civic improvement

If you’re not from the midwestern United States, Menards is a chain of home improvement stores, similar to Lowe’s or Home Depot or your neighbor’s unlocked garage when they’re out of town. During the 2012 Iowa caucuses, Menards encouraged their employees to take an online civics course to improve their understanding of the government. Who can get mad at that?

It turns out, a reporter at The Investigative Fund discovered that the “civics” materials Menards encouraged employees to peruse for implicit promotions actually had a lot in common with literature from a for-profit, ultra-Republican company called Prosperity 101. 

Here’s how the Menards civics course worked: If you were a run-of-the-mill employee, you were encouraged to take a no-big-deal civics class for your own edification on your own time. The course itself concluded with an online pass-or-fail,multiple-choice test, which you’d want to take if you wanted to advance within this company. The only problem was that the materials included scientific pie charts explaining how the government was the worst and Obama hated America.

For anyone who doesn’t have three seconds to read the graphic, the pie chart says that under President Obama’s administration, your tax dollars are given to “supporters” and postage stamps, ha ha. Also included in the graphic are separate categories for corruption, sleaze, and two different plumbing metaphors – “tossed down the drain” and “flushed down a toilet.” It should be noted that in addition to sending your federal taxes into a drain or toilet, you can also “piss them away,” on the ground, we guess? If you aren’t peeing in a toilet or a drain, you’re living in a country without plumbing, so peeing away your taxes into a separate container feels like a weird metaphor but whatever – they’re making jokes.

6 Totally Batshit Ways Real Companies Tried To Get Political

Saint-Just and Music in the French Revolution

           Antoine de Saint-Just, better known for his association with Maximilien Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety during the Terror, has yet another identity: an identity with music.  A man of diverse experiences in law and in the military, Saint-Just also appeared to have dabbled in the arts.  Historian Geoffrey Bruun notes that found among Saint-Just’s possessions after Thermidor was an ivory flute, “an accomplishment otherwise overlooked”, among several works of literature (Bruun 152).  Unfortunately, little is known about Saint-Just’s music education. However, one literary work found among his possessions, Tasso’s Gerusalemme Liberata, was also a popular seventeenth century opera, perhaps hinting at an unmentioned passion for music and the fine arts.

           Although only halfhearted guesses can be made as to Saint-Just’s musical background, signed decrees from the years of the French Revolution offer evidence to his passion for music.  One decree that historian Eugene Newton Curtis mentions states that composers employed to write for revolutionary festivals were to “produce every month a symphony, a hymn or chorus, a military march, a rondeau or quickstep, and at least one patriotic song, forming a volume of fifty or sixty pages, of which 550 copies must be printed for the Committee, to be distributed by it for use in civic festivities and the improvement of public spirit” (Curtis 101).  Two grants were also given to the Paris National Guard for musical purposes, most likely for equipment and instruction, one grant totaling 33,000 livres! Saint-Just, although operating primarily in the political sphere, acted as a connecting piece between the “musical world” – an institution marked heavily by clerical and royalist connections – and the common people through the signing of these decrees, thereby aiding in the strengthening of patriotic spirit.  “As a result of political events a large amount of music was rather suddenly needed for patriotic, civic functions and for education,” music historian Reinhard G. Pauly claims. “Much of the revolutionary music was destined for outdoor ceremonies, with massed choruses and monstrous orchestras, and with refrains sung by the people” (Pauly 198).  As musicians such as Gossec, who had received his music education under pre-revolutionary royalist precedents, were paid money to compose and often conduct works for public festivals, it forced musicians into an alliance with the masses (a politically strategic move on Saint-Just’s part!).  The National Guard was also forced into such an alliance; however, this alliance was quite politically underhanded.  “Bernard Sarrette, a 24-year-old staff-captain in the revolutionary forces took upon himself the task of organising military bands for the National Guard.  A typical member of the Girondin intelligentsia within the citizen-militia, Sarrette’s first step was to recruit forty-five capable musicians to form a training school.  Many of them were distinguished performers formerly in royal service whom he persuaded to earn safety from the Terror by serving the revolutionary cause,” Bernarr Rainbow, an author on music education, states.  Therefore, it is conclusive that Saint-Just played a significant role in allying a traditionally elitist group (musicians) with the people, a maneuver that would permanently transform European music education in the century to come.  “Organized music, which had for so long served lords spiritual or temporal, now made articulate the will of the people,” historian Anthony Lewis concludes in The Age of Beethoven (Lewis 657).  

Edna Hancock Wheeler also attests to Saint-Just’s care to maintain the arts in a dissertation, noting his genius in political versatility:

“In every department Saint-Just labored to gain public opinion.  He decreed the National Institute of Music to form a numerous orchestra, in order to give the people the pleasure of the concerts.  He advocated patriotic selections, well-calculated to arouse the enthusiasm and to inspire courage in the hearts of the people. Copies of the music must be made and scattered among them.  Further, he ordered a drama, in four acts to be given, in the National Theatre, ‘Journée du 10th Août, 1792.’  These orders show an active mind, bent upon inspiring others with the same zeal and fervor for the loved ‘la Republique.’  It was a versatile talent of bending everything within reach [emphasis added].  No department bound and held his attention.  He utilized all.”

By allying various walks of life with the revolutionary cause, Saint-Just promoted the revolution’s success and helped to unify –or at least appear to – public opinion (and through a nonviolent means).  Using music for public spirit in turn opened new doors to the people that had previously been less accessible – for instance, the Free School of Music, created in 1792, allowed talented children of poor families to receive two lessons in music theory and 3 lessons on their instruments per week.  By providing the lower classes with this benefit, Saint-Just’s decrees may have helped increase the much-needed support of the Revolution. This turned music education toward the masses.  

New alliances also produced a cultural shift.  As composers created revolutionary works (whether out of forced alliance or free will), many rural folk songs and peasant protest songs, such as La carmagnole and the Ça ira (although the latter had actually been written earlier in the eighteenth century for the Théâtre Beaujolais by Bécourt), became interwined with the latest patriotic works of the period. Such works include opera-comiques written by Gretry that feature La carmagnole and Rouget de Lisle’s La Marseillaise.  Others include Gossec’s large-scale festival works: Le triomphe de la République ou le camp de Grand Pr é, L’Offrande à la liberté (a mixture of two songs, one of them La Marseillaise), and the notoriously grandiose Hymne à l’Être Supreme, to name a few.  Author Jim Samson claims that “a - presumably metaphorical - request was made in the Chronique du Paris for a hymn to the God of liberty involving refrains to be sung by a choir of 24 million people…Gossec…had immediately to compose a simpler piece than the one he had prepared, in which a refrain, sung by all, alternated with verses sung by the choir in four-part harmony to the same melody” (Samson 218-219).  This is evident as Gossec composed the melody in C major, key signature free of accidentals. 

Saint Just’s musical decrees also helped to secularize music in correspondence to the state.  As the ceremonies of patriotic cults mirrored Christian ceremonies, the style of patriotic musical works mirrored the style of church music: refrain sung by a soloist, refrain repeated by the chorus and the audience, verses sung by a soloist.  This bears the evidence that the musical world, so influenced by its former services to churches and cathedrals, was now irrevocably placed in the service of the people and the secular state.  “Its [the Revolution’s] symbols and rituals gave the Revolution a longe duree; they were the tangible reminders of the secular tradition of republicanism and revolution,” affirms Lynn Hunt in Politics, Culture, and Class in the French Revolution (Hunt 55).  

Although Saint-Just is discredited by ridiculous claims of being cold-hearted and cruel, his passion for music can doubtlessly help to disprove this image he so frequently receives.  Between his diverse experiences and subsequent versatility, by allying various social groups he helped gather more supporters of the Revolution without a resort to terror.  Perhaps he had learned it in the military – the effect of music on strengthening the spirit of a group.  The decrees he signed remain essential evidence of his effort to promote public spirit, which, without his knowledge, would contribute to nineteenth century reforms in music education and its accessibility.  


Geoffrey Bruun, Saint-Just: Apostle of the Terror 

Eugene Newton Curtis, Saint-Just: Colleague of Robespierre

Edna Hancock Wheeler, The work of Saint-Just as a member of the Committee of Public Safety in France, 1793-1794…

[these three sources courtesy of unspeakablevice - thank you so much!!]

Reinhard G. Pauly, Music in the Classic Period

Bernarr Rainbow, Bernarr Rainbow on Music 

Anthony Lewis, “Choral Music”, in The Age of Beethoven

Jim Samson, The Cambridge History of Nineteenth Century Music

Lynn Hunt, Politics, Culture, and Class in the French Revolution 

Black Inventors Day 14

Cordell Reed - was born on March 26, 1938 in Chicago, Illinois to Carrie Bell and Clevon Reed.  He grew up in a south side housing project and moved on to a remarkable career in Chicago’s corporate and civic communities. Reed developed improvements to the methods of producing nuclear electric power.

Earning a B.S. in mechanical engineering from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in 1960, Reed became the third African American with that degree from UIUC.  He went to work for Illinois electric company Commonwealth Edison (ComEd). Cordell Reed has been with the company since 1960, starting as an engineer assigned to the design, construction and operation of coal-fired generating stations. In 1967, he transferred to the nuclear division, with the task of developing more efficient and productive powerplants. He worked his way up through the ranks and became an executive in 1975, acting as a public spokesman for nuclear power as well as a department manager.  Reed was promoted to senior vice president, serving in three separate departments.  In 1994, he became ComEd’s ethics officer and the chief diversity officer in addition to maintaining responsibility for purchasing materials for the corporation’s 10 fossil fuel-fired energy-generating plants.  Reed represented ComEd in a 1995 trade mission to South Africa before retiring in 1997.

The Black Engineer of the Year Awards honored Reed with a “Lifetime Achievement” award in 1988 and the American Nuclear Society bestowed the Tommy Thompson Award on him in 1993.  He has also been active in corporate America, serving on the board of directors for LaSalle Bank, the Walgreen Company, Underwriters Laboratories and Washington Group International.  He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, engineering honor society Tau Beta Pi, the National Technical Association and the Urban Financial Service Association as well as a fellow of the American Nuclear Society.