JULY 2020

JULY   2020
Everything Old Is New Again!


Wednesday, September 17, 2014


"I can always tell which is the front end of a horse, but beyond that, my art is not above the ordinary."
Mark Twain
I retain a few doubts about Hans. I agree that he was clever, but how clever was he, really? Hans willingly cooperated with the man who proved he was as dumb as a horse. That was not very smart. And if Hans could actually preform basic math, why don't we see more horses working in banks? Sure, Hans might have been an equine genius, even capable of reading human minds, but what are the odds the only genius human- mind-reading horse would be bought by a retired gym teacher who just happened to be anxious to prove that horses could memorize the multiplication tables? Perhaps I should rein myself in here, and start at the beginning.
"Horses do think. Not very deeply, perhaps, but enough to get you into a lot of trouble."
Patricia Jacobson and Marcia Hayes - "A Horse Around the House"
Right out of the gate, Hans just looked smart (above). He was handsome, sleek, athletic and big, almost a thousand pounds and five and a half feet high at the shoulders. His breed had been founded by Count Orlov who crossed Russian mares with Arabian stallions, to produce spirited trotters. And then Count Rostophin threw in three oriental stallions to breed gentle, empathetic riding horses. So popular was the breed that by 1866 nearly half of all horses on Russian stud farms were Orlovs. And by the end of the 19th century, they were even being sold in Europe.
"Small children are convinced that ponies deserve to see the inside of the house."
Maya Patel
The popularity of the Orlov is explained by the web site, InfoHorse.com (http://www.infohorse.com/ShowAd.asp?id=3693) ; “Possessed of amazing intelligence, they learn quickly and remember easily with few repetitions. There is often an uncanny understanding of what is wanted and needed of them....They can become extremely sensitive to the moods and emotions of their riders/owners, even reflecting them in self-carriage. Under saddle this makes for a partner of such willingness and awareness that traditional (dressage) exercises become poetry.”
"Horses are uncomfortable in the middle and dangerous at both ends."
Ian Fleming - Sunday Times of London, October 9, 1966
Which brings us to Wilhelm von Osten (above), a retired, grouchy, grumpy Berlin prep school mathematics teacher who believed that animal intelligence was sorely underrated. Beginning in the 1880's he attempted to teach simple math to a cat. The feline did not care scratch for his efforts, so von Osten switched his subject to a bear. The Ursula proved a bear market for von Osten's educational techniques. So in 1888 he bought a pony, whom he named Hans. Von Osten was giddy when, after a few weeks effort, when he wrote the number three on a blackboard, Hans tapped his right hoof three times. It seemed clear, to him at least, that he had harnessed the genius in the young stallion.
"It's always been and always will be the same in the world: The horse does the work and the coachman is tipped"
Old proverb
Von Osten now had the bit between his teeth. He asked Hans for the sum of three plus two, and the black beauty tapped his hoof five times. Eventually Hans was even figuring square roots and working with fractions. Hans even read a calendar, answering “, "If the eighth day of the month comes on a Tuesday, what is the date of the following Friday?” - something I would have trouble with. But there was more. Asked to identify a member of the crowd , Hans was able to tap out a name, using a complicated code chart, even though no one had told the horse the name. But after years of giving such public demonstrations before enthusiastic crowds, von Osten grew frustrated by official indifference. So, in the summer of 1902, he advertised for sale his “beautiful, gentle 7 year old stallion”, in a military newspaper. In fact Hans was not seven, and he was not really for sale, but the ad did mention, “He distinguishes ten colors, reads, knows the four arithmetic operations, etc.” That elicited the sought after response from cavalry officers, who stampeded to von Osten's house. They came prepared to mock but left impressed. Because of this growing support by such a respected segment of German society, within two years even the Minister for Education was singing Han's (and of course, von Osten's) praises.
“You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him participate in synchronized diving.”
Cuthbert Soup - “Another Whole 'Nother Story”
The mockery poured upon the Minister for those statements finally achieved Von Osten's goal. A panel of 13 “experts” was herded together; a veterinarian, a circus manager, a Cavalry officer, the Director of the Berlin Zoo, some school teachers and the psychologist Carl Stumpf, The panel ran Hans through his paces, and when faced with Han's 89.9% accuracy, came to the unanimous conclusion there were no tricks involved. That declaration even made the New York Times chuckle (“Berlin’s Wonderful Horse. He Can Do Almost Everything but Talk.”) The German government was now facing a night-mare of public humiliation. So before declaring himself mentally un-stable, Stumpf decided to go one step further. He asked his assistant, Oskar Pfungst, to put Hans through his paces.
I'd rather have a goddamn horse. A horse is at least human, for God's sake.
J.D. Salinger - “The Catcher in the Rye”
Pfungst designed experiments for Dr. Stumpf, and he now laid down four restrictions to begin a series of tests for Hans, to be conducted in the courtyard of the Psychological Institute of the University of Berlin. First Pfungst cut von Osten right out the herd. Then he put blinders on Hans, so he could only see the human asking the question. And then he varied whether the questioner knew the answer or not. The key turned out to this last bit. When the human was ignorant of the correct answer, Han's winning percentage dropped to just 6%. So Hans was only as smart as the human asking the question. That lead to testing the questioner. By closely watching the humans and not the horse, Pfungst found they were subtly and unconsciously tensing their muscles as Han's approached the correct answer, and showed a similar relaxation immediately afterward. Pfungst's theory was that Hans was watching for the same muscle clues he expected when a human was riding on his back. In his December 1904 report – "Clever Hans (the horse of Mr. von Osten) A Contribution To Experimental Animal And Human Psychology" - Plungst revealed, he could now “call forth at will all the various reactions of the horse by making the proper kind of voluntary movements, without asking the relevant question.” .
"Horse sense is the thing a horse has, which keeps it from betting on people."
W.C. Fields
But for me, von Osten's mane arguments were finally reduced to horse d'oeuvres when Pfungst used von Osten's techniques to train his own dog, Nora, to duplicate all of Hans' feats. Of course, having hitched his reputation to his halter-ego Hans, Von Osten bridled at the suggestion he was not a genius horse – Hans, that is. So he bolted for the exit - von Osten did, that is. He told a newspaper “one can hardly see in these experiments more than a kind of scholarly jest....” He retreated to his families' estate in Prussia. And there the bitter old man died, on July 3, 1909. He was buried at the Church of Zion (Zionskirchhof) back in Berlin
"If the world was truly a rational place, men would ride sidesaddle."
Rita Mae Brown
Hans, still as clever as ever, was adopted by Karl Krall, a wealthy jeweler in the west German town of Elberfeld. Krall was determined to prove Hans a genius, and the stallion continued to spend hours each day, now with two stall mates,  standing through interminable instruction and testing sessions. The horse genius was last heard of in 1916 when he was drafted, and probably died pulling wagons in World War One. Meanwhile, the "Clever Hans (in German “Kluge Hans”) Effect", still plagues researchers by producing false positive results by search, drug and bomb sniffing dogs, dolphins and primates used in language research and even human sufferers of autism. And I suspect it also occurs in contestants on American Idol.
"There are only two emotions that belong in the saddle; one is a sense of humor and the other is patience."
John Lyons
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Sunday, September 14, 2014


I doubt James Reavis-Peralta (above), the self styled Baron of Aridzona, could have imagined a worse person to review his new filing for the Peralta grant than Royal A. Johnson. He was a lawyer, the son of a New York lawyer, and had never expressed an interest in politics. He had come west out of curiosity, and stayed because he found a good job as a clerk in the Arizona Territory Surveyor General's office. He'd been one of the clerks who had received the original voluminous Perlata Grant filing in 1883. And from that morning he'd been suspicious of Reevis. Royal had risen to second in command of the office when his boss, Joseph W. Robbins, had died, and was universally approved as Robbins's replacement.
Then in 1884 Democrat Grover Cleveland won the White House, and in the wholesale shifting of political favors, Royal was replaced as Surveyor General the Democrat John Hise. Thus, when Reavis-Peralta filed his new claim, it was John Hise who was to pass judgment on the it. However, Hise was also suspicious of Reavis, and delayed making his decision. Reavis appealed to Hises' boss, looking to shake things up, but that failed. And then 1888 the Republican Benjamin Harrison was elected President, and in July of 1889 Royal Johnson, the one man who knew almost as much about the Peralta Grant as James Reavis-Peralta,  was back in as Surveyor General.
Even during the four years he was out of office, Royal had continued to investigate the grant. So in September, when the acting United States Commissioner of Land sent Royal a letter asking, “"please report to me the exact condition of said grant...and all the information you can obtain in regard to it.", Royal was loaded and ready to fire. His broadside was fired on October 12th (Columbus day), 1889 and the title said it all; “Adverse Report of the Surveyor General of Arizona, Royal A. Johnson, upon the alleged Peralta Grant”. The word “alleged” must have particularly stung the Baron.
First, Johnson noted that the Royal Cedula, the document which had supposedly started the entire enterprise, was written in a form different than every other Royal Cedula every issued, and in such bad Spanish that Royal suggested it must have been written by an American using “bad California Spanish”. In addition the seal on the Royal Cedula had been printed on the page, and not impressed into it, as it was in every other Credula. Finally, the signatures had been made with a steel pen, not invented until a century after the 1748 date on the page.
Considering the report of the "Mexican Holy Inquisition", Royal observed that the seal was legitimate, but it had been glued on the page and not impressed, and it was cracked and had a brown tinge, suggesting it had been heated and removed from another document. And when discussing the Viceroy's decree directly awarding the grant, Royal wrote, “No certificate of a modern date nor any other reliable certification appears on the copies which would point to the originals being at present in the custody of some custodian of archives where they could be readily located and seen...to enable me to ascertain the whereabouts of originals or to prove their existence, and if they were to be obtained it is the duty of the claimants to produce them or to obtain and submit undoubted proof of their existence in their proper archives ... .”
In fact, at times the Surveyor General seemed to be scolding Reavis. “...it seems in poor taste that the old books of the San Xavier Mission, wherein were recorded the births, marriages and deaths of persons under the cognizance of the Church, should be selected to have inserted, and rudely inserted, among its withered leaves a copy of the grant of Peralta by the viceroy, and a copy of Peralta’s will." Royal went on to point out the obvious signs of a forgery committed under time constraints and in difficult places. "In the first place, the (forgery) is pasted in at right angles to the other sheets and is one-third larger than the regular sheets. The upper end of the pasted-in sheet is inserted in that part of the binding that holds the back of the large book together, instead of being in regular order...”
Royal further noted that under the laws existing the 16th century, the King would not have communicated to the Viceroy of New Spain, but rather through the bureaucracy, to the Council of the Indies, who would have then contacted the Viceroy. And there was no copy of the Peralta Grant in the Council's archives. And, asked Johnson, why was there no record or even mention of the noble deeds achieved by Maguel Peralta anywhere in any other records? Given that this was the largest individual land grant made in the Americas by the Spanish crown, should not the achievement equal its reward? And, noted Johnson, Spanish law at the time said, “No memorial from any person whatever shall be received for services which shall not be supported by certificates from viceroys, Generals, or other chiefs under whom such services shall have been performed, except those persons who shall have served in the councils.” And, again, the Council of the Indies had no record of the Peralta grant.
Royal also noted that although the Inquisition was extremely powerful in Mexico, no obsessive Spanish bureaucrat – and any good bureaucrat is obsessive - would have asked that body to investigate the Peralta Grant. It should have been reviewed by the Audiencia Guadalajara Nuev Galidia. And in those records there was no mention of the Peralta Grant. Then, Royal Johnson dealt with the conflicts between the 1883 and 1887 claims. Noted the Surveyor General, if the 1864 Willing bill of sale was legitimate, then that superseded Sophia's inheritance. And as to the photograph of Sophia standing next to the “Inicial Monument” (above), Johnson showed that the Peralta family crest carved into the rock was, in reality, Indian holography.
The report went on to detail the vagueness of the boundaries of the claim, pointing out that under long established property law in America and in Mexico, you cannot claim what you cannot locate. “Speedy and final action should be had on this base claim in order that the people of this territory may enjoy their homes with peace of mind. And parties guilty of forgery or the fabrication of papers that have caused so much trouble should be vigorously prosecuted by the government and that without delay. I recommend that the alleged grant should not be confirmed as it is prayed for, it being to my mind without the slightest foundation in fact and utterly void.”
The Baron of Arizona, James Reavis-Peralta,  responded as any good con man would respond when he was caught red handed. He sued the United States government for $11 million.
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