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The same old bullshit, for 2 hundred years. First it was the Catholics - German, Italian and Irish - and then Asians, and then Jews. Whose next?

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Friday, July 15, 2011

TOTALLY INSANE

I do not agree with the jury. Their verdict was that Daniel Sickles was temporarily insane when he murdered his good friend, Phillip Key. But the jury was never told what a whoring booze-hound Daniel really was. They were only told what a whoring booze-hound Phillip was. The truth was both men were (in the words of one of Daniel’s defense lawyers), “confirmed and habitual adulterer(s)”.  I might add they both strike me as having the emotional maturity of seven year old children and the sexual proclivity of bunny rabbits.
Before he was even twenty, Daniel Sickles (above) had already been indicted for fraud. Still, his crimminal career didn't really get started until at 26 he passed the New York State bar exam. He served a one year term in the New York State Assembly, and joined a delegation tour of London. There he introduced his mistress, Miss Fanny White (under an assumed name) to the King of England; big scandal in England. Under the pressure, Daniel decided to acquire a wife. In 1852, his legal lady fair, his personal Alice Alquist from “Gaslight”, became MissTerresa Da Ponte Bagiolo,  a good Catholic girl.
Terresa Sickles (above) was the perfect political wife. She was pretty, sophisticated and charming. She had very wealthy parents. She spoke five languages. However, all this merely proves that a smart woman is just as likely to have terrible a taste in men as a dumb woman. Terresa’s only excuse for marrying Daniel (against her parent’s wishes) was that the poor child was just 15, when the 34 year old Daniel seduced and married her. She was three months pregnant when, in 1853, she and Daniel were married a second time, at her parent’s insistence, by the archbishop of New York.
Not that the religious ceremony influenced Daniel’s piggish behavior in the slightest. In 1856 Daniel was elected to the New York State Senate, which shortly thereafter censured him for giving a tour of those august chambers to Miss White, who was at this time identified as the operator of a popular N.Y.C. bordello. When Daniel was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in November 1857, and he and Terresa  moved to Washington, D.C. and rented a fine home on Madison Place, within sight of the White House. However Daniel  also leased a suite of rooms at a Baltimore Hotel (below) for his assignations with Fanny White, and other "soiled doves" in her employ.
Shortly after the couple moved, Daniel was introduced to Mr. Phillip Key, and the two struck up a friendship of kindred spirits. Key was living proof of the old adage about fruit never falling very far from the sapling tree. Phillip’s father, Frances Scott Key, had been so familiar with a certain popular drinking ditty (so difficult to sing that it was used as an 18th century sobriety test), that on the fly he converted it into our national anthem, translating “And swear by old Styx, that we long shall entwine, the myrtle of Venus and Bacchus’ vine” into “Oh, say, does that star spangled banner yet wave, Ore the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
Phillip (above) was forty-two year old widower at the time, with six children, and “the handsomest man in all Washington society”, according to Mrs. Clemet Clay, the biggest gossip in a town that still lives on gossip. At six feet tall, Phillip had “sad eyes and a languid charm” (according to Edward Pinchon who wrote a bio of Dan Sickles), and his “…fine figure, fashionable air, and agreeable address, rendered him extremely popular among the gentler sex”, according to Felix G. Fontaine, who wrote “The Washington Tragedy”.  Key was also the Federal District Attorney for Washington, and thus a good man to know for anyone who might anticipate developing legal problems. Daniel had so far made a second career out of his legal problems, so he decided that Phillip Key was the perfect man to escort Terresa to Washington social functions while Daniel was “relaxing” in Baltimore with Fanny White, and others.
Friends tried to warn Daniel about Phillip’s reputation, and in March of 1858 Daniel had a confrontation with Phillip concerning accusations that were already bubbling up about his intentions toward Terresa. But Daniel came away from that meeting convinced that Phillip could be trusted. Evidently, Daniel assumed that Terresa could also be trusted.
Maybe the twenty year old girl was just fed up with Daniel’s philandering, and maybe it was payback. And maybe she was just lonely. But whatever her motivation, according to Terressa’s own confession, “I did not think it safe to meet (Phillip) in this house, because there are servants who might suspect something….He then told me he had hired (a) house as a place where he and I could meet. I agreed to it.” The assignations took place at 888 Fifteenth Street (above) in Washington, between K and L streets, in a run-down racially mixed neighborhood just around the corner from the Sickles’ rented home. “There was a bed in the second story…. The room is warmed by a wood fire. Mr. Key generally goes first… I went there alone.” And there, confessed Terressa, “I did what is usual for a wicked woman to do”.  Occasionally they also took carriage rides to various cemeteries, where, according to the coachman, “They would walk down the grounds out of my sight, and be away an hour or an hour-and-a-half.” Whatever they were doing out of sight, it was not enough, evidently, to wake the dead, or Daniel.
The torrid affair between Terresa and Phillip was one of the best known secrets in Washington, which has always been at heart, the provincial Southern village it started out as. And it was only a matter of time before some moralizing busybody felt the need to drop Daniel an anonymous letter tdetailing the whole sordid affair. The dreaded day came on Thursday, February 24, 1859. Daniel showed the note to a friend, George Wooldridge, and then “put his hands to his head and sobbed in the lobby of the House of Representatives.” (above) 
On Saturday night, February 26th, Daniel confronted Terressa in her bedroom (they had separate sleeping arraignments, on different floors), and he forced her to write her confession in her own hand. This would later be reprinted on the front page of Haper's Weekly, a national newspaper (above). At about two the following afternoon, as Daniel was being comforted by another drinking buddy, Samuel Butterworth, he spotted Phillip Key walking slowly back and forth on the street in front of his house, waving a white handkerchief in the general direction of Terressa’s bedroom.
Daniel took the time to put on an overcoat, dropped a revolver and two derringers in the pockets, and went charging out on the street. He caught up with Phillip at the corner of Madison Place and Pennsylvania Avenue, just across the street from the White House. Daniel bellowed, “Key, you scoundrel, you have dishonored my bed. You must die!” Thereupon Daniel pulled a derringer and fired. Not surprisingly he missed. Phillip, who until that instant had been unaware the affair had been discovered, grabbed for the gun. The two men struggled for a moment while a dozen witnesses watched in amazement. Phillip finally broke free and ran across the street, He threw a pair of opera classes to cover his retreat, and hid behind a tree.
Daniel followed, and produced a second derringer. This second shot hit Key in the thigh. The playboy dropped to the ground, begging, “Don’t shoot me”, and shouting, “Murder.”
Daniel finally pulled his revolver, and his third shot hit the innocent tree. But the fourth shot, delivered point blank over the prone Phillip, blasted a hole in his chest as big as a silver dollar. The fifth shot misfired, and witnesses managed to restrain Daniel from delivering a ‘coup de grace.’ Not that it mattered; Phillip Key would soon be dead. Explained Daniel, when he was arrested, “He deserved it.”
It was the trial of the century! The prosecutor spoke of the “echoes of the church bells” still lingering in the air” while Daniel pulled the trigger over and over. The eight defense lawyers reminded the jurors that Daniel was “…in a state of white heat, (which) was too great a state of passion for a man to be in, who saw before him the hardened, the unrelenting seducer of his wife”. It was a great show. After a twenty day trial the jury was out for only an hour. A hundred fifty people attended Daniel’s victory celebration. He had been declared, officially, temporarily insane.
The only hiccup occurred when Daniel publicly forgave Terressa. The public, which had supported the heel, now suddenly turned on him. Americans were not offended at the murder on a public street, but at the show of marital compassion.Washington and New York society cut Daniel dead, socially speaking.  Daniel would have been condemned to die in obscurity, remembered only as the first defendant to use the temporarily insanity defense in America, but the outbreak of the civil war saved his reputation. I don't know why. Terressa barely survived that war, succumbing to tuberculosis on February 5, 1867, at the age of thirty-one. She was buried with her parents, back in New York; free at last from her insensitive and violent husband.
Meanwhile, Daniel Sickles went on command one third of the Union Army at the battle of Gettysburg, where he lost a leg and almost lost the war for the Union. After the war he became a diplomat, and proceeded to  to seduce a Spanish Queen. Big scandal in Spain. Smaller scandal in America. Daniel then became chairman of the charity raising money to build a New York State monument at Gettysburg,  The charity found itself  missing $27,000 in cash donations. There was talk of having the old reprobate arrested, but it would have been a public relations nightmare, and Daniel could have hired yet another legal "dream team". Cooler heads prevailed and he was allowed to quietly resign from the charity. In March of 1914, there were rumors that Daniel had finally died. A reporter for the New York Times placed a telephone call to his home on Fifth Avenue. Daniel answered the phone himself. He had never felt better, he told the reporter, and denounced the rumors as a “damn lie.” Two months later he suffered a stroke and really died. He was buried with all honors. All past indiscretions were forgotten, if not forgiven.
And I believe that for every second of his 91 years of life , Daniel Sickles was totally and completely insane. There was absolutely nothing temporary about his mental condition, no matter what the jury said.
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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

WAR AS WAS

I hate to admit it but that effete, arrogant, pompous intellectual snobish Frenchman Marcel Proust was right about two things - first, when he observed that “We learn from history that we do not learn anything from history”, and second that “A change in the weather is sufficient to recreate the world and ourselves.” Both of those profound insights struck me again recently when I stumbled upon an article in an archeology magazine (Antiquity), which illuminated a forgotten memory of the work of a quiet rock artist, named Gerald C. Bond. It may seem a complicated train of events, but please bare with me, while I try to explain how my mind works. (Good luck - hope you enjoy the ride.)
Professor Bond collected and cataloged rocks from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. This may have once seemed an esoteric pursuit, (although as a life long rock hound it sounds like heaven to me) but in that seemingly meaningless melange of sediments Professor Bond stumbled upon layers of limestone pebbles which had nothing to do with the ocean floor. With extraordinary perseverance, Professor Bond identified the pebbles as having come from particular cliffs in Eastern Canada. How did they get thousands of miles out into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean? Professor Bond concluded the only delivery method that made sense was that an ancient glacier had ground against the cliffs, carried the limestone out to sea when it calved icebergs, which then melted and dropped the pebbles into the abyss. When other rocks on the sea floor were identified as coming from the same areas on land, the professor's suspicions were confirmed, and with it a way to measure climate change. More pebbles in a given layer indicated more icebergs, which indicated more glacier ice, which hinted at cooler temperatures and lower sea levels world wide.
What Professor Bond was eventually able to describe were eight bursts of cooling (now called Bond Events) since the last ice age ended about 11,000 years ago. The bursts come in 1,500 year intervals, giving an almost respiratory aspect to our planet's atmosphere. And like a smoker who develops a cough, the deposits on the sea floor, as well as Greenland and Antarctic ice cores, recorded the increasing impact of burning fossil fuels on our planet's health. But they also record something else, equally as ominous and philosophically troubling.
When the weather cooled for Bond Event Seven, (ten thousand years ago) humans responded with the invention of agriculture. Bond Event Four occurred about six thousand years ago, and humans responded with the domestication of sheep and the invention of bronze. And Bond Event Three, which came four thousand years ago, brought on the collapse of great empires in Asia and Egypt, and, of more interest to this story,  in an act of war at a ford across a slow, meandering river in northern Europe.
The river is the somnambulant Tollense (above). For more than ten thousand years it has followed the same sinuous forty-two mile course across forest and marshland in northeastern Germany, now winding this way, now twisting that as it hesitantly approaches the Baltic Sea. There is no time scale in its current, but in the sediments piled along its course, about the year 1250 BC. the Tollense preserved a desperate fight for survival. And we now know know something about the loser and winner of that battle.
The invaders were from the forests to the south, members of the Unetice culture. They were armed with standardized mass produced bronze daggers and hand axes. They were adorned with engraved bracelets and their robes were held together with bronze pins with perforated round heads. They came mounted on horses, and carried millet, which did not grow this far north. That suggests rations, which suggests an organized raiding party which was crossing the Tollense River in the summer, when the water level was down.
The Frisian villages along the Baltic coast were the likely target. These peoples buried their dead in stone crypts, and prayed to the male earth god Inguz, who drove his chariot across the sky as easily as he dived beneath the sea. The villagers enjoyed probably the best diet in the world, with plenty of surf and turf. They fished from long plank canoes with curved and pointed bows. They raised cattle corralled behind their village palisades. But their weapons were stone axes and wooden clubs like baseball bats. The bronze age was late in coming to the Baltic Sea. Copper and tin had to be heated to 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit before they would form bronze, and that takes a lot of dry wood, and a knowledge of ceramics. A culture cannot afford that kind of technology unless it has something to sell. And it was not until recently that these proto-Scandinavian tribes had discovered their “metallum sudaticum”, amber.
Every time the level of the Baltic rose and then fell, with each successive glacier pulse, whole coastal pine forests had been flooded. And with each storm tide more and more fossilized pine tree sap from those now long dead forests washed up on the sandy Baltic beaches. The Frisian villagers who gathered the amber up in hand held nets could not have known where this amber had originated from anymore than the Celts in England knew their Sea Coal had a companion under their feet. But both peoples knew enough to gather the bounty left by the tide. The Frisians fashioned the amber into jewelry and sold and traded it with their inland neighbors. And that made the neighbors envious.
Some time near the mid summer solstice around three thousand eight hundred fifty years ago, some fifty or sixty Unetice raiders were attacked on the banks of the Tollense. It seems likely they were crossing the river, perhaps on their return, when they were attacked by perhaps 150 Frisians. We don't know how long the assault took, or the tactics employed by either side, but we know it was horribly violent.
Of the 100 skeletons uncovered along the river so far, almost all are young male adults (draft age), with many carrying injuries inflicted shortly before death; broken faces, damaged skulls, an arrow head embedded in an arm bone, a thigh bone fracture which mimics that still commonly suffered by horseback riders. The skeletons of the horses were also detritus of this bronze age battle. None of these bodies were buried with funeral goods. They were not buried by family or friends or even enemies. They lay in the river unattended for some time before a flood carried them downstream and stuffed them into a mud bank, like an ancient memento  left between the pages of a forgotten diary. 
The archaeologists who discovered these skeletons want to go back to learn more about this no longer pre-historic life and death struggle. It seems important. It seems to provide proof that four thousand years ago, war had already become a standardized, ritualized young man's game, just as it is today. And in all probability, the leaders of the Uentice and Frisians spoke about the honor and nobility of battle, and the necessary sacrifices of their brave young men who died along the ancient banks of the Tollense.
The archaeologists are going back to the banks of the Tollense, because they think there is more to learn, more skeletons to be uncovered. And the most important question they want an answer to is why in God's name were these young men murdering each other? Was it amber or gold? Was it slavery or freedom? Was it fish or faith?  Four thousand years later the answer seems almost as important as it must have seemed to them.  But we already know the answer.
In truth, we are the answer to all those questions. Those men without names died to create our world. And not a single one of them would have willing made that sacrifice if it had been offered to them, because for our world to be born, theirs had to die. The Unetice and the Frisian languages, art, religion and culture all had to be devoured before our language, art, religion and culture could come into existence. All history is  cannibalism. No one willingly fights for a place at the table just to become the meal, but evetually we all are. The only ray of hope in Msr. Proust's dismal ethoes is that it does not explain Professor Bond.
And in that I chose to find hope for humanity. Call me a romantic. Or maybe I'm still just a rock hound.
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Sunday, July 10, 2011

THE SECRET LIFE OF CAPITALISM Part Two

I don't suppose most people have ever heard of Henry Comestock (above). And the few who know he was the namesake of the 1859 Comestock Lode strike, probably do not know he had acquired his share of the richest silver strike in history not with a pick and shovel, but by trading a mining claim for an blind horse and a bottle of whiskey. But even fewer know that within 10 short years Henry was flat broke again. In September of 1870 Henry Comestock took advantage of the poor man's retirement plan. He shot himself.
William “Billy” Ralston (above), aka “The Magician of San Francisco”, founder and manager of the Bank of California, had no intention of suffering a similar fate. In 1864, almost by slight of hand, he convinced twenty-two of California's Gold Rush millionaires to finance his new bank. He used their capital to make loans to miners in the Comestock Lode. And although Ralston did not invent the idea of giving the miners the shaft, he did practice it on an industrial scale. He carefully hid loopholes in his loan documents, and used them ruthlessly, to ensnare miner after miner, and to make himself one of the richest and most powerful men in California.
He invested his profits in wool mills, cigar factories, hotels and theaters. And he gave money to the needy so willingly that it seemed at times as if Ralston wasn't interested in money, so much as he had an insatiable hunger to be richer than he was. And that was why in the spring of 1872 he jumped on the diamond mountain with such enthusiasm. And having jumped, he wanted to squeeze the original founders of the strike, Philip Arnold and John Slack, out of the deal completely. But his problem in this case was that to properly exploit the diamond mountain Ralston figured he would need $50 million, far more than even he possessed. He needed lots of investors, and lawmakers to protect the investment. Ralston sent his good friend and sometime business partner, the magically named Asbury Harpending to New York City on the transcontinental railroad with a bag of gems and instructions to get them valued by none other than the “King of Diamonds”, Charles Lewis Tiffany.
The truth was Charles Tiffany had never seen a raw diamond in his life. What he was, was a marketing genius. He had opened his stationary store in 1837 with $1,000 in capital borrowed from his father. Then, when P.T. Barnum had to shoot one of his elephants, Charles Tiffany bought the poor pachyderm's hide and had it sewn into cigar cases, diaries and wallets. When Barnum's Tom Thumb got married, the miniature pony and coach which carried the diminutive bride and groom away from the church, were provided by Tiffany, and beforehand displayed in his store. And when the the first Transatlantic Telegraph cable was completed in 1858, Tiffany bought several hundred yards of the excess wire, sliced it into sections and sold it mounted on plaques. On the first day of sales, the crowds were so large the police had to restore order – or so Tiffany claimed
But it was Gideon Reed from Boston who ran the firm's Paris store, and who invented the diamond engagement ring, to handle a glut of small stones from South Africa then swamping the market. And it was George McClure, the companies' head gemologist, who oversaw the army of designers who created the Tiffany jewelry style. But nobody outside of the diamond industry had ever heard about those guys. Charles Tiffany (above in his 5th Avenue shop) was the public personification of Tiffany and Company. And so when Asbury Harpending stepped off the train in Pennsylvania Station in the spring of 1872, it was Charles Tiffany's valuation of the gems that he was seeking.
Asbury Harpending (above) described Tiffany's dramatic performance, at his lawyer's home. “A number of distinguished men were present to see the gems displayed...General George B. McClellan, Horace Greeley, Mr. Duncan, of the banking house of Duncan, Sherman & Co....(and Congresman) General B. F. Butler...I opened the bag of diamonds....Mr. Tiffany viewed them gravely, sorted them into little heaps, held them up to the light, looking every whit the part of a great connoisseur. "Gentlemen," he said, "these are beyond question precious stones of enormous value”...In an official statement, still available, his valuation on the lot was $150,000....At that figure, we had diamonds enough already in stock to make up a total of $1,500,000 in hard cash, whenever we wanted to turn them into money....The news of the Tiffany appraisement...soon became common property in New York and made a big stir in speculative circles.”
Thrilled at Tiffany's estimation of the value of the diamonds, back in San Francisco William Ralston officially incorporated the San Francisco and New York Mining and Commercial Company, with a million dollars in “working” capital, and 100,000 shares of stock, initially valued at $40 a share. William Lent was named as President, Ralston named himself as treasurer, and David Colton became the general manager. Even the Baron Rothschild bought stock in the new company.
As the addition of the word “Commercial” indicated, Ralston was dreaming big – very big. The board of directors of his new company were empowered not only to dig out the diamonds of Diamond Mountain – where ever it might be – but they were also empowered to cut and polish the stones, and develop the market for them. Less than six months after Allen and Slack had shared the existence of the Diamond Mountain with him, Ralston was planning on transplanting the entire Amsterdam (above) diamond market to San Francisco, replete with cutters, polishers, graders, wholesalers and, of course, customers. Anyone who could be helpful to Ralston's grand plan, including Congressman Butler, was granted shares in the new venture.
What the rotund Congressman Butler (above) from New York delivered were a few words added to the General Mining Act of 1872, approved in record time and with a minimum of debate in either the house or the Senate, and taking effect on July 9th.  This bill established the price of a mining claim on federal land at $2.50 to $5.00 an acre, a figure which has resisted all pressure for an increased benefit to the federal purse for the last 140 years. Under this landmark legislation, bargain priced mining claims made be made by those seeking gold, silver, copper or, as Butler amended the act, “other valuable deposits”. In short, diamonds.
By the time this loose end had been tied down, Philip Allen and John Slack were back in San Francisco again, with another bag of diamonds and sapphires. By this time, however, William Ralston had managed to convince the Kentucky simpletons to sell their entire claim to him outright. Their price was $660,000.00; half up front and half upon a final examination by a third engineer, picked by Ralston,  and the revelation of the exact location of the claim.
The man Raston picked for this final and most important appraisal of the diamond mountain was one of the most respected consulting mining engineer's in America, a man whose 600 previous appraisals had been so accurate his clients had never lost a dollar on his jobs; Henry Janin. His fee was standard - $2,500 in cash, all expenses paid to and from the claim, chemicals required to confirm the quality of the claim, and the right to buy 1,000 shares in the enterprise at a nominal price. It was all boiler plate, industry standard arraignments. Of course, contained within them were the seeds of destruction for the entire enterprise, and everyone associated with it. But at least one person had figured that out ahead of time.
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