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Friday, June 25, 2010

THE PRACTICAL USE OF TIME MACHINES

I know nothing practical about automobiles. So if I had to build one I would climb into my time machine and ask Henry Ford; the man who conceived of, designed and built the Model “T”. But if I had questions about Judaism, the American publisher of the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ would be the last man I would waste my time with. Of course the engineering genius, and the vicious adherent to the anti-Semitic claptrap in the “Protocols” (actually written in 1902 by the Czar’s secrete police) shared the same brain tissue. And that illustrates the trouble you can get into trusting experts, very far outside of their area of expertise.
Take Mr. James Rand, Jr., who started an office supply company in 1915, and turned it into Remington Rand, which dominated the market by the mid-nineteen twenties. A genius in his field, in 1933 Rand co-started "The Committee for the Nation", which lobbied President Roosevelt and his “Brain Trust” of advisors to take the U.S. off the gold standard - a decision that helped America climb out of the depression. So far Mr. Rand sounds like a genius. He also pulled three drowning girls out of the ocean off Long Island, so he was also a hero. But then Mr. Rand publically endorsed some ideas of a Dr. William Albert Wirt, and overnight he went from hero to zero.
William Wirt was a Hoosier farm boy, who had made a name for himself as superintendent of schools in Gary, Indiana. He espoused a return to teaching traditional family values, or what a modern sociologist might term  'educational nostalgia'. What? You thought nostaliga was something invented in 1980, or 2010?
What William called for was “'the ennobling of daily and common work”, which he proposed to achieve via his “platoon system”. He was not espousing bad ideas. They had value and his advocacy of them made him famous and popular, for awhile. They were not the ultimate educational solution, but William can be excused if he thought they were. Pride is human nature, but it is not our best nature. Anway, what got William Wirt into trouble was not his educational theories, but a little fifty page document he wrote and mimeographed, and handed out all by himself. He called it “America Must Lose”, and it had nothing to do with education. Basically it was William's addition to the arguments against the gold standard in foreign monetary exchange, a subject you might think was a bit esoteric for a superintendent of schools. But then we all think, at times, that we have the answer to everything, if people would just listen to us. William was just prideful enough to put his into print.
The real trouble came when William sent a copy of his tract to Mr. Rand. Now, Mr. Rand, who was a Republican, had received criticism from his Republican friends for supporting something the Democrats had agreed with. And he was looking for support from any place he could find it. So in March of 1934, Mr. Rand brought William's little paper about the gold standard to the attention of Republicans on the House Interstate Commerce Committee. And they latched onto just 12 pages of the wisdom from Dr. Wirt, and turned those pages and Dr. Wirt, into an anti-FDR political cause-celeb.
I will rely on Arthur Schlesinger, from his book “The Coming of the New Deal”, to explain. “In the summer of 1933, according to the manuscript, Dr. Wirt had asked a group of ‘brain trusters’ how they planned to bring about their proposed overthrow of the social order. They replied that by holding back recovery they could prolong the countries troubles until people would realize that the government had no choice but to take over everything. What about the President? Wirt asked. Roosevelt, the brain trusters said, was in the middle of a swift stream, with current so strong he could not turn back. ‘We believe we can keep Mr. Roosevelt there until we are ready to supplant him with Stalin. We all think Mr. Roosevelt is the Kerensky of this revolution.’ But would Roosevelt not see through their schemes? “We are on the inside’, they told Wirt. We control the avenues of influence. We can make the President believe he is making the decisions for himself.’
Just a little explination;.when Franklin D. Roosevelt became President in March of 1933, he faced 26% unemployement, and a collapsed economy. He had no solutions. He was not an economist. He was a politician. So he gathered a group of experts across a broad range of knowledge which the press dubbed his "brain trust". The members were well educated, usually young minds who had no idea of how things were usually done, so they were willing to break the rules to get the econony moving again. By 1936, unemployement would be reduced to 11%, an indication that many of these new ideas were actually working. However, in March of 1934 that arguement could not yet be made.
Now, Kerensky was the guy who had overthrown the Czar.
Most people have never heard of him because in November of 1917 Lennin and the Communists had overthrown Kerensky, charging that he had not been radical enough. This scary Soviet stuff was all still recent history in 1934, and there were still plenty of people who thought Communism might yet work. The harsh reality would set in for most of them over the next decade. But everybody knew in 1934 that calling Roosevelt a 'Kerensky' was calling him a fool and the tool of the socialists and communists, who the opponents were convinced were pulling the strings from behind the curtains in the "New Deal".
Now, in the summer of 1934 the Republicans, having just been drubbed by Roosevelt in November of 1932, were throwing a lot of spaghetti against the wall, hoping some would stick, (sort of like today). And Mr. Wirt had just become some of that spaghetti. Remember, his self published tome had actually supported the idea of getting off the gold standard, But still feeling the tug from his old stall, he still wanted to get back in the barn, and the 12 pages the Republicans had latched onto were his clumsy way of saying so. But none of that mattered. Politics is not reality. Politics is theatre.  
Time Magazine set the stage on April 23, 1934, “In the big caucus room, while flash lamps winked, newsreel cameras purred and squads of radio engineers and reporters elbowed through the jam packed spectators, a special committee of Representatives sat down to investigate charges of the utmost gravity: that the President's intimate advisers were plotting to overthrow the Republic… Impatiently the audience waited while the committee of three Democrats and two Republicans haggled along strict party lines over the rules of procedure…with 60-year-old Dr. Wirt nervously chewing his index fingernail...Chairman Alfred Lee Bulwinkle of Gastonia, N. C. put the epic question: "Doctor . . . you stated . . . that you 'asked some of the individuals in this group what their concrete plan was for bringing on the proposed overthrow'. . . . Who were those persons?”
And it was right there, with the charge of treason by members of the "Brain Trust", which had been so trumpeted by the Republicans, that the charge of "treason" began to fall apart. It turned out that none of the actual attendees of the dinner party were actual members of Roosevelt’s brain trust. The gathering had been a dinner party thrown on Friday, September 1st, 1933, by Miss Alice Barrows, “a curly-headed blonde...a school building expert in the Office of Education.” (ibid) The other two women, Miss Hildegarde Kneeland and Miss Mary Taylor, were both“…bright, obscure incumbents of small Government jobs” (ibid). Also at the dinner party were Mr. Richard Bruere, a specialist in industrial relations, and Mr. David Coyle “… a theoretical writer on business and finance...(who had) just finished planting a nut farm in New Jersey.” (ibid)
But the most interesting person at the dinner (to the conspiracy believers at least) had been Mr. Laurence Todd, a correspondent for TASS, the Soviet news agency. But then, of course, Todd was the only person at the party who had no actual connection to the government, and was certainly not a member of Roosevelt’s “Brain Trust”. Wrote Time magazine, “To the nation, which had been waiting…the names of Dr. Wirt's "brain trusters" meant a little less than nothing”.
Worse was to come, for Republican hopes; “Dr. Wirt, the glare of Klieg lights pitilessly burnishing his baldish brow, confessed that he had "done a great deal of the talking” (ibid) at the party. And, on that issue, at least, the other attendees agreed. Miss Barrows recalled, “As a dinner it was not a success. Dr. Wirt talked practically all the time.” According to Miss Kneeland, “It was impossible for either myself or anyone else to take a considerable part in the conversation.” Miss Taylor said, “Dr. Wirt really had no conversation. The monologue continued.” Said Mr. Breure; “I listened to Dr. Wirt for several hours discoursing on money.” And according to Mr. Todd, the reporter for Tass, Dr. Wirt had “…talked for nearly five hours continuously”.
So Dr. Wirt's memory of the fateful dinner party had been faulty. He thought he had been the life of the party. He had killed the party. He thought others had said frightning things. He had been talking to himself. And his ego had reconstructed events to his own benefit and to confirm his own opinions; what a typically human form of behavior. And this was how the Republican party spent their summer of 1934, throwing poor Dr. Wirt against a wall, to see if he stuck. He didn't.
The outcome was that Dr. Wirt (and Mr. Rand, who was now associated with him) became fodder for the Democrats. And they were just as merciless toward these men as the Republicans had been. Roosevelt observed that the Republicans had "gone from Wirt to Wirt". FDR advisor, Donald Richberg,  was moved to poetry. “A cuttlefish squirt, Nobody hurt, From beginning to end, Dr. Wirt.” The San Francisco Chronicle editorialized, “Dr. Wirt opened that basket containing that famous catch he has bragged so much about and, as suspected, it contains nothing but Minnows. Not a fish in the lot worth talking about.” Said Time magazine; “Thus, flatter than a crepe Suzette, fell the Red Scare of 1934.”
But perhaps the strongest response, and the one most needed, to the Republican noise machine of 1934, was a speech made by the poet, Mr. Richberg “'There are a great many stuffed shirts who have access to avenues of great publicity”, he said, “and so they pour their hysterical fears and their warped views of economic recovery into the public ears. They cannot use facts, even if they recognize them, so they create myths and hobgoblins and repeat nonsense over and over again. . . . We are not in the slightest danger of a political revolution so long as we preserve our national sanity….When any man ventures to scoff at the use of brains in government, he should be asked to explain by what part of the anatomy he believes human affairs should be conducted.”
Dr. Wirt received a telegram of support from the Klu Klux Klan. But the Republican party had little use for him, now that his story had deflated and he had become unstuck. It is what happens to all amatuers from the right or the left who get to close to professional politics.
Quietly Wirt returned to Indiana and wrote no more on economic affairs. In 1938 he died of a heart attack, and his visions of education were gradually discarded, the good with the bad. Mr. Rand’s business achievements after 1934 were, in many ways, even more impressive than those which preceded his involvement in politics. But after the summer of 1934 he avoided publicity for his political views, and died in 1968, a wealthy and powerful man. Even today, If I were assembling a corporation I would use my time machine to ask his advice. But I would certainly not seek out his opinion about plumbing.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Protocols_of_the_Elders_of_Zion
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