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

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Friday, January 13, 2012

THE GREATEST POLTICIAN OF ALL TIME

I hear the complaints piling up again, about all the crooked, two-faced, lying politicians. And, there always being a coming election, most of these descrptions seem to be coming from the mouths of other politicians. But it seems to me that the objections and the job description are nearly identical. The rules of politics were first laid down at least 2,400 years ago, and they have not been improved upon since. To be successful a politician must first be elected, and second he or she must be re-elected. And the proof of these simple rules was firmly established by the golden boy of ancient Greek democracy, the man who turned hypocrisy, sycophancy, performance and prevarication into an art form, the greatest politician of all time bar none, Alcibiades Alcmaeonidae. It wasn’t that after Alcibiades they broke the mold, it was that Alcibiades was the mold.
His world was shaped by his uncle and guardian, Pericles (above), who defined a great leader as someone who “…knows what must be done and is able to explain it; loves one’s country and is incorruptible.” Having decided that Athens and Sparta were destined for war, Pericles devised a most unusual strategy. He first displayed this strategy in 430 and again 429 B.C. Spartan armies invaded Athenian territory (called Attica), burned crops and villages and took hostages. But the Athenian army refused to give battle. The lost crops did not worry Pericles because he was relying on the Athenian fleet to bring in grain from Egypt and the Ukraine. Pericles’ plan was to frustrate the Spartans by avoiding battle with them until the eventual internal political dissent encouraged them to end the war to Athen's advantage. And it might have worked but for one unanticipated event. A plague arrived on the grain ships from Egypt in 428 B.C. and killed perhaps a third of the population of Athens, including Pericles.
The abrupt vacuum at the top of Athenian politics was an opportunity for the young Alcibiades (above). He was a superstar right from the start. First, he was a real Olympic athlete and “the Adonis of Athens…tall, shapely, remarkably handsome, fond of showy attire and luxurious surroundings…” (p 221, Baldwin Project) He was a powerful speaker whose slight lisp made him all the more endearing. And he seduced women and men with equal ease and equally often. He was the ancient Bill Clinton without the scandal attached to the  sex.
At 19 years of age, Alcibiades even beguiled that old pedophile Socrates. Reading Plato’s version of their dialogs is like watching a snake charmer with arthritis toying with a hungry python. Socrates began by berating Alcibiades’ youthful arrogance. “You say you do not need any person for anything …For you think you are the most beautiful and greatest”. But eventually Socrates fell under Alcibiades' spell, calling him “…the greatest of the Greeks.” Still, Socrates shared his bed with Alcibiades only once; if Athens herself had only been that wise Athens would have been better off.
It seems that all that Alcibiades learned from Socrates was that he needed a project worthy of his ambition. And in 415 B.C. Alcibiades suggested a cloak and dagger strike against the island of Sicily, a commando operation to capture Messina and threaten the port city of Syracuse, Sparta’s strongest ally. But Alcibiades’ political opponent in Athens, Nicias, did not want Alcibiades given the chance to succeed. He warned the city council that such an expedition would have to be hugely expensive, requiring as many as 140 ships and 6,000 men. He meant to mock Alcibiade's idea. But to the shock of both Nicias and Alcibiades, the Athenian council voted to fund the massive mission which neither man had wanted, annd then placed both Alcibiades and Nicias in charge of it.
Somehow the two foes managed to assemble the huge force. But Alcibiades should have been more worried when Nicias had not objected that most of the officers appointed to the force were allies of Alcibiades. Because when the Athenians succesfully landed on an empty beach outside of Syracuse they found a trireme from Athens had arrived there ahead of them. It seems the night before the expedition had sailed, somebody had gone around Athens and wacked off all the phalluses on statues of of the god Hermes. As soon as Alcibiades had sailed away,  Nicias' allieas had accused Alcibiades of masterminding the sacrilege. And with most of Alcibiades' allies away on the expedition, the Athenian council had ordered Alcibiades home to stand trial for heresy and treason. It was obvious that Nicias was behind this, and Alcibiades had no intention of trusting his fate to the good will of his enemies.
On his way back to Athens,  Alcibiades jumped ship at Thurii, and boldly contacted the Spartans. He offered them information on the Athenian expedition’s plans to capture Syracuse. When that information proved correct the Spartans warily agreed to allow Alcibiades sanctuary in their city - what a foolish thing to do. 
Alcibiades had made his first betrayal. Once in Sparta, he converted from a luxury loving Athenian into a prime example of Spartan brutality and sadomasochism.
Like any good Spartan politician he began wearing simple clothes and eating cold gruel and exercising in public with the other sadomasochistic Spartans. He advised the Spartans on a strategy that led to the complete defeat of Nicias and the slaughter and capture of the entire Athenian force. In fact Alcibiades had become one of the most respected and trusted Spartans in Sparta - until one morning in 412 B.C. when the Spartan king Agis II came home unexpectedly to speak to his queen and saw Alcibiades jumping out of her bedroom window. Agis II put out a contract on Alcibiades, and the golden boy disappeared, next turning up in Persia, as an advisor at the court of the satrapy Tissaphernes, who had been secretly funding the Spartan war effort against Athens. Alcibiades had just made his second betrayal.
Tissaphernes had been hoping to weaken the Athenians. But now he had begun to worry that the Spartans were getting too strong, which is exactly what he was told by his new political advisor, Alcibiades. On his advice the Persians cut back their cash support for Sparta. At the same time Alcibiades put out peace feelers to his fellow Athenians. He convinced them that he could bring the Persians into the war on Athens’ side. Of course Tissaphernes had no intention of committing his forces until both Greek cities were exhausted. But by the time the Athenians realized this, according to the poet Aristophanes, they yearned for Alcibiades even while they hated him. This was to be Alcibiades’ third betrayal.
The Athenian generals made Alcibiades an Admiral, and he engineered an Athenian naval victory at Abydos, near the Hellespont, and burned the little village of Byzantium. After another Alcibiades victory the Spartans sent home a desperate note. “Our ships are lost. Mindarus (their commander) is dead. The men are starving. We do not know what to do.”
In 407 B.C. Alcibiades made his triumphal return to Athens itself, to cheering throngs and the return of his property, which had been seized when he had changed sides the first time and joined Sparta. All the charges still outstanding against him were dropped. But they were not forgotten.
His last betrayal had convinced the Persians to again fully fund the Spartan war effort. And in 406 B.C. Alcibiades sailed with 100 ships on a mission to assist Phocaea, which was under siege from Spartan forces. While making a scout, Alcibiades left 80 ships at anchor at Notium under his second in command. But while he was away the fool brought on an engagement with the Spartan fleet, and was soundly defeated. His enemies in Athens blamed Alcibiades for the disaster, and he was forced into exile once again, and this time it looked final.
By 404 B.C. Alcibiades was living in retirement with a mistress in Phyrgia, in what is today central Turkey, in a mountain cabin. In the dark of night assassins set the house on fire and murdered Alcibiades as he rushed out side. Says the Baldwin Project, “Thus perished, at less than fifty years of age, one of the most brilliant and able of all the Athenians.”
Some say it was the Spartans who killed him, and some that it was his Athenian enemies. And some say it was the brothers of a Persian woman he had seduced. If Alcibiades did not fit his uncle’s definition of a great leader, still he had been a successful politician for each of the three great powers of his time – Athens, Sparta and Persia. How could you not consider him the greatest politician of any age?
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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

BATS IN THE ATTIC

I can’t say she was beautiful, but then photographs are a poor record of personality. The newspapers called her “comely”, which the dictionary defines as “pleasing and wholesome in appearance.” But Dolly Oesterreich (pronounced "Ace-strike") (above) was not wholesome. She was, when our story begins, about 33 years old, an age at which a woman, so we are told, reaches the peak of her sensuality. However, I suspect that Dolly had always been skilled at seduction.
For 15 years Dolly (left) had been married to Fred Oesterreich (right), a man whose only selling point as a husband was that he was wealthy. He owned an apron factory in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he was constantly berating his 60 seamstresses to work faster. He pinched every penny and drove himself as hard as he drove his employees. As a result of his dedication to his job, the Oesterreiches got richer. And Dolly got lonelier. So it should have come as no surprise in 1913, when Dolly asked her husband to dispatch a particular repairman she had seen about the factory, to fix her personal sewing machine.
His name was Otto Sanhuber, and when our story begins, he was all of 17. Again it seems, the photographs do not do him justice. To the casual observer he looked like a mousy milktoast of a man. But Dolly must have recognized that, beyond Otto’s nebish exterior, loomed an undiscovered Hercules of passion.
Dolly answered Otto's knock attired only in a robe and slippers. She showed him to her bedroom, where she kept her Singer. She lounged on the bed while Otto adjusted her bobbin. Dolly brushed back her hair. Otto tightened her belts. Dolly lifted a leg. Otto greased her shuttle shaft. Dolly let her robe fall open. And according to Otto, he threaded her needle eight times that first afternoon.
They began by sneaking assignations in the Oesterrich home while Fred was at work, but a needling neghbor warned Fred about the man who was constantly coming and going from his house. Dolly was forced to hem and haw an excuse. First the love struck pair substituted Otto’s depressing rooms, and then a hotel. But every rendevouses ran the risk of uncovering their affair. Eventually, Dolly conceived a simple pattern for their love. Otto quit his job and moved into the attic of the Oesterreich home. A curtain was thus drawn and there would be no more comings and goings - none visible to the neighbors, anyway.
The thread of Otto’s life had found his spool. The hook of Dolly’s life had found her eye. For three years they pulled the wool over Fred’s eyes. For three years Otto slept above his mistresses’ marriage bed, slipping out of his hidden attic room by day to help Dolly with her housework, and once the dishes were done, to pump her treadle and spin her crank. There were loose threads, of course, that threatened to unfray the fabric of thier affair. But with a little tacking, awl was mended.
Eventually Fred got the notion of moving his factory to Los Angeles, and in 1918 he bought Dolly a grand home on North St. Andrew’s place in that city. Dolly made certain the new home had a tidy tiny attic room, so Otto would feel comforted too. Life was a perfect fit for Dolly and Otto and Fred, as long as Fred never noticed how much it was costing him to feed and clothe one woman.
This happy scene unraveled on the night of Tuesday, August 22, 1922, four years after the move to Los Angeles. Fred and Dolly returned from a dinner party and a fight broke out. Fred lost his temper and actually struck Dolly. And that was when Otto rushed to the rescue from behind his hidden access door, carrying a .22 pistol. The two men struggled. Otto’s gun went off three times, and Fred went down. His string had run out. A few moments later, the police arrived to discover an apparent house robbery gone bad. The husband was dead on the living room floor and the hysterical wife was locked in the hall closet. Still, there was something that made the police suspicious. When swetted by the cops, Dolly insisted the couple had never fought. The police, many of them married men,  knew that had to be a lie, but they couldn't prove it.
Dolly was arrested, and charged (above) with the murder of her husband. While she was in lockup Dolly pleated with one of her lawyers, Herman Shapiro, to do her a tiny  favor. Dolly claimed to have an addled half-brother named Otto who lived in her attic, who must be running short of food by now. Already under Dolly’s beguiling influence, Herman agreed to deliver sustenance to the man. When he tapped on the hidden attic door, a bespeckeled little face appeared and wolfed down the food, and talked; he talked as if he had no one to speak to for years. He was, in fact, explained Otto, a sewing machine repairman who years ago had come to fix Dolly’s machine and stayed to be her “sex slave”. Otto said nothing about Fred’s murder, but Herman was no fool.
Without knowledge of Otto, the Police case against Dolly fell apart, and she was released. But Herman Shapiro found he cottoned to Dolly, and he insisted that before anything happened between them, Otto had to go. So, in 1923, Otto moved out of the attic. He went to Canada. There he he married. But, eventually, in search of work,  he moved himself and his wife back to Los Angeles. In L.A. he got a job as a porter in a hotel. And all might have lived there happily ever with his devoted wife, if only Herman Shapiro kept his big fat mouth sewn shut.
In 1930, eight years after Fred’s death, Herman finally realized the seductress from Milwaukee was never going to marry him, especially after he caught her in a lie, and realized she had taken up behind his back with her business manager, Mr. Ray Bert Hendrick. A lawyer scorned, Herman went to the police and spilled the beans. He confessed the details of his encounter with the man in the attic. The police checked the long since abandoned Oesterreich homes in Wisconson and Los Angeles and discovered Otto’s hidden abodes, and the veil was stripped from their eyes. Dolly's life quickly unraveled. Otto (above, with glasses, center, showing off his hideaway) was arrested, and he talked and he showed. The prosecutors were in stiches. They fitted Dolly for a pair of handcuffs.
Otto was convicted of manslaughter. But, since the statute of limitations for manslaughter was eight years, which had just run out, Otto was released immediately after his conviction. He then faded from history. I wonder if his marraige survived the revolations.  Dolly’s trial ended in a hung jury, the majority favoring her aquital. She was never recharged. Dolly (above) lived out the rest of her life living over a garage, surviving on the meger remains of the fortune that Fred had amassed - which would have infuriated Fred, had he not been dead. In the end I guess Otto was still needling Dolly.  She did not remarry until 1961, at the age of 75. Her new husband was her long time business manager, Ray Bert Hendrick. She died just two weeks later.
It brings to mind the way that Leo Tolstoy began his novel Anna Karenina; “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”.  And this family was surely particularly unhappy, because whatever it was that Otto and Fred and Dolly were doing together, they were doing it tailored in  their very own ill-fitting way.
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Sunday, January 08, 2012

AIR HEADS Part Ten Tail Wind

I ask you to imagine yourself as the engineer on a westbound freight on the El Paso and Southwest Railroad. It is November of 1911, and the big steam boiler in front of you is a living, soot spewing metal beast with a hot, coal fed craw your stoker has to constantly feed. You climb out of the Rio Grande valley, the empty copper ore cars behind you rumbling around Sierra del Cristo Rey mountain. Then you turn south, coming within yards of the Mexican border at Anapra, before the line swings north again, past “The Lizard”, a basalt dyke basking in the sun on a mountain shoulder (in the distance, above) high above the dieing mining town of Lake Valley. And then, after wending their way between lonely unnamed desert peaks and road cuts, the rails ramp down onto the high Chihuahuan desert floor and the siding and water tower at Mammoth, New Mexico. And that is when you see it. It looks like a giant insect speeding towards you at 40 or 50 miles an hour. But it can’t be. Can it?
In fact it can not. What you are seeing, at a time when most Americans had not yet seen an airplane, is the “Cole Flyer”, piloted by Bob Fowler, using a hand car as a catapult to become airborne, an aviation first. So the engineer can be excused for not recognizing what he saw, as it had never been seen before, ever, in the four billion year history of the earth. It was a desperate measure, tried after Fowler had been trapped in the sand for four days, 16 miles west of El Paso, Texas. The Mexican border was only three miles to the south. And staring head on at the steam engine bearing down on him, Bob Fowler said later he wondered if he was going to become the first pilot in history to crash into a locomotive. Bob lifted off the hand car at the last possible second and became airborne, missing the front of the oncoming locomotive he said, by “…no more than ten feet.” I doubt if the engineer comprehended what he had seen, particularly after it flew off over his head, followed by the shattering crash of the handcar against the breast of the huge iron beast. This makes Bob Fowler the world’s first UFO, if it really happened.
I had my doubts. But according to the New York Times, on July 24, 1904, three New Jersey teenager couples borrowed a similar handcar for a Saturday night “joy ride”. After some drinking and dancing, at about 11 p.m., they found themselves pumping their way across a bridge over the Delaware River with a Lakawana passenger Express bearing down on them. It sounds like a turn of the century version of “Saturday Night Fever”. All the couples jumped to safety, with only one male, Albert Jones, suffering injury, a broken shoulder. According to the Times, the express “barely escaped being wrecked”, but it did escape. So I guess it could have happened the way Fowler tells it. Bob would use a handcar catapult to launch himself three more times on his journey to the Atlantic Ocean. But he would never again come so close to being killed by a locomotive.
Meanwhile, back in Los Angels, Cal Rogers was slowly recovering from his injuries. Propped up in a wheel chair, with both legs in casts, his wife hovering on his right, his mother perched judgmentally to his left and his brother standing back out of the line of fire between them  (above), Cal assured the doubtful reporters, “I’m going to finish this flight, and I’m going to finish it with the same machine.” It must have been a contentious press conference, since everyone in the photo looks as if one of them has just stepped in something very unpleasant. I wonder who that could have been?
Cal had, by my rough count, crashed 70 times in crossing the country, (23 times in Texas alone!) or about once every 43 miles. His sponsors must have been fed up with the repair bills. And with all the engine problems of late, Cal must have been a bit uneasy about trusting his life to the skills of the 17 year old Charlie “Wiggie” Wiggen, his new chief mechanic (with Cal, below), since Charlie Taylor had opted out of the little opera being staged aboard the “Vin Fiz Special” back in Texas.
Poor old Cal; one great-grandfather, Oliver Perry, had been the hero of the 1813 battle of Lake Erie. His other great-grandfather, John Rogers, had been captain of the USS Constitution. His great-grand-uncle, Matthew Perry, had sailed four warships into Tokyo Bay and opened Japan to trade in 1853. But Cal’s own father had turned away from the sea and became a cavalry officer, with a rather less distinguished record. He had fought bravely against the Cheyenne in the freezing rain at Slim Buttes in 1876, and even against the Nez Pierce in 1877. But his career had come to a shockingly less than glorious conclusion on August 23, 1878, when he was struck by lightening.
You might say his father's demise left the young Cal with a bit of a negative buzz about him. And then there was the deafness thing, and his mother’s remarriage. So his family history may explain why Cal was so determined to make it to Long Beach, no matter what the obstacles. He explained, in an interview he gave just after reaching Pasadena, “I am not in this business because I like it, but because of what I can make out of it.”
On December 10, 1911 Cal hobbled out to the Vin Fiz one last time. He lashed his crutches to the wing strut, checked his lucky soda bottle and waited while Weggie primed his propellers. Then he rolled (Weggie having replaced the skids with wheels) across the Compton field where he had crashed weeks before, and rose into the air. Twelve miles later he settled down in front of 50,000 people in Long Beach.
After landing, Cal had his plane pushed forward until the wheels were in the surf. Cal Rogers had said he would reach the Pacific Ocean, and now he had. But whether it was in the same airplane was debatable. The only parts that remained of the “Vin Fiz Flyer” that had taken off from Sheepheads Bay, New York on September 17th. were one vertical tail rudder and the oil pan. Nobody was even willing to claim it was the same Vin Fiz bottle hanging off the strut.
On New Years Day, 1912, Cal made a few hundred dollars flying over the Rose Parade (above) and dropping rose petals. He needed the money. Cal and Mable Rogers were now flat broke. Congratulations, to the Winners!
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