JUNE 2020

JUNE   2020
He Has Dragged Us Back Forty Years.


Friday, June 29, 2012


I can't think of a place in America that is more deceptive than North Dakota, 70,000 square miles of not what you thought.  It's most fertile land is the valley of the Red River of the North (above), except its not a valley. It's the bottom of a lake that's no longer there - usually. The river meanders back and forth across a prostrate terrain on its way to not the Pacific or the Atlantic, but the Arctic Ocean. Flowing north, every fall it freezes first at its mouth causing “the valley” below to flood. Every spring, when the rains come to Minnesota, the lake reappears again, but briefly, because in North Dakota the dominant long term weather pattern is reoccurring drought. And in the second decade of the 20th century, with a population of little over half a million, most of whom were farmers and bred to be conservative and fiercely independent and Republican,  this state created openly socialistic industrial and economic institutions. Perhaps this was because North Dakota's raison d'ĂȘtre from its inception in 1889, was the business plan of two vertically integrated out-of-state corporations. 
Both the Northern Pacific railroad, created to benefit its shareholders, and the Great Northern Railroad, built by the megalomania of its owner, James J. Hill, sold land to European farmers, who bought their inexpensive new American farms sight unseen. The boat and train tickets, and the land itself were loss leaders for the corporations. Their profits came once the farmers were isolated on the Great Plains. They bought their food and supplies from corporate stores, financed their plantings through corporate banks, stored their harvests in corporate silos until it was transported on corporate railroads to be sold to corporate mills in Minnesota. In “bonanza” years the profits ended up in the corporate banks. And in the inevitable non-bonanza years, the farms were reposed by the banks, starting the cycle all over again. It was a very profitable business plan, as long as the customers did not get wise that North Dakota was a colony of the Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota capitalist- industrial complex.
Up to 1916 the great dividing force within North Dakota politics was race. In the 1870's the Red River Valley had been settled by snowy white Norwegians and Icelanders - mostly stern Lutherans. The west and center of the state was settled in the 1880's by creamy white Germans who had been living in Russia since the 16th century. They called themselves the “volksdeutsch” and they were rigid Catholics all. But in 1916, the North Dakota normal was turned on its head by a political arsonist named Arthur Charles Townley, who split the rigid, stern conservative North Dakota Republican Party into kindling.
When he was a farmer along the Montana border, Townley  (above) was known as the “Flax King”. But an August snowstorm in 1913 cost him his farm and left him $80,000 in debt. He went into politics – Republican of course - there being only one real party in North Dakota - and he pushed for aid for farmers. He was confronted by his fellow Republican Treadwell Twitchell who told him to stop messing in state politics and “go home and slop the hogs”. Instead Arthur cranked up his model T Ford and went on a tour of the state, speaking to hundreds of small groups about the need for North Dakota's 78,000 farmers to organize in self defense. 
 Three thousand paid $6 each to join his Non-Partisan League, because he spoke their language. “If you put a banker, a lawyer, and an industrialist in a barrel and roll it down a hill,” he said, “you’ll always have a son-of-a-bitch on top.” In 1916 the Non-Partisan League had 40,000 members and elected Lynn Joseph Frazier as governor. And in 1918 they swallowed the Republican party whole and won every executive office in state government, control of the house and near control of the state Senate.
Governor Frazier (above, center) now became the head of the new Industrial Commission, a three man board running state owned businesses. Commissioner of Agriculture John Hagan (above, left) was entrusted to construct and run the state's Mill and Elevator Association in Grand Forks. It would buy wheat and barley from farmers at fair prices and sell the final products at a profit for the state. Attorney General William Lemke (above, right) oversaw operations of the BND, the Bank of North Dakota. All state and local tax revenues would be deposited in the bank, and used to offer low interest loans to farmers. When the farmers profited the bank would profit. And you know, it seemed like a good idea at the time. The day it opened the bank had two hundred applications for a total of $8 million in loans.
Then the First World War ended on November 11, 1918. In a flash every industrialized nation slashed their budgets and stopped buying American wheat. Farm prices collapsed. The 650, 000 citizens of North Dakota were hurting, and in order to cover its loan requests, the BND was forced to offer $10 million in bonds for sale. The Minneapolis-St. Paul bankers, who had just lost their best customers to the BND, turned up their noses. They were determined the bank should fail. Faced with impending disaster, the Industrial Commission decided on a bookkeeping slight of hand. They ordered various state agencies and city governments, which were already required to have their money deposited in the bank, to loan the BND $10 million. The cash was never actually withdrawn, so nobody was actually out the money. But cash was available to make loans to the strapped farmers. And the bank of North Dakota had been saved.
It was a bridge too far for the old school Republicans. On April Fools day, 1919, three major players in state politics, Attorney General “Wild Bill” Langer, state Auditor Carl Kositizksy and Secretary of State Thomas Hall all resigned their membership in the NPL in protest. Publicly they blamed Townley's influence. Langer even called the father of the Non-Partisan League a liar. Resistance to the League solidified around The Independent Voters Association - except the IVA was anything but independent. Most of its money came the Minnesota capitalist-industrial complex. So much money poured in that in November of 1919 the first issue of a 40 page monthly magazine appeared, “The Red Flame”, pounding home the message that the NPL were communists, intent on subverting capitalism in North Dakota. Newspapers took sides, and it became clear that the further west within the state, the stronger the NPL became, and feeding off the anti-German sentiment left over from the war, the further east you went the stronger the IVA became.
The IVA tried suing to invalidate the legislation which had created the Industrial Commission, claiming it violated the 14th amendment. A North Dakota judge tossed the suit, and the State Supreme Court upheld that decision, saying it was an issue of taxation and thus a matter for the the elected officials, not judges. The IVA then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court which heard the case in in April of 1920. And in June the court admitted that things in North Dakota were getting pretty odd, but again, they refused to stick their noses into a taxation issue.
The primary campaign in 1920 was nasty, and vicious. There were charges that the IVA was bribing politicians, and the IVA managed to put a measure on the ballot to weaken the bank by allowing city or county governments to withdraw their money. Month after month, “The Red Flame” spewed out accusations against Frazier and the Non-Partisan League, charging incompetence and fraud in running the BND. In the October Republican primaries Frazier beat “Wild Bill” Langer for Governor, but the NPL lost control of the House to the IVA, and the bank lost capital when the ballot measure passed. Come November, the wounded Frazier defeated the Democratic candidate for Governor by a mere 5,000 votes.
Governor Frazier responded in December, during a special session of the legislature, when he introduced the “anti-liars” bill, making it a felony for a state employee to publish false statements about the bank. IVA politician Theodore “Two Bit” Nelson went hyperbolic to the Bismark North Star Dakotan, “This is the end of democracy. Nothing is sacred,” he pronounced What it was, was civil war within the Republican Party. Politics in North Dakota ground to a halt. Fist fights erupted periodically in the legislature between NPL and IVA Republicans. But the IVA had managed to turn one of the NPL's political reforms against it, collecting 73,000 signatures and forcing an October recall election on the three freshly re-elected members of the Industrial Commission; Frazier, Lemke and Hagen. At the same time a half dozen ballot measures were offered, any one of which would neuter or destroy the bank.
The vote was held on Friday, October 28th, and all three NPL members of the Industrial Commission were ousted. Frazier became the first Governor every recalled, by a margin of just 1%, barely 4,000 votes. But the Bank of North Dakota survived, as every ballot measure meant to destroy it was defeated. Wrote the Dakotan, “It seems that the people want the bank and the mill but think that the IVA can do a better job of running them.” In 1921, the IVA tried again to dismantle “Socialism” in North Dakota, and again every ballot measure intended to overturn the bank and the state run flour mill, went down to defeat. They never tried again. Both institutions are still very much alive and healthy today, if reduced in size and goals. But they remain a recognition that when corporations seek to exploit and dominate the people, the people have no choice but to incorporate themselves.
The year after being recalled as governor, the people of North Dakota elected Lynn Frazier to the United States Senate, where he served for 17 years. Arthur Charles Townley the man who splinted the Republican party, served a 90 day prison sentence in 1922 for discouraging enlistments in World War One. He resigned from the NPL, but he never stopped fighting for things he believed in. Without him, his Non-Partisan League remained a thorn in the side of the Republican Party until 1956. Since then they have annoyed the Democratic Party of the North Dakota, which remains a minority party in a state still filled with farmers and still dominated economically from Minnesota.
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Wednesday, June 27, 2012


I think it profound that all telescopes involve mirrors. In 1846 this concept was stumbled upon by the obsessive-compulsive painter Alvan G. Clark. He realized there was more money to be made in making lenses for telescopes for rich benefactors than in just making portraits of rich people. And since both involved selling positive self images to wealthy clients, Alvan dropped his brush and took up the polishing rag. It was said of this self taught optician that while polishing his lenses, he could feel imperfections in the glass through his thumb. For over a half a century Alvin and his sons ground magnificent telescopes for rich clients who saw funding observatories as grand monuments to their own intellectual beneficence. Five times Alvin Clark and Sons produced lenses for the largest refraction telescopes in the world. But it is another sad truth that making optical telescopes is an ephemeral art form, since glass is not really a solid but a very, very slowly flowing liquid. So over time all lenses tell lies, even a Clark
One of Alvan Clark's most enthusiastic customers was Percival Lowell, whose mommy gave him a 2 1/4 inch Clark on his fifteenth birthday. Astronomy was the kind of hobby mother and son could share atop their Brookline mansion without engendering whispers from the neighbors. Although he had always had a love of mathematics, at his father's urging, Percival went into business in Japan (above - the tall looking one without the hat). But he always returned to his first love; astronomy. And as  the end of the 19th century approached, Percy was attracted by the approach of Mars. 
The more people looked at the red planet, the more it looked like earth. Kepler was the first to realize that Mars was a neighbor of ours. But it was the Dutchman Christiaan Huygens, who first drew detailed maps of the surface. Then in September of 1877, as the orbits of Earth and Mars converged, Giovanni Schiaparelli used a new telescope and drew even more detailed maps. He saw what looked like mountain ranges and plains and long mysterious grooves which criss-crossed the planet, which he described in Italian as “canalii”. It is sad to point out here, that although Percival Lowell spoke fluent Japanese, he did not speak Italian. 
In 1896, Percival retired from the business world and built his own world class observatory in the mountains, 7,180 feet above Flagstaff, Arizona, atop a peak he named Mars Hill. Here, for $20,000 (half a million today) Percival installed a 24 inch Clark refracting telescope. Every summer night for the next 23 years, Percival Lowell (above) sat at the bottom of his telescope, observing Mars. During the days he slept in the 24 room mansion he also built on Mars Hill. Being born rich has its advantages, and Percival would have been a fool if he had not taken advantage of his advantages.
And what he saw through the eyepiece of his expensive magical tube was amazing. He saw canals - real canals - more than 180 of them, some of them 4,000 miles long. And he wondered what sort of creatures had constructed such a massive, intricate water system. “Quite possibly, “ he wrote, “such Martian folk are possessed of inventions of which we have not dreamed...Certainly what we see hints at the existence of beings who are in advance of, not behind us, in the journey of life.” 
Percival wrote three books, “Mars”, “Mars and its Canals”, and “Mars as the Abode of :Life”. Each and every book became a best seller. He inspired H.G. Wells to write “War of the Worlds”, as well as inspiring Edgar Rice Burrows, who besides “Tarzan” wrote 13 adventure books centering on Mars. By the year his third book was published, in 1907, Percival Lowell was the recognized world expert on the planet Mars. And then, almost over night, Percival's magical red world was deflated by his doppelganger, George Hale.
George Hale also came from a rich Boston family. But where Percival's father had insisted he attend business school, George's father had sent him to MIT to become a professional astronomer. And in 1908 George opened the lens cap on his new 60” reflector telescope in his new observatory atop California's 5,700 foot high Mount Wilson. And almost the first thing George peered at was Mars, where he found...no canals. Not a one. No matter how hard he looked. It is alleged that George saw an elf in his bedroom, but he saw no canals on Mars.
The photographic proof was conclusive. What Percival had seen as canals proved, when seen through a bigger newer telescope, to be just an optical illusion, or maybe the blood vessels in the back of Percival's own eye. Percival had a nervous breakdown. And when he recovered he sought to re-establish his reputation. He took up the search for the the last great mystery in the night sky, the powerful conundrum of Planet X.
According to Percival's own mathematics, there was something very odd about the planets Neptune and Uranus. They were too big, their orbits were odd, Neptune was spinning on its side and they both wobbled. It looked to Percival as as if there had to be another planet further out from the sun, tugging at Uranus and Neptune. He called his suspect Planet X. Percival had even calculated Planet X's mass, and he knew exactly where it had to be in the sky, 40 times further out from the sun than the earth.
For ten years Percival and his assistants – okay, mostly his assistants – scoured photographs of the night sky, searching for the tell-tale movement in the star field that would herald the discovery of Planet X. Twice the camera on Percival's 12” Clark took pictures of the moving X. But the humans who had to examine each one of the thousands of photographs, failed to notice the one dot that had moved slightly. And then, in 1916, at the age of sixty-one, Percival Lowell suffered a stroke and died. He was buried next to his beloved 12” Clark. But thanks to Percival's fortune, the search for Planet X continued.
In 1930 Clyde Tombaugh found Planet X. And since he was being paid by Percival's endowment, and still using Percival's 12” Clark, Planet X was named using Percival Lowell's initials – PLuto. And isn't it amazing that Planet X became the official IX planet in the solar system? You don't often get to use Roman Numerals in a joke.
Ah, but things were about to get even more amazing. With the refinement of observations of the outer planets a number of new great mysteries appeared in the night sky, as they always do. The more you know the less you know, you know.
The first thing astronomers realized they did not know was why  two of those three cold blobs of rock and ice circling far out from the Sun– Neptune and Uranus - were so darn massive, too massive to have been formed so far out at the edge of the spinning disc that eventually became the solar system. In 2005 the mystery was solved (we think) at the University of Nice, France. Neptune and Uranus, said the French astronomers, had actually formed in the inner solar system, and out of rock, like the Earth, Venus and Mars.
Four billion years ago the newly formed gas giants Jupiter and Saturn had turned the inner solar system into pool table on the break -  with the still molten planets and asteroids slamming and careening into and off of each other. This gravitational pin ball game had pulled the moon into a collision with the Earth, and allowed its capture. It had ground up the rocks trying to form a planet into the asteroid belt. And it had flung Uranus and Neptune out of their formation orbits and into their current orbits, leaving behind a lot of oddities as they swerved out into the edge of our solar system.
And that left Pluto. The more people looked at the guardian of the outer realms the odder it looked. Better telescopes, including one in earth orbit, showed it to have less than two tenths of 1% of the mass of the Earth, and to be only about half the size of our moon. That was too small to have perturbed the orbits of Neptune or Uranus. In fact it was even too small to be classified as a planet.
On August 24, 2006 the International Astronomical Union struck Pluto from the list of planets and gave it the new title of "134340 Pluto, dwarf planet".  It seems that for all of Percival Lowell's careful calculations, and for all of Clyde Tombaugh's perseverance, and for all the power of Alvan Clark's thumb, finding Planet X right where it was supposed to be was...just a coincidence. It was the human mind which mistook blind luck for a deep cosmological insight, just as the swelling in the blood vessels behind Percival Lowell's eye had built the canals of Mars.
It makes me wonder how we can ever really be certain we are certain of anything. And it seems that no matter how big our telescopes become, we will always looking into a mirror.
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Sunday, June 24, 2012


I am always surprised by people who despise politics, because that is like despising vaccination needles; try living without it. And the way in which James Reavis-Peralta responded to Royal Johnson's report is a perfect example. Of course he sued the United States, claiming the government was stealing a million and a half acres from his “Arizona Development Corporation”, and demanded compensation of $11 million ($2.5 billion today). That got a lot of headlines. But more practically, he called on his allies in Washington. The railroad's man in the President's Cabinet (and therefore Huntington's man), Secretary of the Interior John W. Noble, put pressure on the Commissioner for the Land Office, Lewis Groff, who was technically Johnson's boss. On February 20, 1890, Commissioner Groff fired off a critical letter to the Arizona Surveyor General - Royal Johnson. The letter said Johnson's report was biased and instructed Johnson to “strike the case from your docket and notify Mr. Reavis of the action, allowing the usual time for an appeal to the Hon. Secretary of the Interior.” In other words, John W. Noble. Problem solved – except for the lawsuit.
Lawyers for Reavis-Peralta and the Development Corporation were Harvey Brown, Robert Ingersall and James Broadhead, who had already publicly endorsed the Peralta claim. All three men were also attorneys for Huntington's Southern Pacific Railroad. Mr. Huntington must have been a little annoyed he'd been forced out of the shadows on this point. Never-the-less the lawyers began a delaying action while Senator Roscoe Conkling (another Huntington ally) came to the rescue, pushing for the creation in March of 1891, of the U.S. Court of Private Land Claims, which was given jurisdiction over old Mexican and Spanish land claims, i.e. the Peralta grant.
While all of this was going, in California James Reavis-Peralta's personal attorneys managed to find just the right people who were willing to swear under oath they had known the little orphan girl Sophia Peralta at various stages in her life. One man even claimed to have been a employee of John Treadway, who had supposedly provided for the child after her father's death in Spain. And in February 1893, an express wagon pulled up in front of the Land Office in Sante Fe, New Mexico and unloaded “an array of boxes and packages, all...marked 'Peralta Grant.' This was the evidence attacking the Surveyor General's report. Along with the mass of documents, old and newly discovered, was a large oil portrait of the Marquis de Peralta, to put a face on the fraud. James Reavis-Peralta and Sophia now moved back into their desert fortress of Arizola, where, on March 8, 1893 , Sophia argued her own case by giving birth to twin boys, thus proving, said James, that she had been born a twin herself. Also that spring, another group of investors were lined up to supply another $2,500 (today's equivalent of $60,000) a month, for operating expenses..
At the same time the prosecution was also getting ready. The newly formed Court of Private Land Claims had hired Mathew Reynolds to defend the government, “"a lawyer of splendid ability”, and he fought to hire William Tipton an expert on document analysis, Sevaro Mallet-Prevost, a Mexican-American who was an expert in Mexican and American land laws, and Henry Flipper, an expert surveyor. All these men and their staffs were a major investment by the government, but with his lawsuit Reavis had changed the economics of the case, making it reasonable to invest the time and money needed to prove Reavis was a fraud. It was James Reavis' first really big mistake. He had overplayed his hand.
In January of 1894 Mallet-Prevost and Tipton went to Tucson to examine the original claim files. Once that task was completed, Mallet-Provist went on to Mexico City and Guadalajara. There he found that the Royal  Cedula naming Don Miguel Peralta as the Baron of Arizona was real, but it had been altered. Originally it had been a Credula advising the City of Guadalajara that the Count of Fuenclara was the new Viceroy of New Spain. In June Mallet-Prevost moved on to old Spain. While in Seville he discovered that the Spanish authorities had actually caught Reavis trying to slip a doctored document into a library, and had issued a warrant for his arrest. But Reavis had used his connections with Spanish royalty to discourage the police from pursuing their case.
Meanwhile, Mathew Reynolds had gone to California, where he was contacted by the lawyer for Mrs Elena Campbell de Nore, who had a signed contract between her husband and James Reavis, in which Miguel Nore (the husband) was promised $50,000.00 in exchange for lying for Reavis – Hell, it seems, hath no fury like a wife cut out of a payoff. Also, he made a side trip to the grave of John Treadway, the friend of Don Peralta who had supposedly agreed to care for the infant Sophia. According to the dates on his tombstone, Treadway had died six months before Sophia was born.  As details of the evidence being collected in Mexico, Spain and California began to leak out, Reavis' investors began to quietly drop away. As the money dried up, Reavis' lawyers quit, one after the other. By the time his case came to trial, James Reavis-Peralta was flat broke.
The trial was supposed to begin in Santa Fe, at 10:00 Monday morning, June 2, 1895, but nobody from the Reavis-side showed up. The court adjourned until 1:00 that afternoon, when the only business was a motion from  J.T. Kenney,  a lawyer representing 106 Peralta family members from Arizona. They had filed a companion suit, hoping to catch some dribbles from Reavis' bounty, but after reviewing the government's evidence, Kenney told the court, “from a cursory examination... it (the Peralta Grant) is a fabrication...We wash our hands from all of it.” First thing Tuesday morning the court began taking testimony from government witnesses, even though Baron James Reavis-Peralta was still no where to be seen.
The Government case was laid out in full. There never was any one named Don Miguel Nemecio Silva de Peralta de la Corboda. There had never been a grant of land issued to the nonexistent Baron. The nonexistent grant had not been approved by the Inquisition, and had not been confirmed by the Viceroy, who had died a few days after her did not sign the nonexistent grant. The nonexistent Don Miguel Peralta had never married, and he and his imaginary wife had never had children, who, of course had not had children, who had not had children, who, needless to say, had not delivered sickly twins in an isolated California mission, where the nonexistent mother had not died along with her nonexistent male twin, and there had been no Sophia Peralta who survived, because her mother had not existed. The supposed friend of the nonresistant Baron Parlata had existed - John A. Treadway was real. But he had died six months  before the nonexistent Sophia Peralta had not been born.
Documents supporting the Peralta claim had been forged, usually badly, and inserted into existing files and books. Legitimate entries in diaries and record books had been erased to make room for forged names and titles. The entire Peralta case was a tale of lies, cheats and broken promises, and had survived in the courts as long as it did only because of the support by rich and powerful men like Huntington and Crocker, who had become rich and powerful because they had no scruples about lying and cheating to make money.
Finally, on June 10, 1895, the Baron of Arizona, James Reavis-Peralta showed up in court in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in the flesh, to answer the Government's charges. He should have stayed in bed.
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