Friday, July 12, 2013


I can find no record of any politician every becoming a professional wrestler. But more than a few baby-kissers have followed the reverse story line. Perhaps the most insightful description of Abraham Lincoln was delivered by 19 year old William Green, who, in the fall of 1831, described his 6' 4”, 185 pound co-worker this way: “He can outrun, out lift, out wrestle and throw down any man in Sangamon County.” Green clearly saw Lincoln's need to win respect. Then in the summer of 1832, Lincoln took on Lorenzo Dow (Hank) Thompson, a fellow volunteer in the Black Hawk Indian uprising. In their match Thompson “threw down” Lincoln: twice. It was the rail splitter's only defeat in 12 years as an amateur wrestler. And it was after that drubbing that Lincoln switched to the law and politics.
Gimmick - The character portrayed by a wrestler.
The most successful wrestler turned politician was probably James George Janos, who was a U.S. Navy Seal, then a professional wrestler using the “gimmick” of Jesse "The Body" Ventura (above), who then used that moniker to become a film actor and then the Governor of Minnesota – putting a lie to F. Scott Fitzgerald's contention there are no second acts in American lives. Twice. His careers highlight the similarities between politicians and professional wrestlers. Both are roles in melodramatic morality plays, based on reality. Both require dedication and concentration from performer and audience alike. And both roles can leave the performer bruised and bloodied, or even paralyzed.
Angle - A fictional story line which usually begins when one wrestler attacks another, which results in revenge.
Consider Jerry O'Neil “The King” Lawler, who holds 168 professional wrestling “championships”, and was most famous for pile driving comedian Andy Kaufman head first during their 1982 match in Memphis, Tennessee. Twice. Kaufman went to the hospital, and Lawler went back to wrestling professionals. Now, Memphis had avoided political drama since New Years Day, 1940, when Mayor Watkins Overton was replaced by Ed “Boss” Crump, who was sworn in at the train station during a snow storm, and who immediately resigned in favor of Vice Mayor Joe Boyle, who the next morning was replaced by the City Commissioners with Walter Chandler. Thus Memphis had four mayors in under 24 hours – something of a melodramatic record. “The King” Lawler offered Memphis a return to that sort of drama, but the voters rejected the idea. Twice. In 1999 Jerry Lawler captured just 11% of the vote for Mayor, and a decade later he won only 4% . And that was the end of of his political career.
Burial – The “worked” (faked) lowering of a popular wrestler, forcing him to lose in “squash” (short, one sided) matches, as punishment..
World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Famer, Robert Lee “Bob” Backlund (above), had a 30 year career in wrestling, all of it playing a bow-tie wearing white-bread hero, telling his few fans he was “sick and tired of you plebeians throwing garbage out the windows of your car.” It was not exactly a blood curdling war cry. His “Cross-face Chicken Wing” move won him championships. Twice. But by the late 1990's his WWF boss was urging him to become a “heel”, (a villain). When he refused, “I was told I wasn't worth marketing," So Bob decided to make the cross over to Congress, running in 2000 for the seat from Connecticut's 1st district (below), against the incumbent Democrat, John Larsen.  Who had never been a wrestler.
Mark – From the carnival term: a person who enjoys professional wrestling as if it were un-staged.
Most grapplers, making the shift from wrestling theater to political theater, choose to run as Republicans, for some reason. And in recent history, they have all failed. Bucklund won only 28% of the 211,000 plus votes cast in the district, losing 59,331 to 151, 932 for Larsen. After his loss, Bob Bucklund became a bail bondsman, and then opened Buckland Energy (above), delivering fuel oil. He says he is thinking about running for Governor, which may be just about the last thing the Connecticut Republican Party needs after suffering Linda McMahon. Twice.
Shoot Screwjob - when the finish is changed without informing the losing wrestler.
Linda (above) was a North Carolina tom boy. Straight out of high school she married Vince Edwards, whose father was co-owner of Capital Wrestling Corporation. While Vince learned the business, Linda put her B.A. in French to use, translating intellectual property contracts into English for a Washington, D.C. law firm. By 1976 the couple had hit hard times and was reduced to food stamps, until Vince put together a deal to buy a sports arena in South Yarmouth, Massachusetts. He filled it by starting a sports management company. In 1982 Linda and Vince bought Capital Wrestling, and changed its name to the World Wide Wrestling Federation. Within a decade they guided the industry into its “Golden Era”, with nationwide pay-per-view events, and marketing contracts for action figures of their “faces” and “heels” . Then in the 1990's financial over extension, “gas” (steroid) scandals, a series of sexual harassment lawsuits, and the infamous Montreal Shoot Screw job brought the empire to near collapse. It was Linda's adroit ancillary contracts which helped save the WWWF.
Sandbag - To make a throw much harder by letting your body go limp, which makes the attacker appear weak or unskilled.
In 2010 Linda McMahon announced her intention to spend $50 million of her own money on a run for a U.S. Senate seat. She beat out two Republican rivals in the primary, but lost the November election by 11%. The winning Democratic incumbent, Richard Blumenthal, spent less than $9 million. In 2012 Linda spent another $50 million trying to capture Connecticut’s other Senate seat. Her opponent this time, Democratic Representative Chris Murphy, spent just about $5.5 million. This time Linda lost by 12%. It is unclear if the underlying problem was being associated with professional wrestling, or being associated with the Republican Party. But afterward, Linda assured the Huffington Post that even after spending $100 million for no pin, she was satisfied. "I thoroughly enjoyed campaigning,” she said. And even a political fib can be charming when delivered in a sweet North Carolina drawl.
Blade - (N) The object used by wrestlers to cut themselves. (V) Cutting to get blood in their matches.
But maybe the most interesting transition from wrestling to politics has been made by the Japanese wrestler Skull Reaper A-ji, who practiced the Mexican lucha libre (free fighting) style. Luchadores (fighters) wear masks whose designs recall ancient Aztec animal-god traditions, and can become more than a costume element for the wearer. They appeal not just to furry fandom types, or anthropomorphic animal lovers.  According to psychiatrists and social psychologists, the mask produces “deindividuation”, which involves desensitization to pain, anger and fear, increased awareness of your surroundings, and an accompanying boost in self confidence.
Dusty Finish - In which the “face” (hero) appears to win a big match, but the decision is reversed by the ref. Refers to wrestler Dusty Rhodes, who booked many such finishes
Until 2004 Skull Reaper worked in the clothing industry – at what, I have no idea. That was the year he joined All Japan Pro Wrestling. He had his first match in September of 2005, at the Oita Event Hall, in front of 1,200 of his home town fans. But there does not seem to have been a follow up match, which may explain why on 24 February, 2013,  Skull Reaper stood for election to the Oita municipal council. Oita (above) is a fishing and manufacturing port of a half a million citizens, on the north coast of Japan's most southern main island, Kyushu. It is famous for its factories and its epicurean favorite, de fugu chiri – poisonous puffer fish liver.
Cheap Heat - The incitement of a negative crowd reaction
There were 55 candidates for the 43 available spots on the Oita counsel, so name recognition was important. And a name like “Skull Reaper” must have of stood out on that list, even in Japanese characters. The 44 year old blond headed masked “face” collected 2,828 votes, making him 40th, out of 43 new councilmen. But, on 6 March, 2013 a plenary meeting of the Oita council was held, and they overwhelmingly voted that Skull Reaper's mask violated the rule “A person entering the floor shall not wear articles such as a hat or cane.” He would not be the masked avenger of Oita
False finish - A pin fall attempt which is kicked out just before the referee counts to three, which builds crowd anticipation.
Refused entry in the council's first general meeting on 11 March, Skull Reaper told the press he was frustrated. “If I take my mask off, I’m an entirely different person. I will not take it off.” But time, and perhaps negative press coverage, changed his mind. And on 19 March, Skull Reaper was admitted into the Council Chambers, sans mask His name plate (below) still reads “Skull Reaper A-ji” because that was the identity the citizens voted for.
Highspot - A top-rope move, or a series of maneuvers perceived as dangerous.
And perhaps this sacrifice helped his wrestling career, because on 18 May, 2013, Skull Reaper finally got a second match, pinning Hideyoshi Kamitani, at the Asaukura Amagi Sport Center, in just 11:46. It almost makes me wonder if all politicians should be not required to wear masks to match their theatrical persona. 
Gold – A championship belt.
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Wednesday, July 10, 2013


I think to truly understand the programmer's axiom, “garbage in, garbage out”, you have to go back before computers, back to 1933, when two British chemists, Reginald Gibson and Eric Fawcett, were trying to do two things at the same time - get rich inventing a substitute for rubber, and avoid blowing up their lab. See, natural rubber comes from ParĂ¡ rubber trees grown in hot , humid places like Malaysia, Vietnam and Burma, which are also places that grow malaria infested mosquitoes, and which tended to be politically unstable. Lots of chemists were looking to make a molecule that would act like rubber but avoid the bugs and the angry locals. But it was dangerous and expensive work
Dangerous because Gibson and Fawcett were working with a hydrocarbon, meaning it contained combinations of carbon and hydrogen atoms. The hydrogen makes all hydrocarbons flammable, and this particular one, ethylene, or C2H4, and made from either alcohol or petroleum, is more flammable than most. But Gibson and Fawcett figured if they heated the ethylene in a pressure cooker, that would break the bonds binding the ethylene atoms together, and when they cooled they would recombine in a way that would imitate rubber. Most of the time, the experiments ended with an explosion, which is why it was expensive. But in 1933, somehow they avoided the boom and got, instead, what looked like a lump of coffee colored sugar. So they tried it again, and this time got nothing – no explosion and no “lump”. Now they were confused.. They wanted to try it a third time, but the Imperial Chemical Company, which employed them, decided it was too expensive, and even if it did work, it would never show a profit until long after the current executives had retired. So they told Gibson and Fawcett to move on.
Well, Fawcett figured he was being cheated out of a Nobel Prize, and in 1935, this ambitious, bitter chemist started telling anybody who would listen what he and Gibson had done. Two other ICC chemists, Michael Perrin and John Paton, decided to duplicate the experiment, and got the same lump. But in checking their data, Perin and Paton discovered their pressure cooker had leaked, which is what must have happened to Fawcett and Gibson. When they fixed the leak, Perrin and Paton got no “lump”. So, figuring the missing element was the oxygen in the air that had leaked in, they added a drop of almond oil, or benzaldehyde, which has seven carbon atoms, six hydrogen atoms and a single oxygen atom. They heated up the ethylene and benzalheyde in the pressure cooker and they got the “lump”. They could now make artificial rubber anytime they wanted. They called their artificial rubber polyethylene, or PE for short.
Now, PE is better than rubber because it is a thermoplastic polymer, meaning it is a chain of chemically stable molecules, each exactly like the others, like rubber, but when PE is re-heated under normal pressure, it can be easily injected or extruded into molds. The first idea ICC had was to use PE to insulate underwater telegraph cables. They had been using the sap drained from Gutta-percha trees, native to northern Australia and many of the same unpleasant places (for Englishmen) that rubber came from. Now they had a way to avoid those places. So they built a plant on Wallerscote Island in the middle of the Weaver River, just upstream from the Liverpool docks. They planned to produce 100 tons of PE a year. But on the day the Wallerstcote plant opened, September 1, 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland, setting off World War Two.
Britain won the Second World War, but they went $50 billion in debt doing it – the equivalent of $500 billion today. To repay that debt British corporations held industrial yard sales, including selling the formula for polyethylene (above) to the American company Dow Chemical. And this is where Harry Wasylyk comes into our story. He was born on the Canadian prairies of Manitoba to Ukrainian immigrants, and was just as ambitious as Eric Fawcettt. After the war Harry was living in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and he knew the Winnipeg General Hospital was facing a big problem. Their admissions had increased by 50% in the previous ten years, and the post war baby boom was promising even bigger growth in the near future. What were they going to do with their swelling medical wastes?. It was an increasingly important question, and an old one.
It is an evolutionary artifact that before humans came down from the trees, our thinking was strictly “out of sight out of mind”. Thanks to gravity, anything we dropped, from our hands or our butts, magically disappeared. And we have often suffered from this elevated view. In 1887, when the Prefect of Paris tried to require all citizens to use “sanitary” metal garbage cans, libertarian landlords justified blocking the measure not because of the expense, but - so they said - because their “right” to throw garbage in the street was being infringed. The argument that living surrounded by garbage was unhealthy did not impress this early Tea Party logic. As John Ralston Saul pointed out in his 1993 book “Voltair's Bastards”, “The free market opposed sanitation. The rich opposed it...That is why it took a century to finish what could have been done in ten years” In short, public hygiene remained stubbornly “out of sight”.
Six years after Parisians had rejected metal garbage cans, the Boston Sanitary Commission reported, “The means resorted to by a large number of citizens to get rid of their garbage and avoid paying for its collection would be very amusing were it not such a menace to public health. Some burn it, while others wrap it up in paper and carry it on their way to work and drop it when unobserved, or throw it into vacant lots or into the river.” About the same time a visitor described New York City as a “nasal disaster, where some streets smell like bad eggs dissolved in ammonia.” City dumps were established to allow rag and bone men to simplify their jobs, and usually next to pig farms (below), as 75 pigs were able to dispose of a ton of garbage a day. None of this, of course, solved the problem of disease spreading flies, cockroaches, and mammals, all drawn to the aroma of rotting garbage produced by an average human household.
Only because of high insurance rates were the thousands of small smokey fires in the ubiquitous backyard trash incinerators, finally extinguished And as living space in cites shrank, so did room for compost kitchen waste. By the middle of the twentieth century, in most of the first world, trash and garbage were now lumped together and left at the curb to be removed by the modern day rag and bone men - now called garbage men. Anyone who thought about public health, like the directors of the Winnipeg General Hospital, expected the post World War II population boom would lead to an explosion of plagues, brought on by garbage spilling out on the streets.
And that was where Harry Wasylyk came in. In 1949, in his Winnipeg kitchen, Harry melted pellets of polyethylene. He chose PE because it was cheap, available in large quantities, easy to work with, water proof and air tight. He squeezed it between rollers into thin twin sheets, cut and sealed it into bags, and in a stroke produced the world's first plastic garbage bag. The directors of Winnipeg General saw it as the hygienic solution to their growing waste problem, and made garbage easy and safer to handle. The hospital eagerly signed a contract. By 1951 Henry Wasylyk had leased a warehouse, installed equipment, and was mass producing garbage bags for Winnipeg General, and a few other local industrial customers.
At about the same time, the Union Carbide PE plant in Montreal, Quebec, had a back log of pellets.
Larry Hanson, at the UC facility in Lindsay, Ontario, about 60 northwest of Toronto, was assigned to find something profitable to do with them. He quickly hit upon the same idea of making garbage bags, and they proved so popular with the janitorial staff, that management adopted the idea. Doing patent research Dow found out about Harry a thousand miles to the west, in far off Manitoba, and decided to buy his factory and his process. In the end, the patent for the plastic garbage bag is held jointly by two Canadians, Harry and Larry.
Every year humans produce 4 to 5 trillion polyethylene bags, mostly the flimsy supermarket shopping bags. And every year those discarded bags kill a billion seabirds, reptiles and sea mammals, making them one of the most deadly materials in the 4 billion year history of our planet. Less than 1% of 380 billion PE bags discarded each year in the United States are properly recycled. The obvious answer would be to ban the production of all PE bags. But, of course no problem is that simple
According to a 2011 study by the British Environmental Protection agency, the average cotton tote bag has a life span of 52 trips to and from the supermarket, and replaces less than 2% of the “fresh water aquatic ecotoxicity” of 350 PE bags. And PE bags themselves make up less than 1% of American landfills. What fills the landfills, is what's in the bags. Concern about the environmental impact of plastic garbage bags is a case of not being able to see the garbage for the garbage bags. They solved a problem, but not THE problem. As Beth Terry writes in her “My Plastic Free Life” web page ““The fact is, there is no magically perfect way to dispose of garbage since the whole concept of garbage itself is not Eco-friendly. The best option is to try and reduce the amount of waste we generate in the first place.”
Less garbage, fewer garbage bags. But the constant remains – garbage
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Sunday, July 07, 2013


I have respect for anyone who wears the military uniform of their country, official heroes and cowards alike. But it seems to me the official coward makes the greater sacrifice. They suffer only scorn and disgust for their incompetent public service. Yet, inevitably, they can always be depended upon to provide the melodramatic contrast required to make the hero’s' medals shine that much brighter. As just one example, you might say it took the scarifies of six cowards to burnish Andrew Jackson's medals bright enough to be seen in Washington, D.C. You could say that, but that would not be fair to either Jackson or the six cowards.
Andrew Jackson looked like a hero. He stood over six feet tall, and at 130 pounds was razor thin, with piercing blue eyes. In 1812 he had a head of bright red hair and the emotional responses of a fifteen year old juvenile delinquent. He was made a general of the Tennessee militia, by popular acclimation, and ordered to take his farmers down the Mississippi River to Natchez, where they would be enveloped into an army to defend New Orleans. Secretary-of-War John Armstrong can be forgiven if he was anticipating a British move against the vital and vulnerable port. And upon learning the British were too busy in Europe to bother with America, his rational decision was to send all the militia units home. But the way Armstrong went about it was typical of the man - petty and cheap. Upon reaching Natchez, Jackson was ordered to disband his men and sent them home without pay.
It was honorable of Jackson that he refused. In violation of his orders Jackson safely marched his men home, as a unit. And he maintained such discipline on that march that he earned the title “Old Hickory”, after the wood that broke before it bent. And only when they were safe at home did Jackson release his men from their units, with the promise that they would be paid for the extra month of service on the march. It was a display of common sense and humanity worthy of a hero. And it got Jackson reprimanded, and left behind when the war heated up along the Canadian border.
The unanticipated result was that on September 14th and 15th , of 1814, when the British ships attacked Fort Bowyer at the entrance to Mobile Bay (above), there was nobody left in the south to command the defense of the New Orleans and the southern coast, except Andrew Jackson. The attack on Bowyer was repulsed, but the assault threw militia all along the coast into a panic, especially the 500 or so members of the First Regiment of the West Tennessee Militia manning a run down outpost of Fort Charlotte, guarding the mouth of the Mobile River. The water in their fort was bad, the food was scarce and lousy, and disease was running rampant. And in a case of spectacular bad timing, many of the Tennesseans decided at this moment, to go home.
They had enlisted in June back in Nashville, for three months, and as they figured it, as of September 20th , 1814, their time was up. So that morning about 200 of them just left. Desertion was common, but organized desertion could not be tolerated. The army offered a $10 reward for each man returned to his unit, and by November 2nd, 166 men had come back, under arrest or voluntarily. Between December 5th, and December 18th, 1814, those men were tried for  mutiny in Mobile , by officers of the Tennessee Militia. The verdicts was then sent for review to Andrew Jackson, 150 miles away in in New Orleans.
He was kind of busy at the time - recruiting, arming and drilling the local militia. On the December 23rd Jackson led 2, 000 men in a desperate night attack against an English advance guard of 1,800 men at the Lacoste's Plantation, 9 miles south of New Orleans. Jackson's force was thrown back, but British causalities were heavy enough they were now cautious, giving Jackson just enough time to fortify the canal 4 miles south of town. On January 8, 1815, the 11,000 man British force attacked the 2,500 Americans. The result was decisive. The British lost almost 300 killed and 1,200 wounded, and were forced to retreat. American casualties were 13 killed and 39 wounded. Jackson's victory was nothing short of a miracle.
The day after - January 9th, 1815 - Jackson returned to his headquarters in New Orleans to find among other things waiting for him, the verdict from the court martial in Mobile. Jackson approved it and sent it back without comment. Two Tennessee officers were dismissed, and a third had his sword broken over his head, before being dismissed. Most of the 160 enlisted men lost half their pay, had half their head shaved before being drummed out of camp. The six seen as ringleaders were condemned to be executed by firing squad. But before that could happen, the British captured Fort Bowyer on February 12th. British men-of-war carrying 1,400 infantry and 11 cannon now entered Mobile Bay, and prepared to attack the pitiable Fort Charlotte and Mobile. Only the arrival of word of the peace treaty signed in Ghent (and negotiated by John Quincy Adams) two months earlier (on December 24, 1814) saved the fort, and maybe New Orleans and maybe Andrew Jackson's career. The end of the war did not save the six condemned men.
On February 21, 1815, the six men were brought to the scene of execution, and made to kneel on their own coffins. In charge of the detail was Colonel William Russel, U.S, Army. He urged the condemned to, “Die like men – like soldiers....Meet your fate with courage.” When asked if they had any last words, a Baptist preacher who had been hired as a substitute, began to sob. Private Henry Lewis said nervously,.”I have fought bravely, you know I have...I would not wish to die this way. I did not expect it.” On command, 36 regular soldiers fired, six aiming at each of the condemned militiamen. In checking the bloody results, five were dead, and Sargent David Morrow was found to have four musket ball wounds. He pleaded with Russel, “Have I not atoned for this offense? Shall I not live?” The colonel allowed him medical care, but the answer was no. He died four days later, “in great agony.”
To those involved it was a very great affair and likely produced more than a few nightmares over the lifetimes of the executioners. History barely took note, until late January of 1828 in Philadelphia, when Irish transplant John Binns reprinted an anti-Jackson item (above) which he labeled “Monumental Inscriptions”. Originally he had created it as what we might call a one page “blow in” for his newspaper, the Democratic Press during the 1824 election.Then it barely raised a flicker of interest. This time it's 15 X 24 inches, with six coffin woodcuts in two rows,  instantly became infamous as the “Coffin Handbills”, plural because in the end there would be 26 versions of it.
It was a “Swift Boat” attack, hitting Jackson in his strongest position, his military record. The body of most of the “Coffin Handbills” carried a poem, “Gen Jackson and the Six Militiamen.” It read, in part, “Twas on the twentieth day of June, Their three months tour began; And when the ninety days were done, Their thoughts all homeward ran...Then General Jackson called a court, These citizens to try. Three officers of every sort Determined they should die...Then General Jackson issued out, An order from his pen, That in four days they should be shot - These six militia men..And God forbid, our President This Jackson e'er should be; Lest we should to his camp be sent , And shot for mutiny.”
John Binns had to endured picketing of his shop and home, and a few rocks thrown as his windows, back in 1824. But this time his friends had to physically defend the property, stopping arsonists and vandals. His fellow Irish American William Duane from Philadelphia, and a Jackson supporter, declared that Binns “now hangs, gibbeted in the pillory of public opinion” Another Adams newspaper, The United States Gazette, responded for Binns, dismissing Duane as behaving with “his accustomed egotism, and pomposity.” Things were getting personal.
By March the Coffin Handbills were virtually flooding New Hampshire. And Isaac Hill, who had published the smear that John Quincy Adams had pimped for the Czar, was forced to spend several issues of his weekly Concord “Patriot”, defending Jackson. In one issue he dismissed the attack by pointing out that Jackson“...On the 8th of January, 1815 ...murdered in the coldest blood 1,500 British soldiers...” Hill's exasperated comment went national in the Jackson Press. But by June the anti-Jackson handbills were being reprinted in Henry Clay's old newspaper, the Kentucky Reporter, in Lexington.
An editorial in the Nashville Republican and State Gazette, published the year before, now seemed prophetic. “If one half or less of the evil told of them is true”, wrote the generally neutral newspaper, “they deserve to be objects of universal repulse and scorn.... A stranger might say to an American, “Am I or am I not, to believe your political writers? If I may credit them, your nation must be degenerate indeed” Indeed.
Removed from the context of the assaults on Fort Bewyer, and the vulnerable situation of Mobile, Alabama, as was done by the handbills, Jackson's approval of the execution appears cold and callous. But then political advertising is not supposed to be informational, but motivational. And in such situations the less information the public has, the easier it is to spur them to action. For myself, reviewing all the information from 150 years distance, the fairest observation seems that all wars are made up of immoral actions and unproductive sacrifices. That is why war is to be avoided until absolutely unavoidable. General Andrew Jackson's signature on the order of execution was not unusual at the time. But going through with the executions after the war had ended - that was as cold and as callous as hell. But did it hurt Jackson's candidacy in 1828?  Not much. 
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