JULY 2017

JULY  2017
Greed and Monopolies Take Over the Ship

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Saturday, March 26, 2011

WHEN THE CHIPS ARE DOWN

I used to know everything about computers. Of course, that was when high tech required floppy disks and your back up was a pencil and a yellow legal pad. So when my computer became conflicted pondering the morality of down loading my E-mail files, I was as lost as a yacht with engine trouble off the coast of Somalia. Everywhere I looked were “experts” flying the Jolly Roger, who offered to save my floundering vessel in exchange for a share of my cargo. I paid their price more than once, invested in the new programs they suggested, struggled with the new manuals they led me to, and the end was always the same, on the telephone arguing over service verses payment. Once I even cancelled a check just to get some attention.
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In desperation I searched the internet for a friendly logo, somebody who followed a different business model. And it was there that I stumbled across a news story in the local paper about a local company that was rebuilding computers for school kids. The name was CBL Computers and Repair out of Lafayette, Indiana, and I sent them an E-mail begging for help. And out of the mists of future tech came Craig Martin and his magical fingers. And his brain, which worked very different than my own.

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I didn't want my computer to make me breakfast. I didn't need it to anticipate my moods. I did not expect it to win Dancing With the Stars. But if I had, Craig could probably have coaxed that out of my machine. He arrived with a smile and a quiet self assurance. He joked with me and exhibited an impressive desk side manner. And he tolerated my constant talking in his ear while he remained more interested in my hard drive than my hard drive-luck story. Craig's been doing this for almost ten years, and he's heard all these sad somebody-done-somebody-wrong songs before. Amazingly he's a little too short to be Superman. But he does a really good impersonation of the man of steel. I guess you could call Craig the man of silicone, ecept that sounds a little weird.

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I do not twitter, I do not tweet. I burp occasionally. And when Craig saw my internal porch light flicker, he stopped trying to explain what he was doing to my machine. I learned I did not need to know how my machine does what it dose, any more than I need to know the compression ratio of my car's engine is. Press excellerator, car goes. Turn on monitor, computer goes. And watching Craig's fingers fly accrross my keyboard, I was reminded of the way a Hollywood script doctor can turn an eighteen year old teenage girl into a ten foot blood sucking vampire lobster-man without losing the underlying story line of hope and remption. That is my field of expertise.

*

I saw graphics flash across my monitor I had no idea were hiding inside my mystery box. I saw diagnostic displays that made the stuff on Star Trek look like a children's art show. It all appeared and disappeared with such rapidity that had Craig not ceased explaining them to me, it is likely my head would have exploded.

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I was glad to write Craig a check. I felt I had gotten more than I had paid for. And knowing that part of my money would go to supply computers for kids, made me feel that I was playing a small part in passing forward the future to the kids of working familes. The future does not belong to techno-drwarfs like me. It belongs to those kids, who will probably use their technology to make me as obsolete as my copy of “Foretran for Dummies”.

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So I urge you to give DBL a call, at 765-490-2978, or e-mail them at cblcomputersrepair@hotmail.com .
I assure you, you will not be sorry.

Friday, March 25, 2011

SISYSPHUS ON THE WABASH

I want to take you back to a time when there were just two million Hoosiers in the whole world, and yet Indiana had 13 seats in the United States House of Representatives and 15 electoral votes. Today they have just eight seats. Even more improbable to modern ears, this smallest state west of the Allegheny mountains was a crucial "battleground" state, oscillating like a bell clapper, clanging first Republican and then ringing Democratic, six times between 1876 and 1888, swinging each time at the whim of some 6,000 fickle independent voters.
Things came to a head over the winter of 1885 when the dynamic Democratic Governor Isaac Gray (above), seeking a lasting majority for his adopted party, jammed through a gerrymander redistricting of state legislative offices, by re-designing ten traditionally Republican state Assembly seats so they would elect Democrats instead. This would prove to be such an outrageous power grab, a Federal court would declare it unconstitutional in 1892 However, the savvy Gray knew that the voters would take their revenge much sooner than the courts.
So, in the summer of 1886, Grey convinced his Lieutenant Governor, Mahlon Manson. to take early retirement. Then he scheduled to fill that post in the mid-term elections, midway through his four year term. And as Gray had expected, the Republican base was so energized by the gerrymander, that their party was swept back into power that November with a 10,000 vote majority, recapturing seven of those redistricted Assembly seats. (The state Senate, serving 4 year terms each, remained 31 Democrats and 19 Republicans.)
But more importantly for Governor Gray, the newly elected Lieutenant Governor was a Republican, Robert Robertson. Thus, should Gray offer his resignation in exchange for the Republican dominated legislature appointing him an United States Senator , they were likely to agree, since that would make the Republican Robertson the new Governor. And that would move Gray to the United States Senate, one step closer to the White House. This was not an impossible dream, as another Hoosier politician would shortly prove – one, Benjamen Harrison.
Yes, Grey (above) had a nifty plan, clever enough to be worthy of Machiavelli. But it faced one insurmountable hurdle. Governor Isaac Grey was without doubt the most hated Democratic governor amongst Democrats, in the entire history of the state of Indiana. He was the original DINO, Democrat in Name Only.
Twenty years earlier, at the close of the Civil War, this same Isaac Grey had been the Republican Speaker of the state Assembly (above). To achieve that task Gray had literally locked the doors, preventing Democrats from bolting the building and thus denying a quorum to the Republican majority. While the trapped Democrats sulked in the cloak room, Speaker Grey staged votes for the 13th, 14th and 15th reconstruction amendments to the U.S. Constitution. It had been another scheme worthy of Machiavelli. But loyalists in the Democratic party never forgot Grey had counted them as "present but not voting". And as the Assembly session for 1887 opened, these hard liners were willing to set the state on fire if they could also burn up Isaac Gray's Presidential dream boat.
The Indiana State Senate (above)  was about to come into session at  9:35 on the morning of Saturday February 24th, 1887, when Lt. Governor Robertson entered the second floor chambers to take his seat as President pro tempore of the Senate. The Democrats physically blocked him from reaching the dais. He shouted from the floor, "Gentlemen of the Senate, I have been by force excluded from the position to which the people of this state elected me.” But at this point the acting-President pro tempore, Democratic Senator Alonzo Smith, ordered the doorkeeper, Frank Pritchett, to remove the Lt. Governor, “...if he don't stop speaking.”
As the doorkeeper and his assistants advanced on Roberts, he announced, “They may remove me. I am here, unarmed.” Smith testily responded, “We are all unarmed. We are fore-armed, though.” That belligerent mood was now general in the chamber. Senator DeMotte from Porter county shouted something from the floor, and acting President Smith ordered him to take his seat. Responded DeMotte, “When he gets ready, he will.”
As the Lt. Governor was dragged toward the front doors of the Senate Chamber a Republican Senator shouted that if he went, all the Republicans were going with him. President Pro tem Smith shouted back, “They can go if they want to. They will be back, ” he predicted. At this point Republican Senator Johnson challenged the chair directly, telling him, “No man will be scared by you.” “You're awfully scared now, “ said the Democrat. “Not by you”, answered the Republican. .
A general fight now broke out in the Senate chamber, with the outnumbered Republicans giving such a good account of themselves that one Democrat drew a pistol and – BANG! - shot a hole in the brand new ceiling of the still unfinished statehouse. Into the acrid gun smoke and sudden silence this unnamed Democrat announced that he was prepared to start killing Republicans if they kept fighting.
With that, Lt. Governor Robertson was thrown out of the Senate and the doors were locked and bolted behind him. As the official record notes those were “...the last words spoken by a Republican Senator in the 55th General Assembly.” The Senate then tried to get back to business, appropriately taking up Senate bill 61, setting aside $100,000 for three new hospitals for the mentally insane. It was decided it was self evident the state was going to need them, and the measure was approved by a vote officially recorded as 31 Ayes, 0 nays and 18 “present but not voting”. Ahh, revenge must have seemed sweet – for about half an hour.
Outside in the central atrium, the gunshot had attracted a crowd, mostly from the Republican controlled House on the East side of the capital. Faced with a bruised and enraged Robertson, the Republicans caught his anger. Similar fights sparked to life in the chamber of the House of Representatives, and a “mob” of 600 angry Republicans descended upon every wayward Democrat in the building, punching and kicking them, and, if they resisted, beating them down to the marble floors of the brand new “people's house”.
Eventually, the pandemonium returned to its source; the Republicans laid siege to the Senate chamber. They beat against the doors, and smashed open a transom. Vengeful Republicans poured into the great room. The haughty Democrats were assaulted in their own chamber and thrown out of it. By now Governor Grey, down in his offices on the first floor, had heard the ruckus, and had called in the Indianapolis Police. Four hours after the legislative riot had begun, order was restored to the capital of Hoosier democracy. History and many newspapers would record it as the “Black Day of the Indiana Assembly.”
The following Monday the triumphant Assembly dispatched a note to the battered Senate Democrats, that they would have not further correspondence with the upper house. The Senate counter-informed the Republicans in the lower house, ditto. State government in Indiana had ground to a halt. Lt. Governor Robertson never presided over the Senate, and Governor Gray never served as a Senator. He came to be known as the “Sisyphus of the Wabash”, after the legendary Greek king, renown for his avariciousness and deceit. A few years later Hoosiers elected to choose their Senators by popular vote, I suppose under the theory that the general population of drunks and lunatics could do no worse then the professional politicians had done already.
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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

MAY I HAVE A WORD WITH YOU?

I guess it would be okay to say the whole thing started when somebody noticed that according to the criminal code of Boston, ""No person, unless duly licensed by the mayor and aldermen, shall ring, or cause to be rung, any bell, or other instrument, in any street, to give notice of the exercise of any business or calling...under a penalty of not less than three nor more than twenty dollars for each offense.” This bureaucratic banality inspired the formation, on October 26, 1838, of the Anti-Bell-Ringing Society, or in abbreviated form, the ABRS.
It was a joke, of course, an inside multi-layered joke - a joke about a joke about a joke. In this cause the first joke, to the jokesters,  was the anit-bell ringing law itself. And the second joke was in the group's name. It wasn't an anti-bell ringing society, it was actually a pro-bell ringing society; sort of the way “Working Class Americans for Fair Taxes" aren't any of those things either. And the third joke was that there wasn't anybody actually in the anti-bell ringing society.
See, during the 1830's there were 43 newspapers in the city of Boston, from the weekly Advertiser to the Daily Wig. Each of their publishers had an axe to grind, from conspiracy theories ( the Anti-Masonic Christian Herald) to benevolent rich people (the National Philanthropist), or they carved out special interest niches (the New England Farmer). But the capitalist imperative eventually drove all the successful newspapers to copy each other, just as reality television does today.A byproduct of this leveling process was an intellectual rebellion, by those who consumed the same papers but needed to convince their fellow readers that they were smarter. Karl Marx referred to this as the "Club Effect", when he said, "I have a mind to join a club and beat you over the head with it." Or was that Groucho Marx? Anyway...
There were inside-joke clubs, like the Association of Presidents of Bankrupt Insurance Companies, or the Mammoth Cod Association, or the Flouring Committee. Most of these existed merely to allow their wise-acrer creators to announce non-existent meetings for these non-existent clubs in the newspapers. Some of them, like the Anti-Bell Ringing Society went so far as to announce platitudinous field trips, which nobody actually showed up for because there was actually no body in the clubs. Everybody who got the joke was supposed to read these announcements and just laugh, not pack.
In November of 1838 the ABRS went so far as to file suit in court to overturn the anti-bell ringing ordinance. And although they never paid the filing fee (and their case was never on the docket) the founders, whoever they or he was, kept the joke going by arguing with their non-existent critics that they had as much right to gather together as "any other moral and benevolent societies in existence". Did I mention their critics were also non-existent? According to the stream of press releases, issued by the Lord High Chancelor of the ABRS, the group had elected a "Professor of Bell-ecution", and a “Benign Reliever of the Bell-y-ache”. And at their first mythical anniversary dinner party they (myth-ically) toasted the ladies as, “the only belles the members of this society will ever ring to.” In mid-March of 1839 they even took a mythical train trip to New York City. The term "ad nasseum" leaps to mind. Are you LOL yet?
Taking their cue from these latter day “You Tube-erites” the newspaper columnists launched their own abbreviated inside-jokes, abbreviated because they relied on initialism, also known as acronyms. In this alternative inside joke universe the initials KY were substituted for “know yuse”, which had already been substituted for “no use”. Ah, if this had been the late 1830's you and I would have been ROTFL right now. Parenthetically, this buffoonery was intensified by including an explanation of the ersatz slang gag in parentheses immediately following the acronym, as it “N.C. ('nuff said), when the writer might have simply written “enough said” instead, or “GTT (gone to Texas), or PDQ (pretty d-mn quick) and SP (small potatoes). AWALY (Are we all laughing yet?).
e.g.; in June of 1838 the Boston Morning Post (one of the participating newspapers) carried the following note: "Eliot Brown, Esq., Secretary of the Boston Young Men's Society for Meliorating the Condition of the Indians, F.A.H. (fell at Hoboken, N.J.) on Saturday last at 4 o'clock, p.m. in a duel W.O.O.O.F.C. (with one of our first citizens.) What measures will be taken by the Society in consequence of this heart rending event, R.T.B.S. (remains to be seen)." Nobody was actually shot, except of course the writer who was shooting his mouth off, but i.e,. removed from their environment these abbreviated jokes shriveled up and just died. But while they were in vogue, they reduced the world to a MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game). Ah, LOL et al. for the initiated. All others must pay cash.
On March 23, 1839 the Post (again) carried the following follow-up story on page two, concerning that mythical field trip the ABRS did not take to New York City. The editor of the Providence, Rhode Island Mercury noticed that on the day announced, nobody from the ABRS had been on the Boston to New York train. Clearly the poor philistine from Providence was not in on the joke. But the Post's columnist, Mr. Charles Gordon Greene, continued the gag by responding as follows: "We said not a word about our deputation passing "through the city" of Providence.—We said our brethren were going to New York... and they did go... The "Chairman of the Committee on Charity Lecture Bells," is one of the deputation, and perhaps if he should return to Boston, via Providence, he of the Journal, and his train-band, would have his "contribution box," et ceteras, o.k.—all correct—and cause the corks to fly, like sparks, upward."
Okay, ignoring Greenes' the convoluted sentence structure for now, the corks were flying because (mythical) champagne bottles had been opened by the (mythical) band of raucous acolytes, in their mythical celebration. And reading all this, the non-mythical readers of the Post were by now having a jolly good time at the expense of the rubes from Providence. And I suspect they were having such a good time that they failed to notice the momentous event which had just occurred - the birth of a new word.
Not the conception, certainly, which may have occurred orally a hundred years before, maybe a thousand years before. But this was the moment of birth, March 23, 1839, the first appearance in print that has so far been uncovered of the word "Okay" or OK. The word was so new, is still so new even today, that its spelling has yet to be standardized. And it all happened because the humorists in Boston had become cannibalistic, consuming their own jokes.
But OK would probably have died aborning (or a-boaring) had not it been saved by the Presidential election of 1840, which pitted the incumbent Democrat Martin Van Buren against the Wig, William Henry Harrison. You might think the joke here was that Harrison would win the election but died just a month after his interminable inaugural address. But it turns out the real joke was on the loser, Van Buren, who took only 7 states, to Harrison's 19. But that's OK, because Martin's political loss was a big win for theoretical lexicography.
You see, the Democrat's campaign manager, Amos Kendall, decided it would be a good idea to emphasise his man's roots. Van Buren had been born in the tiny village of Kinderhook, New York, a bastion of Dutch culture in a rising sea of Englishmen, making their man an ethnic minority. And believing this was just what the American people were looking for in a politician, Kendall decided to give him the nickname of "Old Kinderhook", calling attention to both his age and his different-nesss at the same time. They even had campaign buttons printed up reading simply "OK", and started OK clubs, urging supporters to say, "I'm voting for OK".
In response the Wigs insisted that OK actually stood for "Out of cash" or "Out of credit", revealing once again the endless wealth politicians can mine out of America's mountains of economic insecurity. One Wig columnist described them as " “frightful letters … Those who wear them should bear in mind that it will require their most strenuous exertions … to make all things O.K.”
The fledgling word derivative then received a further boost from new technology, when the Morse telegraph was introduced in 1844. It took far less finger pressing to tap out the word "OK" (you could ignore the "o" and the "K" was just "dash - dot - dash") than to tap out the words "All Correct". OK was far easier to spell, too. In fact, OK is the strongest remaining artifact of telegraphy in our culture, the equivalent of a "Record Player" in the era of compact discs, and compact discs in the era of music downloads.
Twenty years later the young six foot five inch James Pyle left his family home in Nova Scotia to seek his fortune in New York City. He opened a factory in Greenwich Village, where he repackaged sodium carbonate powder as "Pyle's OK Pearline Soap". Mr.Pyle's genius was his discovery that the only difference between soaps was advertising. All his advertisements framed traditional images of children and dogs and kitties, with that hip new word, OK. He plastered Manhattan from the Battery to the Bronx with the word "OK" until the denizens were seeing it in their sleep. James made a literal fortune, and in 1914 his company was bought out by Proctor and Gamble, which renamed the product "Ivory Soap" and dropped the OK. But by now the adolescent word was strong enough to stand on its own two letters.
And just as the telegraph was being pushed to extinction by the telephone, the lucky "OK" was given yet another new boost on May 5, 1961. Commander Alan B. Shepard, sitting atop a Redstone rocket, assured his controllers that, "Everything is A-OK." And because the American space program performed in public, and the entire world was listening with rapt fascination, this anachronistic sliver of American English slang instantly became the first phrase of modern international slang. 
Everything was indeed "OK." People the world over, who do not speak or hear English, know and use OK. It is a borrowed word, which is a nice way of saying it may be the only English word for which the Shakespeare family is does not collect royalties.
Okay?
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Sunday, March 20, 2011

AMERICAN ARCHTYPE: PART THREE

I wonder if you realize how little different America was in the first decade of the nineteenth century from the America we know today. The 1810 census recorded the nation's population as just over 7 million. The industrial revolution was still a generation away. But what America did posses in 1800 that we do not have today was was land. For the only time in American history, the adage about land being the one thing “they were not making any more of” was not true. For that was exactly what was being created on the American frontier. And yet, curiously, land prices remained cripplingly high.
This all came about because of Alexander Hamilton's great compromise. He exchanged setting the Federal district between Virginia and Maryland, two states which had little debt, for allowing the Federal Government to take over all the States' debts. This put the American economy on a solid financial footing. This was a good idea, but there was a downside, as explained in “Land Speculation and Other Processes in American Historical Geography”, by Donald Holtgrieve, published in the Journal of Geography in 1976. “Hamilton’s plan was to gather quick returns even if speculators would also profit greatly from land sales...over one-half of the land disposed of by the federal government in the history of this country went through the hands of professional land dealers before it was occupied.”
What this meant for early America was noted by Krout and Fox in their seminal 1944 book, “The Completion of Independence”. “The price of farmland, except near cities, averaged between ten and fifteen dollars per acre...Many an Eastern farm must have sold in 1800 at a higher price than it did, with better buildings, in 1900.” The values of actual sales were in direct contrast with the official price, set in 1795 at a mere $2 an acre. But those official bargains were only available in parcels of 320 acre lots.
And as was, again, noted in “The Completion...” “The common Carey Plow (above) was made entirely of wood, save for an iron collar to cut the sod...With such an implement an acre was a good days work." In other words, any farm over forty acres was simply of no use to a family depending upon farming for its livelihood.
The only people who could afford to buy into the Federal auctions were wealthy speculators and combines of speculators, who re-surveyed and subdivided the land, and then re-sold it to smaller speculators, who re-surveyed and re-sold it to even smaller speculators. Of course, most of these "after market sales" were made with borrowed money, usually borrowed from the previous owner. And should a speculator be caught short on a payment, the lands would return to the lender. So, many land sales were foreclosed upon again and again. And at the bottom of this pyramid of profit it was possible for yeoman farmers to pay as much as 40% interest to buy their farms. "Farmers were thus forced to grow (not food for their own tables, but )cash crops like tobacco or cotton, to pay their debts.” And even if, “...a farmer who found a desired piece of land became a squatter by clearing and planting it with the hope of one day purchasing the acres he had improved... when the cleared lands went up for auction, a speculator could out-bid the squatter....”
George Washington was a speculator, as was Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Andrew Jackson, and Meriwether Lewis. And none of these great men were above hiring thugs to drive squatters off “their” land. It was the speculators who drove Abraham Lincoln's father off his farm in Kentucky, and again off his farm in Indiana and eventually drove him to Illinois, where Abraham gave up farming entirely. As another source writing about this unromantic American frontier points out, “As a consequence of monopolistic tactics and official fraud, northern Alabama lands were overwhelmingly engrossed by absentee speculators and wealthy settler elites.” The leveling process of the American frontier was largely a myth, created by the wealthy in a natural effort to romanticize their past. On the frontier, as in the Eastern cities, money talked. America did not have to be settled in this fashion. But it was.
The image was that everyone seemed to be getting rich off land speculation. But the reality was that a majority of speculators lost money. And the farther you were down the food chain from the original government auction, the less chance you had to see a profit. Like the stock market bubbles of later generations, those drawn into the land market bubble had to quickly sell at profit or they went broke. That drove the prices up, which made the almost unlimited American lands, painfully expensive. As it was in 2000, so it was in 1800; the only guarantee of a profit was to be an Eastern Banker, or to have one as a partner.
It was this reality which faced Meriwether as he first stepped on the docks of St. Louis.
Lewis did two things immediately which almost assured he would be a failure as a Governor. First he announced that should he be out of the territory for any reason, then his old comrade William Clark (who Jefferson and made the Indian Agent) would serve as acting Governor. This made sense to Meriwether because he was new in territory and he knew and could trust Clark. But it was also a disaster, because Frederick Bates was the Lieutenant Governor, and had been the acting Governor for almost a year while Lewis had slowly made his way west. Bates was, officially,  the man who was legally required to be the acting Governor. It was an insult Lewis was not required to deliver and had probably not intended upon delivering. But because he had insulted Frederick Bates, from that moment forward Bates was Lewis' sworn enemy. He would prove to be an effective opponent - for Frederick Bates was a very good at being an unpleasant man.
As Bates wrote to his brother, “My habits are pacific. Yet I have had acrimonious differences with almost every person with whom (I) have been associated in public business…But before God I cannot acknowledge that I have been blamable in one instance.” And he never would admit it.
A few weeks later, Bates (above) related how he was getting along with Lewis. “Sometime after this there was a ball in St. Louis, I attended early, and was seated in conversation with some gentlemen when the Governor entered. He drew his chair close to mine – there was a pause in the conversation – I availed myself of it – arose and walked to the opposite side of the room...He knew my resolution not to speak to him except on business, and he ought not to have thrust himself in my way.”
And these two men now found themselves in charge of dispensing millions of acres of land to the hundreds of speculators who had flocked to St. Louis to avail themselves of the bounty. With that much profit to be made, such an collection of offended egos did not portend a profitable future for any one not skilled at bureaucratic infighting. 
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