MARCH 2020

MARCH   2020
The Lawyers Carve Up the Golden Goose


Friday, February 28, 2014


I contend that democracy is a caveat emptor proposition, and if more voters realized that going into the voting booth, there would be a lot fewer jaded citizens disengaging from the system on the other end. Allow me to provide you with an example. In January of 1921, the Committee on Elections of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, chaired by the appropriately named Loyd Makepeace, from Malden, took up the case of challenger John Callahan verses incumbent James Sweeney. The prize in this election was the Eleventh District in Hampden County, comprising sections of the 5th and 7th wards of Holyoke, Massachusetts, where the Irish names of both Sweeney and Callahan fit in well. For sixty years the state legislature, also known as the General Court, had been controlled by the Anglo-Protestant Republican party. The industrial revolution was beginning to change that, but the transition was not proving comfortable for anybody.

Located just north of Springfield, Holyoke (above) was one of the first planned industrial communities in America. The town drew power for her textile industry and 25 paper mills from canals and a falls of the Connecticut River. That year the town's population topped 60,000, the vast majority of them first generation Irish Catholic emigrants. And in 1920 first term state Representative, Democrat James Sweeney,  had sent out an aggressive campaign mailing to his constituents.
Most of it was pretty standard propaganda. “After serving you honorably and faithfully for the past year”, wrote Representative Sweeny, “I am a candidate for re-election, and seek your consideration at the polls Tuesday, November 2”.  Sweeney went on to take credit for getting state money for a new bridge across the Connecticut River, and for supporting aid for expectant mothers. But then, in bold black type, he turned to “Chamberlain's Sex-Hyiegne and Birth Control” bill.
The proposed law's namesake was Republican State Senator George Dudly Chamberlain. He was, by all accounts, the kind of a man who gave politicians a good name. An accountant, in his spare time he had created a “playground association” in his home town of Springfield, obtaining and constructing safe places for all of Springfield's children to play. He volunteered untold hours at the Boy's Club and the Young Men's Christian Association. He was a deacon of the Episcopal Church. He had recently gotten into politics because he wanted to improve education statewide, and was pushing for free kindergarten classes for all children.. But in the eyes of many Catholic voters, all of those marvelous things were marks against George Chamberlain.
The Catholic Church simply did not trust a Protestant power structure to educate Catholic children. Irish emigrants, with fresh memories of the charnel house of English occupied Ireland, did not trust a man who could trace his blue blood back to tenth century English nobility, to John Saukerville, Lord Chamberlain to King Henry I of England. And having tithed to their own Church schools, Irish voters felt put-upon to be taxed again to support the public schools as well.
It did not matter to the Irish working classes that the bill was actually a compromise, nor did it matter that in section one of the bill the (state) department of education was instructed to, “...establish minimum rules and regulations...for the practice and education of health education in public schools...This shall include instruction in personal and community health...” In section four the bill required “School Committees in cities and towns...(to) appoint a supervisor of health education and necessary associates who shall...supervise and direct courses of instruction in health and of physical activity”
The bill had been voted down in the house, but James Sweeney warned his constituents that it was likely to come back. This bill meant “compulsory teaching of sex-hygiene and birth control to children, ten and twelve years old, against the parents' wishes....(it) would take the child away from the parent and put them under the direct supervision of the State....(and) would disrupt the morals of your children.”
The mailer end this way; “My opponent is also a (in italics) sexagenarian, and in my opinion would not be able to serve your district properly. And so I make this personal appeal to your reason,...Yours very truly, Representative James F. Sweeney.” To modern, and disinterested, eyes, the mailing may seem to be crude, but it was effective. The results of the election were 3,497 votes for James F. Sweeney,  and 3, 091 for John A. Callahan, with 214 ballots either blank or unreadable. Sweeney was declared the winner by 399 votes.
Mr. Callahan was outraged. He saw Sweeney's mailing as false and malicious. First the actual title of Chamberlin's bill had been “To provide Physical Training in the Public Schools and Normal Schools”. It said nothing about birth control, let alone sex.  And secondly, Mr.Callahan felt the use of the term “sexagenarian” was meant to imply to the uneducated and unsophisticated citizens of Holyoke, that Mr. Callahan was some kind of sex fiend, which he was probably not. So, since, under the Massachusetts's Constitution, “The house of representatives shall be the judge of the returns, elections, and qualifications of its own members”, he appealed to the House to over turn the election.
A simple reading of the names on the committee would seem to have given the Republican Callahan the edge. Beside Chairman Makepeace, there was Brimblecom, Rolander, Hale, Whiting, Gradt and Winnett, with not a hint of Ireland in the bunch. But besides being Protestants all, the members were also, first and foremost, politicians. And on January 27, 1921 the Committee, issued its findings. First it found that since John Callahan was 62 years of age, he was, by definition, a sexagenarian. If the voters were too stupid know that was what the word meant, that was their problem - not the politicians. And as far as the other exaggerated claims made in the circular, the committee decided that to assume the voters had been mislead by the rabble rousing clap trap in Sweeney's mailing would “constitute a denial of the possession of ordinary intelligence on the part of...voters of the Eleventh Hampden District. The committee have therefore come to the conclusion that the election....was the expression of the will of the majority of the voters...(and) thus manifested should prevail. The petitioner is therefore given leave to withdraw” which was a political way of telling the outraged Mr. Callahan to grow up and get lost.
The press, of course, turned the entire affair into a farce. The Boston Herald headline read, “Complains He Was Called Sexagenarian – Candidate Says Many Voters Thought It Had to Do With Sex.” A month later the Wall Street Journal got most of the details of the election right, except for the location, which it moved to downtown Boston. Thirty years later, the joke about sexagenarian was about all that remained of the story, and was even adapted to the Pepper-Smather Florida Senate election of 1950.
But this contested 1920 Massachusetts election is not a story about a quasi-maledictive phrase, its about the freedom to be stupid. To put it in more modern terms, if voters, for whatever reason, are dumb enough to elect Michelle Bachmann or Newt Gingrich to public office, that is still a good thing -  because whether a monumental mess is made by the ruling money class or the working class, its the working class who has to clean it up. So it's at least better that  they should be the ones responsible for making it - which is the theory behind democracy.
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Wednesday, February 26, 2014


I want to tell you about the most improbable machine in all of human history, a machine so brilliant that it has no moving parts. In fact, it works because it has no moving parts. Next to this invention, the invention of the wheel looks like the Rube-Goldberg construction of a simpleton. And if you didn't know the history of this machine, you would have said that it could never have been invented, that it must have required a genius to have even conceived of the need for such an invention. But that is only because this brilliant machine was not invented to do what it does. The inventors were trying to solve an entirely different problem. And their solution to that other problem did not really work very well. See, before this improbable machine could be invented, first people had to invent an almost equally improbable thing - beer.
Now, beer was not invented by people trying to get drunk. That was just a happy side effect. They were trying to make bread. But when they screwed up their dough, they got fremination, which ruins the bread, but produces beer. So, put yourself in the position of a Sumerian alcoholic, hanging around a Babyolonian bakery, waiting for the workers to throw out their mistakes. When they do you are presented with a mildly alcoholic stew,  filled with floating chunks of dough, stalks and stems and seeds and smelling like mold. In wine circles this is called the bouquet. So, how do you get the mind numbing neuron killing elixir into your body without jamming a soggy chunk of dough over your wind pipe and catching the express ferry over the river Styxx? You need a machine which will allow you to filter out the chunks and still deliver the booze to your throat.
And right in front of your face, floating in the jug with the booze, is the solution - stems. Stems are Mother Nature's way of carrying water from the roots of a plant to the leaves and seeds, by tapping into the tendency of a water molecule to attract an adjacent water molecule – called capillary action.. This is how paper towels work, but it is an unacceptably slow method of delivering fluid to a thirsty person's throat. To do it faster you need a partial vacuum. So a straw is not just a hollow stem, it is a hollow stem in which the air pressure is lower at the higher end than at the lower end. When you suck in, the fluid is drawn to the low pressure in your mouth, and rises in the stem. In fact the oldest image we have of people drinking beer (above) shows Sumerian guzzlers sucking on straws almost 7, 500 years ago. Hidden in this carving is the corporate structure of Budweiser and Coco-Cola. Seriously, this stone carving is like finding a note written by an ancient ceolacanth that reads, “Today, I grew a lung.”
But while a straw will prevent dough from blocking your esophagus, you now have the problem of the dough blocking the straw. This is why brewers did not start making real dough from their beer until the got the dough out of their beer .And once you no longer needed a straw to drink beer, you really no longer needed straws. So the development of straws languished, an alcoholic afterthought, a mere garnish to the twin sciences of marketing and fluid dynamics until the re-invention of drinking for fun.
Over the intervening thousands of years the only straws were actual straw, made out of grass stems, in America, usually rye grass. The drawbacks were obvious – first, whatever you drank through the straw now tasted like rye grass and second, the only universally fun drink, alcohol, had a tendency to do to the cell structure of the straw what it does to the cell structure of your brain. You dare not dally over your mint julep least your straw decompose in mid-suck. And that problem was not solved until the 1880's, when  Mr. Marvin Chester Stone, of Washington, D.C. was about to get shafted in a business deal.
Marvin was working as a journalist in Washington, D.C. when James Bonsack invented a machine capable of rolling 200 cigarettes every minute. Marvin immediately saw an opportunity and in his spare time designed and built a machine to mass produce cigarette paper (above)  fast enough to keep Bosnack's machine supplied. Marvin started a factory on Ninth Street in Washington, and became the exclusive suppler for tobacco magnate James Buchanan Duke, who had bought the rights to Bonsack's machine. Marvin was now making pretty good money, except... Duke started gobbling up his competitors, building what would eventually become the American Tobacco Company, also known as the “Tobacco Trust”.  Marvin knew that eventually his only customer, Mr. Duke, would demanded that he lower his prices until he was squeezed out of the business. And while contemplating his predicament one night over a mint julep, Mavin came up with a solution.
What he needed was another product. It had to be made out of paper, since he had already had a factory to handle paper. So, the story goes, Marvin glued a roll of paper around a pencil, removed the pencil and sucked his mint julep through the resultant tube. His mint julep now tasted like glue, and the paper tube fell apart faster than the natural stem straw. But Marvin knew how to solve that. He repeated the experiment, but this time, after he rolled the paper around the pencil, he dipped it in wax, and then again removed the pencil. The paper was now water resistant enough that it lasted through an entire mint julep before it came apart.  And his mint julep now tasted like just a mint julep. Rather than being shafted, Marvin would suck. He quickly designed a machine to mass produce his new wax paper straws (above), “adapted for use in the human mouth without injury”,  as he claimed on his patent application. 
His patent was granted on January 3rd , 1888, (now officially “Drinking Straw Day”) and one year later Marvin was selling more wax paper straws than he was cigarette paper. He even had to open another factory on F Street, just to keep pace with demand for sucking in mint juleps, Coke-a-Cola, Pepsi and Doctor Pepper. Marvin was financially set for life, which was, unfortunately, only ten years long. He died on May 17th, 1899. at just 57 years of age. And that really sucked.
There were minor tweaks to straw technology until 1935, when a San Francisco office manager, part time real estate agent and armature inventor observed his daughter Judith struggling to suck in a milk shake at the Varsity Sweet Shop the bay. She just wasn't tall enough to comfortably reach the top of the standard 8” high straight wax paper straw. And in the girl's frustration her father, Joesph Freidman, saw a fortune. He inserted a metal screw about 1/3 of the way down a wax-paper straw. Then he wound dental floss around the outside of the straw, creasing it to match the screw's threads. And when he removed the screw, he had an invented the “bendy straw”.
It seemed like a simple modification to existing technology, and to be worthy of a government patient, Joesph would have to show his invention filled a not previously recognized need. So on his application, Joesph waxed dramatic. “A view of any soda fountain on a hot day,” he wrote, “with the glasses showing innumerable limp and broken straws drooping over the edges thereof, will immediately show that this problem has long existed. inventor...has seen fit or has been able to solve this problem, whereas applicant did, that situation alone is prima facie evidence of invention.” It was enough to bring tears to the eyes of an idealistic capitalist. The patent for this “Drinking Tube” was granted on September 28, 1937, creating what Judith's younger sister, the adult Pamela Friedman Leeds, recently describe as “the family icon”. They called it the Flex-Straw.
But why do we still use the straw today, in any form? They are rarely used at home. But why are straws so popular in fast food restaurants, where the drinking cups are one time use wax paper and disposable, and the straws are usually one time use polypropylene and also disposable. Sanitation is not an issue. And modern beverages are not in need of further filtration. There are two possible explanations, offered at John Elder Robinson's web site, “Look Me In The Eye”, (”.
“Our bodies evolved to associate wet lips with satisfied thirst. Drinks that are ingested via straw don't touch our lips, and so do not satisfy our thirst as quickly. The result: we drink more...Did you know that the plastic straws at today's fast food restaurants are 50% larger than the straws at soda fountains 50 years ago?...Stimulation of consumption is the only reason I can see for increasing the diameter of a straw.”
Thus the straw has become just another marketing tool, like stock derivatives and bottled water. It may still be true that you get what you pay for, but thanks to the machine of marketing, you no longer get what you thought you were paying for. And that just sucks.
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Sunday, February 23, 2014


I think most people in Los Angeles in 1926 thought the L.A. District Attorney Asa Keyes' case rested on Lorraine Weiseman-Sielaff .  It was a shaky foundation, because the lady was unstable. She was under the care of a psychiatrist, and had spent time in a sanitarium. When no one came forward to bail her out of jail, and confronted with proof she'd been passing bad checks in L.A. during the last week of May, the very  week her affidavit swore she'd been in Carmel-by-the-Sea, nursing the mysterious “Miss X”, companion to the limping bald playboy radio engineer Kenneth Ormiston,  Lorraine changed her story. Now she claimed to have been promised $5,000 for signing the false affidavit, and perhaps more for convincing her twin sister to claim being the mysterious “Miss X” . This lady had more stories than Mother Goose.
But the prosecution had much more. There was Walter Lambert, the owner of a shirt store on Hill Street in downtown L.A., across from the Hotel Clark, and the hotel's doorman Thomas Melville, both of whom saw Sister Aimee entering the 12 story hotel at about ten on the morning of 18, May -  the day of her drowning. She only stayed 30 minutes. Kenneth Ormiston had been staying at the hotel since leaving his wife in January -  the same time he left the Angelus Temple. In an experiment, detectives left Venice Beach at about three in the afternoon (the time of Aimee's drowning) and drove the 300 miles north to the “love nest” cottage in Carmel-by-the-Sea. They arrived at just about one-thirty the next morning, the same time Ormiston had admitted arriving there on 19 May in the company of the mysterious “Miss X”.
There were half a dozen witnesses from Carmel who had seen and/or spoken with a woman they recognized as Aimee, or said “resembled” McPherson. There was Dennis Collins and Louie Mandrillo, graveyard shift mechanics at a Salinas garage. They testified that the owner of a Studebaker sedan, left for a refuel and fluid check, had picked up his car at two on the morning of 29 May. The man signed the receipt as Kenneth Ormiston (above), and he was accompanied by a woman wearing a heavy black veil on a very dark night.
And then there was the testimony of Bernice Morris, secretary to a lawyer named Russel McKinley, who worked for Sister Aimee. Morris had not been an intimate of the full conspiracy, but she had come to suspect that the kidnapping story had actually been concocted to fool Aimee's mother. At one point in a conversation at the Angelus Temple with the two women (above), Morris had announced without warning, that her boss wanted to remind Aimee (left) one of the kidnappers had rubbed Aimee's neck to relieve a headache. In fact Morris had just made the incident up. But Sister Aimee immediately turned to her suspicious mother and said, “Why mother, I do remember that perfectly. I forgot to tell you that. You know I’m always having trouble with my neck.” Morris added she did not think Mrs. Kennedy (right) believed her daughter. A few days later, lawyer McKinley was killed in an automobile accident, and the plans he and Aimee had laid out were dropped. That was damning.
But, to my mind, the case against Aimee McPherson rested on a single question D.A. Keyes asked her in front of the August grand jury. He admired her watch, and then pointed out, “I seem to have observed a photo of you wearing that wrist watch which was taken in Douglas, five weeks after you went bathing on the beach. You are sure you did not have it with you?” Aimee could only reply, “I guess the watch must have been brought to me in Douglas by my mother.” A few minutes later, the hearing was interrupted when Aimee fainted. But here, in open court, Keyes would not have a chance to ask that question, because at least in this preliminary hearing, Aimee would never have to take the stand.
On the other hand there was Arthur Betts, a bell boy at the Hotel Clark who was supposed to identify Aimee as having entered Ormiston's room, but on the witness stand he suffered a total memory loss. Two of the prosecution witnesses suffered such a memory failure under oath. And there was another problem, which the defense brought up in cross-examination with all the witnesses from Carmel. If they were so certain the woman in the “love nest” had been the famous evangelist, why had none of them claimed the rewards  offered by newspapers for information on Aimee's whereabouts..
Then there was the lack of physical evidence. The Carmel “Love Nest” produced lots of fingerprints, but none belonging to Aimee Semple McPherson. And the grocery lists, recovered from the back yard, and identified as being written in Aimee's handwriting, had gone missing.  Photo-stats remained (above), but the defense never ceased in pointing out prosecution experts were now only working from copies. Besides, they had their own experts who insisted, it was not Sister Aimee's handwriting.
Aimee's kidnapping story was always a problem for Aimee's lawyers. Her escape from the kidnappers was just not believable. As D.A. Asa Keyes put it, “That was 20 miles in blistering, 120-degree sun…and yet she wasn’t blistered. Her clothes weren’t soiled. She wasn’t perspiring. Her heels weren’t broken. She didn’t ask for water. Taken to a hospital in Douglas, Arizona...she wasn’t dehydrated." Author Louis Adamic argued, “The only way she can convince me that she made that... hike across the to do it all over again, and let me ride behind her in an automobile equipped...with a huge canteen of water; and if she asks me for a single drink or a lift, I’ll give it to her and then laugh right in her face. “

Still Aimee's version of events never varied by an inch or an instant, under oath or from the pulpit. When challenged Aimee (above) would always say with a beatific smile, “That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.” She repeated that line so often it was eventually used with great effect by vaudeville and movie star Mae West, whose entire career was a parody of "the world's most pulchritudinous evangelist", Sister Aimee McPherson.. 

On Wednesday, 3 November, Los Angeles Municipal Court Judge Samuel Blake concluded the hearing by telling the small courtroom (above) he found ample evidence that Aimee Semple McPherson, her mother Mildred Kennedy, and Mrs. Lorraine Weiseman-Sielaff. were indeed involved in a “criminal conspiracy to commit acts injurious to public morals and to prevent and obstruct justice.” It was assumed Weisman-Sielaff would at some point plead guilty to a lesser crime, in exchange for her testimony against the other two . Aimee and Mildred were facing a possible 42 years in prison, each. In Spartenburg, South Carolina, humorist Will Rogers was traveling with Queen Marie, of Rumania. Wrote Rogers, “Bless her heart. America owes her a debt of gratitude for running...Aimee McPherson back among the want ads.”
And then, while the shock waves were still roiling back and forth across Los Angeles' culture, the unstable Lorraine Weisman-Sielaff (above) changed her story again.
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