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.The Eternal American Battle - Humans V Money

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Friday, August 05, 2011

THE GAME OF POLITICS

I don't think anybody ever told Theodore Roosevelt “no”, and made it stick. When they told him America could not afford a two ocean navy, Theodore - he hated being called Teddy - first created the country of Panama. Then he defeated yellow fever. And then he built the Panama Canal, allowing the United States to eventually turn the seven seas into an American lake. After he left the White House in 1908, when they told Theodore no one had ever charted the River of Doubt in Brazil, Theodore insisted on traversing all 400 miles of it through the rain forests. He was infected with malaria and suffered from dysentery. He lost 60 pounds off his 220 pound frame. But he charted the river, and it was later renamed the Rio Roosevelt. Nope; nobody ever doubted Theodore’s tenacity, even when he decided he wanted to be President one more time, in 1916.
Theodore faced one insurmountable hurdle between himself and the Republican nomination that year, and it was named William Howard Taft. The fat man had been Theodore’s chosen successor in 1908. But almost immediately Taft began laboring under the mistaken impression that he was now President, not just Theodore’s stand in. And when it Taft indicated his preference to stay in the White House, Theodore let it be known that he considered Taft to have stolen the presidency under false pretenses, just because he had won an election.
After holding the 1912 Republican convention hostage for two weeks, Theodore’s supporters, representing progressives finally walked out. This handed the nomination to the hated Taft conservatives, who then purged all progressives from party leadership; it was the original RHINO test - Republican in Name Only. In response Theodore willed into existence the “Bull Moose” Progressive Party, and the resultant three way race for President saw Woodrow Wilson elected. Theodore found that acceptable because he was convinced he could hold the hated Democrat to just one term.
Four years later, Theodore’s biggest hurdle was now his own creation, the Progressive Party. They were devoted to Theodore, but the Republicans blamed them (and Theodore) for their defeat in 1912. Rejoining the two antagonists to retake the White House seemed an impossible goal - just the sort of thing Theodore excelled at doing.
First, Theodore convinced the Progressives to hold their convention in early July and in Chicago, at the same time when, and in the same city where, the Republicans would be holding their convention. And then Theodore convinced some of the leading members of both sides to hold conferences on reuniting. Theodore’s idea was, of course, that they should reunite around him
His agent on the spot was George W. Perkins (above). And luckily (for us) George had his private secretary Miss Mary Kihm, on a telephone extension, secretly transcribing his conversations with Theodore. I imagine the poor woman, at some tiny out of the way desk, perhaps even in a closet under the stairs, holding a handset tight against her ear with one hand and furiously taking shorthand with the other. The conversations she assiduously transcribed were held at all hours of the day and night over a week’s time, and Mary was always there. There are even occasional breaks in the record when, I assume, Mary desperately raced for the bathroom and back.
Just after noon, on Monday, 6 June, 1916, in Chicago, George called Theodore at his home in Oyster Bay, New York, to confirm that it seemed likely that the Republicans intended upon nominating Charles Evens Hughes (above), an ex-Supreme Court Justice. George put Pennsylvanian Senator Boies Penrose on the phone. Theodore had never met Penrose, and you have to wonder what the Senator from Pennsylvania could be talking about that Perkins could not have said.  Penrose  informed Roosevelt that “This Hughes proposition has assumed proportions none of us dreamed of before we came here."  Then Pensrose asked suggestively, "Have you any suggestions to make?” Theodore immediately assured Penrose that if there was a third Roosevelt term, he would make Penrose the leader of the Senate. Penrose disingenuously replied, “I really do not think the question of patronage…is the controlling factor at present.” But he added, “There is a general desire to win.” In other words, he accepted Theodore’s offer.
Theodore’s old friend, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, then got on the phone and assured Theodore that, “It is going to be either you or Hughes.” But he went on to warn “... if the Progressives nominate you before we act, that blows our plans all up and destroys them.” To this Theodore, just as disingenuously, replied, “…if they do not nominate me I shall breathe a sigh of relief.… I can earnestly say I am not interested in my personal welfare at all; but…I know I am worth two of Hughes.” You could never accuse Theodore of  lacking self confidence.
The next night the keynote address at the Republican Convention was delivered by Senator Warren G. Harding, in which he first used the phrase “Founding Fathers" - and don't we all wish he hadn't? That same night, on a more pragmatic note, Theodore again spoke by phone with George Perkins, with Mary Kihm again on the extension. Speaking of the Republican convention, George told Theodore, “We figure up 81 or 82 votes on the first ballot. … On the second ballot we know we will have more than 75, and then we will be in the running.”   George then laid out the plan for handling the "other" convention. “Now suppose that I could get (the progressives)…to authorize me to say to you, confidentially, that provided…the right Vice President and the platform were put up, we would immediately pick up our banners, walk down to the Coliseum (where the Republicans were gathered) and surrender, body, boots and breeches.” Theodore thought that idea sounded bully, saying “George, that is a master stroke.” It was all theater, of course, but Theodore was certain it would be a hit that would run for at least four years.
Both conventions opened on Wednesday, 8 June, 1916, and it was immediately clear that Justice Hughes and the conservatives had no intention of letting Theodore steal he nomination. Theodore told a friend, “Hughes has been a big disappointment thus far. I guess there is no need to tell you that I think Hughes a good deal of a skunk in the attitude he has taken.” I guess anybody was a skunk who did not support Theodore, in Theodore's opinion.
All that night, and the next, the conference between the Progressives and Republicans met and argued and cajoled and sought a compromise. But at 3:30 A.M. Friday morning they finally admitted defeat. The Republican conservatives were backing Hughes and the Republican Progressives were backing Roosevelt, and neither would accept any middle ground. That afternoon the Republicans began making nominating speeches for President. At 3:30 that Friday afternoon William White, a leader of the Kansas Progressives, warned Theodore that his group could not hold off much longer. Theodore urged him to wait. “You know I haven’t committed myself in any way about running on a third ticket, but as you know I am very reluctant to do so. I can see that only damage would come from it…Try to keep our convention from acting today. Keep them from acting until tomorrow.” But White warned, “I think it can be very easily handled for tonight provided the Republicans do not…stampede for Hughes. Our people do not like the Hughes proposition.”
That night Theodore’s operative, George Perkins (above), warned that the Progressives were no longer willing to wait. “…they did not propose to listen to any more nonsense about postponing your nomination and were going to put you through.” To this Theodore observed, “George, there is no doubt about it; the other fellows have all the crooks and we have all the cranks.”
At this inopportune moment, Mary Kihm took a bathroom break. It was a little reminiscent of Ms. Woods and the 18 1/2 minute gap in the Watergate tapes, although I certainly hope Mary was not gone that long. When she did return to her duties, Theodore was lamenting, “...much as I despise Hughes I would prefer him to one of the burglars (meaning a Taft man, meaning a Hughs man). Even the members of our lunatic fringe take that view.” It seemed that at the precise moment that Mary had been taking a tinkle, Theodore had been accepting the unpleasant truth.
The balloting at the Republican Convention put the coda to Theodore’s maneuvers. On the first ballot Charles Hughes (above) got 253 votes, while Theodore got 81, just as George had predicted. But the second ballot, taken almost immediately, saw Hughes surge to 326 votes, while Theodore dropped to 65. On the third round Hughes reached 950 votes and Theodore faded to only 19 true believers. Hughes was declared the Republican nominee by unanimous consent at 12:37 p.m, Saturday 11 June, 1916. Stung, the Progressives immediately nominated Theodore.
But Theodore was now rethinking his position. He had fought Hughes. He did not like Hughes. He did not trust Hughes, as long as he stood a chance of beating Hughes. But he now told his son Kermit, “Of course I will support him, but I will not be responsible for him.” In other words, Theodore had decided to cut the ground out from under his own Bull Moose Progressive Party. And they were the last third party to have a real chance of winning a presidential election in the United States.  They may call this stuff "Political Science", but its all about ego.
Like all good politicians, Theodore was thinking about himself. And he was thinking four years ahead. To mend fences, he campaigned for Hughes, and spoke out for him strongly. And with Theodore’s support Hughes even seemed to be pulling ahead on election night. Early the next morning, when a reporter rang up Hughes’ hotel suite, the butler informed him that “The President is asleep.” To which the reporter replied, “Well, when he wakes up, tell him he isn’t the President.”
Charles Evens Hughes won 18 states and 254 electoral votes. Wilson took 30 states for 277 electoral votes. If Hughes had just won California, he would have been President. And he lost California by a mere 3,800 votes. Wilson was thus the first Democrat to win a second term as President since Andrew Jackson, and the first man from either party to win without carrying his home state
Theodore had mended his fences. And Hughes was now out of the way. But Theodore would never make the 1920 run for the White House. He died in his sleep at his home on Oyster Bay, on 6 January 1919. Most of those who knew him blamed his death on that trip up the river of Doubt.  As Thomas Marshall put it, “Death had to take Roosevelt sleeping, for if he had been awake, there would have been a fight.”
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Wednesday, August 03, 2011

SHAKESPERE, ON THE LOW DOWN

I am very unhappy with Sir Derek Jacobi. He’s the actor, probably best known as star of the BBC series “I, Claudius”, who has officially signed on with a group trying to sell the idea that William Shakespeare did not write the plays of William Shakespeare. And before your eyes glaze over,  allow me to explain that Will Shakespeare was not that different then the average person today. As a teenager Will got his girlfriend pregnant and had to marry her. And then, in his early twenties, he ran out on her and their three daughters, and then made a nice living as an actor and 14th century sex symbol, who probably had many meaningless affairs, perhaps with members of both sexes, but who also continued to provide for his family at great economic sacrifice to himself. And just because he lived before the invention of the iPad he is considered boring? Posh! A bisexual philander? They are always relevant in the theatre community!
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John Shakespeare, the father, was a landowner and politician, with a trophy wife and a coat of arms. As any good politician John liked to refer to himself as just a simple guy, a mere maker of gloves, in much the same way 350 years later Joe Kennedy liked to call himself a liquor importer,  instead of a politcal bootlegger, which is what he was. But like old Joe Kennnedy, John Shakespere was ambitious. He served in almost every job in Stratford city government, and as the son of a pre-capitalistic bourgeoisie, William got the best of everything. Will was probably even educated in the King’s New School, a sort of junior college for civil service types. But young Will got sidelined by that thing that side lines most teenagers, sex. In 1582, at the age of 18, Will married Anne Hathaway and six months later she gave birth to their first daughter. John must have been very disappointed. Then, three years later, Anne gave birth to twin girls. It was shortly thereafter that the now 21 year old Will ran away from home and joined a London theater company, The Lord Chamberlain’s Men. John must have been doubly pleased.
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Most people in London knew Will as an actor, but we know he wrote poetry, because there is a 1593 copy of “Venus and Adonis” and a 1594 copy of “The Rape of Lucrene” with dedications signed ‘William Shakespeare”. “Even as the sun with purple-colored face – Had ta’en his last leave of the weeping morn – Rose-checked Adonis hied him to the chase; - Hunting he loved, but love he laughed to scorn”. Okay, it’s not up to the standard of “Gimmie Some'a Lovin'”, but it was pretty hot for its day. 
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Doubters like Sir Jacobi like to point out that there are no copies of Will’s plays or poetry from the 1590’s with him listed as the author, but over a third of all the plays published at this time listed no author at all. Authorship had just been invented,  and they didn’t have it standardized yet. It would be another 400 years plus before the RIAA sued any college students for downloading music. But a 1598 book written by Francis Meres does mention twelve plays defiantly written by William Shakespeare, including Two Gentlemen of Verona, A Comedy of Errors, Love Labors Lost, King John, Titus and Adois, Romeo and Juliet, and Henry IV, and what must be a lost work, William Shakespeare’s The Matrix Redux”.
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The usual argument given by the "antistratfordians" is that Will was the front man for a nobleman who could not publicly admit to being involved in the theatre, not because being theatrical back then was considered “gay”. There was no “gay” stigma before the Victorian era. But being theatrical was, periodically, illegal. The general feeling at the time was that human actors on stage were a degenerate form of amusement, where as the other great public entertainment of the time, bear baiting, was wholesome and family friendly. Just not toward the bear’s family.
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But Will’s plays were popular and profitable, with lots of violence and sex. Whoever wrote this stuff, this was not your average stuff. And the works have survived for 500 years because they are extraordinary and because in 1624, after Will’s death, Richard Burbridge, Will’s friend and fellow actor and fellow investor in the theatre company, made sure the plays were preserved using the still novel invention of printing. Thank God he didn’t record them on Betamax.
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But why does Sir Jacobi think that a common jerk could not have written “To be or not to be, that is the question…” (Hamlet) or “Out damn spot. Out” (MacBeth), or “Oh, ye fen sucked fogs!”(King Lear)? Considering that everything attributed to Will was based on earlier works by classic authors like Plato and Plutarch, not to mention the works by that most prolific writer in the ancient world, Ann Ominous, it is clear that Will knew the first rule of good writing; steal only from the best and steal often.
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In ten years in London’s theatre community, generally a hand to mouth existence then as now, Will made enough money to buy the second largest house in Stratford, to keep Anne and the children comfortable and quiet, even while he remained in London. If he was not the writer of plays, where did that money come from? Crack hadn’t been invented yet, nor had tobacco. How was Will able to afford a partnership in the Rose playhouse unless it was as compensation for the content he created for the company? And where did he get enough money to buy those snazzy little leotards everybody wore?
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There are always other explanations and theories as to how and why Will Shakespeare could not have written all of these magnificent plays. But if not Shakespeare, then who; if not Shakespeare, then why: If not Shakespeare then Whatzzup? All other theories as to the plays authorship require a conceit of some kind, some slight of hand and trick of hidden identities and women disguised as men and men in horse suits with stolen credit cards, the kind of stuff that Will used in most of his plays. Nobody would ever believe that stuff. But always the simplest explanation is that Will Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare. And that’s why every one at the time said he did.
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In 1634, almost 20 years after Will’s death, a Lieutenant noted that his militia company had stopped at Stratford where, “…that famous English poet, Mr. William Shakespeare, was born …”. Now, popular culture today may give credit to some who do not deserve it, and that happened in the 17th century as well. But, what is more likely; that in an age when the printed word was still subservient to the spoken one, that a writer known for his scribbled poems would be misidentified as the author of well loved plays, or that Shakespeare was who we think he was and that Derek Jacobi is just full of hoo hoo?
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In 1610, when the Shakespere twins were old enough to be married and out of the house, Will returned to Stratford and to Anne. He died there in 1616, as proven by his will, which details the division a rather large estate, including several properties in London. The length and complexity of this document indicates a successful man. But there is also one petty little item in the will about leaving Anne his “second best bed”. That item cries out for an answer to the question, “Who got his first best bed?”
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Sunday, July 31, 2011

THE SECRET LIFE OF CAPITALISM Part Five

I believe it was pure luck that Philip Arnold and John Slack, the co-conspirators in the Great Diamond Hoax, had arrived in Amsterdam at just the right moment in history. The supply of new uncut diamonds from India had slowly dried up begining after 1800, and output from the newer Brazilian mines had shrunk by 1860 to a mere 5,000 carats a year. But beginning in about 1867, the influx of 20,000 carats a year from South Africa had revived the market. By 1870, along Tulpstraat (Tulip Street) there were seventy companies employing some 12,000 people in the grading, polishing and cutting of diamonds from South Africa. There was so many diamonds about, that after grading, most of the lesser quality stones were sold at a discount in lots to the lesser talented cutters in Antwerp, Belgium and London, England. And it was at just at this propitious moment, in the fall of 1870, that the two Kentucky con men made their entrance upon the stage.
If you are going to create a diamond mine, the first thing you need are diamonds. Most of the Dutch dealers read the Kentuckians as stereotypical 'nouveaux riches' Americans with more money than taste. And by carefully picking through the stockpiles of discarded stones from dozens of different companies, Arnold and Slack were able to turn their carefully hoarded $25,000 life savings into enough rocks to impersonate a diamond mine - if no one who looked at them had any experience with diamonds in the  rough. And that was unlikely as the industry was almost completely operated by insular ultra conservative Hasidic Jews – another lucky break for Arnold and Slack. But, as insurance, the Americans picked up a few hundred trash-heaped sapphires as well.  Having completed their shopping trip, Arnold and Slack sailed for Halifax, Canada. By avoiding American ports they greatly reduced their chances of meeting anyone who might know them, now or in the future.
We know that the pair had worked mines in Arizona, and that Philip Arnold had examined other mining claims for Ralston's bank, mostly in California and Nevada. But either man could have heard about the odd “conical” shaped mountain overlooking a worthless claim along the Utah, Colorado and Wyoming border. During the long summer of 1871 Arnold and Slack carefully “salted” their claim with a heady selection of diamonds and sapphires. Then they waited for winter, when harsh weather in the Nevada fields forced prospectors to stay close to San Francisco. And in February of 1872, just when the rock hound's cabin fever would be reaching its height, the two con men floated to the surface and spread their rumors of a big find.
As the Kentuckians anticipated, Ralston (above) eagerly took the bait and insisted on having his own experts examine the claim. Arnold and Slack made a show of reluctantly agreeing to take David Colton and Major George Roberts to the claim, in exchange for a $50,000 cash investment. And with that they had broken even on the scam. Now they were going after a profit.
It was to be expected that neither expert on this March expedition knew anything about diamonds, since nobody in California did. And since both Colton and Roberts were also investors in the mine it was easy to convince them they were about to become fabulously wealthy. All they had to do waswant to believe. In Oakland, on the return from the claim, Arnold and Slack collected their payment and then hurried off again. Ralston was told they were returning to work on the claim. In fact the pair was headed back to Europe, to fetch more diamonds.
During the spring and early summer of 1872, while Asbury Harpending was in New York, receiving Charles Tiffany's glowing appraisal of the diamonds and sapphires salvaged from the disposal bins in Amsterdam, Philip Arnold and John Slack were in London, repeating their performance. Things went quicker this time because there was less of a language barrier, there were fewer cutters to chose from, and the Kentuckian con men were more knowledgeable about what they needed. Also, with their scam approaching its apex, there was less need for secrecy. Again they sailed from and to Canadian ports – a five day sail to and from Halifax.
But something held them up on this trip, and  they did not have time to salt the mines. Instead, carrying  about $35,000 worth of low grade diamonds and sapphires, they were forced to return directly for San Fransico. But there was no need to worry, for in their absence, “Billy” Ralston had been dreaming again. He thought that, as usual, his victims were playing by a different set of rules than he was. But this time the Kentucky con men were playing the same game Ralston was.  On their return, Ralston offered the two Kentucky con men $660,000 and a percentage of future profits for the precise location of the claim, and a quit claim, once the value was confirmed by yet another expert. Any concern Arnold or Slack may have initially felt on hearing about this additional inspection was dissipated when they learned the identity of the final expert who stood between them and a fabulous fortune. He was not some mysterious South African or Brazilian diamond expert. He was Henry Janin.
From the moment he boarded the train that August, Henry Janin was like a child being read to from his favorite story book. He wanted to believe. He knew the plot so well, he could almost say the lines before they were read to him. What he expected to see, Janin saw. Arnold must have known the man from their decades in San Francisco mining circles. Slack must have known the arrogance and self satisfied self assurance, and the amazing avarice that drove Janin. Once Janin was picked, both men must have known the $330,000 in escrow and the $330,000 promised upon revelation, was as good as theirs.
The mystery of the 36 hour train ride, the darkened “abandoned” station, the blindfolds, the almost biblical wandering four day journey across the desert, everything about the trip seemed to be calculated to inspire mystery and romance. It was a perfectly calculated performance, except for Philip Arnold's final trip to “get his barrings”. On that fourth morning he must have rode off in desperation, and spent a hurried few hours salting the claim. Perhaps this is why the second trip from the railroad to the diamond mountain took twice as long as the first. But Arnold need not have worried. Greed makes peole stupid. And even so obvious a slip in their veil of conspiracy failed to awaken the would be millionaires from their slumber. Arnold returned in time to lead his audience directly to a camp site at the foot of the diamond mountain, and any lingering doubts evaporated at the first glint of bling.
Ashbury Harpending (above) had almost blown their happy ending when he had heard the train whistle on the wind. Philip Arnold quickly assured him that the railroad was a hundred miles away, when in fact it was only twenty – just over the horizon. Lucky again, for the Kentuckians, that western trains were still burning wood to supply their steam. Wood smoke is white, and seen from a distance might be a cloud on the horizon. In another decade the tiny deserted station at Rawlings Springs, where the party had left the railroad, would be a very crowded place, the skies above it darkened with a constant pall of thick black smoke, as the transcontinental trains were switched to burning coal, found in great quantities by Professor King's 40th Parallel Survey a mile or so north of the station.
It was Arnold and Slack who took over the panning duties for Janin. And this allowed them to magically  produce diamonds and sapphires with even a clumsy slight of hand. Half hour of dull unrewarding work would have discouraged any of the more zealous members of the party from panning themselves. And having been relieved of the real work, the robber baron want-a-bees could concentrate on the more enjoyable task of building castles in the air. They split up, each man wandering off to look for his own personal fortune, like Janin and his claim on the water rights. It was a storybook voyage to a fantasy island in a desert mirage. The only person who did not seem to enjoy the trip was John Slack. It appeared he was cursed with the confidence man's worst enemy – a conscious.
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