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The Capitalist Crucify the Old Man - 1880's


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Friday, February 11, 2011


I have long held the view that "anarchist" as a label became passé with the invention of psychiatry. Of course it has stuck around as a vestigial etymological fossil, but any current criminal shrink can now vouch that the loonies who espoused anarchy were really just pathological egotistical narcissists. As proof of this contention I now present you with the head of Emile Henri, who lost his head over the injustice he suffered because of another inarticulate Frenchman who sought to challenge the establishment and managed only to blow his nose at them.
Everything about Auguste Vaillant screams of irony. He was a kin of Lee Harvey Oswald, a little man who wanted to be important, but lacked the necessary attention span. He was the leader of a socialist group but seems to have been the only regular member. While waiting for the revolution he was ironically employed sewing expensive handbags and wallets for rich people to store their money in. 
Concerned about justice for the poor, Vaillant had abandoned a wife and two children - leaving them in poverty - and then lived with a deaf woman. For a political revolutionary to be living with a woman who could not hear his rants against capitalism passes beyond ironic into the realm of absurdity. And that is where we find Auguste Vaillant on Saturday December 10, 1893 entering the public gallery above the Chamber of Deputies, the French congress, carrying a sauce pan bomb in his overcoat. Ce n'est pas ironique, c'est le plus absurde
Auguste had constructed two sauce pan bombs, but discarded the larger one after realizing he could never sneak a 3 quart sauce pan past security. Spotting his intended target, the French President, standing on the Chamber floor, Auguste revealed and armed his 1 quart sauce pan. This attracted the attention of the woman sitting next to him. (“Excuse me, but is that a sauce pan bomb in your pocket or are you just unhappy to see me?”). She was able to deflect his throw so that the sauce pan bounced off a decorative cornice before exploding. The blast shattered Auguste’s right arm. The nuts and bolts packed around the explosive, shrapnel intended to kill 150 deputies, instead lacerated Auguste’s neck and chest. And the explosion blew his nose completely off his face. Unfortunately, the quick acting heroine was also badly wounded, as were at least 20 politicians. But the only person who died, if not immediately, was Auguste. Ce n'est pas tragique, c'est le plus absurde.
Auguste’s trial was brief. And on February 3, 1894, the guillotine finished what Auguste’s own bomb had started. His last words, before the blade severed the rest of his head from his body, were, “Mort à la société bourgeoise! Vive l’anarchie!” The translation would be, “Death to the Bourgeoisie! Long live Anarchy!” Even his last words turned out to have been ironic.
The irony developed because, of the millions who were outraged by Auguste’s departing utterance, the most significant turned out to have been another nobody anarchist fanatic, this one named Emile Henri, a 21 year old who was consumed with envy. Henri was convinced that Auguste’s noble death scene should have been his. After all, just over a year before had not Henri stricken a much more effective blow against the bourgeois but had received little of the press coverage afforded to the now headless incompetent.
Henri had decided to strike his blow for striking miners. He packed 20 sticks of dynamite into a sauce pan rigged to explode if it was jostled. He carefully left this “infernal device” outside the second floor offices of a mining company just before lunch on November 8, 1892.
A lowly Porter noticed the sauce pan, and realized immediately it was probably not somebodies' lunch. But rather than evacuating the offices he ordered an office boy to carry the suspect sauce pan down to the street. Somehow the office boy made it in once piece, but he felt a little uneasy about just leaving it on the sidewalk, in case a passing pedestrian should be injured. So he alerted a nearby school crossing guard. She called the police, and two patrol officers responded. They tied a napkin around the bomb and then the three of them, the cops and the office boy, carried the bomb suspended between them to the local police station at the rather mis-named Rue des Bon Enfants (Street of the wonderful children.) There the bomb exploded, killing four cops and the office boy.
Henri had to lay low for awhile, but he was still living in anonymity in a crummy apartment when he opened his anarchist newspaper on February 4, 1894 to read of Auguste’s dramatic speech at his execution. And Henri was green with envy.
Now, there might be some who feel my tone slights the victims of such attacks; baloney. Murder has been anathema for at least six thousand years, when the ancient Egyptians made “Thou shalt not kill” their first commandment, predating Moses by at least a thousand years. If a human being is murdered by a serial killer, a lunatic at the controls of a hijacked jet, a deluded doctor, a drunk at the wheel of a car or a waiter too busy to wash their hands, the result for the victims is the same; tragedy. Fundamentalist Islamic-Christian-Marxist- Socialist-cultural-political justifications matter only to the perpetrator; I say again, baloney.
As if to prove my point, one week after the glorious execution of Auguste, Henri entered the restaurant at Hotel Terminus, next to the Gar Saint Lazare train station in Paris. He had stopped at two other bars earlier but, he claimed later, they weren’t crowded enough. My guess is he had not yet drunk enough courage. He nursed two drinks for an hour at the Terminus, and then as he staggered out the door, tossed his bomb back into the café, where the bomb exploded, killing one. A waiter ran after Henri, who shot him. Two policemen took up the chase. Henri shot one of them. The other knocked him down and restrained him. Henri’s toll was now eight dead – five at the police station and three at the restaurant.
At his trial Henri was defiant and bombastic, until his attorney put Henri’s mother on the witness list. Henri objected. He told the judge, “It never occurred to me to inflict such pain on my mother.” In fact I suspect Henri was more concerned about sullying his image. It would be difficult to maintain an image as a heartless dedicated anarchist with a mommy.
According to the New York Times, On May 21, 1894 at “4:07 a.m.…the iron doors swung apart…Henri was ghastly white, but walked with a firm step. As he approached the platform he shouted, “Courage comrades. Long live anarchy.” His voice…trembled noticeably…As they pushed him against the plank he shouted again, ““Courage comrades. Long live anarchy.”  He had evidently worked this out and wanted to be quoted exactly. The click of the knife was heard the next moment, and Henri’s head dropped to the ground. The blood from the trunk spurted high as the body revolved into the basket. (The executioner) himself picked up the head from the sawdust and threw it viciously into the basket with the body.”
Anarchy, it turned out, was not long lived. History proved it to be a temporary delusion, to join those other temporary delusions people have claimed as justification for random murder; communism, fascism, Black power, White power, the Basque Independence Party, the Irish Republican Army, the John Birch Society, the Confederacy, and the myriad other stupid self-justifications invented by humans.
Hatred is a lot like ideology in this respect - reduced to its core it is all about self.

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Wednesday, February 09, 2011


I can think of no more misbegotten group of failures and frauds and grief stricken dullards than the men who collectively are responsible for one of the most vital and fundamental inventions of the modern world. But I have to wonder, if we called it something else, would it have become so ubiquitous in our world? 
It all started with a Parisian named Barthelmy Thimonnier, who invented the sewing machine in 1830. I know, you think it was invented by Elias Howe, but that is because Elias Howe was a “patent troll” and a liar.And because, in 1840, a mob of French "Luddiet" tailors broke into Thimonnier’s factory, smashed his machines, burned the factory down and almost lynched Barthelmy. He died flat broke and forgotten in 1857. But first he invented the sewing machine. The vacuum he left behind was filled by the American Walter Hunt, who was a mechanical genius and a business boob from upstate New York. Walter invented the safety pin, U.S, patient #6281, and a repeating rifle, and a bicycle and a road sweeper. And then, in 1834, he improved on Thimonnier’s sewing machine.What Walter Hunt actually invented was a sewing needle with the hole - aka, the eye - at the pointy end. As the needle pushed through the cloth the eye carried the thread with it. When the needle stopped it formed a loop in the thread behind it, and a second thread (from the bobbin) was pushed through the loop. The needle was then withdrawn, pulling the loop tight or “locking” it, around the bobbin thread. This “Lockstitch” was sheer genius, a brilliant insight, but Hunt never did anything with it because he didn’t want to be lynched by American tailors and he was safely making plenty of money from his safety pin. And that opened the door for Elias Howe.Elias Howe told at least two versions of how he "invented" the sewing machine. In the sympathetic version he spent hours watching his poor wife (since dead, and unavailable to testify) earn extra money doing piecemeal sewing work to support his family. In the Freudian version, Howe dreamed about Indians shooting arrows through a blanket.
In fact Howe had been a mechanic repairing looms in a textile mill, before he started living off his wife's sewing abilities, and that is where he learned all about shuttles and bobbins, and probably saw a version of Hunts sewing machine needle. Like a loom, Howe’s sewing machine, patient #4750 granted in 1846, fed the cloth in vertically and the needle and bobbin worked horizontally. Howe’s sewing machine worked , sort of, but it was so clumsy that Howe couldn’t find anybody to buy it. He never made a dime selling the actual invention.Then in 1850 Howe saw a demonstration of a machine which did work, built by a mechanic and an actor and one of the most foul-tempered bigamists in antebellum America, Mr. Isaac Singer. Singer’s sewing machine put the needle vertical and fed the cloth in horizontally, which made the whole thing functional. But Howe noticed that Singer had 'borrowed' his lockstitch, which you may remember Hunt had actually invented Anyway,  when Howe demanded $25,000 in “royalties” (i.e. blackmail), one of Singer’s long suffering business partners observed that, “Howe is a perfect humbug. He knows quite well he never invented anything of value.” Singer was typically more direct, offering to “kick (Howe) down the steps of the machine shop.” What eventually made Howe a wealthy humbug was the patent for his lockstitch. As a magazine at the time noted, Howe had “litigated himself into fortune and fame.” But then this story is not about the sewing machine.This story is about another patent Elias Howe trolled for, this one granted him in 1851. And just like his sewing machine, Howe’s patent for an “Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure” did not work. He just filed it away and waited to see if anybody else ever fixed it. But, since nobody else made his ugly and clumsy device work during his lifetime, Howe had nobody to sue and the device remained an obscure little footnote. And people continued to live with the original “Clothing Closure” device, the button.Originally Whitcomb Judson was not interested in replacing the button. This rather odd man liked to eat bananas and mushrooms because he thought the mushrooms gave him psychic powers. Judson’s “mushroom visions” told him was going to get rich designing pneumatic street cars, (he was granted 14 patents for them), a mode of transport described rather unhelpfully in his advertising as “…a screw, but without a thread; and this screw though always revolving in one direction, will send the (trolley) cars in either direction, and do this by a pure and simple rolling and not a sliding friction..” It sounded mysterious and magical, and was actually used briefly in England in 1864 to transport tourists 600 yards between Waterloo and Whitehall stations. But Judson’s railway went nowhere in America. So, in 1893, as a back up invention, he marketed his patent #’s 504038 and 504037 as a “claps lock” for ladies high button shoes, and “…wherever it is desired to detachable-ly connect a pair of adjacent flexible parts.”Mr. Judson explained that “...each link of each chain (4 links per inch) is provided both with a male and a female coupling part…”. But sadly this coupling had a tendency to pop open, leaving the lady in question barefoot on the public way. So, in 1896, Judson added “….a cam-action slider…” to his invention, now calling it his “C-curity Fastener”. The company he formed to exploit the C-curity (The Universal Fastener Company) did well, and the gilled fungi lover was making money, but he never got as rich as he had expected. It was a shame the mushrooms never warned Judson about the dangers of eating too many mushrooms because Judson died of liver disease in 1909.And that brings us to the dull Mr. Otto Frederick Gideon Sundback, a Swiss emigrant to Canada, working as an electrical engineer for Universal Fastener and married to the plant manager’s daughter, Elvira. In 1911 Elvira died, and to distract himself from his grief Gideon started fiddling with Judson's “C-curity Fastener”. He added more teeth (the male coupler), ten to an inch, and widened the slider, and then he realized he could do away with the couplers entirely. All he needed was the teeth. Gideon called his invention the “'Separable Fastener”, Patent # 1219881, granted in 1917. Gideon even designed a machine to mass produce his fastener.In 1923, when Mr. B.F. Goodrich saw the new fasteners used on a pair of rubber galoshes his company was trying to sell the U.S. Army, he was delighted, telling an employee to “Zip ‘er up.” And thus was born the onomatopoeia of the new invention, the name that sounds like the sound the Separable Fastener makes when it is used; the zipper. And the world has been a better place ever since.
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Sunday, February 06, 2011


I would say the last thing America needed in 1894, was more millionaires. Over the previous half century, the nation of less than 70 million people had produced a ten fold increase in the number of millionaires. But no matter how profligate the wealthy might be in their spending, what the nation needed in the spring of 1894 was more consumers, more members of a working middle class, with disposable income. In the perfect environment for trickle down economics there was no trickle. The demand for demand needed to be great enough to absorb the vagaries of a business cycle that was collapsing for want of demand. That was the real answer to the bankruptcy of supply side economics; demand side economics.
"In front of them, and at the end of the road of yellow brick, was a big gate...There was a bell beside the gate, and Dorothy pushed the button and heard a silvery tinkle sound within. Then the big gate swung slowly open, and they all passed through and found themselves in a high arched room, the walls of which glistened with countless emeralds. Before them stood a little man...He was clothed all in green, from his head to his feet, and even his skin was of a greenish tint. At his side was a large green box. When he saw Dorothy and her companions the man asked, "What do you wish in the Emerald City?" "We came here to see the Great Oz," said Dorothy. The man was so surprised at this answer that he sat down to think it over.  "It has been many years since anyone asked me to see Oz," he said, shaking his head in perplexity. "He is powerful and terrible, and if you come on an idle or foolish errand to bother the wise reflections of the Great Wizard, he might be angry and destroy you all in an instant."
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" 1895
On Tuesday, April 17th , 1894, Coxey’s Army arrived in Cumberland, Maryland, just a hundred air miles short of the nation’s capital. And for the first time Congress began to take public note of the marchers, and their first reaction was, of course, panic. Congress stayed in session until 6:30 that evening, debating the impending doomsday. Ohio Democrat, Representative Joesph Outwaite, called for Mr. Coxey to remember that “if from 10,000 to 50,000 men can intimidate Congress to do one thing, then another 10,000 to 50,000 men can intimidate them to do another thing—which leads to anarchy.” Of course some might say that was almost by definition not anarchy, but democracy. I might say that, for instance. And I just did.
In fact there had been government meetings behind the scenes before the march had even begun, on how to receive the Army should it make it to Washington. But after some hyperventilating, congress voted down appropriations for a violent reception to Coxey’s Army. And some of the people’s representatives found comfort in the genius of Charles L’Enfant, who had designed the capital as a series of angled broad straight avenues, each of which terminated in huge traffic circles - a plan guaranteed to reduce tourists to tears, be they barbarian invaders or rebelling peasants, as in the case of Coxey’s Army. And anyway, noted the Washington Post at the time, each of those broad avenues could be controlled with a single Gatling gun.
Meanwhile, back in Cumberland, Coxey’s Army camped out on a baseball field, and the businessman from Massillon, Ohio even managed to show a little profit, charging ten cents for people to observe his footsore unemployed. It was an absurd idea, since Cumberland was already overflowing with its own unemployed. But still, the process put $145 in the army’s coffers.
The community of Cumberland had once been Maryland’s second largest city, surrounded by deposits of coal and iron ore. It was also the junction of the National Road, the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, the Potomac River and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. The canal, also called the Grand Old Ditch, had not reached Cumberland until 1850, eight years after the railroad. And in he forty-four years since canal had seen its better days. That was why Jacob Coxey was able to make a good deal on hiring two canal boats, normally used to carry coal, to transport his Army down stream, cutting a hundred plus road miles off his Army’s march, and saving perhaps three days of shoe leather. As an added plus, Coxey and Carl Browne were also hoping to put their bad press behind them. Browne had begun to refer to the reporters as “argus-eyed demons of hell.”
The cadre of reporters had never felt favorable toward Coxey’s Army, but with the loss of copy from The Great Unknown Smith, they had turned openly hostile, inventing and spreading rumors. Samuel Williams, accompanying the march, described the hundred and fifty men as “the nucleus of a band of marauders, whose object is to despoil their fellow citizens” and called them “a species of terrorism.” “These bands,” he wrote for the St. Louis Post Dispatch, “naturally inspire terror and clashes with the authorities or citizens must come.” Babcock, writing for the Chicago papers, warned that Coxey’s Army, “can scarcely fail to cause bloodshed in Christian Communities”. But it did fail, and the terror was inspired only by those who read the reporter’s inventions. Those who actually saw the Army were generally favorably impressed with its discipline and decorum. 
The reporters were not going to be left behind when Coxey’s Army took to water. The 40 thieves banded together, hired themselves a “press boat”, stocked it with food, a cook and alcohol, and named it “The Flying Demon”. It looked, recorded one of its denizens, “like a floating picture by Victor Hugo.”
On Thursday, April 19th, Coxey’s Army disembarked at Williamsport, Maryland, and marched the six miles to Hagerstown. Here they camped for two days. The community, having been fed for weeks on the press reports of tramps, thieves and anarchists, were not happy to see them. The Associated Press reported on the 21st, that, “The people of Hagerstown are preparing to make the best of the…Army for another day, or perhaps two days. Browne has determined on revenge for the rather cold reception of yesterday”. In truth, the Army was awaiting the arrival of additional unemployed men from Philadelphia, which the A.P. described in the most alarming terms. “…A party of thirty tramps is reported moving down the valley from Carlisle.” In the village of Middletown, said the press, “deputies are being sworn in to protect the town.” Still, even the alarmist press was forced to admit that “the conduct of the Coxey men In Hagerstown has so far been exemplary.”
More than that, it was evident that the Army had learned a thing or two about marketing. They erected a canvas screen around their camp, and charged admission to stare at the unemployed men cooking their meals and tending to their daily needs, even selling their hard-tack biscuits as souvenirs to the gawkers. “The badges the men wear have also acquired a market value, and sets of the several varieties bring good prices, some of them commanding a dollar each.”
It remained to be seen what profit the nation would make from the Army, now that it was so close to its goal.
"Well, one day I went up in a balloon and the ropes got twisted, so that I couldn't come down again. It went way up above the clouds, so far that a current of air struck it and carried it many, many miles away. For a day and a night I traveled through the air, and on the morning of the second day I awoke and found the balloon floating over a strange and beautiful country. It came down gradually, and I was not hurt a bit. But I found myself in the midst of a strange people, who, seeing me come from the clouds, thought I was a great Wizard. Of course I let them think so, because they were afraid of me, and promised to do anything I wished them to. Just to amuse myself, and keep the good people busy, I ordered them to build this City, and my Palace; and they did it all willingly and well. Then I thought, as the country was so green and beautiful, I would call it the Emerald City; and to make the name fit better I put green spectacles on all the people, so that everything they saw was green."
"But isn't everything here green?" asked Dorothy.
"No more than in any other city," replied Oz; "but when you wear green spectacles, why of course everything you see looks green to you."
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