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Friday, April 10, 2015

ABIUARE!


I make no claims to understand the Byzantine logic of Catholicism, but I do feel empathy for Cardinal Robert Bellarmine. History records that it was Bellarmine who was the instrument of Galileo Galileo’s destruction. But at least the Cardinal was not an brainless evil little toady like Caccini, or a Machiavellian social tyrant such as Maffeo Barberini (aka Pope Urban VIII), and they both played far larger roles in bringing down the best brain in Europe since Pythagoras. And the Cardinal did write, early the fifteenth century, such a revolutionary sentence as: “…Civil authority is instituted by men; (and that power resides) in the people, unless they bestow it on a Prince.” Such revolutionary sentence could almost have been written by Thomas Paine, a century and a half later, and it speaks of a faith that values logic and democracy. It is a brand of Catholicism that at times today feels nostalgic.
Things began to go ugly in the spring of 1615 when the Dominican monk Tommasco Caccini took it upon himself to journey to Rome. Caccini was very suspicious of mathematics, which he did not understand, and his intent was to throw what he saw as “money changers” out of the Vatican. On the surface Caccini was complaining about Copernican astronomy, but Copernicus was beyond earthy correction, having died in 1543. In fact this “dreadful fool”, as his own brother described Caccini, sought to overturn the dominance of the Jesuit order in the Church. This was an internal Catholic  "cultural war".
Of course the Pope himself, Paul V (above), was a Jesuit, so Caccini aimed at a stand-in instead; Galileo Galilei. Caccini told the Holy See that Galileo had contaminated all of Florence with his heresies about the sun being the center of the solar system, and the moon not being a pristine celestial orb. Worse, Caccini alleged that Galileo was saying in public that God did not perform miracles. Caccini might be a “turbulent ignoramus”, as Galileo described him, and Pope Paul V might know that his own nose was being tweaked by the Dominican, but Rome could not ignore the charges that had been made.
The pope turned to his most dependable cultural warrior, 73 year old Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (above). It had been the intellectual Bellarmine who had out maneuvered and isolated the clever James I of England over his English translation of the bible, and who had prosecuted the magician Giordano Bruno sixteen years earlier. They had been forced to put a wooden clamp on Bruno’s tongue to prevent him from shouting heresies while they burned him at the stake, but in the end Bruno was silenced. It is doubtful the Pope wanted Galileo silenced so absolutely, but he expected Bellarmine to remove the Flrointine as an irritant, whatever that demanded.
The problem was that Bellarmine was too much of an intellectual, and he understood enough about mathematics to know that Galileo’s numbers were right. When the old and ill Bellarmine interviewed Galileo, which he did three times, he fell under the genius’s spell. In the end Bellarmine provided the Florentine with a letter that allowed him to "discuss" the idea of a sun centered universe, so long as he did not claim publicly that it was not opinion but fact. Despite what Bellarmine and Galileo both knew to be fact, officially the Earth remained at the center of the universe because several Popes had said it was so. Robert Bellarmine would die in 1624, and later become a saint, but his letter of instruction for Galileo would prove to be a dead letter.That letter rose from the dead after Pope Paul V died in 1621. He was followed by the brief and sickly Pope Gregory XV, and in 1623 by the energetic and energetically ignorant Pope Urban VIII, aka Maffeo Barberini (above). How Barberini’s mind worked was revealed in 1624 when he issued a Papal Bull, or pronouncement, making it a sin to smoke tobacco - not because it was unhealthful but because it often caused its users to sneeze, an act which Barberini considered similar to sexual ecstasy - which leaves me wondering about Signor Barberini’s boudoir habits during flue season.For the next eight years it was war and not sin which occupied Barberini. If he was not fighting battles to extend the Church’s (and his families') dominions, then he was preparing to fight battles. Barberini turned the Vatican into an arsenal, and built a factory in Tivoli to supply it with weapons. And when the Holy See ran short of cannon Barberini had bronze ripped from the roof of that temple to the Roman Republic, the Pantheon, and melted into more cannon. As an unknown sage put it at the time, “That which the barbarians did not do, Barberini did” (in Latin – “quod non fecerunt barbari, fecerunt Barberini”).
But finally, with the printing of Galileo’s newest book, “Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems”, in February of 1632, the prosaic world of ideas captured Barberini’s attention. Seeing criticism of himself in Galileo’s arguments (and, honestly, it seems to have been there) Barberinii ordered the book seized and the printer arrested. And he ordered the Inquisition to investigate Galileo.The Church had been at war with dissenters from the moment Christ died on the cross, and by 1542, when Pope Paul III established the “Congregation of the Holy Office of the Inquisition” in Rome, that war had become formalized and institutionalized, replete with all forms of torture, including water boarding, and with all the advantages and disadvantages found in any bureaucracy.
By 1633, when an ailing Galileo was ordered to Rome (he arrived carried in a litter) to face the Dominican Cardinals who had been given responsibility for his inquisition, the machinery of correction had been perfected. To be charged was to be guilty.
Galileo thought his 1616 letter from Cardinal Bellarmine would protect him, but Bellermine was a decade dead, and instead the Cardinal’s letter would be the clamp used to silence Galileo’s tongue. Galileo was presented with an “official” copy of that letter which included a phrase – “Galileo agrees to neither hold, defend, nor teach the Copernican opinion in any way whatsoever” – that had not been in the original letter, which the old man still had. Holding this official forgery Galileo mumbled, “I don’t remember the clause “in any way whatsoever… ”. And then his voice fell silent. He must have understood at that instant that this Pope (and his army of sycophants) was willing to commit the sin of bearing false wittiness to secure Galileo's silence, or his death.
When presented with his false confession the old man signed. To have refused would have been to invite a death by fire. And in the last act of the farce Galileo was required to openly announced his “abiurare”, that he abjured and renounced the idea that the sun was at the center of the solar system. Later generations would insist the old man left the court muttering his independence, but that was just wishful thinking. Barbarini used the power of Galileo's imagination, which had once opened the universe to all of mankind, to defeat him. He could imagine the endless pain the Pope could cause him. That is not faith. It is obedience. In exchange for his “abiurare” the old man was allowed to return to his home in Florence but he was never allowed to write another word on science. He died in January of 1641, blind and gagged. It was a great victory for Barbarini.

It was not until October 31, 1992 – Halloween, 350 years later –that Pope John Paul II expressed the Church’s official regret at the way Galileo had been persecuted. John Paul admitted that the Earth does indeed revolve around the sun, once a year. According to John Paul II, “The error if the theologians of the time…was to think that our understanding of the physical world’s structure was, in some way, imposed by the literal sense of Sacred Scripture.”It seemed, at least for a time, that Catholicism would enter the twenty-first century in peaceful coexistence with science. Cardinal Bellarmine would have been pleased, but I’m willing to bet, more than a little wary of the sins his church would commit tomorrow, in God's name.
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Wednesday, April 08, 2015

AIR HEADS Part Three

I figure that Cal Rogers (above)  was feeling pretty confident on the morning of Saturday, 23 September, 1911.  True, Cal Rogers gave the air of always being pretty confident. But this morning in particular he had received word that one of his competitors, Jimmy Ward,  had dropped out of the “Hearst Coast-to-Coast Race” after crashing (yet again!) 5 miles outside of Addison, New York.  Cal already knew that his other competitor,  Bob Fowler had failed on his third attempt to get over the Sierra Nevada Mountains, finally cracking up near the summit, and reducing his Wright Flyer to kindling and canvas. That left just himself, Cal Rogers, the six foot four inch deaf adventurer from Pittsburgh in the running for the $50,000.00 first place prize.
Of course, Cal still had to get to California. He was barely a tenth of the way across the continent now, and he had already crashed three times. He was already decorated with bandages from all the scrapes and scratches he had suffered.  The problem was that Cal had been a pilot for all of four months. He had less than 60 hours of flying experience. He knew nothing about navigation by air, and there was no one to teach him. The longest flight so far in the United States had been one from St. Louis to New York City, completed just the month before,  by somebody else.  In short, Cal was at the very edge of human experience in flight, both physically and mechanically. 

The Wright engine (above) on his “Vin Fiz Flyer" had no throttle. The engine was either on or off, at full power or at zero. The pilot had only one way to alter his speed, and that was to “advance the spark”, meaning to alter the instant in the compression cycle when the spark plug fired. In a modern internal combustion engine of the 1920's this would be controlled mechanically. But in the Wright engine of 1911 it was done by physically unscrewing the spark plug a fraction of an inch into or out of the cylinder by hand. The engines' designer and builder, Charlie Taylor,  had taken a leave of absence from the Wright workshop in Ohio to accompany the "Vin Fiz Flyer" across the country, and with all the other pressing redesigns required on the engine,  this was the best one for advancing the spark that Charlie had come with so far.  But it have its own problems which would soon become evident to both Cal and Charlie Taylor..
It took two days to repair the Vin Fiz after the crash at Middletown, New York on 17 September. So Cal did not return to the race until the 21 September, 1911.  His first leg that day was to be a hop to Hancock, New York, 40 miles east of Binghamton.  But half way there Cal noticed his radiator had sprung a leak. He kept an eye on the precious fluid dripping out of his engine and then, just as he was over the town,  pop! A spark plug flew out of engine.  Unscrewing the plug to adjust the spark had also made it prone to vibrating itself right out of the engine.  In an instant, the 4 cylinder Wright engine  lost 25% of its power, and the plane had precious little to spare. Cal suddenly found himself plummeting for the ground. Cal managed to steer for an open field,  pulling the "Vin Fiz's" nose up at just the last second to make a cash landing. But it was still a crash. Again, there was nothing to do but wait for the his service train, the "Vin Fiz Special".
The next two weeks would prove to be difficult, as California receded farther and farther away in distance and in time. While making a normal landing at Binghamton, as Cal would later say, “…There was a snap of breaking timber and my right skid had gone". The broken skid was easily replaced over night, from the supplies carried on board the “Vin Fiz Special”,  the three car train that followed and led Cal across the country. It carried fuel and a rolling repair shop, and in the Pullman sleeping car, Cal’s wife Mable, and his mother Maude (nee Rodgers) Sweitzer -  for the time being.
Maude's second husband, Henrey Sweitzer, had filed for divorce in July, charging Maude with "cruel and barbarous treatment and indignities...and desertion without cause".  Henrey might as well have charged Cal at the co-respondent in the divorce, since it seemed Maude had abandoned her wealthy second husband for her son....her married son.  Also sleeping on board "The Vin Fiz Special" was plane's chief mechanic Charley Tailor, his second mechanic, Charles (Wiggie) Wiggen, three assistant mechanics and assorted newspaper reporters and photographers.
With such generous support, Cal was airborne again on the morning of 22 September. But as Cal approached a landing at Elmira, New York that afternoon he snagged some telegraph wires. More repairs were required. As Cal traversed the border lands between Pennsylvania and western New York State, he hit a patch of good weather and made up time, at least until late in the afternoon of 24 September. Just after Cal had taken off from Salamanca, New York, high up on the Allegheny River, .another spark plug vibrated its way out of the Wright engine. But this time Cal coolly reached behind his back, grabbed the hot plug in his glove just before it popped completely out. He screwed it back into the engine and held it in place as he made a perfect landing (with one hand) on the Allegheny Indian reservation outside of Red House, N.Y.
Cal now screwed the spark plug firmly back in and,  with help of a couple of native Americans, turned the plane around for take off.  But he couldn’t work up enough speed and had to abort. He tried again, but the second attempt also had to be aborted. Each time the two helpful locals had tried to warn Cal that he was aiming at a barbed wire fence. But either because he didn’t understand what they were saying (he was deaf,) or because he was in such a rush, Cal ignored their warnings and the third time proved to be the charm. Cal taxied directly into the barbed wire fence, ripping the fabric covering the right wing to shreds, and wrapping the prickly barbed wire around the frame. It would take two days to free the “Vin Fiz Flyer” to fly yet again.
Cal was back in the air on 27 September , and had safe landings that day and the next. But on 29 September he was grounded by bad weather. Still, 30 September saw him break out of the Alleghenies and enter the flat lands of the old Middle West. The "Vin Fiz" covered 200 miles on 30 September, still 50 miles short of the distance he had intended to average.   He would have gone further but a clogged fuel line forced him down late in the day near Akron, Ohio. Cal spent that night fending off curious cows who seemed determined to crush his fragile airplane under their big fat hooves. Or maybe they were just looking to catch a flight to some place more respectful of vegetarians.
On Sunday, October first, Cal stopped at first Mansfield and then Marion, Ohio, before being forced down by another clogged fuel line at Rivare, Indiana, just over the state line. Under threatening skies Cal cleared the fuel line and took off again, only to fly directly into a thunderstorm, the first pilot to ever do so. As lightning snapped around his plane, Cal was the first pilot to experience downdrafts and wind shear, and as quickly as he could, Cal landed the "Vin Fiz" again, in the tiny Hoosier town of Geneva. As soon as the weather cleared he flew on to Huntington, Indiana, where he was met by an enthusiastic crowd, and was able to spend the night on board the train with his dear Mable. And his dear mother Maria.
The next morning, 2 October, the winds were still gusting and again Cal had a hard time working up speed on his 35 horsepower Wright engine. Just as he felt his skids leave the ground he realized he was heading for a crowd of people.
Cal yanked the stick to the left, passed under telegraph wires, and bounced his left wing off the ground. Cal was thrown out of his seat and scrapped his forehead. The left wing of the “Vin Fizz” was crumpled and folded up. But the “lucky” bottle of soda dangling from the strut was unbroken, yet again. Or so said the Vin Fiz publicity agents.  It would take two days to repair the “Vin Fiz”, essentially its third complete rebuild since takeoff.
On 4 October Cal flew to Hammond, Indiana, where he landed just before 6 P.M., on a plowed field on the Jarnecke Farm. He slept that night in the comfort of the Majestic Hotel. But high winds kept him grounded for another two days.
Finally, in desperation, on 7 October,  Cal loaded the “Vin Fiz” aboard his train and moved it to the village of Lansing, Illinois, where he found a fallow field with a wind break. This allowed him to finally take off again. As his journey westward by rail had not moved him closer to Chicago, technically, he had not advanced his position in the race.
Cal Rogers finally reached the air field in Cicero, Illinois, on the west side of Chicago, on the afternoon of 8 October. This was near where, at the air show in Grant Park on the lake shore just two months before, Cal had made his public debut as a pilot. By the rules, Cal now had less than two weeks to fly the remaining 2,000 miles across the Mississippi and the western half of the Untied States, cross the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada and the desert in between. Cal Rogers was the only man still in the race, but he was running out of time.
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Sunday, April 05, 2015

WILD CARD IN KANSAS CITY

I think if the train had been late, things might have turned out differently. Perhaps the waiting men would have attracted attention, or grown bored or been out of position. But the overnight Missouri Pacific train from Fort Smith, Arkansas was unfortunately right on schedule, pulling into Union Station on Track Twelve, at 7:15 A.M. on Saturday 17 June, 1933. And because it was punctual, the train efficiently and smoothly delivered three FBI agents, three local cops and one gangster right on time to their destination. And then there was the wild card in the deck, which turned all the aces into eights.
It all started 24 hours before with the capture of Frank “Jellybean” Nash, ““the most successful bank robber in U.S. history”.
Frank was a 20 year career thief who worked with the Barker gang and the Dillinger mob among others, and of whom it was difficult   “…to find anyone who didn't have something nice to say…”, according to Clyde Callahan, co-author of the book “Heritage of an Outlaw”. Even the cops liked "Jellybean"  
While serving a 25 year term in Leavenworth (above),  in October of 1930,  Frank walked right out the front gate, carrying a copy of Shakespeare under his arm.  No one even thought to stop him.
Frank was so often employed as a bank robber after his escape, and so well paid that,  in the summer of 1933,  he could afford to take his wife and daughter on a vacation, to the resort town of Hot Springs (above), southwest of Little Rock, Arkansas.  And it was there, on 16 July, that two FBI agents,  Joe Lackey and Frank Smith, along with an Oklahoma police chief, Otto Reid,  captured "Jellybean"  in a Hot Springs cigar store.
Dick Galatas ran gambling in Hot Springs, and he took the arrest of an underworld tourist in his territory, personally.  The local cops,  who were paid more by Galatas than by the taxpayers,  threw up roadblocks on the highway back to Little Rock  calling Frank a kidnap victim.  But anticipating this,  the FBI took their prisoner northwest,  on the long drive to Fort Smith.  There they planned on catching  the 8:30 P.M. overnight train to Kansas City. They even wired ahead to Special Agent in Charge of the F.B.I..’s Kansas City office, Reed E. Vetterli,  to meet them at Union Station in the morning. 
But the  train was late in arriving at the Fort Smith station (above),  and a stringer for the Associated Press spotted the three men and their shackled prisoner in the waiting room. Before midnight the story broke over the wires, in time to be printed in the early addition of the Kansas City morning newspapers : “Frank Nash…was recaptured today at Hot Springs, by three Department of Justice agents…They revealed the identity of the prisoner for the first time here...”
Galatas,  in Hot Springs, had already asked for the help of Johnny Lazia (above, coat less), who ran gambling and vice for the Pendegrast machine, which controlled Kansas City.  A newspaper editor at the time described the level of mob activity in that town, “If you want to see some sin, forget about Paris. Go to Kansas City.”
And the man Lazia assigned to this problem was an old buddy of Frank Nash’s, an ex-South Dakota Sheriff turned bank robber named Vernon Miller (above).
Miller called in at least two more gunmen to assist him,  their identities disputed to this day. The FBI claims it was Charles Arthur "Pretty Boy" Floyd and Adam Richetti,  who just happened to be passing through Kansas City that morning. But there were numerous other gangsters who would have willingly stepped up to help "Jellybean" escape.  And now might be a good time to address the question of why crime in America in 1933 was so well organized but law enforcement was not.
When J. Edgar Hoover (above) took over the Bureau of Investigation in 1924 he commanded just 400 agents.  He spent the next forty years battling small “r” republicans, who were suspicious of a big federal police agency. Hoover eventually overcame their resistance, growing the F.B.I in both numbers and budgets. And yet, until 1963, Hoover still denied the existence of any centralized crime organization in America. But it was there. During the 1920's it was a called the syndicate or the mob,  but after the Great Depression it became the mafia, and was dominated by Italian Americans thanks to their overseas contacts.  Even after the Appalachian Conference of November 1957,  where more than 60 criminal bosses from the U.S., Canada and Italy were detained by local cops in upstate New York,  Hoover still insisted, “The F.B.I has much more important functions to accomplish than arresting gamblers all over the country.”  Whatever his reasoning,  too many people paid with their lives for his denial.
That morning of 17 June the two agents,  Frank Smith and  Joe Lackey and Oklahoma police Chief Otto Reid, left the train heavily armed. According to research done by Pulitzer Prize winner Bob Unger – “The Union Station Massacre: The Original Sin of the FBI” - agent Lackey inadvertently grabbed a pump action Winchester Model 1897 shot gun, which belonged to Chief Reid, who grabbed Lackey’s twelve gauge, also by mistake.
On the platform they were met by Agent in Charge Reed Vetterli (above)...
and agent Ray Caffrey (above),  ...
along with two K.C. police detectives, William "Red" Grooms (above)...
 and Frank Hermanson (above).
 As the seven men moved through the cavernous station they formed a "V", with their handcuffed prisoner, "Jellybean" Nash,  protected in the center.   A four door Chevrolet was parked in front of the station, head in, and K.C. policemen Grooms and Hermanson screened the car from the front. Nash was first placed in the front bench seat, behind the steering wheel. Agents Lackey and Smith and Chief Reed sat in the back. 

As Agent Caffey was about to enter in the driver’s side door, Joe Lackey noticed three men appear from behind a green Plymouth parked in the space in front of them  At least two carried machine guns. One of the gunmen called out, "Hands up! Up, up, up!"  Instead, the F.B.I. says, the gunmen opened fire. In that first burst of machine gun fire, KC police detectives Bill Grooms and Frank Hermansom were killed, and Agent-in-Charge R.E. Vetterli was wounded in the shoulder, crawling toward cover.
But according to Bob Unger's research,  it was right at the beginning that Joe Lackey (above) found himself holding the wild card.
The Winchester 1897 was a WWI army surplus shotgun and lacked a safety feature most shotguns have – a trigger disconnect, or a safety.  In the slam mode this “trench sweeper” would automatically fire if the trigger was compressed at the same time the action was pumped, forcing a round into the chamber. Unfamiliar with this feature, and without even waiting to get his weapon up,  Lackey pumped a first round into the chamber. As he did so the weapon went off and blasted a load of ball bearings into the back of Frank Nash’s head (below), just 12 inches away.  A stray pellet also went “…right into the side of the head of agent Caffrey” who just getting into the car.
As proof Unger offers an image of the Chevrolet's windshield,  taken shortly after the shooting stopped and the wounded had been removed (above) .  Shattered glass is scattered over the car's hood, indicating the shot gun pellets came from inside the car, where the FBI agents sat,  and not from outside,  where the attacking mobsters were. Also, witness Harry Orr, just feet away in his cab, testified, "I saw one man with a shotgun, and he was trying to fire it." And this was just before the shooting started. 
Panicked at the unexpected explosion, Lackey pumped the action on the shotgun a second time, and again the weapon immediately discharged.  Bill Unger described what he thinks happened next. “Hermanson is in a direct line between Lackey and the machine gun wielders. Joe Lackey gets off a second shot, which takes of the left side of Frank Hermansons’ head…. 
"So here we are in the first two seconds of shooting, and already Frank Nash – the top of his head is gone and he is dead, and Ray Caffrey is dying of a fatal wound….And Hermanson is dead. So far no one has fired a shot except Joe Lackey…
"At this point everyone begins to shoot, and there’s massive firings by machine guns...and by the time all of this is over, Bill Grooms, the other Kansas City policeman, is also dead. (above, lying between the cars). And Reed in back seat….when they finally get to him, he has a fatal wound…”.    When one of the gunmen finally got close to the Chevy,  he glanced inside and shouted, “They’re all dead. Let’s get out of here.”
They weren’t all dead. Agent Lackey was wounded three times and barely survived. Agent Smith, having ducked behind an adjacent car when the shooting started, was uninjured. Agent-in-Charge Reed Vetterli had made it inside the train station, bleeding from a wound in his shoulder.   The entire shootout took less than 60 seconds. And that quickly the Kansas City Massacre was over.
Of the men who could be proven to have been responsible for the shootout, Vern Miller (above) was found mutilated and murdered outside of Detroit, Michigan,  5 months and two weeks later. And one week short of the first anniversary of the massacre, John Lazia was gunned down out side of his hotel in Kansas City. Rumor at the time said the syndicate running organized crime in America had issued orders that Nash was not to be helped because of the publicity surrounding him. And ballistics tests run decades later indicated the gun that fired the bullets which cut down Lazia, had also been used in the massacre. As he lay dying in a hospital, John Lazia asked his doctor, “Doc, what I can't understand is why anybody would do this to me? Why to me, to Johnny Lazia,  who has been the friend of everybody?”
It was a question that Frank "Jellybean" Nash would probably have asked,  if it hadn't been for that wild card.

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