AUGUST 2017

AUGUST  2017
FACING DOWN THE RULERS OF WALL STREET A HUNDRED YEARS AGO. THEY ARE BACK.

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Friday, May 14, 2010

OLD SMOKEY

I find it interesting that during the “carboniferous age”, our planet was far more flammable than it is today. About 420 million years ago the air was made up of 40% oxygen, compared to today’s 20%.  All this “extra” oxygen came from the exultation of plants which had run such a riot over the earth that they laid down the vast coal beds which we mine today. But this plant-foria also left behind extensive beds of charcoal, hinting at vast forests that had burned before they could become coal. Today, dead wood burns at 150 F. But with twice the oxygen available, that flash point must have been reduced to within a few degrees of the high temperature of a hot summer’s day. The Silurian Age was, in short, a global tinder box, a hell on earth.
More recent charcoal records tell an equally interesting story. It seems that before the twentieth century there were a greater number of forest fires in North America than since. As long as there was a frontier, flames were used to conquer the land. Native Americans burned swaths of grasslands and forests to trap prey, and Europeans burned them to convert woods into farms and grazing lands. But with the closing of the American frontier – which happened in 1880 according to Professor Jackson Turner - all the land in America became property. It was owned by somebody or some corporation or the government. It was then that fire became not a tool but a threat. It was a brand new way of looking at fire. For the first time in history humans had made the moral judgment that fire was usually a bad thing.
In 1891, the Forest Reserve Act was signed by U.S. President Benjamin Harrison. It put 13 million acres of forest under Federal protection so it could be managed to maintain water drainage and lumber sources. Wildfires still remained largely beyond human control, even when humans had started them. In Yellowstone, America’s first National Park, only those 6 to 10 fires each year along the roads were combated, while the 35 fires in the back country each year started by lightning were allowed to burn themselves out; then came the drought year of 1910.
They called it The Great Fire. It was started by lightening on August 20th, with 2,000 fires already burning in the forests of Idaho and Montana. Three million acres burned, as did the towns of Avery, Falcon and Grand Forks Idaho, De Borgia, Haugan, Henderson, Saltese, Taft and Tuscor, Montana. The smoke was seen as far away as Watertown, New York. Eighty-six humans were also killed, including 28 members of “The Lost Crew” of firefighters.
That fall Henry Graves, Chief of the Forest Service, decided the key to fighting wildfires was the quick arrival at the fire by an adequate, trained force, armed with the proper equipment. And by 1935 enough resources had been committed to this fast response that the new Chief, Ferdinand Silcox, could order that all wild fires reported, must brought under control by 10:00 a.m. the very next morning. By 1939 the Forest Service had even established “Smokejumpers”, men who would parachute into remote back country and with shovels and hand axes, isolate a wild fire and tamp down any smoking embers. And that was when the story turned Hollywood.
On August 13, 1942 Walt Disney released his fifth animated feature film, “Bambi”. In the climax of the movie the adult Bambi and his father struggle to survive a raging forest fire. The Forest Service thought they had a good fit with that dramatic sequence and rented Bambi for use on wildfire warning posters. Unfortunately the movie was a disappointing dud financially, when the forerunners of the NRA protested this “insult to American Sportsmen,” since the movie showed hunters shooting Bambi’s Mommy. Disney decided to withdraw the characters for the duration of the war, which meant that the Forest Service had to go looking for another animated spokes-figure.
At the time the most famous firefighter in America was “Smokey” Joe Martin of the NYFD, who had just died in October of 1941, at 86. So the Adverting Council, which drew up the posters for the Forest Service, decided any new spokes-figure should be named for him. The very first poster of the new figure was released on August 9, 1944. It showed Smokey Bear (No “The” in the name) wearing blue jeans and a Forest Rangers’ hat, pouring water on a campfire. Three years later they added the caption “Remember, Only YOU can prevent forest fires.”
On Thursday, May 4th, 1950, sparks from a camp stove started a fire in the Capitan Mountain Range, of the Lincoln National Forest in northern New Mexico. It eventually burned 17,000 acres. One of the crews sent to deal with the conflagration was a unit out of Fort Bliss, Texas. Over a couple of days, while they worked, the men saw a black bear cub running around in the burning forest, and finally, on May 9th, they were able to capture him. He seemed to have been abandoned, was about 3 months old, and was burned and badly singed.
The crew named him “Hotfoot Teddy” and turned him over to local veterinarian Edward Smith, his wife Ruth, and their two children, 15 year old Donald and four year old Judy. Everybody fell in love with Hotfoot, except Judy, who according to her brother, kept expecting the bear to bite her. And yet it was Judy who was used as a prop when the photographer from Life Magazine showed up to take pictures of the little bear with the bandaged feet.
Over night the little cute bear cub had his own comic strip and his own cartoons at the movies. The Forest Service recognized the value of Hotfoot, and he was flown to Washington, D.C., rechristened “Smokey Bear”, and given his own cage at the National Zoo. And there he resided, loping back and forth on his still tender feet until 1976, when he died at the ripe old age of 26. They buried the old guy back in New Mexico, in the forest of his birth. And about the time he died, so did the moral judgment about forest fires being bad.
As the Smokey Bear baby-boomers grew up, a more nuanced vision of fire in the wilderness took root. The Forest Service no longer uses the phrase “Forest Fire”, exchanging it for “Wildfire.” In 1965 , 94% of the public approved of the 10 a.m. policy. By 1970 that percentage had fallen to 46%, and by 2004 only 6%. Part of that was probably the cost of fighting the fires; in an average year over 84,000 wildfires burn over 3 million acres, at a cost of over $540 million, and the lives of 16 firefighters.
There is the perception that these numbers are going up, and but it is hard to measure that based on something less than a century of hard data. After all, the “Great Fire” of 1910 burned 3 million acres by itself. In 1988 Yellowstone Nation Park suffered 99,000 acres burned, 36% of the park. But nobody remembers the 1910 fire. Everybody remembers the fire of 1988. That’s human nature, and will never be cured.
British and American statistical studies have come to the conclusion that the fire season has gotten longer by 78 days since the 1970’s. Anthony Westerling of the Scrips Institution summed up the situation this way; “With the snowmelt coming out a month earlier, areas then get drier earlier overall...There's more opportunity for ignition.” Says Thomas Swetnam, of the University of Arizona has pointed out that, “Lots of people think climate change and the ecological responses are 50 to 100 years away. But...it's happening now…”
So poor old Smokey was lucky he was not born fifty years later, or he would have been in real trouble. That little cub had few tools for dealing with a fast moving forest fire, and none for climate change - but then neither do we. I mean, could we deal with twice the oxygen level that we have now? It would be helpful, I think, to remember we are not worried about climate change because of what it might mean for Smokey, or even Bambi. We should be worried about what it means for us.
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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

TENNIS MATCH

I believe that all battles are evidence of failure; of diplomacy, of politics, of military strategy. A million minor inconsiquental things must go wrong for there to first be a war and then a battle, and another million unittended mistakes must culmlativly be made for a great battle to occur. Even the language we use to describe these disasters is mistaken. In battle, nothing is “great” except the courage of the men caught up in it.
Officals in Fukouka Prefecture kept a close watch on the young males growing up in the towns and fishing villages of Kyushu, the southern most island of Japan. Often they would drop in for an uannounced visits, to check on the boys health and status. Then, sometimes during the young men’s 20th year, in the middle of the night, their conscription notices would arrive. It was claimed this delivery in darkness was done for security reasons, but it was usually followed by a very public send off to basic training. More likely the military merely wanted to drive home their ability to reach into each individual house in the nation..
During the first year of war with America and the British Commonwealth (1942) the Imperial Japanese forces suffered 2,672 men killed each week (on average), while in 1943 that appalling number increased to 3,563 each week. And the future promised only expotental growth in those tragidies. On October 26, 1943, the Japanese Emperor Hirihito admitted that his nation’s situation was “truly grave”. It was accepted that 1944 would be Japan’s last chance to stave off defeat in a war they had started. In the Pacific the navy planned a counterstroke when the Amiercians struck the Mariana islands. In China the Army launched “Operation One”, a three prong attack by half a million men. And against British India, the Japanese Army decided on Operation “C”, a strike from out of Burma, which they had conquered two years before.
After their basic training and before leaving Japan, each of the 15,000 Fukouka soldiers wrote out his will and cerimonally gave his life to the Emperor. By now the nation could no longer wait until their twentieth year. By late 1943 the Japenese were inducting boys of 17 and 18,  and men up to 44 years old. But whatever their age, from day one the soldiers were treated brutally. Officers and non-coms often slaped and beat their men for minor transgrassions. Personal violence was so common that Japanes soldiers often beat each other.
This brutality was easly transferred to civilians and prisoners of war, particularyly but not exclusivly outside of Japan. The effect on unit moral was devistating, and by 1943 even the army high command wanted to correct it. But by then the war had grown out of their control
The men from Kyushu were formed into the 58th, 124th and 138th infantry regiments, a Mountain Artillery, an Engineering and a Transportation regiments. In late 1943 they were all assembled in Bangkock, Thialand and designated the 31st infantry division.
Their irritable and dyspeptic commander was Lt. General Kotoku Sato. He was of the opinion that his commanding officer was a blockhead, and openly told his staff that during Operation “C” he expected them all to starve to death. Late in 1944 the division was moved by rail to the Northwest corner of Burma, to the head of navagation on the Chindwin River.
Each soldier was issued a 20 day supply of rice. Their equipment and ammuntion were carried on mules and elephants, but there would be no supply line back to the Chindwin. The plan was to move fast enough to capture British supply depots as they advanced.
On March 15th, 1944, the 31st division, operating on the extreme right wing of four other divisions, crossed the Chindwin River by boat and raft on a front 60 miles wide. Moving quiickly along winding jungle trails, their first objective was the tiny village of Kohima, 100 miles away and 4,000 feet up the 5,000 foot high Naga hills. They planned to reach this objective by a forced march in three days and nights. In fact it took them 15 days.
The jungle was fetid, hot and sickening, filled with and flies, ticks, mosquitoes and leeches big enough to crawl up your leg and suck your blood until they burst. The mosquitoe bites could cause septic sores. By the time the advanced eliments of the 31st division reached the outskirts of Kohima the monsoon had begun, the trails were reduced to deep sucking mud, and the men of 31st division were strung out along the trials, exhausted and hungry. Sickness and casualties had already reduced the Japanese force by 3,000 men. Still the remaining 12,000 Japanese soldiers had caught the British high command off guard. The drafties from Fukouka Prefecture quickly surrounded the barely 2,500 Indian and British troops defending the Kohima Ridge.
The ultimate goal for the 31st division was still 40 miles away; Dimapur, a British airfield, railhead and logistics base on the Brahmaputra River. From this depot a winding road climbed the Naga Hills, through a mountain pass along Kohima Ridge, and then ran southward to Impala. At Impala were three Indian divisions, commanded by British officers. The main Japanese thrust of four divisions was initially aimed at Impala. But if the 31st division could capture Kohima, those three British divisions would be cut off. And if it could capture Dimapur, the Japanese army would have enough food, ammunition and fuel to invade India itself. Sato’s goal was to capture enough supplies at Kohima for the next forty mile march.
In a first rush on the evening of April 3rd , 1944, the men from Kyushu not only surrounded Kohima, they also captured British wharehouses containing enough food to supply the 31st division for a year. But less than a month’s worth had been distributed when the Royal Air Force bombed the wharehouses, and blew up the supplies. From this point forward each Japanese soldier received one rice ball, some salt and a bottle of boiled water a day.
Beginning on April 6th , under daily downpours and heavy morter fire, the Japanese began a series of infantry attacks, squeezing the defenders back onto isolated hill tops along the ridge until the British still held only one, Garission Hill. And atop that, at a 280 degree bend in the switchback Impala Road, was DC Hill, where in peaceful times the District Commissioner had built himself a summer bungalo, complete with garden and tennis court. By April 9th the the Japanese and British lines were seperated only by the Tennis Court, and the entire battle for India and Burma had been reduced to a battlefield just 36 feet wide.
Attacks and counter-attacks raged across the court, for day after day . A British officer explained the battle this way. “We were attacked every single night... They came in waves…Most nights they overran part of the battalion position, so we had to mount counter-attacks...” Noted another source, “It was a very primitive battle. The Japanese had no air cover or air supply and attacked each night” Another British writer explained, “The defenders built barricades from the piled bodies of the attackers, the entire area eventually becoming a thick carpet of blackened and rotting corpses. When digging in, they found themselves often digging through the dead before hitting earth.”
On the night of April 13th/ 14th , the Japanese managed manhandle a 75mm cannon onto a slight rise to fire point blank into the forward British trenches. The survivors were forced to retreat. One of the Indian troopers, Wellington Massar, set up a machine gun on the billiard table in the remains of the club house, and cut down the following attack. A Lt. King led a counterattack which retook the trench. But the British position had been cut in half. With daylight the Japanese launched what was supposed to be the final annihilating attack, but it was repulsed. A British Officer told his commander, “The men's spirits are all right, but there aren't many of us left,” He said that if relief did not arrive within 48 hours, the position would fall. Five days later, the battle for the “shattered corpse-covered tennis court” was still raging.
On the morning of the 18th British artillery began to fall on the tennis court. It was the advance effect of the arrival of the British 2nd division, which had been flown into Dimapur the week before, and had now fought its way up the road. On the 19th the reliving column reached DC hill. What they found was “'filthy, bearded, bedraggled scarecrows” defending “shallow muddy trenches, dismembered limbs, empty cartridge cases, ammunition boxes and abandoned equipment, the debris of numerous assaults, and the stench of so many things rotting. The most lasting impression was caused by the litter of war- piles of biscuits, dead bodies black with flies and scattered silver from the DC's bungalow.”
Still the men from Kyushu did not give up. Now outnumbered and heavily outgunned, they contested every British advance, and were still holding the Tennis Court. As John Toland reported, in his book “The Rising Sun”, the 31st division was now eating “… grass, potatoes, snails, lizards, snakes – anything they could get their hands on, including monkeys”. Harold Jones, one of the reliving solders, describe Kohima this way. “I was there about 10 days. It was a terrible place”
By May 25th most the Kohima ridge was in British hands, and General Sato informed his despised commander that without food or ammunition his men could not survive past June 1st. When his commander ordered the 31st division to “fight with their teeth” if they had no more bullets, Sato instead ordered his men to withdraw. It was the only time in the Second World War that a senior Japanese officer disobeyed a direct order while under attack.
Tolan tells what the retreat was like. “On the long trek back over the mountains in pounding rain, men fought one another for food. Thousands of sick and wounded fell out of the march and killed themselves with grenades. The paths were seas of mud and when a man stumbled he became half buried in slime…Light machine guns, rifles, helmets, gas masks – anything useless – littered the trails. Only the will to live propelled the survivors…and those who lasted out a day’s march huddled together for sleep that rarely came because of the constant downpour. Many drowned, too feeble to raise their heads above the rising water, and the Chindwin River itself, their goal, claimed the lives of hundreds more in its swollen waters….by the end of the year Japanese rule (of Burma) was on the point of collapse.” (pp 693)
The 31st division had been destroyed. 67% of its precious 15,000 men were dead or wounded. The British counted 5,000 Japanese bodies on the Kohima battle field alone, and best estimates are that 7,000 of the men from Fukouka Prefecture were sacrificed in the attempt to take Kohima.. Fewer than 600 were taken prisoner. General Sato was relieved of his command, and sent sent home as unfit for duty because of wounds and physical wastage he suffered before Kohima. The British poet JM Edmonds left the best epitath on the battle, which appears on the British cemetery at Kohima, and which could apply to the sacrifce of both sides. “When you go home, Tell them of us and say, For their tomorrow, We gave our today.”
None of the Japanese counterstrokes of 1944 worked. The Imperial Navy blundered into the “Great Marianes Turkey shoot”, which saw 3 Japanese air craft carriers sunk, and 633 air planes destroyed. The Japanese Navy never recovered. In China “Operation One” pushed the Chinese army back, and forced the American 20th Air Force to abandon their advanced bases, which prevented them from bombing Japan. But the Marinians victory allowed the Americans to simply tansfer the B-29 bombers to the Marshal Islands of Guam and Tinian, where they would prove even more effective at burning Japanese cities.
And Operation “C” had captured nothing and left 50,000 Japanese dead, and reduced the defence of Burma to an empty shell. And for all the treachery and villianly of the Japanese militarist in formenting World War in the Pacific, their greatest victims were not citizens of the United States, nor the British nor even China. Their greatest victims were the people of Japan. 
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Sunday, May 09, 2010

AMAZING RACE: PART IX - THE MECHANIC

I guess you could say that Charlie Taylor was the first member of the “Final Destination Club”. On September 17, 1908 Charlie was set to take his first flight with Orville Wright when an officer asked if an Army observer could go up next, instead. It was in Charlie’s character to defer to the request and he gave up his seat.
So Lt. Thomas Selfridge was the passanger when the Wright biplane crashed to earth (above). Selfridge was killed on impact. Charlie was the first to reach the crash. He pulled the injured Orville out of the wreckage and then, after the doctors had taken his friend and boss away, it was Charlie who broke down sobbing. But it was also in Charlie’s character that he tore the wreckage apart until he found out exactly what had caused the crash. He was a painfully shy mechanical genius, the man who maintained the “Vin Fiz Flyer” most of the way across the continent. Without Charlie Taylor there would have been no transcontinental flight, and no Wright Brothers either - and they all knew it.
Charlie went to work for the brothers in 1901 at $18 for a sixty hour week in their bicycle shop, and he stayed because their personalities fit so well together. Explained Charlie, “The Wrights didn’t drink or smoke, but they never objected too much to my cigar smoking….Both the boys had tempers, but no matter how angry they ever got I never heard them use a profane word…(and) I never let go with anything stronger than heckety-hoo.”
Charlie and the brothers sketched out the world’s first wind tunnel on scrap pieces of paper, and then Charlie built it (above). Without that testing device, powered flight would have had to wait for accidental discovery. What the Wright Brothers and Charlie achieved was not just powered flight, but an understanding of how powered flight was achieved. And that made improvements possible. After letters to automobile manufactures failed to find a suitable engine, Charlie built the first aircraft motor (and only the second gasoline engine he had ever built) from scratch, in just six weeks, using only a drill press, a lathe and some hand tools. At every step of the Wright Brothers innovations, Charlie Taylor was vital to the process.
In 1911 Cal Rogers approached Charlie and offered him $70 a week - plus expenses - to travel with the “Vin Fiz Flyer” across country and keep it in the air (above, Charlie and Cal, repairing the Flyer.). “At the time my wages were $25 a week. I told him I'd go; then I told ‘Orv ‘about it. He asked me not to quit. I told him I had already given my word to Rodgers and couldn't very well back out. He told me to make it a sort of leave of absence, and to be sure and come back.” And that was how Charlie began what he later called “…my adventures”.
Charlie never had any doubt Cal would make it. He sent his wife and three children ahead to California. But Charlie was no diarist. He left behind no impressions of what it was like to be cooped up with Mable Rogers and Maria (Rogers) Swietzer for all those days and nights. But I am not surprised that Charlie quit not long before matters came to a head between Lucy Belevedere and Mable. I imagine the drama and the emotion made Charlie very uncomfortable. He jumped the train in Texas and hurried on to meet his family in Los Angles. He took his wages from the trip and bought several hundred acres along the Salton Sea. But then Charlie’s wife fell ill in Los Angles and it was almost a year before he could get back to his job in Ohio.
But things had changed. While he had been away Wilbur had died of typhoid fever, in May of 1912. Orville made sure Charlie had a job, but, according to Charlie, “I found it wasn’t like old times….the pioneering days seemed over for me.” Finally, in 1919, Charlie left the Wright Company and returned to California. He opened his own machine shop on his property on the Salton Sea. “I waited for something to happen there,” Charlie said later, “and nothing did.” Except that his wife died and the depression of the 1930's drove him out of business and he lost his land.
Charlie moved to Los Angeles and found a job working for North American Aviation for 37 cents an hour. He told no one about his past. He was just another mechanic on the production line. None of his fellow workers knew that he had helped to invent the entire industry. And that was where Henry Ford found him.
Ford was rebuilding the Wright Brothers workshop in Dayton as a memorial, and had hired detectives to track Charlie down. Ford brought Charlie back to reconstruct the wind tunnel and put the original 1903 Flyer back together. In 1941, his work for Ford finished, Charlie quietly went back to California and returned to work in a Defense plant. Then in 1945, Charlie suffered a heart attack. He was never able to work again. When Orville Wright died in 1948 he left Charlie an annuity in his will of $800 a year. By 1955 inflation had reduced that to a pittance, and when a newspaper reporter found Charlie, he was surviving in the charity ward of a Los Angles hospital. Immediately the aviation community raised funds, and Charlie was able to spend his last months in a private hospital.
He died at the age of 88 in 1956. He is buried in the Folded Wings Mausoleum, in Valhalla Memorial Park, directly under the approach to Burbank Airport runway 15-33.
Charlie Taylor lived for 48 years after he gave up his seat to a young Army Lieutenant. And he never did learn to fly. And that too was typical for Charlie Taylor, the unsung hero of powered flight.
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