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.The Eternal American Battle - Humans V Money

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Friday, August 08, 2014

EXPLAINING EVERYTHING

I found myself wondering the other day, how politicians got so crazy during my lifetime. And then I was reminded of Representative Marion Anthony Zioncheck (above), who toiled for almost a decade in the lumber camps north of Seattle, Washington, to earn his college tuition. When finally in law school he was elected class president, and then campaigned for a new student union building. His successful tactics so offended the football team they shaved his head and dumped him in a fountain. As a successful criminal attorney he was often cited for contempt, once appealing a $25 fine all the way to the Washington State Supreme Court. Then in November of 1932 the Democrat won a Republican seat in the U.S. House of Representatives by 12 percentage points.
"This was a sophisticated and lucrative operation with a multi-tiered management structure. It was, however, nothing more than a prostitution ring."
Governor Eliot Spitzer, explaining a Staten Island vice ring
In 1934 Marion Anthony Zioncheck was a freshman in the 73rd Congress, one of 311 Democrats to just 117 Republicans. And while this was the congress famous for the Hundred Days of New Deal legislation, the 31 year old Marion earned his reputation as an intellectual bully, calling his G.O.P. colleges “fools and jackasses”. He was once invited to “step out into the hall” so Republican William Ekwall of Oregon could “deal with him.” In a 1934 floor speech he referred to the director of the F.B.I., J. Edgar Hoover, as a dictator and a “master of fiction”. That was politics as usual, but Marion even had a truckload of manure dumped on Hoover's front lawn. That was not usual politics, and the folks back on Puget Sound loved it. Marion was re-elected that year by an even bigger margin.
"The attractive lady...dropped into my lap....I chose not to dump her off."
Senator Gary Hart explaining a photo of Donna Rice sitting on his lap
In April of 1935, as part of the normal grease which helps the House to function, fellow Democrat Thomas Blanton from Texas sought to remove from the official record some of Zioncheck's more nasty attacks on Republicans. But Marion refused to allow it. To make a point he suggested, “I want it put in the record that Mr. Blanton is a son of Texas”. Marion then offered to have the offensive word “Texas” removed, and replaced by a blank space.
"Outside of the killings, Washington has one of the lowest crime rates in the country"
Mayor Marion Barry explaining his cities' high murder rate
Fellow Democratic Congressman Blanton called Zioncheck's suggestion “ridicules and asinine”. Marion protested the word “asinine” as “un-parlimentary”. The Congressional staff were forced to look up the exact definition in a dictionary. The interruption only angered Blanton more, and in finishing he slipped and refereed to Zioncheck as the “gentleman from New York”. Anyone else would have ignored the gaff, but Marion pounced, sneering at his fellow Democrat, “I long ago learned not to describe the beauty of a morning sunrise to a cat.” Blanton leapt to his feet, and stormed toward Marion, who met him with balled fists. They were separated by fellow members and Congressman Zioncheck's remarks, now including the ones about Blanton, were removed by vote of 272 to 0. Even Zioncheck did not vote to retain them.
"I actually did vote for the $87 billion, before I voted against it."
Sen. John Kerry explaining his voting record
Just after midnight on January 1st, 1936, Marion stumbled into the lobby of a D.C. apartment building and hot wired the intercom so he could call every tenant at once. He identified himself and then wished them all a happy New Year. His sleepy victims did not appreciate the gesture, but the press did. It seemed some one had begun keeping newspapers notified of Marion's adventures -  as when early in the morning a few weeks later the congressman was stopped by capital police doing 60 mile an hour up Connecticut Avenue. Marion paid a $25 fine. Then in April, it happened again. This time the speed was 70 mile per hour. Marion paid a $45 fine, and the the judge slapped on a $20 fine for contempt. The papers began calling him the 'Salon Congressman” - as in "saloon", and “the House's Bad Boy”. It was even reported he had driven his roadster on the White House lawn. And when the White House did not strongly defend him, Marion mailed President Roosevelt a package of empty beer bottles and some mothballs.
"About this time, the Congressman's  car was stopped by the Park Service and Mrs. Battistella was able to open the door... The next thing I knew she was in the water."
Congressman Wilbur Mills explaining how his date, aka stripper Fanny Foxe, ended up in the Potomac River
In April Marion met a 21 year old Works Progress Administration typist from Texarkana, Texas, named Rubye Louise Nex. Marion explained to Harold Ickes, Secretary of the Interior, "I met her about a week ago, then she called me up one night. She asked me down and so I went down and looked her over. She was OK.” Marion asked the Secretary to officiate at their wedding, but the Ickes demurred. So Marion and Rubye crossed into Maryland, which had no waiting period for marraiges.. Rubye told the papers “excitement and hubbub” just seemed to follow her new husband,  and she was “glad to go along with him”.
"American scientific companies are cross-breeding humans and animals and coming up with mice with fully functioning human brains."
Senate Candidate Christine O'Donnell explaining why she does not trust science
They decided to honeymoon in Florida, but were stopped almost immediately in Alexandria, Virginia, and charged with speeding. Marion posted a $200 bond, and continued on his honeymoon. Four days later their trip was interrupted again, 2 ½ miles south of Shallotte, North Carolina, when a county sheriff pulled Marion over, supposedly because that morning he had missed his court date back in Virginia. The head line read “Zioncheck Again Arrested”, and though one might wonder how in 1934 a county sheriff  had heard within four hours about a missed court appearance 300 miles away, no one in Washington thought to ask that. When Alexandria refused to pay for Representative Zioncheck's extradition over a misdemeanor charge, the couple was released - but for the rest of the trip to Miami, Rubye did the driving.
"The governor is hiking the Appalachian Trail."
Spokesman for South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford
At this moment the Peurto Rician legislature passed a bill applying for statehood status. American congressional leadership asked Marion, since he was in Miami, to check out the situation. Marion and his new bride flew there on Monday, May 7th, and what they found was not what Roosevelt's appointed governor, Blanton Winslip, had been telling the White House. Their car was chased by rock throwing youths, shouting nationalistic chants. But the White House was not prepared to listen, telling Marion the governor “is the sole and competent authority to carry out this government's policy”. So Marion went public, warning the Associated Press, “The United States ought to either get in or get out of here. This thing is like a snowball. It grows.” But Marion had under rated the damage already done to his reputation, and his report was dismissed as the ravings of a drunken lunatic.
"I find it interesting that it was back in the 1970s that the swine flu broke out under...President Jimmy Carter. I'm not blaming this on President Obama, I just think it's an interesting coincidence."
Representative Michele Bachmann, explaining the 2011 flue outbreak.
On his return to New York, two weeks later, Marion entertained several reporters in his hotel room, even inventing a new drink -  cough syrup, honey and rye, which he dubbed a “zipper”, as in 'zip your lip'. But if Marion thought this meeting was off the record he was sadly mistaken. The alcoholic invention was duly reported, and afterwards the couple were dared by photographers to wade into a fountain. The headlines shouted, “Zionchecks Go For A Paddle”.
"How's my favorite young stud doing?"
Congressman Mark Foley, explaining his attraction to a 16 year old male page
Back in Washington at the end of May, Marion found his apartment occupied by the woman he was subletting from, Mrs. Benjamin Young, who thought he was unfit to be either a Congressman or rent her property . Despite the Zioncheck's lease having another five months to run, she refused to leave. So all three occupied the one bedroom together. Marion returned to work the next day, riding a bicycle to the capital as a publicity stunt and to avoid any further traffic tickets. But as a pedestrian he was arrested by Alexandria police Sargent George Helmuth, for that missed court appearance. He was only in jail long enough for a few more press photos to be taken , which made the front pages from D.C. to Seattle.
"PETA is not happy that my dog likes fresh air."
Governor Mitt Romney, explaining why he strapped his dog on the roof of a station wagon
A few days later, after yet another confrontation with Mrs. Young,  Marion dragged the screaming and kicking woman out into the hallway, where he dumped her. Luckily the press was on hand to snap more photos. These headlines read, “Zioncheck Puts Woman To Rout”, and “Zioncheck Checks Out Landlady”. Mrs. Young claimed a broken hip, but refused to be examined. Reporters quoted her as saying, “We've got to see whether this country is going to be run by Bolshevism or Americanism” Mrs Young insisted the police report her as 92 years old. Her driver's license said she was 42.
"Not only did I grope him, I tickled him until he couldn't breathe and four guys jumped on top of me."
Congressman Eric Massa explaining his boisterous lifestyle
Rubye could take no more of the circus, and walked out. And while she was gone, Marion threw a temper tantrum, tossing dishes and furniture about the apartment. Eventually the police were called again, and Anthony was arrested again. This time a friend bailed him out, but warned him the Democrats would offer no further public support. From this Marion became convinced that his 21 year old bride had been kidnapped by the 66 year old Vice President, fellow Democrat John Nance. The next time the police were called, Marion was committed to a hospital for "mental observation".
"I said a little prayer before I actually did the fingerprint thing, and the picture."
Congressman Tom Delay, explaining why he is smiling in his mug shot
They locked him up in the Gallinger Municipal Hospital Psychopathic Ward, aka the Washington Asylum. Rubye came to the hospital, but only to speak with Marion's doctors. The newlyweds never visited. During his three week evaluation, Marion announced he would not run for re-election. Just as a grand jury was convening to consider his sanity, Marion's friends got him shipped to a clinic in Baltimore, Maryland. He stayed there for a few days, before climbing a fence and disappearing. He surfaced a week later with Rubye in Chicago, fresh and seemingly recovered, and boarded a train for Seattle.
"I wish we lived in the day where you could challenge a person to a duel."
Senator Zell Miller explaining how much he disagreed with interviewer Chris Matthews
On his return home, Marion's mother urged him to run for re-election, saying it was the only way to prove he was not crazy. And on Monday, August 3, 1936, Marion paid the $100 fee and filed papers to run again in November. That night he told a Seattle radio station, “I have been pictured as a vicious wide eyed radical ever since I was president of the student body at the University of Washington. Now I'm going to go back to congress...I'm going to clear up of things that were falsely said about me.” He opened a campaign office on the 5th floor of the Arctic building (now a hotel) in downtown Seattle, at the corner of Third Avenue and Cherry Street. But Rubye insisted Marion see a psychiatrist, which he finally did on the afternoon of Friday, August 7th, ,  when he was evaluated by Dr. Edward Hoedemaker.
"First of all it happened during a period after she was in remission from cancer."
Senator John Edwards, explaining the timing of his infidelity around his wife's cancer.
Doctor Hoedemaker warned Rubye and Marion's brother-in-law, Bill Nadeau, who were to drive him to a political meeting that night, that they should keep a close eye on the congressman. After leaving the doctor's office they stopped off at Marion's headquarters in the Arctic building ,  so Zioncheck could pick up some papers before addressing a postal workers banquet. When he did not come out after a few minutes, Bill went in after him. He found the office locked. A janitor opened the door, revealing Marion writing at his desk.
"If you are not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin."
Congresswoman Katherine Harris, explaining her reasons for being a Republican
Bill looked at what Marion was writing, which he assumed were remarks for that night's meeting. The note read, “"My only hope in life was to improve the condition of an unfair economic system that held no promise to those that all the wealth of even a decent chance to survive, let alone live." The note made no sense to Bill, so he told Marion, , “Come on, kid. We'll be late. Forget it”. As his charge stood, Bill held up Marion's suit jacket for him to put on. But instead Marion made a dive for the open window. Desperately Bill reached for the Congressman's feet. By the time he reached the window, Marion was already dead on the sidewalk five floors below.
"I haven't committed a crime. What I did was fail to comply with the law."
New York City Mayor David Dinkins, explaining why he did not pay his taxes
Marion Anthony Zioncheck tumbled 60 feet past the cream white terra cotta exterior of the Arctic building, and landed on his head, spattering a passing loan broker, W.H. McFarlane, with his blood and brains. Rubye was the next to reach the body. She fainted on the sidewalk. Two thousand attended Marion's funeral, at which the Reverend Fred Shorter called him “a shell shocked comrade who died at the barricades, fighting to the very last for the poor and dispossessed.” It might be added, with hindsight, that Marion was at least a manic-depressive who was self medicating with alcohol, or at worst a victim of schizophrenia, which often onsets during the late twenties and early thirties. But whatever his illness, he was certainly not helped by the soulless cut-throat nature of Washington politics. But it makes me wonder why so many of those drawn into politics are so freaking nuts, to begin with. And why we keep electing them.
"If God had not intended for us to eat animals, how come he made them out of meat?"
Alaska Governor Sarah Palin
(All clippings from Marion Zioncheck Papers, University of Washington Libraries.)
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Wednesday, August 06, 2014

FLIGHT OF FANCY

I doubt Galileo ever considered the full human implications of his experiments with falling objects. But the formula he came up with reduces the problem to startling simplicity. Six and one half seconds after she threw herself off the 86th floor Observatory of the Empire State Building, Evelyn McHale landed on the roof of a limousine parked on West 33rd Street, 1,050 feet below. The science of that event was very simple. The humanity - not so simple.
You would not know it to read the headlines but every year twice as many Americans kill them selves as kill each other. Suicide is the dirty little secret about being human. There is another suicide in the United States every 17 minutes. It is only the 11th leading cause of death overall ( 7th leading cause of death in males, 16th in females), but suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for all humans between the ages of 15 and 24 years of age, and the second leading cause of death in college students. And the working theory seems to be that if we just don't talk about it, it will go away. Honestly, that simply does not seem to be working.
In 1947 Evelyn McHale was a 20 year old bookkeeper at the Kitab engraving company, in the Long Island community of Baldwin. Over the weekend of April 19th she traveled by rail the 67 miles to the little town of Easton, Pennsylvania. It was known as the “City of Churches”, with the highest ratio of houses of Christian worship to overall population in America.
But it had also been known during prohibition as “The Little Apple” where police protected the speakeasies, which every weekend were filled with New York City tourists. On the hill overlooking Easton was the (then) all male Lafayette College, a military school of higher learning. And one of the 2,000 students attending Lafayette College in 1947 was Evelyn McHale’s fiancee.
In 1929 the twin luxury hotels, the Waldorf and the Astoria, occupied a block on Fifth Avenue, between 33rd and 34th streets (above). For over fifty years these jointly managed edifices were the social abode of the vaunted "Four Hundred", the supposed cream of New York society. The number represented how many could comfortably fit in Mrs. Astor’s ballroom.  Between the four star restaurants in each hotel ran a winding corridor, lined with marble Corinthian columns and dubbed “Peacock Alley”, for all the elegantly dressed women who strolled there to be seen. That year the management company sold both properties for $13.5 million to the Empire State Corporation. And the instant the sale was finalized, the president of Empire State, John Jacob Raskob, led the contractors through the front doors. He was intent upon capturing for his Connecticut estate the peacock alley columns he had often admired. To his disappointment, those symbols of Gilded Age luxury and extravagance proved to have been plaster impostors.
Construction began on the Empire State Building on March 17, 1930. The frame rose at the astounding rate of 4 ½ floors a week. Midway into the construction, one of the steelworkers was given his notice while on the job. He threw himself down an open elevator shaft, becoming the first person to commit suicide on the new premises.
John Jacob Raskob may have thought about joining him, because 410 days later, a month and a half ahead of schedule, the building opened. The final cost was $5 million under budget, mostly because the depression had devalued the dollar. And because of that, on opening day, May Day, 1931, the Empire State Building was well over half empty.  It remained so for years. A decade later the press was still referring to The Empire State Building as a financial disaster.
Evelyn McHale's 1947 visit to Pennsylvania had also proven to be a disaster. Her fiance had broken off their engagement. In some ways this kind if thing was to be expected. So many lives had been placed on hold during the Second World War, and so many lives had changed during the war, and were still changing once the war had ended. The divorce rate, which pre-war had been two out of every one thousand marriages, had doubled in 1946. But those were statistics. And when Evelyn returned broken hearted to her bookkeeping on Monday morning, the numbers she oversaw brought her no comfort. And in the weeks that followed she obsessed on her disappointment.
People do not commit suicide (from the Latin “sui caedere”; to kill yourself) because they are depressed. But add depression to alcohol or other drugs, and the risk of suicide increases by 90%. If there is a family history of suicide, a history of physical or sexual abuse, or if friends have recently committed suicide, the risk grows even greater. And finally, if the person at risk is a Christian the risk is greater still. Protestants and Catholics kill themselves much more often than do Jews, or Buddhists or Muslims.
In the first fifteen years after its opening, 16 people threw themselves to their deaths from the Empire State Building.  But 1947 was a very bad year. In January a suicide injured an innocent pedestrian on the street below, and a lawsuit was threatened. The Empire State Corporation, which still owned the building, began to slowly consider alternatives. Still, at about 10:30 on the morning of Thursday May 1st, 1947, when Evelyn McHale stepped from the elevator on the 86th floor observatory, there was nothing between her and eternity, except the impulse to clamber atop the chest high wall (above)  and take the step.
First she took off her grey cloth coat and draped it over the wall near the south west corner of the observation deck. Then she laid her purse on the floor. She removed her shoes. Then she deliberately let her scarf float from her fingers into the void. She watched it swirl and float in the wind eddies. And when she saw it begin to slip downward, she pulled herself up atop the lip of the wall, stood and after a brief moment, threw herself into space.
Six seconds is long enough to think, and if Evelyn McHale was not radically different than those who attempted suicide from the Golden Gate Bridge and lived, then we know what she was thinking as she plummeted weightless toward the pavement. Universally these failed California suicides report that their first thought after jumping was, “This is the worst mistake of my life.” After that first second, however, the sensory overload would likely have not left her with the ability to even think of a prayer.
In the first second of the end of her life Evelyn McHale dropped 32 feet, or about three stories. Over the next second she fell an additional 64 feet. Over the third second she traveled another 128 feet. Over the fourth second she fell 238 feet. By the fifth second she was traveling over 60 miles an hour, and the sensation of falling would have caused her body to release massive amounts of adrenalin. But she would never feel its effects. She would have felt an eerily calm, which I suspect surprised her. She might have realized she was falling away from the building, driven by the wind and by her effort to avoid the abutments and ledges that lined its sides. And if she had felt the regret for her decision to jump, it was now too late. At the speed of about 100 miles an hour, her body slammed into the sheet steel roof of a Cadillac limousine parked 200 feet up 34th Street.
Something caught traffic cop John Morrissey’s eye. He was working at the corner of 34th Street and Fifth Avenue. When he looked up he saw a white cloth, dancing lightly about the upper floors of the Empire State Building. It was just 10:40 A.M. and suddenly there was a loud crash, and the wrenching sound of bending metal. Officer Morrissey ran west on 34th Street. He found a crowd gathered around the big black limo, with United Nations’ license plates, parked on the north side of the street. All of the windows were shattered, and the roof had been caved in. There, embraced by the folded steel, Officer Morrissey saw the body of a young woman.
Her white gloved left hand seemed to be playing with the pearls strung around her neck, almost as if counting a rosary. Her white gloved right hand was cautiously raised as if seeking permission to interrupt. She was barefooted. One stocking was bunched about her crossed ankles, as if she had been caught in the act of undressing. There was no visible blood, no dismemberment. She was a sleeping beauty. But images can be deceiving, as the workers from the medical examiners office could have testified.
When they picked her up, her once firm body must have behaved more like Jell-O. Every bone would have been fractured and splintered, and her internal organs turned to mush by the violence of her death. Those who contemplate suicide should consider the impact of their actions on the innocent who must clean up after them. Suicide is the rudest way to exit this world.
A few minutes after her death, Robert Wiles, a young photography student, approached the scene. He had been eating breakfast across the street, at the same lunch counter as the limo’s driver. Now he approached the scene and snapped a single photo. He immortalized Evelyn McHale. He sold the photo to Life Magazine, which published it a week later, on page 43. The caption (above) read; “At the bottom of the Empire State Building the body of Evelyn McHale reposes calmly in the grotesque bier her body punched into the top of a car.” Robert Wiles never took another professional photograph. Each suicide, it is figured, shatters the lives of six other people. I suspect, Robert Wiles was one of the first shattered by Evelyn McHale.
The New York Times headlined the story, “Empire State Leap Ends Life of Girl, 20”. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said, “Doubting Woman Dives to Death”, and the Chicago Tribune claimed, “Afraid to Wed, Girl Plunges to Death from Empire State.” The photograph, now labeled as "The Most Beautiful Suicide”, may have been at least partly responsible for the July 14th, 1947 fatal leap of a 22 year old man from the same observation deck. Guards were now stationed to stop any copycats.  And during October and November, they managed to avert five more deaths. But not that 22 year old man.
Finally the management was forced to admit this was not a temporary trend, and in December the now iconic inwardly curving fencing was installed to discourage those possessed by the impulse to end their lives.
If you think someone might be suicidal, then they are. Do not leave them alone. Immediately remove their access to firearms and all drugs, and call 911. Death can be a release, but it is never beautiful. Never.
 - 30 -

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