JULY 2018

JULY 2018
One Hundred Years Later, Same Message. 1916 - 2017


Friday, September 27, 2013


I would call it the worst Presidential inaugural speech in history – and just in part because it was also the longest. By my count it ran to 8,424 words (the first sentence was 98 words long!), and it took darn near two hours to deliver. When 68 year old William Henry Harrison started droning on, at around noon on Saturday March 4, 1841, it was barely 48 degrees, in a cold, cutting rain and wind. His audience of 50,000 were in agony, and he just kept talking. And at the end of the sixth paragraph the new President actually delivered his punch line – he would not run for re-election. From that moment he was a lame duck. He had voluntarily surrendered half of his political power, and he wasn't even half way through his inaugural speech. And he just kept talking! In fact it has been alleged that this speech actually killed the President.
“CALLED from a retirement which I had supposed was to continue for the residue of my life to fill the chief executive office of this great and free nation, I appear before you, fellow-citizens, to take the oaths which the Constitution prescribes as a necessary qualification for the performance of its duties; and in obedience to a custom coeval with our Government and what I believe to be your expectations, I proceed to present to you a summary of the principles which will govern me in the discharge of the duties which I shall be called upon to perform.”
William Henry Harrison Inaugural Address
After that it was all anti-climax. Harrison droned on and on about ancient Rome, and why the ancient Greeks had collapsed. He did not get around to discussing what he hoped to achieve while he was in charge until paragraph 17, just four paragraphs from his closing. This was not the speech most people huddled freezing in the bleachers had been expecting from the man his Democratic opponents had dubbed, “General Mum”, because he'd said almost nothing during the campaign. This was the “Tippecanoe and Tyler too” campaign, the log cabin and hard cider campaign of nothing but empty phrases, when Harrison had kept his mouth shut because the only time he had ever been in a log cabin was when he had visited his mistress Dilsia, in her slave quarters. The overly fecund Virginian had fathered six children with the unfortunate lady, and ten more with his legal wife. Did I mention it was snowing during his interminable speech? And raining? And cold? The second time George Washington took the oath, he disposed of his speech in 135 words, wham-ban, thank you, Ladies and Gentleman. But then Harrison had so much more to say about so much less than Washington did. 
“It was the remark of a Roman consul in an early period of that celebrated Republic that a most striking contrast was observable in the conduct of candidates for offices of power and trust before and after obtaining them, they seldom carrying out in the latter case the pledges and promises made in the former. However much the world may have improved in many respects in the lapse of upward of two thousand years since the remark was made by the virtuous and indignant Roman, I fear that a strict examination of the annals of some of the modern elective governments would develop similar instances of violated confidence.”
William Henry Harrison Inaugural Address
William Henry Harrison achieved a number of firsts as President. He was the first President to actively campaign for the office, and the first President to have received one million votes. All-though he won by only 147,000 popular votes his electoral college victory was a landslide. He was the first (and only) President to have been born in the same county as his Vice President (Charles City County, Virginia). He was also the first President to arrive in Washington via a steam locomotive. And he was the first president (that we know of) to have given away four of his own children (by Dilsia), to avoid being embarrassed by their existence. The unlucky youngsters were sold “down the river” to a planter in Georgia. What a nice guy. You know, if Harrison had not been such a lousy human being, I would be a lot sadder that he was also the first President to die while in office; 30 days, 12 hours and 30 minutes after starting his never ending inaugural address.
“Although the fiat of the people has gone forth proclaiming me the Chief Magistrate of this glorious Union, nothing upon their part remaining to be done, it may be thought that a motive may exist to keep up the delusion under which they may be supposed to have acted in relation to my principles and opinions; and perhaps there may be some in this assembly who have come here either prepared to condemn those I shall now deliver, or, approving them, to doubt the sincerity with which they are now uttered...”
William Henry Harrison Inaugural Address
What was wrong with this man? He had been running for President since November of 1811, when he had won the battle of Tippecanoe. But Democratic President James Madison had not even thanked him for removing the Indian threat to the western border on the eve of war with Britain. Yes, Harrison was a Whig, but it took another quarter of a century before his own party was willing to name him as their nominee. What was wrong with this patrician that so few of his contemporaries, of either party, were willing to trust him with power? About the only friend he had in Washington was Daniel Webster. The two men were close enough (thank God) that Harrison had allowed Webster to cut several minutes out of the never-ending speech – Webster claimed later that he had “killed 17 Roman Counsels” Can you imagine how many useless words Harrison would have used without Daniel Webster?
“... In other words, there are certain rights possessed by each individual American citizen which in his compact with the others he has never surrendered. Some of them, indeed, he is unable to surrender, being, in the language of our system, unalienable. The boasted privilege of a Roman citizen was to him a shield only against a petty provincial ruler, whilst the proud democrat of Athens would console himself under a sentence of death for a supposed violation of the national faith—which no one understood and which at times was the subject of the mockery of all—or the banishment from his home, his family, and his country with or without an alleged cause, that it was the act not of a single tyrant or hated aristocracy, but of his assembled countrymen....”
William Henry Harrison Inaugural Address.
He waited to take the oath until he had almost finished his speech. But as soon as he had been sworn in by Chief Justice Taney , he quashed his audiences' frigid hopes by starting to talk again, for two more rambling protracted paragraphs. It seems that William Henry Harrison, saw the anti-climax as his milieu.. Still, he felt fine after his speech. He even stayed around for the entire inaugural parade - the first President to watch the parade as opposed to marching in it. And this was the first inaugural parade with floats, little fake log cabins pulled by horses, sort of mobile homes. That night he attended all three of the inaugural balls – the official one, the Tippecanoe ball, and... and the other one. On Monday morning (March 6th) Harrison felt good enough to meet with his Secretary of the Treasury, Thomas Ewing to discuss the current national financial crises, which he had not mentioned in his endless speech. He mentioned everything else, just not that the banking system had collapsed. But, he seemed perfectly healthy, even after all that, which proves that this loquacious aristocrat was perfectly healthy until he fell under the care of a doctor.
I proceed to state in as summary a manner as I can my opinion of the sources of the evils which have been so extensively complained of and the correctives which may be applied. Some of the former are unquestionably to be found in the defects of the Constitution; others, in my judgment, are attributable to a misconstruction of some of its provisions...”
William Henry Harrison Inaugural Address
His fatal mistake was that on March 27 (three weeks after the endless speech)  he told Dr. Thomas Miller he felt “mildly fatigued and under the weather.” Dr Miller was dean of the George Washington Medical School, and he diagnosed the President as suffering from “bilious pleurisy”. Dr. Miller felt obliged to do something. So he slapped a mustard plaster on Harrison's stomach, and gave him a mild laxative. The next morning, Harrison felt worse. So Dr. Miller bled the President, until his pulse weakened. Then he subjected the 68 year old to another plaster, this time of laudanum, which caused the old man to fall asleep. While he was sleeping, Miller called in another doctor, and over the next few days these two healers gave the President opium, camphor, brandy, wine whey, and some petroleum. Oddly, after these treatments President Harrison felt so bad he was now certain he was dying. The doctors agreed, so they bled him some more. Anyone who inquired was told the President was “feeling better”,  right up until Harrison died, thirty minutes into April 4th, 1841, one week after falling into the hands of two of the most respected doctors in the nation. So it wasn't the endless speech that killed the old man after all, it was modern medicine.  And it was worth every penny of their fee.
“Fellow-citizens, being fully invested with that high office to which the partiality of my countrymen has called me, I now take an affectionate leave of you. You will bear with you to your homes the remembrance of the pledge I have this day given to discharge all the high duties of my exalted station according to the best of my ability, and I shall enter upon their performance with entire confidence in the support of a just and generous people.”
William Henry Harrison Inaugural Address
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Wednesday, September 25, 2013


I nominate the island of Sumatra as the earth's appendix. (Now that I have your attention.)  Stretching from the northwest over a thousand miles to the southeast, and up to 270 miles wide, it is evenly sliced asunder by the equator, and it just keeps rupturing and trying to kill us.
Off its south-eastern tip lies the treacherous 15 mile wide Sunda Strait, in which resides Krakatoa, the volcano whose explosive May 1883 eruption killed at least 36,000 people. In December of 2004, the Java trench just off Sumatra's north-western coast was the epicenter for the 9.3 magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami that killed 230,000 humans. And in the 12, 000 foot high Barisan Mountains on Sumatra itself, lies Lake Toba, a water filled caldera 18 miles wide by 60 miles long. It was this placid tropical vacation spot which on a December or January day 71,500 years ago – plus or minus 4,000 years – came very close to killing everybody.
On that very bad day 71,500 years ago the once great Mount Toba had a lump of rhyoite stuck in its vent, preventing the magma in its six mile wide reservoir nine miles below the surface from exhaling. The pressures built up until, as it must eventually, something gave. Perhaps it was a minor earthquake along the Sumatra Fault. Perhaps, as at Mount St. Helens, it was a landslide that released the twin beasts beneath the mountain. The initial explosion was big enough, throwing off tens of millions of tons of rock, but also enough to unleash an older, deeper magma chamber just to the north. The co-joined reservoirs were 17 cubic miles across. And the resultant combined explosion lasted a week, and threw ten trillion, trillion with a “T”, ten trillion tons of 1,500 degree Fahrenheit magma, rock and gas into the stratosphere.
This youngest Toba eruption was far greater than the 1815 eruption of yet another Indonesian volcano: this one about a thousand miles to the east, the 14,000 foot high Mount Tambora. This monster killed perhaps 11,000 locally and threw enough sulfuric acid into the stratosphere to turn 1816 into the “Year Without a Summer”, killing another 60,000 in Europe, China and North America through starvation and disease, when crops failed. Mount Toba was 100 times bigger than that, the largest volcanic explosion in the last 2 million years. The Toba ash fell in Greenland. The math says it caused a “volcanic winter” that lasted 6 to 10 years. Global temperatures would have dropped six degrees Fahrenheit. That makes it big enough to have killed almost every human on earth.
Off course it was easier back then, because there were only about 55,000 primates walking around on two legs, divided, like a biblical tale of Cain and Able, into two family tribes; homo Neanderthal and homo Erectus. Like all family stories, this one is more complicated than any mere recitation of names and dates can explain. But what is important to remember is we are talking about fewer humans than there are endangered Gorillas and Chimpanzees today. So killing all the humans on earth was not that big a job.
Erectus was the older brother, and he left his African home first. Taking his innovative hunter-gatherer life style on the road, he enjoyed a population boom as a result. But like an unsuspecting Wall Street investor, the boom was followed by a nasty surprise bust. It was Erectus' far flung prodigy who camped in the shadow of Mount Toba, 71,500 years ago. And according to research by geneticist Lynn B. Jorde at the University of Utah, the genetic markers passed down to us by our ancestors indicate a
“bottleneck” when the number of Erectus was reduced to a mere 10,000 individuals, maybe, even, as low as 40 “breeding pairs”. In other words, 70,000 years ago the total world-wide population of us, could have jointly attended a Sacramento Kings basketball game, with the stadium still left half empty, with the  “breeders”, scattered about in the corporate sky boxes.
I should point out that our story has a happy ending. Sixty thousand years after Toba, human populations had not only rebounded, but had grown to more than one million individuals world wide. This was primarily thanks to the invention of agriculture, but it was also a byproduct of the elimination of our competition.
Half a million years before the Toba eruption, the more robust humanoids, named after Germany's Neander River valley where their skeletons were first uncovered, had moved into Europe. And 40,000 after Toba, Homo Neanderthals were extinct. The last survivors discovered so far were a single family group, camped in what is now Spain, and dated to no more than 45,000 years ago. Why did they die out? Their body type required between 100 and 350 more calories per day than the ancestors of Erectus, otherwise known as “us”.

In other words, as any supermodel can tell you, we are a better at surviving starvation, at least better at it than Neanderthal. Hard to believe given the current population of fat assed Big Mac eating, french fry inhaling Americans. But maybe that explains our obsession with “all you can eat”. In any case, by 1804 the population of Homo sapians sapiens had reached 1 billion individuals. And collectively we now weigh 100 times the biomass of any other land animal that has ever walked the earth. Apatosaurus, you should have invented the Whopper. Any chance another super volcanic eruption could kill us all has become extremely unlikely. Not impossible, just unlikely. But then the size of the Toba eruption was unlikely in the first place.
This is one small factual problem with this gloom and doom story. In 2013 archaeologists working at Lake Malawi, at the southern end of the African Rift Valley, discovered a layer of volcanic ash that was part of the Toba eruption, 71,500 years ago. This was to be expected, given that the African Rift Valley was ground zero for human evolution, and our story is about how humans were almost wiped out by Toba. But the herds of wildebeests and antelope in the rift valley humans were feeding off of were more far numerous then, than they are now. And their genetic heritage shows no Toba bottleneck. How could we starve if our food did not?
Well, it could have been that just about the same time Toba really blew its top, that smallpox made its first appearance. Small Pox kills 40% of adults infected and 80% of children. In fact, it is far more likely that a tiny bacteria or an even smaller virus would wipe us out, than a big volcano, as anybody with a runny nose six year old can testify. The Black Death (Yersinia pestis) killed about 200 million people in the 14th century alone – 1/3 of the population of Europe. Or maybe 71,500 years ago the Predator race flew in from their home planet for their first Terrestrial hunting safari.
Add Toba to just about any other disaster and you could have a human ending event. This may explain, at least in part, why it has taken four billion years for a life form on earth to develop the cognitive power stand up on their own two legs and say, “I'll have a Big Mac with fries, please.”
The one thing we know about Toba is, it is going to do it again. Over the last million years, Toba has produced three major eruptions, one 840,000 years ago, a second 700,000 years ago, and the big one 71,500 years ago. The lake that fills the caldera is 1,600 feet deep, but beneath that is another 1,500 feet of sediment. 
The lava reservoir beneath the caldera has refilled enough to raise a resurgent dome in the middle of the lake, more than 3,000 feet above the water. It has been named Samosir Island. At 30 miles long, 15 miles wide, and 247 square miles in area, it is the largest island within an island in the world. And it contains two lakes with their own islands. This appendix is reloading to rupture again. Should we be worried?
I would be, if I didn't have anything else to worry about, like taxes.  Now, worrying about that will kill you. 
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Sunday, September 22, 2013


I wish I owned a time machine. The first place and time I would visit would be West 45th street in Manhattan, just after 9:00 PM on the night of August 6, 1930. With a little luck I would have seen a dapper, arrogant middle aged man, six feet tall, about 180 pounds, wearing a dark brown double-breasted coat and matching trousers, a bow tie, a Masonic ring and a gold wristwatch, a pair of pearl-gray pinstriped spats and all set off by straw panama hat tipped at a jaunty angle, stepping into a cab out of Billy Haas’ Chophouse, where he had just eaten dinner with friends. And if I had the chance I would get close enough to get a look at the cab driver’s face. Because if the driver was who I think he was, then the passenger would be the newly appointed New York State Supreme Court Judge Joseph Force Crater (above). And after that cab pulled into the New York night, Judge Joe Crater dropped right off the face of the earth.
Judge Crater was, until Jimmy Hoffa, “the missing-est man in America”. One biographer has described him as a man with multiple personalities: “A jurist, a professor, a Tammany Hall stalwart, and a family man.” He was also “Good Time Joe”, with a penchant for liquor and lovely available showgirls. After he disappeared rumors said he had committed suicide or (more likely) run off with a show girl, or that he had died in bed with a prostitute or was killed for reneging on a debt. He was reported seen prospecting for gold in California, shooting craps in Atlanta, on a steamer in the Adriatic and running a bingo game in North Africa. But for all the hoopla over his disappearance, nobody even reported him missing for three weeks.
The judge (above, left) had left his wife Stella (above, right) on Sunday August 3rd, at their summer cabin in Maine. He told her he was going back to the city for a day or two to “straighten those fellows out”, but he promised to be back in Maine by her birthday, August 9th.  In fact he had already ordered her present, a new canoe.
Joe took the overnight train to New York City, arriving on the morning of Monday, August 4, 1930 at Grand Central Station (above), just in time for the start of a humid heat wave of ninety plus temperatures.
Joe went immediately to their two bedroom co-op at 40 Fifth Avenue where he cleaned up and told the maid she could take a few days off. But he asked her to  return on Thursday, August 7 to clean up after he had left again for Maine. That night Crater took in a show and had dinner at the Abbey Club, a notorious gangster and Tammany Hall hangout. On Tuesday he lunched with two judges he had served with on the appeals court, and in the evening he played poker with friends.
On Wednesday, August 6, his last day in New York, in the early afternoon, Crater went to his office in the Foley Square Courthouse (above), where he began going through his files. He ordered an assistant to cash two checks for him, closing out some stock and bond accounts, totaling $5,150 cash. He left with the files and the cash in two locked briefcases. He then headed off to dinner at Billy Haas’ Chophouse, with his friend Bill Klein and the showgirl Sally Lou Ritz.  Sally was one Crater’s mistresses, and Klein was acting as Judge Joe's "beard" for this public outing. The trio ate cool lobster cocktails and cold chicken for dinner.
Later, someone picked up the single ticket Crater had reserved at the Belasco Theatre (above). The show was the comedy "Dancing Partner", which  had opened the night before. But no one remembered seeing the judge there.

Stella grew worried when Joe did not return by the 9th of August. She called his friends and staff, and all of them urged her to remain calm and not raise a fuss because of the potential political complications that might ensue.
Joe Crater had been a surprising appointment to the New York Supreme Court because he was not openly affiliated with New York Mayor Jimmy Walker (above), or his friends at Tammany Hall -  the center of graft and corruption in New York government since the 1840’s. But Crater was connected. The proof was that in April of 1930, just after Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt had announced Crater’s surprise appointment, Joe had withdrawn $23,000 (about $250,000 today) from his bank. The standard and unspoken rule in New York state at the time was that any appointment  required the payment of one year’s salary to Tammy Hall. And Supreme Court Justices were paid $23,000 a year. No record was ever found of where Joe's money  went.
But Roosevelt (above) was already positioning himself for a possible run for the White House and he could not afford to be connected to the Tammany Hall machine in the public’s mind. State and Federal investigators were already sniffing around, looking for an opening to finally bring down Tammany Hall. So Crater's disappearance, turned up the heat. .
One of New York’s most successful madams, Polly Adler, had recently been busted. Polly, whose business cards were passed between the "men in the know", had operated houses of prostitution for more than a decade under mob protection. Many of the Tammany Hall power players were her best customers. There were lots of people worried about just whose pocket one of Polly's distinctive calling cards (above) might fall out of next. She and the missing Judge Crater were now two more in a growing number of loose ends connected to Tammany Hall. Pulling on any one might start a great unraveling.
Finally, on August 16, ten days after her husband was last seen, Stella sent her chauffeur to the city to look for her husband. He reported that the Judge had left their apartment in perfect order, none of his clothes were missing and his luggage was still in the closet. The maid, of course had already cleaned it up. And no one at any of the Judges’ usual hangouts remembered seeing him. Still, Stella was counseled to keep quiet. Even when the courts re-opened after the summer recess on August 28 without Judge Crater, no public alarm was raised.
Then, finally, on September 3, 1930, the dam broke. The desperate Stella finally called the New York City Police to report her husband missing.  In an instant officials were rushing to correct their public statements - such as when several state Supreme Court Justices were asked why they had claimed to have seen and or talked with Carter as late as August 14th.
Governor Roosevelt promised that if anyone ever proved that any of the Tammany Hall politicians were connected to kidnapping Crater, they would be prosecuted. Mayor Walker and the city council posted a $5,000 reward (above).

A lawyer surfaced with a show girl client, Sally Ritz,  who had spent a weekend in an Atlantic City Hotel with the judge just a week before his disappearance. He announced that his client was ready to sue Joe Crater for “breach of promise”, asking for $100,000 (Over $1 million today.)
A grand jury was convened, and Sally Ritz joined Stella Crater and half the denizens of Tammany Hall in testifying under oath. The story and the scandal was a great distraction from the bread lines and other depressing signs of the deepening Great Depression.
The scandal over Judge Joe Crater and what it revealed about graft in New York state was the final crack in the walls of Tammany Hall, and spurred the election in 1933 of the reform Mayoral candidate Fiorello LaGuardia (below).
But none of the revelations and sweeping reforms got anybody any closer to finding Judge Crater. In 1937 poor Stella Crater had to hire the law firm of Ellis, Ellis & Ellis, (brothers Myron, Emil & Jonas), to sue the insurance companies and force them to pay out on Joe’s life insurance policies. But without a body they could not be forced to pay the double indemnity clause.
In 1939 Missing Person File # 13595 was closed, and the courts considered the Good Time Judge Joe Crater to be legally dead. But the debate continued in bar rooms around the country even until this day -  What Ever Happened to Judge Crater?
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