The Daily Agenda for Friday, November 29
November 29th, 2013
Yes, yes, yes, today is Black Friday, the traditional start of the Christmas shopping season. Apparently the name Black Friday has two origins. In Philadelphia in the early 1960s, it referred to the gridlocked traffic that occurred as everyone rushed to the stores to take advantage of post-Thanksgiving sales. In the ’70s, economists began calling the day “Black Friday” because it was the day in which many retailers would begin to turn their profits for the year (or, go “in the black,” as opposed to remaining “in the red”). This year, some retails are beginning to push their luck by actually opening their doors on Thanksgiving day.
But here’s the thing. Those so-called “door-buster” Black Friday savings really aren’t great deals for the vast majority of shoppers, but they are a tremendous deal to retailers. Serious Christmas shopping discounts won’t begin to kick in for another two weeks. But if retailers can sucker people into shopping today (or yesterday), they can get them to spend more money than they would have if they had waited. But not only that, retailers will still have the rest of the shopping season to try to entice those early bird shoppers into buying even more stuff that they absolutely have to have in the weeks ahead.
So I don’t play the Black Friday game. And neither should you, although as a recreational shopper I can understand the allure and won’t judge you too harshly if you’re out there fighting the crowds today. But I have to be honest: if you were out shopping yesterday, then just go away. I don’t even want to know you. Unless you vow never to do it again.
TODAY IN HISTORY:
Der Spiegel Reports On Arrests of 750 Gay Men: 1950. The Third Reich had been defeated five years earlier, but Germany’s notorious Paragraph 175 lived on to claim more victims. On this date in 1950, Germany’s news weekly Der Spiegel featured a surprisingly sympathetic report on the arrest of 750 gay men by the Frankfurt Criminal Police resulting in 140 criminal charges as of November 25. Magistrate Kurt Romini denied that an official campaign had been launched, saying he was only responding to complaints from “young persons.” But it turns out that Romini himself had been in charge of handling criminal cases against gay men as State Attorney during the Nazi regime. “During his work in the Third Reich,” Der Spiegel reported, “it was not in the interest of a defendant to admit to homosexuality. As soon as he confessed, he was on the way to the concentration camp (with a pink triangle on his chest) and certain to eventually be castrated.”
Castration was no longer in vogue, but Der Spiegel discovered a new twist in this latest campaign. Police relied almost entirely on street hustlers to make arrests and build cases. “They (the hustlers) are driven, for example, through the city in unmarked cars. Then they indicate which passers-by they recognize in the street traffic. The auto stops, and the subject is arrested and interrogated. Moreover, he is entered into the criminal records system. That is, he is photographed; the picture is then shown to all hustlers in custody and informants until someone recognizes him. When someone admits that he visits bars frequented by homosexuals, then a detailed description of a sex act by a hustler is sufficient for a court to convict him. There are known cases where such relationships persons with homosexual tendencies with a certain hustler did not exist. The ‘boys’ invented experiences, and a conviction resulted.”
One hustler, identified as 19-year-old Otto Blankenstein, had been the star witness (and often the only witness) in at least 40 cases. This was true even though “tangible symptoms of mental illness are apparent” in Blankenstein. Der Spiegel also reported that a number of the cases involved blackmail, where the men refused to pay a bribe to some of the street hustlers in exchange for not naming them to police. It’s likely that some of the men weren’t even gay. Their only “crime” was to respond to a few innocuous questions from a hustler at a train station, who then surreptitiously followed them as they walked home. On learning the man’s address, the hustler could then learn more about him; if he was unmarried, the hustler was extra-lucky and his mark would be easier for the inevitable blackmail demands. Refusal to pay resulted in being turned over to police.
If the victim was lucky and wasn’t convicted, his problems still weren’t over. “The citizen is recorded as a suspected homosexual, and a duplicate of his mug shot, which he had to let the police take, is now placed in the Frankfurt mug shot library, and will be shown to hustlers and other people in custody. They will point at it and say, ‘That one, that one, I saw him too in the Kleist Kasino (a popular gay bar), and he offered me DM10 for the night.’” At the peak of the campaign, Judge Romini, who was in charge of all Paragraph 175 cases, was presiding over four trials per day. At least six of the accused men committed suicide.
On February 14, 1951, Der Spiegel carried a brief update revealing that Romini’s star witness, Otto Blankenstein, had been declared mentally ill, and Romini himself had been accused by his housekeepers of “severe night-time disorderly conduct and outburst in the presence of his professional colleagues.”
[Thanks to BTB reader Rob in NYC for the translations]
Bush Signs Immigration Bill Ending Gay Ban: 1990. When Congress overhauled the nation’s immigration laws in 1950, it was still in the grip of the McCarthy Red and Lavender Scares. Consequently, Congress banned Communists and “persons afflicted with psychopathic personality” from entering the U.S. That latter clause was added by a Senate Judiciary subcommittee with the express purpose of excluding “homosexuals and other sex perverts.” The legislation that was ultimately signed into law didn’t mention homosexuals, but the U.S. Public Health Service consistently interpreted the language to be “sufficiently broad to provide for the exclusion of homosexuals and sex perverts.” When Congress addressed immigration reform again in 1965, it added “sexual deviation” to the list of characteristics that would preclude immigration. But even then, the law didn’t single out homosexuality for exclusion, but it nevertheless remained official immigration policy even after homosexuality was removed from the American Psychiatric Association’s list of mental disorders in 1973.
The nation’s doctors may have changed their understanding of gay people, but immigration authorities did not. That change wouldn’t come about until Congress again set out to reform the nation’s immigration laws again in 1990. This time, Congress decided to lift the political litmus test which automatically barred Communists and people with other potentially controversial political views from entering the U.S., and it also specifically struck down the exclusion of entry based on sexual orientation. When President George H.W. Bush signed the bill into law, gay people, for the first time, could enter the U.S without fear of automatic exclusion if their sexuality were discovered.
The new law was supposed to go further, with a clause which was intended to eliminate the automatic exclusion of people with AIDS from immigrating. But the law contained another clause which left it up the Health and Human Services Department to determine the list of communicable diseases which would prevent travel and immigration to the U.S. That list, as of 1990, still included HIV/AIDS, thanks to an amendment added to a 1987 appropriations bill by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC) which required that HIV/AIDS be included on the list of excludable diseases. When public health officials tried to remove AIDS from the list, it touched off a massive political firestorm of opposition from conservatives. HHS backed down, and the HIV travel and immigration ban would remain in place as an interim policy. When HHS moved to remove AIDS from the list in 1993, Congress retaliated by approving a measure that made the HIV/AIDS immigration and travel ban law. That ban was finally lifted in 2010.
Billy Strayhorn: 1915-1967. Born in Dayton and raised in Pittsburgh, Billy Straygorn was a classical music enthusiast from a very early age. But imagine how hard it was for a black kid to try to become a concert pianist in the 1930s. There was little encouragement for him, but Strayhorn persisted, even taking a job in high school so he could buy his own piano. His musical focus shifted when he hears his first jazz record. From then on, Strayhorn’s compositional focus turned toward jazz, but always with a classical influence.
Strayhorn composed “Lush Life,” which would become his signature song, while still performing in Pittsburgh. That changed when he met Duke Ellington in 1938. Ellington, who was certainly no slouch as a bandleader and composer himself, was immediately impressed with Strayhorn’s talent. Strayhorn moved to Harlem, where he and Ellington composed such standards as “Take the A Train,” and “Satin Doll.” Ellington was hit-or-miss in giving Strayhorn credit. He gave Strayhorn credit for some of their collaborations, but for others Ellington took sole credit (and royalties). But there was little doubt that Ellington valued the quiet young composer, and if anything bothered Strayhorn, it seemed to be centered more on his own lack of independence than on any perceptions that Ellington was taking advantage of him.
But if Strayhorn lacked independence, there was something of a benefit for him being out of the spotlight. He was one of the few openly gay jazz musicians in Harlem. In fact, he met one earlier long-term partner, musician Aaron Bridgers, in 1939, who was friends with Ellington’s son. Strayhorn and Bridgers remained together, as an openly gay couple, for eight years until Bridgers moved to Paris in 1947.
In the 1940s, Strayhorn composed several songs for Lena Horne, including “Maybe,” “Something to Live For,” and “Love Like This Can’t Last.” That raised his profile somewhat, even as he continued composing for Ellington. By the 1950s, Ellington gave Strayhorn full credit on several larger works like “Such Sweet Thunder,” “A Drum Is a Woman,” and “The Far East Suite.” Ellington later said of him, “Billy Strayhorn was my right arm, my left arm, all the eyes in the back of my head, my brain waves in his head, and his in mine.” In 1960, Ellington and Strayhorn collaboration on a Jazz interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker.” That album featured Strayhorn’s name and likeness along with Ellington’s on the front cover.
Strayhorn was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 1964, and he died in 1967 with his partner, Bill Grove, by his side. Before he died, he handed off his final composition to Ellington, “Blood Count,” which appeared on Ellington’s 1967 memorial album, And His Mother Called Him Bill.
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