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JUNE 2018
FOX NEWS during the 1890's


Thursday, August 20, 2009


I would write Mary Walker a love letter, but frankly I don’t think she would respond. In the first place she’s been dead for a hundred years. They buried her in 1919 in her suit, complete with pants and a vest, and her medal of honor pinned to her coat - still the only one ever awarded to a woman. But secondly, and more importantly, I suspect that Mary was gay and might not appreciate my advances. Not that it really matters, nor is any of my business, but... I know some people would rather believe that “gayness” is a recent “liberal” life style choice, but it has been around for as long as sexual reproduction has. Now, I have no proof that Mary Walker was gay - except that she wore pants, which at the time was the Lesbian “Sine qua non”.. Thank God we have moved past that. But gay or not the lady was very butch, and I mean that in a complementary way. My suspicion is also that she was far more attractive in person than the still photographs of the time admit, because Mary was always in motion. Her father was a self taught surgeon in Oswego, New York. It was and is a port town, and in the years leading up to the civil war was a railroad and canal junction as well, 140 miles from Niagara but just 60 miles across Lake Ontario from Kingston, Canada. Mary was the youngest child of six - five of them girls - and graduated from the Syracuse Medical College in 1855, the only woman in her class. After graduation she married classmate Dr. Albert Miller, and they set up a joint practice in Rome, New York. But neither the marriage nor the practice took root. I have to wonder if poor Albert had any idea what he was getting into. But I also wonder if Mary did. She was just twenty-one, and had already taken to wearing pants in public.The enormity of that decision for a 19th century woman is difficult to envision today. The Victorian ideal for women was the hourglass figure, with a waist no wider than 10 to 20 inches. Now, the only adults on earth with a natural 15 inch waist are really skinny people. But skinny women tend to have no bosoms and no behinds, because they have no body fat. Women got around this impediment to beauty with the hoop skirt (patent number 4548 granted in 1846) which hid the real shape of the legs and the behind and which by 1860 had reached six feet wide. And then fashion added the corset (179 patents for which were granted between 1815 and 1895) and which was designed to force the bosoms up and out (for maximum visible cleavage) at the same time as actually forcing the two bottom ribs under the rib cage (for maximum minimum waistline). The triumph of this fashion immediately led to two other inventions – the armless “fainting couch” , which ironically also resembled a psychiatrists's couch, and which was usually located in a “fainting room” just off the grand ballroom, where “smelling salts” were available for women recovering from oxygen deficiency and perforated diaphragms. Wearing a Victorian gown on a shopping spree was the full body equivalent of wearing 12”stiletto heels while trying to escape a smoky house fire. And God forbid you should have to “tinkle” while out of the house because it could take twenty minutes and a couple of servant girls for a Victorian woman to gain clear access to the required body parts to be able to urinate. However Mary Walker had several advantages in choosing pants over hoops. She had been raised on a farm, and knew the freedom of dressing for comfort. She also had the advantage of being raised in upstate New York, ground zero for the suffragette movement. Mary regularly read “The Lilly” a temperance and suffragette newspaper, which was published in nearby Schenectady and edited by Amelia Bloomer, who gave her name to the rational women’s fashion, “Bloomers”. And Mary also had the advantage in not really caring what other people thought about her. By the time the civil war broke she had not only dumped her husband, she had traded her hoops for bloomers. She wrote, “It is my motto to live by my principles”. And she did. The U.S. government refused to recognizer Mary Walker as a doctor, so at the battle of First Bull Run in 1861 she served as a nurse and surgeon’s assistant. By 1862 her abilities had earned her a commission as a full field surgeon at the battles of Fredericksburg, Virginia and Chattanooga and Chickamauga in Tennessee. Mary argued that doctors were too quick to amputate, and often used her sex to pass through enemy lines to treat and rescue wounded Union soldiers trapped there. In 1864 Mary was caught behind Confederate lines on her way to tend to women and children struck with Cholera. Having never heard of a woman doctor before, they assumed she was a spy. She was sent to Libby Prison, in Richmond. And she was proud that she was exchanged for Confederate Major, and a man. On November 11, 1865 Mary Walker was awarded the Medal of Honor, for service above and beyond the call of duty. The same bill named her as ““…the only woman allowed to appear in male attire” As she later said, “I looked ever inch a man and I am sure I acted it.”After the war Mary became a lecturer and writer, touring Great Britain, and kept getting arrested for impersonating a man because she dressed solely in a black frock coat, trousers, a high silk hat and carried a cane – which she was not afraid to use. When she was arrested yet again in Chicago Mary flashed her congressional dispensation, and then loudly described the policeman as “He’s an old idiot.” Mary argued that tobacco led to paralysis and caused insanity, and that women’s clothing standards were inconvenient. In 1917, at the age of 85, after testifying before congress in favor of woman’s suffrage, Mary fell on the capital steps and broke her hip. She was brought back to Oswego, but she could no longer care for herself and had to be nursed in a neighbor’s home. And there she died, just at 8 P.M. on February 21, 1919.One year later the 19th amendment was ratified, recognizing a woman’s right to vote. You could almost hear Mary’s voice from grave; “And it was about time, too, you old fools.” How could you not fall in love with a great broad like that?But let the final words be her's; “"I am the original new woman...Why, before Lucy Stone, Mrs. Bloomer, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were—before they were, I am…I have prepared the way for the girl in knickerbockers."
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I am surprised that nobody in Nebraska got shot during the winter of 1890-91.  In fact, a few people may have; it just probably never made the papers. On Tuesday November 4, 1890, the Republicans and Democrats spilt seven seats in the state senate and forty-six seats in the house. But every other seat, eighteen in the senate and fifty-four in the house, went to a third party, the so called “hogs in the parlor”, the People’s Independent Party. And the presence of that third party set the entire state on fire. 
This alliance of destitute farmers in the Independent Pary was the political response to decades of corruption and corporate influence peddling, and a drought not equaled until the dust bowl of the 1930's. According to one Republican observer the hayseeds envisioned the world as a combination of a Victor Hugo plot and a Baptist revival meeting. And indeed, when the Nebraska legislature convened in joint session in January of 1891 things went from melodramatic to down right absurd. To begin with, the new speaker of the House, farmer Sam Elder, decided he was going to bypass the acting President of the Senate, Republican George Meiklejohn, who was also the lieutenant-governor, and preside over both houses of the legislature by himself. His plans for a grand investigation of election fraud and a remaking of state government were derailed when Meiklejohn grabbed the gavel off the podium refused to return it. There was a shoving, grasping cat fight for the precious totem, which Meiklejohn eventually won. From this point the business of government in Nebraska got very noisy and ground to a halt, all over the issue of the certification of the new governor. As these things were normally counted, the clear loser was the Republican candidate L.D. Richards, who received just 68,878 votes. The Democrat, James Boyd, received 71,331 votes, and was, according to county election officials, the winner. But Speaker Elder was certain the actually winner had been John Powers, of the People’s Independent Party. Officially Powers had received 70,187 votes, making him second by a mere 1,144 votes. But Elder believed with good reason there had been 2,000 fraudulent votes cast for Boyd in Douglas County, centered on Omaha, and Elder was pushing for an immediate investigation.Neither side dared to adjourn. Elder presided from the podium, calling on speakers and announcing votes, while Meiklejohn sat at the clerk’s desk, doing the same. Nobody got anything done because nobody could hear anybody else. Sometime after midnight, Elder ordered the doors locked and told the sergeant-at-arms to admit no one without a written pass - from him. Meanwhile, the presumed victor, Boyd, requested an immediate hearing before the state supreme court to require Speaker Elder to immediately certify his election as governor. Boyd asked for a writ of mandamus (“…a court order that requires another court, government official, public body, corporation or individual to perform a certain act”). His attorney argued his case before three judges of the Nebraska state Supreme Court, and a hearing room crowded with armed angry spectators. After the hearing it was expected that the judges would retire to consider the arguments. Instead the justices held an immediate huddle and Chief Justice Cobb announced that the weighty issues of freedom and public order and good government were irrelevant. The court had decided that certifying election results was simply a clerical duty and not a matter of choice. Cobb signed the writ of mandamus on the spot. The spectators were so stunned they were frozen. And that was probably the only reason why none of freshly disenfranchised voters in the room started shooting. The sheriff of Lincoln County, surrounded by deputies, smashed down the locked doors of the state legislature, charged to the front of the chamber and forcefully handed the writ to Speaker Elder. And to everyone’s surprise, Speaker Elder did as the law required. John Boyd was officially declared the official governor of the state of Nebraska. “Thus”, said Judge Bayard Paine forty-five years later, “tragedy was averted in Nebraska statecraft.” Instead, tragedy was converted into low comedy. The outgoing governor, Republican John Thayer, was the most hated man in Nebraska, the man whose behavior over the past year had been most responsible for the defeat of the Republican Party in the past election. And he now refused to surrender his office, saying he would “hold on to the chair, the seat, and the office of Governor until the cows come home.” While the legislature bickered downstairs, Thayer barricaded himself in the governor’s offices. He called up a company of State militia and local police to stand guard. Having finally taken the oath, Boyd moved into other offices in the state house and dispatched the Lincoln County sheriff (again) to take procession of the executive suites. But this time the sheriff ran up against a militia and the local cops, who refused to surrender. Fist fights broke out. On January 10th it finally occurred to the Captain Rhody, in command of Thayer’s little army of 25 men, that he was out on a limb on by himself. Rhody announced to Thayer that “I saluted you for the last time.” He did, and then marched his little army back to their barracks. Abandoned, Thayer surrendered the offices, and Boyd moved in. But Thayer was far from ready to give up. He hired his own attorney and on January 13th 1891, appealed to the state Supreme Court. His argument was inventive; John Boyd was not qualified to be governor because he was not an American citizen because he had not been born in America. And that made John Thayer the original “birther”. Indeed Boyd had been born in Ireland in 1834. His family had emigrated to America when he was 14. His father had begun the naturalization paperwork in 1849 but events, both personal and political, had intervened. In 1856 the Boyd family had moved to Nebraska territory and had become involved in business and local politics. And then the Civil War and broken out. The Boyd family were still residents in 1867 when Nebraska was admitted to the union. But Boyd’s father had never completed the naturalization paperwork. Ergo, argued ex-Governor Thayer, John Boyd was not qualified to be governor of Nebraska. And on May 5th, 1891 the State Supreme Court agreed with him. Boyd was out and ex-governor Thayer was Governor again. The Nebraska governor's office was beginning to resemble a game of musical chairs. What Thayer had done was a desperate power grab and doomed to failure, if for no other reason than it assured that any Irish Republicans in Nebraska were not likely to vote Republican again in the near future. More immediatly, Boyd appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Their decision was announced by Chief Justice Fuller: “Manifestly the nationality of the inhabitants of territory acquired by conquest or cession becomes that of the government under whose dominion they pass…The judgment of the supreme court of Nebraska is reversed…”  It was that troublesome old 14th Amendment again, this time in an 8 to one decision, issued on January 2nd, 1892. Boyd resumed his office on February 3rd of 1892. But, since the Governor of Nebraska served just a two year term, the antics of Governor Thayer and his political allies had cut Boyd’s term in half. And that is the kind of political victory that only makes sense when figured by the quarterly profit and loss statements of a corporation. And that kind of corporate influence left the citizens of Nebraska up the creek without a paddle for more than another generation.
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Tuesday, August 18, 2009


I have to warn you that this story began as a search for the answer to a very simple question: just how much did the Dutch actually pay for Manhattan? The bill of sale and the deed were both lost long ago. But did Peter Minuit really buy the island for a measly $24 in beads and cloth, as the legends say? In 2005 Mr. Jonathan Miller, head of the property-appraisal firm Miller Samuel, estimated that the land value alone of Manhattan island was $8 trillion, leaving the implication that Minuit duped the Indians. But the Dutch did not use dollars. So what did they actually pay? And would anybody have ever actually used beads to buy an island?If humans looked more like baboons or American Robins, we would have never invented jewelry. But, being naked apes, we have always adorned ourselves with tattoos, furs and objects we thought made us look pretty. The first “jewelry beads” were river pebbles, collected and buried with loved ones 40,000 years ago. The Egyptians were the first customers for glass beads 3,400 years ago. The Venetians cornered the glass bead manufacturing market a thousand years ago. And 500 years ago Christopher Columbus discovered that Native Americans were as acquisitive of jewelry as the nobility in Seville. The Dutch and the American Indians were no different than those fashion maven naked apes, Ferdinand and Isabella.Specifically the Dutch were dealing with the Canarsee Indians. They were Delaware speakers living on the Brooklyn shore. They actually called themselves the Lenape, and owed allegiance not to a tribe but to their extended family (or clan). They traced themselves through their female members, who tended crops and fished - feeding the family in the summer - while the men fished and hunted – feeding the family in the winter. And contrary to common knowledge the native peoples had a strong and nuanced understanding of property rights. While Europeans bought and sold land between individuals, separate hunting rights, water rights, farming and even mineral rights were traded between Indian clans. And when the Dutch “bought” Manhattan, the Canarsee were in fact selling the “European rights” to the island, meaning the Carnarsee had agreed only not to welcome any other Europeans to town. And it is likely this was exactly what the Dutch intended to buy - exclusivity. And that makes the $24 sale price look a lot more reasonable. When the new governor of New Amsterdam, William Verhulst, arrived in 1625, he carried instructions that the natives must be “…given something to their satisfaction…” in exchange for the land. Verhulst bungled the negotiations and he was replaced in May 1626 by Peter Minuit, who quickly closed the deal. On November 4, poor Verhulst arrived back in Holland as a failure, and the Dutch West Indian Company learned their managers on the spot had “…purchased the Island Manhattes from the Indians for the value of 60 guilders.” There was no mention of any beads. In fact The Canaresee traded nothing for beads. Of importance to a Stone Age population were iron axes and knives, cooking pots and fish hooks. Iron is more durable than bone or clay and requires replacement less often, meaning it demands less of an energy investment to achieve the same benefit. The Canarsee traded Dutch access to Manhattan for an easier life for themselves and their children. We make the same choice every time a community legalizes casino gambling or a state authorizes an oil pipeline through a park. A guilder had originally been a gold (or gulden) coin, but by 1626 it was usually silver. According to the “Annals of Public Education in the State of New York”, by Daniel Johnson Pratt, “A guilder is 40 cents”; or at least it was in 1872. And the 60 guilders paid for Manhattan “…equaled three or four months wages for the average artisan,” according to “The Dutch-Munsee encounter in America” by Paul Andrew Otto. But the problem is the pay scale for artisans has altered a bit over the last 400 years. If we figure $24.00, (the alleged sale price) compounded at 3% interest over those 400 years, it would seem the Canarsee were paid the equivalent of about $1.5 million for Manhattan, which sounds reasonable. But that same inflation would today give our average artisan an annual income of $6 million, which seems a little high for an average artisan. Another approach is to find something of value then, and compare it to its value today. The Encyclopedia Britannica says that in 1626 sixty guilders would get you 1& 1/2 pounds of silver, a “troy” pound being 12 ounces. Today (August 17, 2009) silver is selling for $14.03 an ounce. So the 18 ounces of silver which sixty guilders would have bought you in 1626 would today be worth $252.54 ; which seems a little low for access to an entire island forever. Maybe the question we should be asking is not what the Dutch paid for the European rights to Manhattan, but what were the rights worth to them. According to Mr. Otto, those 60 guilders were equal in value to “…thirty beaver skins…”. What are beaver pelts worth today? The Fur Source web site lists “…prime quality (beaver) pelts from North America” at $279.99 per pelt (regular price). That would make the modern day sale price of Manhattan (30 pelts) about $8,399.70; still a bargain for the Dutch. But it was also something else.The Dutch established a trading post on Manhattan, which they called New Amsterdam, where they bought beaver pelts from the Canarsee. In fifty years there were no more beavers in the area. In a century there were no more Canarsee. New Amsterdam was soon gobbled up by the British Empire. And asking who made the better deal seems beside the point. The Dutch profited from buying the island, the Canarsee by selling it. And asking who profited the most is useless 400 years later. Whether the Canarsee had sold the island for an actual $8,400 in 1626, or for the $1.5 million, what were they going to do with the profit, buy an ipod, or a vial of antibiotics? In short, all things are relative. And having tried to establish the “actual” sale price of Manhattan, I have learned that the insight gained by allowing for inflation is over inflated. http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/41/415.html

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Sunday, August 16, 2009


I would call Jimmy Kennedy a lyrical genius. Thank God he turned down a job offer from the English Foreign Service in Nigeria, otherwise we would have been cheated out of such evocative lyrics as, “South of the bor-der, down Mexico way. That’s where I fell in love when the stars came out to play. And now as I wander, my thoughts ever stray, south of the bor-der, down Mexico way”. Jimmy wrote that, in classic Tin Pan Alley fashion, after seeing a post card of Tijuana. Jimmy was an Irishman, and so English was a second language to him: which may help explain his lyrics for... “Every gal in Cons-tan-tinople, lives in Istanbul not Con-stan-tinople. So if you've got a date in Cons-tan-tinople, she'll be waiting in Istanbul.” (The name was officially changed in 1930, at the behest of the Turkish Post Office.)But my favorite Jimmy Kennedy lyric remains the vaguely ominous drumbeat of... “If you go down to the woods today you’re sure of a big surprise. If you go down to the woods today you better go in disguise. For every bear that ever there was will gather there for certain because, today’s the day the teddy bears have their pi-cnic.”I have a long held the image of the “Teddy Bears Picnic” being sung by that looming giant of economists, John Maynard Keynes. Can’t you just hear him croaking in his perfectly correct Eton English? “If you go down to the woods today you better not go alone. It’s lovely down in the woods today, but safer to stay at home.” I can. And by woods, I mean "Bretton Woods", the New England ski resort invaded in June-July of 1944 by 730 of the best economic brains in the world, of which Mr. Keynes was the very best. The American economists were the bears and they were there to picnic upon the corpse of the British Empire, and John Maynard Keynes had the unenviable (for an Englishman) assignment to act as the America's maĆ®tre d'. Would you like to know what kind of an economist Keynes was? He was married to a ballarina, that's what kind of an economist he was. He was attracted to drama, which was unusuaul for a student of "the dismal science" of economics.Amongst the things settled at Bretton Woods was how to structure the world’s economy after World War II. It was clear to everyone that the lead would have to be taken by the United States, because we were the only nation that ended the war with more gold than we had started with. It’s the golden rule; he who has the gold makes the rules. But it just seemed less tacky that the idea would be put forward by a Brit rather than by an American.So the Bretton Woods accords, presided over by Keynes, tied all of the world’s monetary systems (the pound, the franc, the yen) to the American dollar, because each and every ounce of gold in America’s vaults was officially represented by 35 dollars . And nobody else in the world could make that claim in post WWII. But all things change over time, and eventually we Americans were feeling so rich and all powerful that we tried to pay for our “Great Society” and our Vietnam War both at the same time, and both without raising taxes. You know what? You can’t do that, no matter how many voters may want to believe that you can, you can’t. Newly elected President Richard Nixon tried to close the budget deficit Johnson created by shutting down many of the anti-poverty programs started by the Democrats. But those programs were far too small a fraction of the Federal budget to stop the bleeding of dollars. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology study done in 1971 calculated the real cost of the Vietnam War (in 1971 dollars) was about $750 billion, equal to the first Wall Street bailout thirty-five years later which caused all fiscal conservatives to flinch.(“Vietnam; Past and Present” by D.R. SarDeasai). The pressure by 1970 was for Nixon to increase taxes to pay for the war. But that would have made the war even more unpopular than it already was. Nixon didn't yet have a way to meet his pledge of ending the war “with honor”, so he continued the war, and he did not raise taxes. Instead he borrowed to pay for the war. Businesses couldn’t expand because the government had sucked up all the credit. Wages were stuck while prices inflated. And, as I recall, that was when hamburger jumped from 35 cents a pound to something closer to a $1.25 a pound. It is was an untenable situation. But “Tricky Dick” eventually found a way to make it "tenable". Nixon took America off the gold standard. In the stroke of a pen the dollar was no longer backed by gold. That’s when the treasury stopped issuing real dollars and started issuing “silver certificates” - read your dollar sometime. With out the limit of gold reserves on the treasury we could afford any war we wanted, and all the oil we wanted. Economists call the economy Nixon placed us on a “Floating Currency” but I call it the “Trust Economy”. There is no longer any gold behind your dollar, and, really, there is no silver, either. You trust that your dollar will provide you with goods and services of value. But trust depends upon the bankers and the investors and the politicians being worthy of that trust.I don’t blame Nixon for our economic mess. Politicians are not hired to create perfect systems, just systems that function for the time being. But what the sub-prime mortgage fiasco has proven, and the dot-com bubble proved before that, and the Savings & Loan debacle proved before that, is that without regulation there can be no trust. To quote Ronald Regan; “Trust and verify.” And to quote French President Sarkozy, “We must rethink the financial system from scratch, as at Bretton Woods”. And this time we (the United States) ain’t got the gold, so we ain’t making the rules. Those days are past. Or as Jimmy Kennedy put it, “No, you can't go back to Con-stan-tinople, been a long time gone, Con-stan-tinople, Why did Con-tan-tinople get the works? That’s nobody's business but the Turks.” Words of wisdom to ponder as we enter the woods again.
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