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.The Eternal American Battle - Humans V Money

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Friday, May 04, 2012

TRUE BELIEVERS


I will tell you, Neal Dow was the worst type of politician - a true believer. If you travel long enough down any philosophical path you always reach the land of ad nauseum. But the true believer will never admit that such a place exists in their philosophy. So having reached ad nauseum this spiritual Puritan in Quaker garb, this five foot two inch tall Napoleon of Temperance, this two term Mayor of Portland, Maine, Neal S. Dow, could never find his way back to sanity. Even the Rum Riot of 1855 failed to convince Mayor Dow that his own blindness had set the cause of sobriety in America back by a generation..
The first time Neal Dow (above) was elected Mayor was in April of 1851. He had been carried into office on his support of the new “Maine Law”, which made the sale of alcohol in the state illegal, except for medicinal and industrial uses. Wrote Neal, “Portland wharves groaned beneath the burden of West India rum.” Eighteen other states quickly followed Maine's moralistic lead. But as in all the other states, the new law was popular in Calvinist Maine only so long as it was easily avoided.
The most famous bootlegger became “Handsome Jim” James McGlinchy, who along with his three brothers, operated the Casco Brewery, after the original name for Portland. It and a few distilleries survived the Maine Law because, officially, they exported all of their product. But a good part of all that rum seeped back into Maine. Such leaks in his prohibition boat infuriated Mayor Dow, who was also president of the Temperance League. And after raiding every Irish “grog shop” in Portland failed to plug the local traffic in the demon rum, the Mayor insisted on searching all trains, boats and wagons entering the city. Since Portland was the primary rail and sea connection with Canada, the delays this created infuriated merchants up and down the eastern seaboard. Dow was even burned in effigy on Boston Common. And in April of 1852, when Mayor Dow came up for re-election, merchants from all over New England funded his opponent, Albion K. Parris. Mayor Dow lost re-election by 542 votes out of 3,300 cast.
Being a true believer (his maternal great-grandfather had the given name of “Hate-Evil”), the diminutive Mr. Dow could not believe the fault was his or his cause's . He was convinced he had been victimized by a conspiracy of merchants who provided fake I. D.s for the 2,200 Irish immigrants in Portland who had brought to America their strange religion and their vulgar sinful ways. Even worse, they almost all voted Democratic. Still at least the new Mayor Parris was also a temperance man, if not quite as enthusiastic an enforcer of the law. So“The Grand Pooh-bah of temperance” as the Irish nick-named him, retreated to his house at 714 Congress Street, to lick his wounds, and plan his comeback.
Under the theory that the only problem with his temperance law was that it was too weak, in 1853 Dow lobbied the state legislature in Augusta to doubled down. The new sterner temperance law they passed allowed a search warrant to be issued if three private citizens claimed liquor was present in an establishment. It also made the mere possession of alcohol proof of intention to sell. Thus ever user was now a dealer. By now Dow was convinced the temperance movement was so strong...“The voters...will turn upon that point.” The little dictator even saw the growth of the Republican Party across the northern states not as primarily a condemnation of slavery, but as a rejection of alcohol.
In March of 1855 Maine passed two other pieces of legislation which Dow had come to see as essential for the eradication of liquor. First all immigrants must register and show their naturalization papers three months prior to election day. This disenfranchised hundreds of qualified voters for the approaching April elections, under the theory that what a local newspaper described as “Irish cattle” were also  “illegals” with false papers. The second law took care of most of the rest of Irish voter-wanna-be Americans. From now on, any voter rejected at the polls for whatever reason in Republican Maine, must appeal in Federal court. Cases here could take weeks just to get on the docket. The Democratic paper, the Eastern Argus put it best. “Dow...and company...have made up their minds to rule the state at all hazards.”
And they did. Dow was re-elected Mayor in April of 1855. But out of the 3,742 votes cast, Neal Dow's margin of victory was a mere 46 votes. Ignoring that slim margin his close friend and political ally, Elder Peck, said it was “...a victory over Rum…Catholicism, and Corruption.” In his inaugural address, the zealot Mayor Dow warned, “I shall not fail... to employ all the power which the law has put into my hands.” He even suggested that his administration would “restrain the right of suffrage, now exercised by our foreign population...to prevent their overawing and controlling our elections, as they have done.” Mayor Dow had thrown down the gauntlet. And it would slap him right across the mouth.
As part of his new duties, Mayor Dow and the city council were supposed to jointly appoint a committee to pick a new liquor agent, whose job it would be to purchase liquor which would then be legally sold to the apothecaries and industries of the city. However Mayor Dow was so certain of his own nobility, he appointed himself to the selection committee, and to save even more time appointed himself the temporary liquor agent. As such he purchased $1,500 of booze (in his own name) and had it shipped to City Hall. Only after it arrived did he notify the city council. After all, who could question the morals of Mayor Dow?
The answer was the city council could. Their council members got into a shouting match with the Mayor over his actions. And one of them leaked details of the shipment to the Eastern Argus. On Saturday June 2, 1855 the paper printed up and posted handbills all over Portland, which laid out the facts, in particular that the liquor had been bought under the name of Neal Dow. The handbills then asked, “Where are our vigilant police... who think it their duty to...often push their search (of the poor man's cider) into private houses, contrary to every principle of just law? We call upon them by virtue of Neal Dow’s law to seize Neal Dow’s liquors and pour them into the street....Let the lash which Neal Dow has prepared for other backs be applied to his own when he deserves it.”
The timing could not have been worse for Mayor Dow. This was the four year anniversary of the original Maine Law. Three men found a judge who witnessed their testimony that there was illegal alcohol in City Hall, and he was thus required to issue a search warrant. A small crowd gathered at City Hall, mostly to see if the police were going to arrest Mayor Dow. They were not. But still the crowd stayed. And as the day wore on, and the shifts at the locomotive plant and other factories let out, the crowd began to grow. By seven that evening there were 2,500 people milling around City Hall, their anger fueled by what they saw as the hypocrisy of the biggest temperance man in the state having his own $1,500 stash of booze protected by the police. To avoid antagonizing the crowd the ten police officers locked themselves in the Liquor Room in City Hall, with the booze. Mayor Dow sent word to two “private” militia companies to come quick.
At least one member of the militia sensed the approaching disaster. But when Sargent William Winslip suggested the militia should load blanks, Mayor Dow responded, “We know what we are about sir. We’ve consulted the law, sir.” At that point Sargent Winslip dropped out of the militia. At ten that night one company of about twenty men, formed up in front of City Hall. Backed by armed troops, Mayor Dow ordered the crowd to disperse. The crowd responded with a hail of trash and garbage. Dow now ordered the troops to fire over the heads of the crowd. But their commander, Captain Green, said he needed more men. And for the only time that day Mayor Dow let a cooler head over-rule him.
It was a mistake. The sight of the twenty militia men retreating encouraged the crowd to surge forward. Rocks and bricks now replaced the garbage. One energetic fellow, a 22 year old sailor from Deer Isle named John Robbins, crawled through a broken window into the liquor room, unlocked the door, and the crowd stormed in.  At this moment the reinforced militia returned, and under Dow's command, opened fire. The uneven battle continued for twenty minutes. Only the fact the militia were armed with flintlock muskets prevented the death toll from being higher. Robbins was killed, and seven others wounded. Eventually the crowd dispersed. To Republicans it was the Rum Riot. To Democrats it was the Portland Massacre.
Dow was charged with breaking the law he had helped pass, but he was acquitted after a one day trial for two reasons – first it was obvious the liquor was not really his, and second because the judge, Henry Carter, was a strong temperance man and a Dow supporter. Still, Mayor Dow learned nothing from the debacle. He immediately issued a “...Message on the Riot” which he blamed on un-named anti-temperance men, and claimed John Robbins was an Irish immigrant who was wanted by the law. But that charge fell apart when several witnesses under oath testified that John was a native American (i.e. born in America),  had never been arrested, was a mate on the barque Louisa Eaton and was a “steady, honest man, remarkable for his good nature and peaceable disposition.”  But whatever Robbins' disposition had been, it was suddenly clear the mob had been outraged at Mayor Dow's behavior and had not even been mostly Irish.
That fall the voters drove that point home by electing Democratic majorities to both houses of the state legislature, and the Governor's office, too. And quickly the Maine Law was overturned, ending Maine's five year experiment with prohibition. John Robbins was buried in the old Eastern Cemetery, with honors. Mayor Dow did not bother to even run for re-election. And even though prohibition was re-instated two years later, Neal Dow stayed out of that fight.
The new prohibition law was again rarely enforced. Thus it stayed on the books until the Federal government passed its own “noble experiment” in 1920. But long before then, in 1880, the bootlegger James McGlinchy had died, leaving behind an estate worth $200,000, marking him as one of the richest men in Portland. As for the true believer Neal Dow, he was lucky not to live long enough to see his dream produce what he feared most, the funding of organized crime, largely made up of foreign born and first generation immigrants, who fed an increase in public drunkenness and alcohol addiction. The Napoleon of Temperance died still blind to the truth of his follow in 1897 at the age of 93.
And if there is a lesson from the life of Neal Dow, it is that ad nausium is the land where all ideas end up. Or, to put it another way, life is not about perfection, its about balance - it's about leaning into the wind, and staying upright as long as you can. Everybody falls off at least once, in the end. And the lucky ones do it a couple of times. Because they learn from every failure, and they keep getting back on the wire.
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Wednesday, May 02, 2012

HANGERS ON

I find it fascinating how we can suddenly lose sight of things that are vital to us and surround us. Consider this fable; in the final hours of Saturday, May 20, 1995, Mrs. Paula Dixon leaped on the back seat of a motorbike, rushing to make a plane – British Airways flight 32, bound for London. Trying to stretch out her ten day vacation in Honk Kong, the 38 year old divorcee had left herself precious little time to make her 11:45 pm flight out of Kai Tak airport. During her dash to make that plane, Paula fell off the moving bike, hitting the pavement and bruising and cutting her arm. After scrapping her self off, and finishing the trip, Paula made it to the departure gate with just moments to spare. But while the 747 was waiting on the tarmac Paula's arm began to hurt and swell. So she called a flight attendant, who luckily was a trained nurse. And thus began a swirl of currents in which the fate of this mother of two would be swept between an obsessed turn-of-the-century factory worker, and a Dadaist acolyte born in South Philadelphia in the summer of 1890.
As the eldest of four children, Emmanuel grew up surrounded by threads and swaths and shreds of things. He was the first child of Russian immigrants, a garment factory worker who earned extra money by doing a little tailoring and a mother with an artistic flair who assembled collages out of errant scraps of clothing. When he was seven the family moved to the slums of the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York City. And at about the same time, suffering from the anti-antisemitism common in America of that age, the family shortened their name from Radnitzky to Ray. Emmanuel would soon shorten his first name to simply Man.
The flight attendant called for a doctor, and two responded. They decided Paula had broken her arm, and at her urging, fashioned a quick fix, a splint out of a Hong Kong newspaper, and rubber bands. She was given morphine from the aircraft's first aid kit, and tried to relax while the plane took off, bound for Heathrow airport, 14 hours away. But just an hour later, at 33,000 feet above the Bay of Bengal, Paula bent over to take off her shoes and felt a stabbing pain in her left side. Suddenly she couldn't catch her breath. One look convinced both doctors Paula had not only broken her arm, but a rib as well. When she bent over, it had punctured the tissue surrounding her left lung, inflating it like a child's balloon and preventing her lung inside     that tissue from expanding. Without immediate surgery, Paula Dixon was going to strangle to death..
Seventy miles east of Detroit, the town of Jackson, Michigan grew because people who thought they were going somewhere else, paused here for whatever reason, and stayed for whatever reason. The railroads came because the soil was good for farming, and since it was a convenient place to change crews, they built shops here, which attracted other industry. By 1900 the town of 25,000 included a mechanically inclined Canadian tinkerer named Albert J. Parkerhouse. He found work at the Timberlake Wire and Novelty Company, pulling cold steel, brass and copper through dies to form lampshade frames, bed springs, paper clips, wheel spokes and wire fences, anything that could be sold for a profit. He stayed because the work was steady and because if any of the workers stumbled upon an idea, the owner, John B. Timberlake, encouraged them to follow it. And one cold morning in 1903, Albert Parkerhouse was irritated because when he got to work there were no empty hooks to hang his heavy jacket from.
With Paula stretched out across an entire row of seats, and the improvised instruments sterilized with five star Courvoisier. brandy, an incision was made just below her collar bone. Then while one doctor held the cut open with a knife and fork, the other took a catheter from the first aid kit. One end, with a flap in it, was slipped into a bottle of seltzer water - the flap keeping the fluid from rising into the tube. And then the open end of the catheter, stiffened at the suggestion of a flight attendant with a straightened wire coat hanger, was slowly forced through the muscle tissue and into Paula's chest cavity. The patient, who had no more anesthetic, said she felt like beef on butcher's hook.
In 1913 the young Man Ray was exposed to the electrifying Armory Show. Teddy Roosevelt walked out, declaring “This is not art!” But Man Ray was elevated. At the show he met the cubist painter of “Nude Descending a Stair”, Marcel Duchamp. The two became fast friends, and enthusiasts of the heady freedom of Dada. The word meant various things in various languages, but to German writer Hugo Ball who adopted it, it meant nonsense, the rejection of art as only things worthy of inclusion in a museum. In 1915 Man Ray had his first one man show in New York and bought a camera to document his art. Eventually he became best known for his surrealistic and absurdest photographs. But he never let go of the wonder and whimsy he had experienced from his mother, and what he now called his “readymades”.
Once the catheter had penetrated the tissue surrounding Paula's left lung, the coat hanger was removed, and the air pressing around Paula's lung could now escape into the catheter. Each time she expanded her lung, a little more of the air strangling her was expelled. The flap in the catheter and the seltzer water kept what was expelled from slipping back, and each breath got easier, Within ten minutes Paula Dixon was breathing normally. With a doctor at her side, the exhausted patient fell asleep. The exhausted doctors drank the remaining Courvoisier.
On and off for weeks, Albert Parkerhouse twisted and bent lengths and thicknesses of wire from the factory floor. Finally he hit upon what he thought was the best design to support his jacket without wrinkling it. Timberlake filed for a patent in January of 1904 (Number 822,981) (above) and made profits for the next 77 years pulling wire coat hangers. Albert was not bitter he had received no share of his invention, but he was annoyed that on the patient application he was not listed as the inventor. A few years later he moved to Los Angeles where he started his own wire company. He died in 1927 of a ruptured ulcer at the age of 48.
The big white British Airways 747 landed at London's Heathrow airport at 5:00 in the morning of Sunday May 21, 1995. Paula, who felt good enough that she had eaten breakfast, was immediately transported to Hillington hospital, just north of airport . Here her make-shift surgery was closed and she slowly recovered from the ordeal, One year later she returned to Hong Kong to be married to her motor bike driver, German banker Thomas Galster. She told reporters, “If it wasn’t for my doctors I wouldn't be here today”. And, she might have added, she also owed her life to a wire coat hanger. If one had not been invented by an irritated Albert Parkerhouse in 1903, Paula Dixon would have died on that plane in 1995. That is what you call an unintended consequence.
Man Ray was finding it difficult to make a living as an artist in New York City. He wrote, “All New York is dada, and will not tolerate a rival.” So he burned many of his older unsold works, borrowed $500, and set off for Paris, where he would live the rest of his life. One of his last works created in New York City was “Obstruction”, a three dimensional collage, described by the N.Y. Museum of Modern Art as a “pyramid of coat-hangers, each with two more hangers suspended from its ends...in arithmetic progression until almost an entire room was obstructed. This pyramid had an even, but changeable equilibrium; if only one hanger was set in motion, the entire pyramid oscillated with it.”
It must have reminded Emmanuel of his childhood, surrounded by a forest of hangers, all suspended just out of reach, hangers hanging from the ceiling, representing at the same time a whimsical playground for the child and a crushing existence of endless work for his parents, the pattern of their collective individual lives, connected yet separate, each suspended from the others. Life, Emmanuel seemed to be saying, is mostly just hanging around.
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Sunday, April 29, 2012

GREAT EXPECTATIONS Pt. One CINDERELLA

I want to share with you a fantastic tale, a story of the way in which privilege and wealth is subject to the cruel whims of fate, a Cinderella adventure of royalty in disguise . Our story begins in 1742 when 32 year old Don Miguel Nemecio Silva de Peralta de la Corboda set foot in the city of Guadalajara, New Spain. He was on a secret mission, and carried papers identifying him as the “vistador del rey”, a visitor from the King, marking him as a wealthy and accomplished man, with powerful friends. He wore the gold collar of a Knight of the Golden Fleece, a title which placed him above the law, as he could only be arrested on a warrant signed by six other Knights, and there were only fifty of those in all of Spain. He was also a member of the order of Montesa, warrior Knights who served under Cistercian beneficence. Eventually he would become the “Baron of the Dry Area”, in Spanish the “arida zona,” but that would carry only those privileges he could make of them.
Two years later, pleased with Don Miguel's performance of his mission, Philip V of Spain promoted him and gave him an enormous grant of about 1,328,000 acres of land, leaving it up to Augustin de Ahumada, the Viceroy of New Spain, to pick the exact spot. It took Don Miguel ten years of searching for the best location. Finally on January 3, 1758, the Viceroy designated the grant as lying north of the Mission of San Xavier del Bac, on the Santa Cruz River, eastward from the confluence of the Salt and Gila Rivers. In May of that year Don Miguel, accompanied by a priest and two military officers traveled to the desert site and consecrated the grant on a barren hill he named the “Inicial”, or first, monument. Here Miguel scratched his mark upon a large rock, and laid claim to his new world empire.
Don Miguel immediately took physical possession of his land, establishing a base camp around the Pueblo ruins of Casa Grande. But the local Apache Indians did not recognize the claims of a far off Spanish monarch to their homeland, and their constant raiding forced Don Miguel to return south of the Gila River, in the Mexican state of Sonora. Here he bought land and settled. And his retreat was not without its benefits. In 1770 he married the lovely Sofia Ave Maria Sanchez Bonilla de Amaya y Garcia de Orosco. He settled her in Guadalajara. In 1776 Charles III reaffirmed Don Miguel's grant to the north, even though he still dare not take physical possession of it. And in 1781 Don Miguel and Sofia had a son, Jesus Miguel Silva de Peralta.
The boy took little interest in his arid inheritance, and built his life in and around Guadalajara. As is common with the children of wealth, he lived up the style to which he had been born. He did not settle down until he he was forty, marrying a local girl, Dona Juana Laura Ibarra, in 1822. In February of 1824 his father, Don Miguel, died at the fantastic age of 114 years. He left his son property in and around the city  of Guadalajara, as well as an estate and ranch in Sonora. There was also, the still unoccupied desert grant to the north. Don Jesus Miguel quickly spent most of his inheritance and like his father had to retreat to the frontier outpost of Sonora. There Jesus and Dona de Peralta produced their only child in their ten years of marriage, a girl named Sophia.
The girl was pretty, but the eligible bachelors were few and far between in the district. And the bride's family was not the best, even in the social world of the empty desert south of the Gila River. Dona Sophia did not find a husband until she was 28. And only after the vows were exchanged did it became apparent the union was a gamble by everyone concerned. Don Jesus had thought he had matched his daughter to a wealthy man. But the new husband, Jose Ramon Carmen Maso, was actually a professional gambler, and periodically down on his luck. Only after the wedding in 1860, did he discovered his wife's huge family estate was heavily mortgaged. This was why, in 1862, Jose Ramon was forced to return to Spain in hopes of collecting some old gambling debts. And his entire clan was forced to travel with him - his mother and in-laws and his wife Dona Sophia, even though she was pregnant.
Their timing was very bad .The Great Flood of 1862, which began in December of '61, would devastate the western coast of North America from Oregon to Mexico. Directly on the family's path, the Gila River flooded. The mining town of Gila City was swept away, and hundreds of humans and tens of thousands of cattle were drowned. The mountain road into San Diego was washed away in dozens of places, and the little town of Aqua Mansa, at the headwaters of the San Gabriel River, was destroyed. Only the alarm raised by the bell at the Mission of San Salvador de Jurupa prevented the loss of life there. And it was that February, amidst the devastation, in the mission itself, that the family was forced to pause when Dona Sophia went into premature labor. She gave birth to twins, a boy and girl. The newborns were weak, as was Dona Sophia, so while the women stayed on, Jose Ramon and Don Miguel continued over the mountains to San Diego, where they caught ship, first for San Francisco, and then for Spain.
The newborn boy died, followed by his mother. Both grandmothers then abandoned the infant girl and returned to Sonora. There was some justification for this, as there was little food in the region and the
child was not expected to live. But she did live, cared for by a wet nurse hired by John A. Treadway, who was a friend of Jose Ramon. But Treadway died shortly thereafter on a business trip, and both Jose Ramon and Don Miguel died while in Spain. The abandoned child was raised by locals out of loyality to Mr. Treadway, but everything about her family was forgotten, except her first name. When she was eight Sophia was handed over to John Snowball, who employed her as servant and a cook in his roadhouse along the road and later rail line between San Diego and Arizona..
Then, in 1877 a chance encounter on a train changed the orphan's girl's hard life. A well dressed gentleman with large whiskered sideburns approached the 17 year old and inquired about her background. The girl nervously admitted she was an abandoned orphan, and did not know her family name or history. The stranger suggested she might be the missing daughter of a wealthy family. She had never heard the name he suggested before: Peralta. The girl was uncertain whether to believe his story or not, but she wanted to believe it was possible.
But it was not. The entire story I have just shared with you, save for the storm of 1862, from the streets of Guadalajara, to the battered remains of a mission in the California desert, every word and document it was based upon was the invention of the fevered imagination of one of the most determined and resourceful con men in American history. His name was James Addison Reavis. And at one time he came very close to owning most of the state of Arizona.
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