JUNE 2017

JUNE  2017
J.P. Morgan as a young man in his own words - "The Public Be Damned."

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Friday, September 23, 2011

TILL THE COWS COME HOME

I admit that eventually we must all bow to the will of genetics, even if we aren’t common cattle. And when you come up against a human family like the Smith’s of Glastonbury, Connecticut, any argument of nature verses nurture seems almost pointless. Zephaniah Hollister Smith graduated an ordained minister from Yale, but he gave it up because he did not believe in mixing prophets with profits. Allegedly he excommunicated his entire congregation, and they returned the favor. Swinging to the other extreme Zephaniah then became a successful lawyer. His wife, Hannah Hadassah Hickock Smith was a linguist, a mathematician and a poet, all the more amazing an achievement since she lived in the second half of the 18th century when women were little more than chattle. The couple shared a fascination for astronomy, a passion for the abolition of slavery, and five girls.
 First there was Laurilla Aleroyia Smith, born in 1785, who painted portraits in her own studio on Main Street in Glastonbury. She also taught French in nearby Hartford. Then there was Hancy Zephina Smith, born in 1787. She was of a mechanical mind. She built her own boat, and invented a machine to shoe horses. Then there was Cyrinthia Scretuia Smith, born in 1788 with a green thumb. She raised fruit trees, grapes, strawberries, and grafted her own varieties of apple trees. In her free time she was also a scholar of Latin and Greek literature. But the real revolutionaries were the two youngest girls.
They told a story about Julia Evelina Smith (born in 1792.) While trapped during a long stage trip with a Chancellor and a professor, both from Yale, “Miss” Julia was insulted when the two men began an animated conversation in French, ignoring her completely. After listening for several minutes, Julia spoke up, saying “Excusez-moi, mais je comprends le français.” Without an acknowledgement of her presence, the two men immediately shifted their discussion to Latin, whereupon Julia interrupted again; “Excuse mihi , EGO quoque narro Latin.” The intellectuals were appalled at the continued interruption and shifted to Greek, and Julia responded with “Και κατανοώ επίσης ελληνική". Finally the Chancellor spoke to the lady directly, demanding, “Who the devil are you!?”
Julia also spoke Hebrew, and had been conducting her own study of both the Old and the New Testaments. You see, she had expected the world to end in December of 1843, and was determined to find it why it had not. Her younger sister, Abby Adassah (born in 1797) was the quietest of the five, and much to everyone’s surprise (including herself) was perhaps the best public speaker of all. It seems a pity to point out that none of men in the area seemed to have been bright enough to garner any of the ladies’ interests in marriage.
It also seems a pity that of this entire family, all of them independently financially successful, intellectually powerful and culturally sophisticated, only the father, Zephaniah, was politically empowered. And when he died, on February 1, 1836, the richest, best educated family in central Connecticut, was no longer allowed to cast a single vote.
This oddity lay simmering beneath the surface until November of 1873. By now most of the female members of the Smith family had gone on to meet their maker, until only Julia, now aged 82, and Abby, now aged 77, were left to bear the Smith genetic code. It was then that the male officials of Glastonbury made the decision to raise the property tax assessment on the Smith farm by $100. The sisters would have no trouble meeting the obligation, but the increase bothered Abby, and she looked into it.
What she discovered was that in the entire town, only three properties had suffered the reassessment; the Smith farm, and the properties of two widows. Not a single male property owner had been reassessed. Abby was so incensed that she wrote a speech, which she delivered at the next town meeting. “…here, where liberty is so highly extolled and glorified by every man in it, one half of the inhabitants…are ruled over by the other half...All we ask of the town, is not to rule over them as they rule over us, but to be on an equality with them.”
Well, the male citizens at the meeting responded to the speech in the same way the Yale Chancellor and Professor in the coach had responded to Julia. They ignoed the little lady. So, the sisters decided more radical action was required. They announced that until they received representation (the right to vote), they would no longer submit to any additional taxation. Oh, they paid their property taxes each year, and promptly, but they refused to pay the reassessment.
In response the tax collector, Mr. George C. Andrews, seized from the Smith farm seven cows. The bovines were almost pets of the Smith sisters -  named, Jessie, Daisy, Proxy, Minnie, Bessie, Whitey, and Lily. The cows were valued well beyond the $101.39 additional tax bill. So the determmined sisters dispatched an agent to buy the beloved pets at auction, paying far in excess of the tax bill to save four of them. The remaining three were sold at auction, although I doubt they proved to be worth the price since none of the cows were willing to be milked unless Julia was present.
Meantime, the Springfield Massachusetts Republican newspaper reprinted Abby’s speech, and it was picked up and reprinted in newspapers nationwide. The story was even repeated in Europe. It was, wrote one newspaper, “A fit centennial celebration to the Boston Tea Party.”
In April Abby was denied time to speak again at the next town meeting. So she climbed on board a wagon out side and delivered her remarks from there, this time heard about equally by men and women. When tax time came around again, the sisters still refused to pay the additional assessment. This time Mr. Andrews seized 15 acres of Smith pasture, worth about $2,000. And this time he moved the location of the auction at the last minute, so the sisters could not even buy back their own land. The valuable property was bought by a male neighbor for less than $80.
In response the sisters sued Mr. Andrews in local court,  and they won. The court ordered the property (and the cows) returned to the sisters, and fined Mr. Andrews $10. The city appealed, and the case began the tortuous climb through the courts. In November of 1876, the old maids won at the Connecticut Supreme Court, and the city finally accepted it had been beaten by two lady spinsters.
Julia wrote an account of their adventure, “Abby Smith and her Cows”, published in 1877. That made the sisters famous, and they spoke at suffragette meetings until Julia’s death in 1878. Abby followed her in 1886. But women still could not vote in Connecticut until the 19th Amendment to the National Constitution was officially passed, in August of 1920. The Smith family home was finally made a National Historical Landmark, but not until 1974.
The history of the Julia and Abby Smith, and their cows ought to be considered by members of the modern Tea Party. In the Smith case it was the right to vote that was denied by the government. While in the modern version of the tea party it is the obligation of citizens to support their government which is denied. The problem is, one is directly connected to the other. In the former case, it was brilliance of mind and spirit that drove the two ladies to protest and win. In the latter it seems it is arrogance and selfishness that fuels the protest, and in the long run it is doomed to lose. He - or she - who holds the purse strings, holds the power. Andm you can advocate the destruction of the political system for only so long, because if you succeed, you lose.
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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

WHAT'S EATING YOU

I think of that evening as if it were a C.S.I. episode. Three suspects, Hugh Morville, William Tracy and Richard Breton, enter an office. They asked the manager to step outside so they can talk. Suspicious, he refuses. A pushing and tugging match ensues, during which the manager is hit on the head. That shocks the suspects for a few moments, allowing the staff to hustle them outside. Once there they regained their anger, grab weapons, burst back into the office, and attack the manager - killing him. CSI arrives to examine the scene, but they were forced to wait, as the staff insists on holding a prayer vigil over the manager's corpse. And this is what C.S.I. observes while forced to wait - as envisioned in Hans Zinsser’s 1935 epic little book, “Rats, Lice and History”
“As the victim's body cooled, the successive layers of his robes of office also cooled, and all the creatures that had been living within the folds and pleats started looking for a new home. Wave after wave of various fleas, ticks, spiders, pincher bugs, and other creatures flowed out from the corpse, “…like water in a simmering cauldron” - producing in the hushed mourners gathered in the dim cathedral, “…alternate weeping and laughter…’”.
The year was 1170, and the victim was the archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket. And his personal population of little bugs was proof of what life was like before the invention of the hot shower. Alas, we have since lost this intimate connection to life other than our own on our own, as most of the creatures which evolved to feast upon us were driven to extinction by the evolution of personal hygiene. But there are always survivors from any massacre, to tell the other victim's story, and the lone witness here is an eight legged little lady affectionately called Dermatophagoisdes pteronyssinus, the mighty dust mite. And if you listen closely as you read these words, you can hear them munching on you
Feel the sudden urge to scratch? Don’t bother; scratching just creates tiny Alps of dead skin for these buggies to feast further upon. The truth is we don’t merely live on this planet; this planet also lives on us. Louis Pasture had it right; even fleas have fleas. And so do we, and so did the fleas on  Hugh Morville, William Tracy, Richard Breton and Thomas Becket. Despite their small size (three of them could fit in the period at the end of a sentence and about 42,000 of them live in every once of dust) these driven little arthropods have a massive impact because the Dust Mite does not eat dust – ah, if only dusting had such a dedicated helpmate. Rather they feast on the 50 million flakes (about 1 ½ grams) of skin we shed each and every day.
About 80 % of the “dust” you can see floating in a beam of sunlight is your own dead skin, and fodder for these microscopic herbivores. And the 6,000 species of our mighty mite companions also enjoy munching on hair, pollen grains, fungal spores and bacteria, as well as cigarette ash and tobacco, clothing fibers, fingernail clippings and filings, food crumbs, glue, insect parts, paint chips, salt and sugar crystals and even graphite; in short everything and anything we are, use or touch, they eat and regurgitate and re-eat and re-regurgitate, etc., etc. (Dust mites have no digestive tracts).
When you sleep (we spend about 1/3 of our lives in bed) your body and bedding is transformed into an Acaroliocal Park (acarology being the study of dust mites) that makes Michael Crichton’s "Jurassic Park" look like it had been stepped on by Godzilla. As much as half the weight in your ten year old mattress could be the 10 million mites who live there and depend on you for their dinner each time you lay you down to go to sleep.
Mites don’t like sunlight and they love high humidity, meaning when you climb into bed tonight they will be there to welcome you, just waiting for you to exhale. They also love rugs and carpets, dusty bookshelves and dusty books and nooks and crannies on fabric covered furniture. And they are completely harmless – except that their poop and their desiccated corpses are a source of human allergies and likely a cause of asthma - which hints that we evolved in more open conditions, and not in caves or studio apartments.
During a mite’s lifetime of 3 to 4 weeks she can produce 200 times her own weight in mighty poop and leave 300 cream colored mighty mite eggs, all capable of taking your breath away. A dehumidifier helps with the allergies (dust mite populations drop at anything below 50% humidity) and regular vacuuming can help keep their populations under control.
But there are studies showing that carpet or mattress shampooing or even using a Hepafilter on your vacuum cleaner merely increases the resident population because it moistens it and scatters it. These tiny bugs have evolved so closely with us that there are no conditions or chemicals that will kill them without doing the same thing to you. So basically, the best we can hope for in our war with dust mites is a draw, because the world of the dust mite is a familiar yet strange place where air behaves more like water and each human hair supports an isolated universe.
And as every Ying has its Yang, and every Thomas Becket has his King Henry II, the herbivore dust mite has engendered the family Cheyletidae, the micro-predatory dust mite, which can be 6 – 8% of the total mighty mite population. These minuscule lions and tigers and bears stalk their prey each night, even migrating with them onto and off your body, unseen and largely un-felt, pouncing with vicious crushing microscopic jaws.
They are no more or less heartless for their lack of a heart. Some digest their food inside its own shell (something to think about the next time you eat crab) by injecting masticating juices, reducing their meals to a tiny pile of mush before consuming it.
Yes, its a mite eats mite world out there. And despite our best efforts we still live with the mighty Dust Mite, carting away the excess of us, with all the dedication of Republican lawyer defending a billionaire tax cheat. So just sleep tight and let the bed bugs bite. They have their own dust mites to feed.
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Sunday, September 18, 2011

GENIUS THE FOURTH WEEK OF MAY, 1863

FRIDAY MAY 22, 1863
Since midnight, the 220 artillery pieces in Grant's arsenal have been bombarding the Vicksburg land defences, joined by Union gunboats in the river. The barrage continues for four hours after dawn. At 10:00 am the Union infantry advances along a three mile front. Along Graveyard Road, the assault is led by 150 volunteers who have nicknamed themselves "The Forlorn Hope". They carry scaling ladders and planks to lay over the wire entanglements at the bottom of the revine. But "The Forelorn Hope" is driven back under heavy fire, as are the assaults all along the line. By 11:00 am Generals Sherman and McPherson are convinced the attacks are useless, and Grant is inclined to agree.
Just then a messanger arrives from General McClerand, commanding on the left. He requests another division in reinforcement and hints that he has captured two forts. Grant demurs, telling McClerand to use his own reserves. But both Sherman and McPherson now launch additional assaults, to prevent the Rebels from  reinforcing the front facing McClerand.
In truth, McClerand has captured no Rebel forts, and by 5:00 pm, all the assaults are called off. Union casualities are 502 dead, 2,500 wounded and 147 missing. Confederate General Pemberton has lost less than 500 men, in total. And Rebel moral has been substantually restored. Vicksburg is never going to fall to assault. And Grant has yet another reason to want to be rid of McClerand.
SATURDAY MAY 23, 1863
It is exactly three weeks since Grant's 42,000 man army crossed the Mississippi and began its march on Vicksburg. At no time did Federal troops have more than a 2,000 man advantage over the Confederate forces in total, and yet at each individual engagement Grant held a substantial battle field advantage - At Port Gibson, Grant had 20,000 men, General Bowen, less than 5,000 - At Raymond led Grant 12,000, Gregg 4,100 – At Jackson, Grant commanded 38,000, Johnston, 5,000 – At Champion's Hill, Grant led 32,000 men, Pemberton just 22,000 – And at the battle of the Big Black River, Grant commanded 32,000 men while Bowen led just 5,000. He had always been victorious because of his remorsless drive to a single objective.
In far off Washington, General Hallack decides to reinforce success. Just a week before he was seeking to sidetrack Grant to Bank's command at Port Hudson. But now Washington is sending Grant every man it can, bringing his force, by the end of the campaign, to 77,000 men. And it is Banks who has been regulated to a sideshow.
Also this day, the Illustrated London News discusses a deputation of Labor Union members who the day before had visited the American Ambassador, to express their belief that “the cause of the North to be the cause of freedom, that they wished for the success of Mr. Lincoln's armies...”. The News was skeptical, but hastened to add, “We are not going to interfere for the South....we encourage no breaking of the (Union) blockade...” With each passing day it becomes less likely that any foreign nation will recognize the slave state Confederacy.
SUNDAY MAY 24, 1863
Yesterday evening, along Grant's Mississippi River supply line, just south of the Tennessee border and near the riverfront village of Austin, Mississippi, Confederate sharpshooters fired on supply boat, killing able Seaman Philip Dalton. Angered by that atttack, this morning Brigadier General A.W. Ellet lands his forces and is drawn into a friuitless two hour battle eight miles outside of Austin with the 2nd Arkansas Cavalry. The Rebels eventually withdraw. Believing Confederate agents in the town have been bringing in weapons and ammunition from across the river (which they probably have), Elliot orders the town burned to the ground. It is an act of terrorism (as was the sniper shot) and a warning to all Rebel sympathizers.
MONDAY MAY 25, 1863
Grant issues Special Order Number 140, instructing “"Corps Commanders will immediately commence the work of reducing the enemy by regular approaches (seige). It is desirable that no more loss of life shall be sustained in the reduction of Vicksburg, and the capture of the Garrison. Every advantage will be taken of the natural inequalities of the ground to gain positions from which to start mines, trenches, or advance batteries." .
Also on this day, whiskered U.S. Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles (center - to Lincoln's right) notes in his diary that an argument over the fugitive slave act broke out in a cabinet meeting between Postmaster General Francis Blair (to Welles' right, a slave owner) and Salomon Chase (to Lincoln's left, a Radical Republican), the Secretary of the Treasury. President Lincoln finally interviened, to tell one of his stories, about a man from Illinois “who was in debt and terribly annoyed by a pressing creditor, until finally the debtor (pretended) to be crazy whenever the creditor broached the subject. “I,” said the President, “have on more than one occasion, in this room, when beset by extremists on this question, been compelled to appear to be very mad. I think,” he continued, ” none of you will ever dispose of this subject without getting mad.”
TUESDAY MAY 26, 1863
Today, General Frank Blair, son of the Postmaster General Blair, leads his division from Sherman's corps out of the siege lines. His orders are to destroy the supplies Confederates are collecting at Mechanicsburg, Mississippi, intended for General Johnston's troops still in Jackson, Mississippi. General Blair will be gone a week, during which time, while dueling with Wirt Adam's cavalry, he will burn 500,000 bushels of corn, and the grist mill used to grind it, and capture 1,000 head of cattle, 300 mules and 40 bales of cotton He will also bring back “negroes, equal to my own command”. Thanks to this raid, no matter how many men General Johnston is able to gather, he will not be able to leave Jackson until he has replaced those supplies.
WEDNESDAY MAY 27, 1863
This morning, General Banks launches his 13,000 man army against the defenses of Port Hudson. The attacks are uncoordinated and are easily thrown back. Amongst the attacking units are the 1st and 3rd Louisiana Native Guards, the first black Americans to offically wear Union Blue. Union casualties are 1,995, while the Confederates lose just 235.  General Banks will not be rushing to replace Grant anytime soon.
THURSDAY, MAY 28, 1863
After the overnight cloud burst a week earlier, the drought in Mississippi has returned with a vengence. In Vicksburg this is already creating concern. The city has no wells. It has always drawn water from the numerous streams and riverlets that cut through the bluffs to the Mississippi River. General Pemberton has almost unlimited weapons and ammunition, collected here to supply the entire Confederacy. But he is short of food, and already rationing water. To escape the almost constant Federal bombardment, citizens of Vicksburg begin to dig in the cliffs to protect themselves. All hope in Vicksburg now rest on General Johnston in Jackson.
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