Country Before Party – A Tale from History – From the Archives

It is the Spring of 1964, Lyndon Banes Johnson is President and 22 year old Toritto is in the Army.  LBJ had become President on November 22, 1963 with the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Johnson was a Democrat – but Johnson was a southern Democrat and the south was still gripped by segregation in public spaces as it had been for a hundred years.  Johnson inherited JFK’s unfinished business,

Kennedy had submitted a civil rights bill to Congress before his death; a bill which would end the practice of separate but equal in public places all over America.  No longer would separate waiting rooms in bus stations or white only water fountains be tolerated.

The nation teetered on the edge of a racial divide in the 1960s.  Frustrated by decades of second class treatment, African Americans were losing patience with their country’s legal and political institutions and turning to direct action to secure their rights.  Only 12,000 of three million African American students attended integrated schools in the South.  Life expectancy was more than 7 years lower than for whites and infant mortality was twice as great.  An African American couldn’t sit at a lunch counter, stay a white’s only motels.

Nineteen sixty three and 1964 wee the years of civil rights marches in Birmingham, the murder of Medgar Evers in Mississippi, MLK’s dream speech, the assassination of JFK and the murder of three civil rights workers in Mississippi.  “To be a negro in this country and to be relatively conscious,” wrote James Baldwin, “was to be in a rage all the time.”

“At long last, the White House and Congress awakened to the need to strength civil rights law. Beginning in June 1963, first Presidents John F. Kenney and then Lyndon Johnson cajoled and threatened Congress into action. The House of Representatives passed a bill, known as H.R. 7152, in early 1964 and sent it to the Senate on February 17 where the real battle would take place. Senate rules had allowed southerners in the past to mount filibusters, effectively killing nearly all civil rights legislation. Passage depended on getting the Senate to vote for cloture, a procedure to end debate and bring a bill to a vote. Cloture required the votes of two-thirds of the Senate. Democrats numbered 67, exactly two-thirds of the one hundred-member Senate. But 21 of the 67 came from southern states. This so-called “southern bloc” would oppose the measure vigorously and lead the filibuster. The White House and the Senate Democrats needed support from at least 22 of the Senate’s 33 Republicans.”

Lyndon Johnson, leader of the Democrats, was unable to  count on his own party to pass the Civil Rights bill.  By supporting it’s passage he had alienated the southern bloc, his natural base of support.  In the north many Democrats looked upon him as a place keeper; after all he had not won the Presidency on his own but was only sitting at the desk in the Oval Office due to a national tragedy.

And so Lyndon Johnson turned to the Minority Leader of the Republicans, Everett Dirksen.

The real battle was waiting in the Senate where concerns focused on the bill’s expansion of federal powers and its potential to anger constituents who might retaliate in the voting booth. Opponents launched the longest filibuster in American history, which lasted 57 days and brought the Senate to a virtual standstill.

“From the beginning, the pro-civil rights forces knew that Dirksen was the key to achieving cloture. When the Senate received the House-passed bill, Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D-MT) issued the challenge. “We hope in vain,” he said, “if we hope that this issue can be put over safely to another tomorrow, to be dealt with by another generation of senators. The time is now. The crossroads is here in the Senate.” He then turned to face Dirksen. “I appeal to the distinguished minority leader whose patriotism has always taken precedence over his partisanship, to join with me, and I know he will, in finding the Senate’s best contribution at this time to the resolution of this grave national issue.”

“The senator from Illinois replied: “I trust that the time will never come in my political career when the waters of partisanship will flow so swift and so deep as to obscure my estimate of the national interest. . . . I trust I can disenthrall myself from all bias, from all prejudice, from all irrelevancies, from all immaterial matters, and see clearly and cleanly what the issue is and then render an independent judgment.”

Dirksen, the wily, hard working Republican leader of the Minority has to use all his personal charm, legendry knowledge of Senate rules and finely honed political instincts to convince enough Republicans to vote for cloture to ensure the bill’s passage and overcome the opposition of Southern Democrats.  He was asked to deliver Republican votes to help a Democratic President who could not bring enough votes from his own party to seal the deal.  All this in a year of general election.

On June 10, 1964 Senator Dirksen, the leader of the Republicans rose to speak for cloture on the Senate floor.  Cloture had only been approved once since 1927 and never for a civil rights bill.

“Dirksen arose at 5:00 a.m. on that Wednesday, and, after a light breakfast, went out to his garden to clip some long-stemmed roses to take to the office. Leaving his farm in Virginia shortly after 8:00 in his chauffeur-driven limousine, Dirksen arrived at the Senate just as Robert C. Byrd (D-WV) was completing his marathon address of 14 hours and 13 minutes, the longest speech in the entire debate. It ended at 9:51 a.m, just nine minutes before the Senate was scheduled to convene for the pivotal vote on cloture.

Dirksen had the last word. In poor health, drained from working fourteen, fifteen, and sixteen-hour days, his words came quietly. Twice he gulped pills handed him by a Senate page. In his massive left hand, he held a 12-page speech he had typed the night before on Senate stationery . “I have had but one purpose,” Dirksen intoned, “and that was the enactment of a good, workable, equitable, practical bill having due regard for the progress made in the civil rights field at the state and local level.

He warned his colleagues that “we dare not temporize with the issue which is before us. It is essentially moral in character. It must be resolved. It will not go away. It’s time has come.” He quoted Victor Hugo, the historian and French philosopher who, on the night he died, entered these words in his diary: “stronger than all the armies is an idea whose time has come.” Dirksen declared, “The time has come for equality of opportunity in sharing of government, in education, and in employment. It must not be stayed or denied. It is here!” His last words were these: “I appeal to all Senators. We are confronted with a moral issue. Today let us not be found wanting in whatever it takes by way of moral and spiritual substance to face up to the issue and to vote cloture.”

The Senate chamber was filled beyond capacity. Senators sat at their desks.  Former Senators, House members and other guests filled the standing room only space at the rear of the chamber.  The visitors gallery was packed with spectators  Outside throngs more were interspersed with cameras, lights and television reporters, all waiting and straining to see a piece of history.

With his usual elegance Dirksen went on –  “America grows. America changes!” Noting that the day marked the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s second presidential nomination.

And so the speeches over, the voting began.

California Senator Clair Engel was brought into the chamber in his wheel chair, his ability to speak having been taken from him by a brain tumor.  When the secretary reached “Mr. Engle,” there was no response.  Instead, the dying Engle slowly lifted an unsteady hand and three times pointed to his eye, signifying his affirmative vote. Few who witnessed this poignant gesture ever forgot it.

When it was all over cloture had been achieved.  With six wavering senators providing a four-vote margin of victory, the final tally stood at 71 to 29—27 Republicans and 44 Democrats joined forces to support cloture. They were opposed by nay votes from six Republicans and 21 Democrats. The Senate’s civil rights proponents had achieved a remarkable victory.

Everett Dirksen had been in a  dilemma. It was a presidential election year and, as one historian commented, Dirksen was asked “to deliver Republican votes in support of a Democratic president who could not bring along enough of his own party to seal the deal.” As the long civil rights debate unfolded, it did so with the backdrop of presidential primaries. The last thing the Senate’s Republican leader should be doing, many argued, was to provide the Democratic administration with a major legislative victory, but Dirksen, a proud Republican from the Land of Lincoln, was determined to preserve the Republican legacy inherited from the Great Emancipator.

Barry Goldwater voted against cloture and the civil rights bill.  He would be nominated by the Republicans and would be buried in the election by Lyndon Johnson.  The popular vote was 61% – 39%; the largest margin of victory since 1820.

Everett Dirksen, a small government conservative, put his love of his country above his love of the party.  He did what he thought, what he knew was right – an idea whose time had come.

When asked by a reporter why he had taken the lead, Dirksen replied, “I come of immigrant German stock. My mother stood on Ellis Island as a child of 17, with a tag around her neck directing that she be sent to Pekin, Illinois. Our family had opportunities in Illinois, and the essence of what we’re trying to do in the civil rights bill is to see that others have opportunities in this country.”

Where are the likes of Dirksen when you need them?



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Face – A Poem

I have destroyed my face;
Early in my life
it was already too late.
At 20 it was already too late

At 20 I began to age
This aging, I saw it
subtle yet brutal
spread across my features

One by one it spread across them
this new face I was to keep
its contours the same while
the youthful matter all slowly destroyed.

I don’t remember which day it was
when I realized that nothing lasts
that perfection is for just a moment
before the downward slope begins.


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Leaving Alexandria

I could not stay in Alexandria
the brilliant blue sea, the cloudless sky
the perfect yellow shore
all lovely; bathed in light.

Standing there, day dreaming of Antony
lost was he between her limbs
High Priestess of Isis
intoxicated Roman.

What color were her eyes?
Blue? Perhaps Nile green
like the eyes of my lover
far away on another yellow shore.

I could not stay in Alexandria
the blue sea, the cloudless sky
I must hasten to my Isis
an intoxicated Roman lost between her limbs.


Dame Judi Dench reads from Antony and Cleopatra, Act V scene II at Westminster Abbey

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What I Did This Weekend!!

We drove to grandpa’s house!!  I wore his sun glasses!

And we played with his phone!!


And watched the Disney channel too!!



This is us!!  I’m on the left!!

I played with bubbles out back.  That’s daddy -the one with no head!!

And I made mommy very tired!  Poor mommy!

It was a really fun weekend at Grandpa’s house!



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What Are You Eating!!

Crackers!!  Wanna see?

See you this weekend Papa!


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Khrushchev is Coming!!

It was September of 1959 and young Toritto, who had just turned 17 years old, was working full time in the mailroom of what would become Citibank in New York City.  I had graduated the previous May from Lafayette High in Brooklyn on a Thursday and went to work on Monday.  I was now a working man; even my father treated me differently.

I met my first black man close up in that mailroom.  We ate lunch together, me because I was too poor to buy lunch everyday and he because few restaurants cared to serve him.  Over those lunches he spoke of his experiences with Jim Crow and southern segregation, something I knew absolutely nothing about.  It wasn’t taught in schools.

And that’s when I found out.  Nikita Khrushchev – the arch commie villain of the world was coming to New York.  He was the reason I did “duck and cover” under school desks.  He who had bombs  – big bombs.  The evil one – the devil incarnate.

And I would be able to see him with my own eyes.  He would be  the first Soviet leader to visit America,  a remarkable event and a seminal moment in the Cold War.  Even Stalin never visited.

Born in 1894 the son of poor peasants in Russia, Khrushchev’s life charts what is arguably the most dramatic period in Russian history, straddling the First World War, the 1917 February and October revolutions, the 1918–1922 civil war that ensued thereafter, the upheavals of the 1920s, followed by the five year plans and purges of the 1930s.

It also takes in the Second World War and the post-Stalin period, a period in which Khrushchev was personally and politically central with his infamous 1956 ‘secret speech’ criticizing the excesses of Stalin to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in Moscow.

For a leader whose political career was closely bound up with Stalin’s, the speech was considered by some to be an act of treachery – a cynical attempt to salve his own conscience by distancing himself from the brutality of his predecessor. Others considered the speech courageous and necessary, beginning the thawing out of a sclerotic political culture within the upper echelons of the Party and government that was incompatible with the times, thus allowing the country and its people to breathe more easily.

Regardless of the whys and wherefores, what cannot be said is that Khrushchev’s peasant background and homespun style belied a leader who was willing to take risks at home and also on the international stage. “He well understood the crucial distinction between doctrinal purity that looks good on paper and policies that pass the all important test of being applicable to real world conditions, ensuring that he could never be accused of being a prisoner of fixed ideological positions.  The fruits of such a worldview were never more evident than in a foreign policy defined by the objective of peaceful coexistence with the West.”

According to Khrushchev’s multi volume memoirs, the invitation from Dwight Eisenhower to visit the United States on a tour came as a complete surprise.   “We had no reason to expect such an invitation,” he wrote. “Our relations had been extremely strained… America had been boycotting us completely… and now, suddenly, this invitation. What did it mean? A shift of some kind? It was hard to believe.”

Issues of nuclear armaments, Berlin and Hungary loomed large.

His sense of pride at the shift in Washington’s stance towards the Soviet Union, however, was unabashed: “We’d come a long way from the time when the United States wouldn’t even grant us diplomatic recognition. We felt pride in our country, our Party, our people, and the victories they had achieved. The main factors forcing the President [Eisenhower] to seek improved relations were our economic might, the might of our armed forces, and that of the whole socialist camp.”  In this context, a visit to the United States brought with it the opportunity to alleviate tensions between East and West that were pregnant with risk.

Khrushchev would bring along  his wife Nina, his grown children, a son and two daughters and his son-in-law, arriving at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington to a 21 gun salute.  Khrushchev’s abiding pride in the achievements of the Soviet system was manifest as soon as the Tu-114 aircraft bringing him to the US on a non-stop flight from the Soviet Union touched down in Washington and the Americans lacked stairs of sufficient height to reach the door. “They hadn’t known our plane was such a giant. We could see wonder in their eyes as they looked at it. They’d never seen anything like it, and they certainly didn’t have anything like it themselves, nor would they have one for a long time.”

The Tu-114 was the only aircraft in existence at the time that could make the flight from Moscow to Washington non-stop.  America indeed had nothing like it and wouldn’t for years.

Khrushchev and his party would be escorted on tour by Henry Cabot Lodge, the bluest of American blue bloods as he traveled from Washington to New York, on to Los Angeles and San Francisco, Des Moines, Iowa, Pittsburgh and closing with meetings with the President at Camp David.

Henry Cabot Lodge was worried about security.  He had enough agents around Khrushchev to place him in a virtual cocoon.  It was estimated that there were some 25,000 virulent anti-communists in the country who would gladly take a pot shot at the Soviet leader given the opportunity.  Lodge didn’t want to think of the consequences if something happened to any of the visitors on American soil.

And so the Soviet leader had dinner with Ike, agreed to meet later at Camp David for further discussion and after a tour of an agricultural facility in Maryland headed to New York  – by train.

Khrushchev’s arrival in New York can only be characterized as somber, as it had been in Washington.    Young Toritto was in the crowd lining the streets as he rode my in an open car, surrounded by security.  Most people didn’t know what to do.  You don’t cheer.   He was a commie.  You don’t boo; he had bombs.  So you stood silently as Khrushchev waved his fedora and smiled at the crowds.  He and Nina looked like any Russians one would meet at a lower East Side tea house.

That night he made a speech before the Economics Club,  a group of ultra-capitalists if there ever was one and laid a wreath at the tomb of FDR in Hyde Park.   In Hollywood he rubbed shoulders with the stars and was insulted in a speech by the Mayor of Los Angeles.  Khrushchev rose, took the podium and rebuked him publicly. He as here at the invitation of the President and, if he wasn’t wanted he could board his Soviet aircraft and go home at anytime .  But he wasn’t here to be insulted personally or have his country insulted publicly.

Nikita, Shirley Maclaine, Nina and Frank Sinatra

Disney Land was cancelled as too great a security risk.  Khrushchev was outraged; he wanted to see Disney Land.  No dice.  “Do you have rocket launching pads there? …What is it? Is there an epidemic of cholera or plague there? Or have gangsters taken hold of the place that can destroy me? And I say I would very much like to go and see Disneyland. For me such a situation is inconceivable.”

On a train ride north to San Francisco, at a stop in San Luis Obispo, Khrushchev saw crowds of people gathered at the station and insisted on getting out of the car and greeting them.  Finally, he had some touch with the common folks.

In Iowa he had his first hot dog.  In Pittsburgh he met labor union leaders.  At Camp David he met with Ike.

Little in the way of diplomatic progress was  made. Neither side wanted war however and they agreed to  meet in Paris for a summit and Khrushchev invited Ike and Mame  to Moscow for visit in kind.

The Soviet leader returned to Moscow to a heroes welcome.  The USSR was finally recognized by the United States as an equal world power.  But the summit in Paris never happened.

Gary Powers in his U-2 spy plane was shot down over Soviet Russia.  Ike admitted he ordered the flight even after Khrushchev tried to let him off the hook by stating he thought it was ordered by some rogue military officers.  Ike however fessed up leaving Khrushchev no choice but to cancel the summit as well as the invitation to the USSR.

Thus the Cold War got colder culminating in the Cuban missile crisis of 1963.

I stood there that day and watched a peasant man and his peasant wife ride by to silence.  He came seeking respect for his country.  In Hollywood at a dinner, Spiros Skouras, a Greek film magnate at the time spoke of his success in America, a poor boy who came here with nothing, and how it was only possible here.

Nikita Khrushchev took the podium.  I was a poor peasant boy with two years of schooling – and I am Chairman of the USSR!  It is possible in my country as well!

After the fall of the USSR, Sergei Khrushchev, Nikita’s son who was on the trip came to the United States taking a position at Brown University as a professor of 20th century Russian history and moved into a house in Cranston, Rhode Island, about a mile and a half from my former home.

In 1999 he became an American citizen.

He died last month on June 18th.



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Opening Schools, Childcare and the Great Divide

Well I am certainly glad that I no longer have school aged children.  My grandson is only 3 and his mom is able to work from home so we don’t have to fret the idea of school re-opening here in the middle of August.

Of course there is no guidance from the Great Leader.  You really didn’t expect any did you?  He doesn’t give a rat’s ass about your kids and I’m sure Melania will see to it that Baron doesn’t face any of the risks your kids might face.

That’s the way it is with rich folks.  They can have a tutor come to the house.  They will have half a dozen computers and all the WIFI  data they need for on-line learning.  And they don’t have to worry about work – or day care while they trudge to their slave wage jobs.

After the Sandy Hook massacre Barack Obama probably made the greatest speech of his presidency.  He talked about what it’s like to be a parent, and the critical realization, experienced by most parents, that you can’t keep your children safe or teach them well without the help of your friends and neighbors. Then he expanded that idea to include the whole of society. He said, “This is our first task—caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.”

We have not gotten anything right when it comes to caring for our children. We were not getting things right before the coronavirus pandemic; we did not get things right at the outset of the crisis; and as we hurtle towards the Fall, we are on the verge of getting things dangerously, irreparably wrong again.

The rush to re-open schools is on as is the great debate as to how to do it.  And because we have failed to bring the epidemic under control in most of the country, we don’t have many good options.  And as usual the burden falls most heavily on those who are not “professionals,” who cannot work from home and have no one to care for their children if they return to work.

In this country public schools are day care for the lower classes.

 Yet if we send them to school, they might get sick or might get others, including mom or grandma sick. If we keep them home, we won’t be able to go to work and we might stunt their educational growth. If we do a “blended learning” approach and send them to school some days but keep them home other days, our children might get sick and they might be stunted. Besides, there aren’t many parents who can hold down a full-time job that they show up for only two-and-a-half days a week.

“It didn’t have to be this way. If we had successfully done the work of stopping the spread of the virus, as has been done in other countries, we wouldn’t have to pick which poison to expose our kids to. If we had committed to testing so as to track the spread of the virus, instead of not testing so as to manage Donald Trump’s asinine fear that testing causes cases, we might know which school districts could safely reopen. If we had leaders who cared about the health of our people nearly as much as they care about the health of their stock portfolios, we would be able to protect teachers instead of asking them to risk their lives.”

Instead, our leaders view children as nothing more than tiny impediments to efficient wage slavery. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar put it most bluntly: “Parents have to get back to the factory. They’ve got to get back to the job site. They have to get back to the office. And part of that is their kids, knowing their kids are taken care of.”

Meanwhile Dyed Blond Don criticized the CDC guidelines for re-opening schools as “too expensive.”  Would you let your kids take candy from anyone in this administration?  These guys have led us to the world record of 140,000 deaths and counting and they want to advise you on how to keep your kid safe.

Since everyone is on their own, including here in Florida where the Governor’s children are too young for school (but of course he would send them anyway!), good  people on the ground are trying to figure out how to open schools safely for the children and not kill a couple of thousand teachers at the same time.

Problem is the school system as well as the  childcare system was broken before the pandemic and the virus has simply made the broken system more visible.

The first problem is that our child care system and school system are the same system, and that means that working families have no access to reliable, affordable child care without in-person schooling. “In the Covid-19 Economy, You Can Have a Kid or a Job. You Can’t Have Both,” blared a recent New York Times headline, highlighting the problem every working parent has faced since the onset of the pandemic.

“Unequal access to home computing—the digital divide—deepens the problem and renders remote learning a disaster for many families. A family with only one device that can connect to the Internet is put under immense stress while parents are trying to work from home and a child (or multiple children) must Zoom in to school. And I don’t even know how the millions of families who have no devices and no reliable Internet service are getting by.”

Meanwhile local school districts don’t have the money to make the necessary .modifications required for minimum safety.  And they don’t know where its coming from.  Masks.  Social distancing.  Partitions. Cleaning.  Temperature checks.  Lunches.

Districts have announced various re-opening dates (late August, early September around here)  and are giving parents a choice.  Sent your kid to school.  Keep your kid at home with on-line instruction or send the tike part time, splitting instruction between home and the school building.

Will they close the entire school building again for a couple of weeks  if a kid or a teacher gets sick?  Who knows.  No leadership from on high; just local schoolboards trying to get by.

“Privilege speaks to the shocking inequality in our society and school system. Fortunate people will opt out of this madness until there is a vaccine. They’ll print out workbooks, take virtual-reality trips to the zoo, and wait until everybody stops dying before letting their kids out of a cocoon of safety.

Less-privileged people will have to suffer the full consequences of living in the only advanced nation that can’t be bothered to stop the spread of the virus. Other countries are in a position to reopen schools and businesses because they did the right thing with lockdowns and didn’t turn public health into a culture war. Our country, led as it is by a ruling party that has spent three decades acting like “science” was a liberal hoax, is only in a position to court death.”

Meanwhile the “get back to work” push is on.  The enhanced federal unemployment payments of $600 a week are due to expire shortly and most Republicans don’t want to see the program renewed.  Turns out lots of those furloughed folks were making more money staying home than they made at their slave wage jobs.  Jobs which qualified them for food stamps and put them on bread lines regularly.   Nope.  Back to work.  Capitalism calls.

There has been a moratorium on eviction notices and foreclosures.  That too will soon come to an end.  Without either additional direct money or an extension of the moratorium the housing market faces millions of evictions out onto the streets.  Just another way to get the shiftless back to work.

Reopening schools in this environment will have predictable results: The children of poor and working-class folks will be more exposed to the disease, because those families will have no choice but to risk their health in order to work. Those children will, in turn, infect their parents and the teachers who work in lower-income communities, and any long-term health risks from Covid-19 will be borne more heavily by those who grew up with more economic challenges. Eventually, clusters of teachers will turn up dead, and schools will “re-close” just as many bars and restaurants are doing now.

It would be nice if we could skip over the dead teachers phase, but Trump and his education secretary, Betsy DeVos, have evidently decided that getting people killed is the best way for him to win reelection.  After all, she is the sister of Erik Prince, the guy who founded Blackwater.

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Matchbox Car – Poem #127 – From the Archives



You find it when your old life is lost
moving dressers, peering under the bed
while trying to make some sense of it all
through cobwebs, mites and cat hair

furniture and lamps
a most familiar room
where someone else will live
the house and all it’s walls embracing strangers

Through the blinds, Apollo’s light
would lay it’s stripes upon our bed
waking us from each other’s arms
and dreams on Sunday mornings

but that is past;
the procession of the living goes on
those moments becoming like the dust
which you vaguely know was once your skin.

there are girl things
dolls you carry by one leg
with hard rubber hands and dimples
and clothes you take off and on

these things we take
for girls will not part with them
but in his empty dresser drawer
a boy thing; a tiny match box car

solid metal
primary color
undamaged since that long ago day
when she had to put it away

now out of it’s dark place
you hold it, eyes brimming
it makes no allowances, makes no differences
you leave it lovingly in the corner of his bedroom closet.




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Don’t Ask….Don’t Tell.

Don’t ask…

Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar. Dictator and conqueror of the “barbaric” Gauls, lead an active sex life. Indeed, on long marches, his troops would sing songs about the “bald adulterer” as well as his bi-sexuality.  He was known to the masses as  “Every woman’s man – and every man’s woman.”

Not to fret.  Having sex with both sexes was not terribly frowned upon on old Rome, although being on the receiving end too often was considered to be somewhat of a stain on a man’s honor.  It was perhaps the only stain on Caesar’s image as a tireless seducer. It was said no woman, no wife, and no daughter was safe before Caesar.

Julius Caesar was a tall man (most Romans were not) and had a fashion sense. In his younger years, he was considered a handsome man. It is said he had a good sense of humor (even at his own expense). All that contributed him to being a ladies’ man.  Being married never deterred him from smelling the roses.

Cato the Younger, on the other hand, was the epitome of Roman virtue, a conservative of patrician values and staunch defender of the Republic – that is, a patrician Republic.  He was a sworn implacable enemy of Caesar, whom he viewed as a potential dictator but also a rabble rouser of the lower classes.  Caesar did such audacious things as give away land to landless peasants as well as food and drink to the hungry while bolstering his chances of being elected Consul of the Republic.

Rome had rid itself of its last dictator, Sulla, and Cato always suspected that Caesar was conspiring with Sulla’s former troops to regain power.  There had been a conspiracy to do just that, the Catiline Conspiracy, exposed by Cicero and Cato believed, without real evidence, that Caesar was also involved.

So one bright Roman morning a couple of thousand years ago, Julius Caesar enters the Senate House and mounts the speakers podium. beginning to speak of one legislative matter or another. Cato and his supports are also in the Senate that day, usually to oppose anything Caesar supported.

Suddenly a messenger enters the Senate House and hands Caesar a message, which he quickly glances at and then pushes up the sleeve of his toga.

Cato the Younger

Cato immediately rises to interrupt him demanding that he read the note to the full Senate.  He suspected the note involved the Sulla plotters.  Caesar tried several times to let him off the hook but to no avail.

Read it! Read it! came the cry from Cato and his supporters.

In the end, he had to read aloud the content of the note in front of the whole senate.

It was a love note from a woman  proclaiming her fervent lust for Caesar in very explicit terms.  Caesar read it all; every last detail.

It was signed by Servilia.  Cato’s sister and Caesar’s long time mistress.

Cato was made to look the fool as the Senate burst into laughter, which when the public found out, echoed through all of Rome.

Cato the Younger would choose the losing side in the civil war between Caesar and Pompey and although pardoned by Caesar, chose not to accept and committed suicide.

Don’t tell…

Marcus Brutus

After the reading of Servilia’s missive in the Senate, she too was subject to scorn and laughter – as was her son, Cato’s nephew Marcus Brutus. Yes. That Brutus.  His mother had been publicly shamed.

Brutus would fight along side of Pompey and against Caesar in the civil war, yet he was spared from death and later promoted by Caesar to the office of praetor.   Caesar had ordered his men that no harm should come to Brutus.  Perhaps Caesar let him live only because he was Servilia’s son; or maybe it was more than that.

Brutus was torn in his allegiance to Caesar. Brutus’s family had a tradition of rejecting authoritarian powers. Ancestor Junius Brutus was credited with throwing out the last king of Rome in 509 B.C.  An ancestor of Servilia had killed another tyrant. This lineage, coupled with a strong Roman interest in the Greek idea of tyrannicide, disposed Brutus to have little patience with perceived power grabbers.

Yet Brutus felt shame.  His mother was shamed.  His Uncle Cato killed himself rather than accept Caesar’s clemency.  It was considered the honorable thing to do.  Perhaps he felt obligated to do Cato honor by continuing his quest to “save” the republic from Caesar.

Was Caesar a tyrant?  While his image as one is shaped by Shakespeare and historians, many believe his reputation was besmirched because of his populist politics.

WasBrutus a villain?

It is this moral dilemma that has caused debate over whether or not Brutus should be branded a villain. Plutarch’s Life of Brutus is quite sympathetic when compared to other surviving documents naming Caesar’s enemies.

Shakespeare later used Plutarch’s Brutus as one of the bases for his play Julius Caesar, where Brutus is portrayed as a tragic hero and Caesar as an unequivocal tyrant. The poet Dante, however, took a different stance: Brutus, in killing the man who spared him, was doomed to the lowest levels of hell.

During the assassination of Julius Caesar in the Roman Senate on the Ides of March, 44 BC, Caesar was fighting back his attackers, but when he saw Marcus Brutus approaching, he stopped fighting.

He did not say “Et tu, Brutus?”  And you Brutus?

He said “And you too, my child?”

Was Brutus Caesar’s son?  Caesar would have been 16 or so when Brutus was born.  Probably not, but certainly within the realm of possibility.

It certainly is indicated he treated Brutus like  a son.

Caesar never told.  And neither did Servilia.



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Pamela’s Art in Lockdown

“Narnia” in Blue

The latest work by Pamela T. in pastel chalks and Magic Marker.

Portrait of the artist as a child



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