fly the US flag today is contrary to the Spirit of 1776. If anything the flag should be pulled down on July 4.
 

5. Those More Flag-like Attitudes are Enshrined in Holidays Too, Just not July 4

The glory of the state is a holiday for Flag Day (the day we celebrate the state’s flag), or Constitution Day (the day we celebrate the Spirit of 1787) or the two days we have to celebrate fallen federal soldiers (Veterans Day and Memorial Day).

As a side note, the issue of federal soldiers is important. Until 1903 each individual state had a check on foreign wars, it could tell the military that it would not send its militia to be involved in a war. Since this check was removed and sending soldiers to war was moved entirely into the hands of the federal government, war, not coincidentally, has become a big ugly bloody ordeal for America. This law helped allow men to be recruited directly by the federal government, while the Federal Reserve Act (1913) and Income Tax (1916) helped to fund war. War is the biggest of big government programs.
 

6. They Fascinatingly Fought Over Less Than 1% of Income Tax Burden

The movie Dazed and Confused about high school students in 1976 has a memorable line about exactly this as the students leave for the summer, one of the teachers says to them “Okay guys, one more thing, this summer when you’re being inundated with all this American bicentennial Fourth Of July brouhaha, don’t forget what you’re celebrating, and that’s the fact that a bunch of slave-owning, aristocratic, white males didn’t want to pay their taxes.”

The tax burden that they revolted over was along the lines of 1% of the annual wage in the north and may have been as high as 3% in the south. Today the tax and regulatory burden on some Americans reaches nearly half of their income – from the income tax, to the social security tax, to property tax, sales tax, gasoline tax, alcohol tax (about half the price of a bottle of beer), and this doesn’t include the pernicious effects of inflation created by exuberant money creation by the Federal Reserve Bank. Inflation is a silent tax that moves wealth from the weakest members of society to the government and their crony friends.
 

7. Our Star Spangled Banner is About the War of 1812, a War Not at All in Line with the Spirit of 1776

On July 4, the Star Spangled Banner is apt to be played and sung, on television, at public gatherings, even in churches. The playing of it confuses the Spirit of 1776 with the idea that all things American are great. Obviously all things American are not great. There are good and bad aspects to every place.

The Star Spangled Banner is a song about a war that the American government instigated. It is exactly what so many opposed to the adoption of the US Constitution fought against – a big bully federal government that was able to force us into aggressive behavior that is the antithesis of freedom. War is the worst of the big government projects, and those who consistently oppose big government projects oppose wars despite the great patriotic jingoism that leads to them. Unfortunately, smaller government folks can often be the most likely to fall victim to such jingoism, an act of intellectual inconsistency. Big government war is absolutely contrary to the Spirit of 1776. The sovereignty of the individual is a vital concept of the Spirit of 1776.

In the War of 1812 the United States government tried to take over British lands in Canada. The British in retaliation invaded our capital and burned our White House down. The hero of the war of 1812 always seems to be Dolly Madison because she saved a few paintings legend says. The dufus of the War of 1812 is James Madison and anyone who instigated the British through such serious aggression that the young power hungry American government got quite the slap on the wrist.

The Star Spangled Banner, as beautiful as its words and tunes are, was written during a time that should be widely considered a national shame, a war we should not have been involved in, a war that was a betrayal of the Spirit of 1776, and a good example of the Spirit of 1787 run amok. The Star Spangled Banner should never be played on July 4. It is a song written in praise of a wrongheaded state.

While total praise of the great state in all of its glory and despite all of its shortcomings is the stuff most days in America are about, with a special fervor that takes over on national holidays, the memory of July 4, the holiday intended for the re-creation of the Spirit of 1776, is the one day to celebrate the unique greatness that is the American experiment in the world – the triumph of the individual over the state. There is nothing more uniquely American than that.

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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The Day George Soros Destroyed the British Pound

George Soros | Photo: knownpeople.net

George Soros | Photo: knownpeople.net


Soros

June 25, 2016

Allan Stevo

Yesterday, as I watched the movement of the market during the Brexit vote, as the pound crashed 10% to a 31 year low, the lowest since 1985 and trillions of dollars left the markets overnight, a story came to mind about how George Soros once profited by manipulating the currency of the Bank of England. Untold misery for a nation and the far reaches of an economy resulted from what Soros did. Certainly the Bank of England was to blame as well. It often takes two to tango, after all.

Last night, I thought about how Janet Yellen was certainly on the phone with the Bank of Japan and how they were certainly discussing market interventions to stem the bleeding of the British currency, but the currency dropped further and further. Was it possible that no one would step in? Was a lesson being taught to the British people, and an example being made – withdraw from the march toward super states like the European Union at your own peril.

Perhaps we will one day learn that the secretive Federal Reserve Bank tried to step in but couldn’t stop the bleeding. On the other hand, perhaps we will one day learn that it engaged in open market operations shorting the pound, thereby helping to drive it down further. More than likely, it will never be known what exactly was happening at the Fed last night. So used to secrets being kept from the governed, we forget the fact that such a level of governmental secrecy is inconsistent with a free people. Certainly there was some shadowy well-heeled figure like George Soros at work in the marketplace last night, just like on September 16, 1992.

It would be strange in fact if an operation funded by George Soros were not actively shorting the British pound last night. He’d done it before. He knew how to do it. As a man in support of a global government rather than the diversity of nation-states, there would even be poetic justice for him in the bleeding of an economy. After all, if he didn’t profit from the bleeding of the British economy, someone else would have just stood in his place and done the same right ?

That’s not exactly how things work. A well funded active trading operation that knows what it’s doing can manipulate a market and cause it to go into panic mode, by attacking predictable places where a market will naturally slow or stop and doing it in predictable ways. Someone likely profited last night by doing that to the British Pound. George Soros profited by doing that to the British pound in the early 1990s. What he did in fact caused Britain to have to pull back from some quite significant European Union commitments. He force an early Brexit in 1992 long before there was the 2016 Brexit vote.

Leading up to September 16, 1992, or Black Wednesday in the UK, George Soros made a bet that the British pound was overpriced against the German mark and that there was no way the mark was going to hold strong under an attack.

The European Exchange Rate Mechanism, a predecessor to a fully integrated European Union governing its member states, was something the Soros knew could not hold in its relatively undeveloped state where. The British government was trying to move closer to European integration at the time, and Soros did his best to stymie that. In trying to integrate, the Bank of England sought to maintain a fixed exchange rate. The exchange rate was artificially high, especially given the economic conditions of the UK at the time. The Bank of England had a stated policy to buy everything that sold on the lower end of that peg, in order to keep the price above a certain level.

Forbes later that year claimed that though the world had many billionaires, George Soros was the first person who made a billion dollars in a single month.

His strategy was a little more complex than just shorting the pound.

“In carrying out this operation, Soros and his aides sold short sterling to the tune of about $ 7 billion, bought the mark to the tune of $ 6 billion and, to a lesser extent, bought the French franc. As a parallel play they bought as much as $ 500 million worth of British stocks even while they were shorting sterling, figuring that equities often rise after a currency devalues. Soros also went long German and French bonds, while shorting those countries’ equities. Soros’ reasoning on the French and German markets was that upward valuation was bad for equities but was good for bonds because it would lead to lower interest rates.”

This article by Rohin Dhar of Priceonomics nicely illustrates the value of perception in keeping a currency strong, which is a relatively weak foundation for a currency. The flashpoint for the pound finally dropping and Soros profiting of his legendary bet is explained by Dhar in this way:

“The event that ultimately led to the undoing of the British pound’s fixed exchange rate was an interview with the President of the German Bundesbank, Helmut Schlesinger. Schlesinger gave the interview to the Wall Street Journal and a German newspaper. He had one condition: If they wanted to directly quote him, they had to let him review the quotes. If they only indirectly paraphrased him, no such permission was necessary.

“That night…the following report paraphrasing Schlesinger’s words went out over the newswires:

“The President of the Bundesbank, Professor Helmut Schlesinger, does not rule out the possibility that, even after the realignment and the cut in German interest rates, one or two currencies could come under pressure before the referendum in France. He conceded in an interview that the problems are of course not solved completely by the measures taken.

“By the morning, the report landed on George Soros’ desk. Soros and the entire financial market took this to believe that the pound sterling was one of those currencies that could ‘come under pressure’ and be devalued.”

The story was released in the wires September 15, 2016, the night before Black Wednesday as cited in detail by The Independent.

Soros then made a decision. He had a bet on already. Was he going to force the hand of the Bank of England that day or was he going to sit by and watch as the world followed its own course. He went for the jugular.

Throughout the day, in costly market interventions, the Bank of England failed to affect the market place, while making themselves appear inept by raising interest rates, not once but twice that day, a total of 50%, from 10% to 12% and later to 15%. By the end of the day the Bank of England announced it would stop supporting the price of the pound on the international markets and would leave the ERM.

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was proven right that day that the UK should not be propping up the price of its currency. Her former Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Black Wednesday Prime Minister, John Major, who insisted on artificially propping up the currency was proven wrong. The British people paid a hefty price tag, their economy suffered a sudden correction instead of constant gradual changes, and George Soros made a billion dollars that month proving how very ineffective a central bank was at doing the job it set out to do.

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time travelling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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The Fires of St. John

Janske Ohne

June 24, 2016

Allan Stevo

With St. John´s Day taking place today, I present to you an article from the archives of 52 Weeks in Slovakia about this interesting Slovak tradition.

From the darkest days of December, nature grows lighter.  These darkest days were the time that our ancestors long ago feared the evil they believed wandered the world during the the longest nights of the year.  When Christianity emerged in Europe, these darkest days surrounding the winter solstice were adopted for a celebration of the birth of God’s son.

Once the December solstice has come, we know that the days ahead of us are only getting longer, the hours of darkness shorter until we reach a counterpoint in the year. That counterpoint is today, just after the summer solstice, in the midst of a time when all nature rejoices at the long, long day. St. John’s Day or simply “Jan” is how this day is referred to in Slovak.  From this counterpoint, all the way up until Christmas, that tide will change and the days will only get shorter and the nights longer.

We will not feel it from day to day because the changes are so small, but the march toward winter’s death has begun, nature’s trend in the direction of life has ceased.  Soon there will no longer be light in the sky from 4 a.m. or after 10 p.m. in Slovakia.  Nature will begin its march toward days where light at 8 a.m. will be a blessing and overcast skies the norm before turning into pitch black before 5 p.m.

Click here to keep reading The Fires of St. John

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time travelling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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