This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,845) on Friday, July 7, 2023.
If you search for “the most spoken word in the English language,” as I did recently, you will come up with a variety of interesting results. I had a particular candidate in mind, and I wanted to see if I was right. I wasn’t.
It turns out that the most commonly used word in the language is “the.” Not too surprising, I suppose. I have already used it three times in writing the last few sentences.
But, actually, I was thinking beyond the articles and prepositions that we most commonly use and wondering what word that conveyed some real or supposed meaning might top the list. Again, my candidate wasn’t even close. According to one article I found, the word “OK” or “okay” is the most spoken word on the planet. But that’s not universally accepted. You can find other lists of commonly used or spoken words that do not include “okay.”
My word? My candidate was “like,” mainly because after teaching for nearly four decades, my students loved to fill their auditory voids with the word “like.” It is still ringing in my ears. The people who put together these lists are listening carefully enough.
Meanwhile, have a great and literate weekend.
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Sarah Howe: A Ponzi scheme decades before Ponzi
History, of course, isn’t fair. If it were, we would not have “Ponzi scheme” as part of our common phraseology. Instead, we would be talking about a “Howe scheme.” And instead of remembering the Charles Ponzi of the 1920s, we would be remembering Sarah Howe of the 1870s and 1880s.
More than 40 years before Ponzi started taking peoples’ money, Howe opened the Ladies’ Deposit Company in Boston and encouraged women to invest their money with her. She promised them a return of four percent per month. A woman who gave $100 and left it with her for a year would find that her savings had grown to $196. It seemed too good to be true, and it was.
Howe told her depositors, who had to be female and unmarried, that she was investing their money in a Quaker charity that was established to help women in difficult circumstances. There was no charity. Howe was using the money from new investors to pay off the older investors. One rule of the bank was that investors could only withdraw the interest they were owed, not their original investment.
She never advertised, but she didn’t have to. Word spread among the women of Boston and then far beyond that city. The money came rolling in. Most estimates put the amount that she accumulated at $500,000 (about $14 million in today’s currency).
Exactly who Sarah Howe was or where she came from has never been definitively established. One of her stories was that she came from Virginia and that she had been married at least once but possibly twice.
Another is that she was born in New England and was married and found herself in Nashville before moving back to Boston. The stories she told about herself were never quite the same and rarely lined up with any verifiable facts.
Her scheme began to unravel when a local newspaper, the Boston Daily Advertiser, heard about her “bank” and tried to investigate. All of the reporters at that time were male, and that presented a problem since only females were allowed inside the building. One enterprising reporter then dressed up as a female and got inside.
Her scheme got the attention of the authorities and finally got her charged with soliciting money under false pretenses in the fall of 1880. She was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison. When she was released, she promptly restarted her “bank” with a whole new set of depositors, but this time offering them only seven percent return rather than eight. When she was exposed again, she took off for Chicago where she tried the same scheme yet again. And, again, she found willing investors.
Not long afterwards, she found herself back in Boston, supporting herself through fortune-telling, something she had tried earlier in life. She died in 1892. She was living by herself in a boarding house and had few funds left from her notorious life.
The Lavender Scare and the emergence of Frank Kameny
The Red Scare of the 1950s and the name of Joseph McCarthy are standard entries in any history of America during the 20th century. Members of the Communist Party and their sympathizers were thought to be infiltrating the government, the movies, academia, and other parts of society specifically to undermine the “American way of life.” A large number of people were publicly disgraced and lost their jobs and careers because of the Red Scare.
What is less well known but was just as insidious was America’s Lavender Scare, the decades-long campaign to rid the government of homosexuals because of their “security risk.” The Lavender Scare lasted from the end of World War II to the 1980s (and possibly beyond) and cost the careers—and sometimes the lives—of thousands of American citizens.
For the most part, the dismissals occurred on an individual basis and without much, if any, explanation. The victims did not know exactly what they were being accused of or who was doing the accusing. Sometimes, their interrogations were extensive and brutal.
Almost all of these people suffered in silence. (See this episode of the podcast This Is Criminal for one such story.) But not everyone.
Frank Kameny was an astronomer for the U.S. Army Map Service in 1957 when he was dismissed from his job for his homosexuality. He had been arrested in San Francisco a few months earlier for lewd behavior but had been assured that his record would be expunged after a probationary period.
Kameny took the unusual step of appealing his dismissal. It was unusual because those accused of homosexuality generally did not want to call attention to themselves. Kameny was convinced that what had happened to him was wrong and others would see the injustice of it. That didn’t happen.
He wrote an appeal letter to the Army, which turned him down, and then he turned to the courts. He got no satisfaction there either. Then he tried looking for another job. It was the beginning of the “Space Race” with the Soviet Union, and Kameny’s skills and experience were in high demand. No one would hire him, however.
Kameny contacted the Mattachine Society in New York City to ask for help. The Mattachine Society had been formed in Los Angeles in 1950 to help homosexual men face the hostility of American society. The New York City chapter was the closest one to Washington, D.C. The chapter donated some money to his appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which the court dismissed, but it was distracted by a dispute over finances with the Los Angeles chapter.
Kameny’s contact with the Mattachine Society convinced him of the potential of a political action group that would advocate for homosexual rights, so in 1961 he formed the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C. Kameny wanted his chapter to be more activist than those in New York or Los Angeles, and Washington during the 1960s was the perfect place for such activism. It was the era of the Civil Rights movement, and Kameny took full advantage of the increase in awareness of the discrimination within American society.
For the next four decades, Kameny worked tirelessly to point out where homosexuals had been unfairly treated, and to change the policies and attitudes that allowed that treatment to flourish. He helped organize some of the first public demonstrations by gays and lesbians with a picket line in front of the White House in 1965. The picketing was later expanded to the U.S. Civil Service Commission and the Pentagon.
Kameny also launched a campaign to change the District’s sodomy laws, something that finally happened in 1993. One of his great successes was convincing the American Psychiatric Association to change its classification of homosexuality as a mental disorder.
A basic premise of Kameny’s arguments was that there was simply nothing wrong with homosexuality. It was the way that some people were made, just as others were made as heterosexual.
For all of his efforts to advance gay rights, Kameny received many honors and awards toward the end of his life. Throughout the gay and civil rights communities, he was known as the Martin Luther King of gay rights. He died in Washington, D.C. in 2011 of heart failure. Today the national LGBTQ+ Bar Association presents the Frank Kameny Award annually to a person who has done important legal work for the gay community.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
G.K. Chesterton’s retiring, priestly detective, Father Brown, is well-known to modern readers and viewers mainly through a series of television adaptations of his character. Chesterton, who died in 1936, was one of the chief public intellectuals of his day, and his output as an author is astounding: 4,000 essays, 80 books, several hundred poems, and numerous plays. (See the JPROF post: G.K. Chesterton: Everything about him was big, including his ‘colossal genius’.)
Many of his Father Brown stories first appeared in magazines and then were gathered into several volumes of collections. During these weeks of the long summer months, we are presenting you with easy access to the Father Brown stories in one of the collections, The Incredulity of Father Brown.
These stories take about an hour to read or listen to.
This week’s story is “The Arrow of Heaven.”
The Arrow of Heaven
IT is to be feared that about a hundred detective stories have begun with the discovery that an American millionaire has been murdered; an event which is, for some reason, treated as a sort of calamity. This story, I am happy to say, has to begin with a murdered millionaire; in one sense, indeed, it has to begin with three murdered millionaires, which some may regard as an cmbarras de richesse. But it was chiefly this coincidence or continuity of criminal policy that took the whole affair out of the ordinary run of criminal cases and made it the extraordinary problem that it was.
Group giveaways for July
Each of these giveaways includes more than 20 books of various sub-genres. You can download any or all of them in exchange for your email address. The email address will be shared among all authors participating in the giveaway. The purpose of these giveaways is to get books into the hands of readers and to increase email lists for the authors.
Women With Words promotional campaign extended
We have extended the special promotional campaign for Women With Words, begun last month, into July. The book is now widely available (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Lulu, and on a number of other platforms) and can be purchased as a hardback, paperback, or ebook. During this month, I have reduced the price as much as possible wherever it was possible to do so. Now is the perfect opportunity to purchase a copy.
Perhaps you know a young woman who loves to read and write and needs some inspiration. This would make a great gift and a perfect birthday or Christmas present. (I know, it’s July, but is it really too early to start your Christmas shopping?)
Don’t wait to make your purchase. Prices will soon be back to normal.
Tonya W.: Let me start off by saying your emails are still one of the highlights of my week. I always find some very insightful information in your newsletter. The fountain pen you made is so neat. I am a pen snob, not that I can afford hundred dollar pens, but I love pens! Your fountain pen just turned out amazingly. I just had to let you know.
Thank you so much for all the information you send out weekly. You have created several new wrinkles in my brain weekly and for that I thank you from the bottom of my heart!
Kathy R.: Very much agree with your opening comments about the Supreme Court!
Finally . . .
This week’s watercolor: Trooper and mom
Best quote of the week:
There are only two kinds of men: the righteous who believe themselves sinners; the sinners who believe themselves righteous. Blaise Pascal, philosopher and mathematician (1623-1662)
If you are looking for a quiet, meditative, non-theological but scriptural podcast to start or close your day, try pray-as-you-go.org. The podcasts are 10-12 minutes long, and they feature beautiful music, a scripture reading, and a very short devotional. It’s a great respite from an otherwise all-too-noisy world.
If you are interested in reading scripture, either the Old Testament, the New Testament, or both, you might be interested in the videos, commentary, and podcast of the BibleProject.com. The people who work on this site have done some deep and thoughtful reading of the Bible, and the videos they have produced (generally shorter than 10 minutes) are both entertaining and enlightening. They view the Bible as a single entity with a single purpose, and their approach is both delightful and refreshing.
Helping those in need
Earthquakes in Turkey, fires in California, freezing weather in Texas, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee: disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.
It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).
When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org) is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.
Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.
His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.
Last week’s newsletter: Helen Kirkpatrick, ethical behavior, the fountain pen, and more Father Brown: newsletter, June 30, 2023
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