JUNE 2017

JUNE  2017
J.P. Morgan as a young man in his own words - "The Public Be Damned."

Translate

Amazon Contextual Product Ads

Friday, June 26, 2015

INTO THE WOODS

I would call Jimmy Kennedy a lyrical genius. Thank God he turned down an offer from the English Foreign Service for a job in Nigeria, otherwise we would have been cheated out of such evocative lyrics as...
“South of the bor-der, down Mexico way. That’s where I fell in love when the stars came out to play. And now as I wander, my thoughts ever stray, south of the bor-der, down Mexico way”. Jimmy wrote that, in classic Tin Pan Alley fashion, after seeing a post card of Tijuana. He never went there.
Jimmy was an Irishman,  so English was a second language to him: which may help explain his lyrics for...
“Every gal in Cons-tan-tinople, lives in Istanbul not Con-stan-tinople. So if you've got a date in Cons-tan-tinople, she'll be waiting in Istanbul.” (The name was officially changed in 1930, at the behest of the Turkish Post Office.)
But my favorite Jimmy Kennedy lyric remains the vaguely ominous drumbeat of... “If you go down to the woods today you’re sure of a big surprise. If you go down to the woods today you better go in disguise. For every bear that ever there was will gather there for certain because, today’s the day the teddy bears have their pi-cnic.”
I have a long held the image of the “Teddy Bears Picnic” being sung by that looming giant of economists, John Maynard Keynes. Can’t you just hear him croaking in his perfectly correct Eton English? “If you go down to the woods today you better not go alone. It’s lovely down in the woods today, but safer to stay at home.” I can.
And by woods, I mean "Bretton Woods", the New England ski resort invaded in June-July of 1944 by 730 of the best economic brains in the world, of which Mr. Keynes was the very best. The American economists were the bears and they were there to picnic upon the corpse of the British Empire, and John Maynard Keynes had the unenviable (for an Englishman) assignment to act as the America's maƮtre d'.
Would you like to know what kind of an economist Keynes was? He was married to a ballerina (above), that's what kind of an economist he was. He was attracted to drama, which was unusual for a student of "the dismal science" of economics.
Among the things settled at Bretton Woods was how to structure the world’s economy after World War II. It was clear to everyone that the lead would have to be taken by the United States, because we were the only nation that ended the war with more gold than we had started with. It’s the golden rule; he who has the gold makes the rules. But it just seemed less tacky that the idea would be put forward by a Brit rather than by an American.
So the Bretton Woods accords, presided over by Keynes, tied all of the world’s monetary systems (the pound, the franc, the yen) to the American dollar, because each and every ounce of gold in America’s vaults was officially represented by 35 dollars . And nobody else in the world could make that claim in post WWII. But all things change over time, and eventually we Americans were feeling so rich and all powerful that we tried to pay for our “Great Society” and our Vietnam War both at the same time, and both without raising taxes. You know what? You can’t do that, not in 1969 and not in 2004. No matter how many Republican economists may want to believe that you can, you can’t. Nor can you lower taxes on the top 1% without forcing everybody else to cover their share.
Back in 1969, newly elected Republican President Richard Nixon tried to close the budget deficit Lyndon Johnson created by shutting down many of the anti-poverty programs started by the Democrats. But those programs were far too small a fraction of the Federal budget to stop the bleeding. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology study done in 1971 calculated the real cost of the Vietnam War (in 1971 dollars) was about $750 billion, smaller after inflation than the $750 billion Wall Street bailout thirty-five years later which caused fiscal conservatives to flinch.(“Vietnam; Past and Present” by D.R. SarDeasai).
The pressure by 1970 was for Nixon to increase taxes to pay for the war. But that would have made the war even more unpopular than it already was. Nixon didn't yet have a way to meet his pledge of ending the war “with honor”, so he expanded the war, and he did not raise taxes. Instead he borrowed to pay for the war. Businesses couldn’t expand because the government had sucked up all the credit. Wages were stuck while prices inflated. And, as I recall, that was when hamburger jumped from 35 cents a pound to something closer to a $1.25 a pound. It is was an untenable situation. But “Tricky Dick” eventually found a way to make it "tenable".
In 1971, Nixon ordered that Americans could no buy gold. In the stroke of a pen the dollar was no longer backed by gold. That’s when the treasury stopped issuing real dollars and started issuing “silver certificates” - read your dollar bill sometime. They called it "The Nixon Shock".  With no limit on credit, we could afford any war we wanted, and all the Saudi oil we wanted. Economists call the economy Nixon placed us on a “Floating Currency”  but I call it the  "Good Faith Economy". There is no longer any gold behind your dollar, and, really, there is no silver, either. You trust that your dollar will provide you with goods and services of value because of the economic strength of the American middle class. And you  trust is that the bankers and the politicians will not destroy the middle class. Unfortunately, the 1% have figured out a way to profit by doing just that.
I don’t blame Nixon for our current economic mess. Politicians are not hired to create perfect systems, just systems that function for the time being. But what the sub-prime mortgage fiasco has proven, and the dot-com bubble proved before that, and the Savings & Loan debacle proved before that, is that without regulation, and shared sacrifice there can be no trust. To quote Ronald Reagan; “Trust and verify.” And to quote French President Sarkozy, “We must rethink the financial system from scratch, as at Bretton Woods”.  And this time we (the United States) ain’t got the gold, so we ain’t making the rules. Those days are past.
Or as Jimmy Kennedy put it, “No, you can't go back to Con-stan-tinople, been a long time gone, Con-stan-tinople, Why did Con-tan-tinople get the works? That’s nobody's business but the Turks.” Words of wisdom to ponder as we enter the woods again.
- 30 -

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

FIRST BLOOD Part Three

I think the most concise description of the problems General Irwin McDowell (above)  faced on the Tuesday, 16 July, 1861, as he began his 30 mile march from Alexandria and the Arlington Heights down to Bull Run creek, was given in Bruce Catton's, 1961 history of the war. Catton wrote, “Latter...when the troops knew how to march, and the generals and their staffs knew how to handle them, this (4 days) would have been more than time enough, but at this time no one knew anything: from general down to 90 day private, everybody was green...when the column started out the wagon trains that had to carry all of its supplies were still in process of getting organized...when the head began to move the tail of it was still being put together.” McDowell was unable to even start his 3 divisions, some 35,000 men - the largest single military force gathered in North America up to that time, and outnumbering the population of most Virginia counties - until after 2 in the afternoon.
Coming down from Washington,” wrote Catton, “the Warrington Turnpike ran a little south of west, a dusty straight road (above) that passed through the looted Fairfax Courthouse, climbed the slopes around Centerville and then dropped to the valley of the Bull Run, where a brown river moved southeast in slow loops with a fringe of marshy underbrush, brier patches, and spindly trees on each bank. The turnpike crossed Bull Run on an arched stone bridge...”
William C. Davis tried to describe the march a century and thirty-one years later. “The three columns of Federals were in no hurry”, he wrote, “The men trekked through the thinly populated region of low rolling hills, with dense forests and cultivated fields, with many creeks, few bridges, and soft bottoms that bogged wagons to their axles...The soldiers dragged their feet, sang and bragged, chocked on dust, sweltered in the heat and humidity. The enlisted men casually broke ranks and stopped for drinks of water, or to wash the caked grime from their faces, or to forage for chickens...a kilted officer of the 79th New York Highlanders went running after a pig...he leaped over a rail fence, presenting what a comrade called “such an exhibition of his anatomy as to call forth a roar of laughter...It was 10 p.m. Before most troops...were allowed to bivouac ( for the night). None had hiked more than six miles.”
Shelby Foote described it as a “...lark, lending the march a holiday air of an outing. They not only broke ranks for berry-picking; they discarded their packs and “spare” equipment, including their cartridge boxes and ate up their rations intended to carry them through the fighting... Re-issuing ammunition and food cost him ((McDowell) a day of valuable time, in addition to the one already lost in wretched marching...”  It was not until the second morning, says Davis, that the center division “began to trickle into Fairfax Courthouse around 10 o'clock.”  Nobody went any further.
That night McDowell ordered central division commander, General Daniel Tyler, to push right through Centerville on Thursday, 18 July, and threaten a direct attack on Manassas Junction. McDowell reminded Tyler “Do not bring on an engagement, but keep on the impression we are moving on Manassas”. McDowell expected the real work would be done by General Samuel Heintzelman's 10,000 men. They were marching directly down the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, aiming for Union Mills and the ford over Bull Run. Heintzekman's orders were then to brush past the rebels' right flank and cut the rail line south of Manassas Junction. If communications to Richmond were cut, McDowell believed, the rebels would retreat.
But McDowell had lost touch with Heintzelman's division during Tuesday, and was forced to ride out on Wednesday morning, looking for him. By the time he found his wayward subordinate, McDowell discovered the key division was so fouled up, it was unfit to launch an attack this day. So McDowell ordered Heintzelman to instead wheel to his troops to the right, and concentrate his men at the crossroads of Centerville.  Meanwhile, out McDowell's sight, General Tyler, thought he sniffed an opportunity down the Warrington Pike at Blackburn's and at Mitchell's fords across  Bull Run.
Daniel Tyler (above) was a civil engineer, the son of a Revolutionary War veteran, an 1819 West Point graduate, who had left the army in 1834 and made a fortune saving railroads on the brink of bankruptcy. And gazing through the summer haze from the high ground around Centerville, his old eyes could still see the smoke and flashes at Manassas Junction, just two miles beyond Bull Run. And he could not see many rebels between him and that tempting target. When a couple of artillery rounds fail to generate a response, Tyler sent a regiment of Massachusetts men to cross Bull Run at Blackburn's ford.
It might have worked too, if Tyler's opponent had not been General James Longstreet, one of the most competent soldiers in either army. Longstreet had concealed his men well on both sides of Bull Run, and when the Massachusetts men stepped into the open at the ford, the Virginians blasted them from three sides at once. Just as the firing was building, Captain Fry, McDowell's chief of staff arrived, and urged Tyler to pull back. Instead Tyler sent another regiment forward, this one of New York men. And these men were then hit by the reinforcements Longstreet had also rushed forward. After 30 minutes of this hailstorm of lead, the New Yorkers broke for the rear. And when Longstreet's men rushed across Bull Run, they pushed the Massachusetts regiment back with them. Tyler was forced to push his own reinforcements forward, and regroup behind the crest of the Centerville high ground.
At about four that afternoon, General McDowell arrived on the scene, and with the frustrations of the day, he unloaded on General Tyler. The proud businessman did not take the criticism well. By the numbers it had not been such a bad day.  The federal troops had suffered at the "battle" of Blackburn's ford (above) 19 dead, 38 wounded and 26 missing, while the rebels had 15 dead, 53 wounded and 2 missing. But the psychology was far more one sided. Captain Fry noted, “The Confederates...were encouraged. The federal troops, on the other hand, were greatly depressed.” And Tyler''s wounded pride would fester.
General McDowell spent the next day, Friday, 19 July, camped around Centerville (above) resting and resupplying his men's  “haversacks” with another 2 days ration of hard tack, which his men had eaten on the march down from Washington.  And he spent the day assessing the condition of his army. A Pennsylvania regiment and a battery of New York artillery had to be sent back because their 90 day enlistments were almost up, and they refused to remain. McDowell further weakened his force when by sending 5,000 men back to guard his supply lines through Fairfax Courthouse. On Saturday, 20 July, he sent engineers out to the west, checking the roads beyond the rebel left. It took until late afternoon before he knew the roads to Sudley Springs could support a flanking move by over 10,000 men.
On the Confederate side, the soldiers might be “encouraged”, as Captain Fry had noted, but on the night of 18 July, their commanders were worried.  Beaurguard knew, thanks to Rose Greenhow, that a federal division of 10,000 men was marching directly down the Alexandria and Orange railroad line on his right. He could not know, at this point, that they had been redirected to Centerville.  Beaurguard was still outnumbered , and he expected to be struck by the heavier force anywhere along the line from Union Mills to Blackburn's ford.  If pressed, he knew he could not hold.  He pleaded with Confederate President Jefferson Davis for reinforcements.
Davis had no men to send, except the soldiers under Johnston in the Shenandoah Valley (above). And as long as Patterson was still threatening Winchester, those men could not be spared. But after the skirmish on 16 July at Bunker Hill, the federals had stopped dead in their tracks, and on 17 July Patterson had moved sideways to Charles Town. Johnston was certain by the afternoon of 18 July that there was no chance of any further aggressive action from Patterson. That afternoon, when Jefferson Davis forwarded Beaurguard's urgent appeal, Johnston could now shift his men to the east.
- 30 -


Sunday, June 21, 2015

A MAN OF GRAVITY

I believe he started to fall in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. A spinning mill was opened there in 1789, powered by the 50 foot falls of the Blackstone River. But it was a financial failure until Samuel Slatter arrived from England a year later.  His head was filled with the patents and hi-tech systems England was trying to keep secret, and he assured the mill owners that if they made him a partner, “If I do not make as good yarn as they do in England, I will...throw the whole of what I have attempted over the bridge” But if Samuel Slatter was offering his actual suicide or merely an alliterative death, it is clear there something about that bridge 50 feet above the falls, which inspired men of vision to a leap of faith.  Sam Slatter did make good yarn and his mill became ground zero of the American Industrial revolution.
“Oh that I were seated as high as my ambition, I'd place my naked foot on the necks of monarchs”.
Horace Walpole, 17th century art historian
At six years of age Sam Patch was abandoned by his alcoholic father, Greenleaf Patch. At seven he joined his siblings tending to the spinning mules in Mr. Slatter's mill. The boy's position as a “doffer” required him to scuttle between the working looms, replacing bobbins and redirecting errant shuttles. Work began at five in the morning,  and did not end until half past seven, six days a week.  The usually exhausted Sam was lucky not to be disabled by the un-shielded whirling belts and flying equipment inches from his head and hands, and eventually he was promoted to weaver and a weekly salary of $2.50. Summers, during his half hour lunch breaks, Sam often threw himself off the bridge into the cool water of the tidal pool at the foot of the falls. Each plunge was a brief moment of weightless freedom, an escape from his pitiless existence.
Ambition may be defined as the willingness to receive any number of hits on the nose.”
Wilfred Owen, 20
th century poet
In 1824, in a unified action, the mill owners in Pawtucket demanded that workers accept a simultaneous 25% cut in wages and loss of half their 1/2  hour lunch break. In response Sam Patch, who by now had fourteen years experience in the mill, helped to organize the first workers strike in America. The owners were forced to back down, but they then systematically removed as many of the “trouble makers” as they could. Sam was forced to leave Pawtucket. Twice Sam tried to run a mill of his own, and twice his addiction to whiskey, possibly a self medication for injuries suffered on at his job. spoiled his chances. By 1826 he had found work as a loom supervisor at the Hamilton cotton mill in Patterson, New Jersey, powered by the 70 foot high falls of the Passaic River. He was now an abusive alcoholic himself, “an angry and not particularly admirable” man, known to box the ears of the young duffers working under him.
Ambition is pitiless. Any merit that it cannot use it finds despicable.”
Eleanor Roosevelt
On the Western shore of the Passaic falls there was an island of escape, called the Forest Garden. It was wild terrain used as a picnic ground by the mill workers, until 14 August of 1827 when it was purchased by Timothy Crane, owner of a grist and saw mill on Van Houten Street in Paterson. Crane then transformed the idyllic spot into a private park, complete with an upscale tavern/restaurant, “The Cottage on the Cliff” and scenic walks, beer gardens and well manicured versions of nature. He even planned a bridge across the falls, to restrict access to only those who could afford the two penny toll.  The bridge was assembled on shore and on Sunday, 30 September 1827, Crane staged a grand celebration as the bridge was pushed out across the falls. A small crowd gathered to either cheer the endeavor, or - the disenfranchised mill workers, stood about watching their picnic grounds stolen by a wealthy boss and owner. And then who should step out on a rock outcrop above the falls but a weaver, proudly dressed in his white linen uniform; Sam Patch.
Somebody ought to tell him his ambition is showing.”
Harry Essex  20th Century American Screenwriter
The police, who were patrolling the crowd, were horrified. The drunken Sam had been locked up in a basement all morning, to keep him away from the ceremony. Somehow he had escaped and they were worried that he might start a riot. Sam indeed shouted out to the crowd, but he did not call for violence. He announced that Timothy Crane had indeed done great things, but now Sam Patch would do great things as well. William Brown, a wittiness, remembered, “He walked back a few yards, turned, and took little run to the brink of the cliff, and jumped off, clearing the rocks (by) about ten feet.”
“Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself  And falls on the other side”
William Shakespeare, 17th century playwright
He hit the water feet first, as was his style, and for several seconds the crowd was convinced he had died on impact.. He did not. He bobbed to the surface, and was greeted by almost universal cheers. Afterward he told the newspapers, “I am perfectly sober and in possession of my proper faculaities”. The citizens of Paterson were impressed - – except of course for Timothy Crane, who had the feeling his thunder had just been stolen by a drunken lout. And it had.
“The universe is not required to be in perfect harmony with human ambition.” 
Dr. Carl Sagan, 20
th century American scientist
Crane tried to get it back. On Wednesday,  4 July1828,  Crane  announced a fireworks display to be held above his exclusive Forest Garden. But that afternoon Sam Patch did it again, leaping off the same rock and plunging 77 feet into the water. The newspapers reported the words of wisdom from the “Yankee Jumper”; "Some things can be done as well as others."  It was a bit confusing, but that just encouraged more people to talk about Sam's amazing, death defying leaps, which had yet again upstaged Mr. Crane's ostentation. And Sam Patch did it a third time, on Thursday, 19 July. Then on 11 August,  1828, in Hoboken, New Jersey, he lept 100 feet from the mast of a sloop, and splashed down into the Hudson River. The paying crowd was only 500 in Hoboken, but the New York newspapers had begun to take notice of “Patch, the New Jersey jumper”, the working stiff risking his life to make a living.
“Ambition if it feeds at all, does so on the ambition of others.”
Susan Sontag
By 1830 there were four million factory workers in America, and their lives were genuinely miserable. Barely ten miles from Paterson, among the 150,000 citizens of New York City, 10,000 were in debtors prison – half because they owed less than $25. One in five of the metropolis's citizens were receiving “public assistance” either from a church or the government. Clearly the industrial revolution was not benefiting very many in America. Food prices were rising, and if you fell ill you could not earn the $500 a year required for a minimal diet. The average life span was barely 33 years, because so many got sick so young.  Every day workers risked their lives to earn a living, toiling in unsafe factories, working past exhaustion day in and day out. They were the fodder for the Industrial Revolution, fuel to be expended making the rich men, richer yet.. And now they had a hero of their own, a man who knew from experience the quiet desperation of their lives, the risks they took every day to feed themselves and their families.  And if he was a drunken bastard, well, nobody is perfect.
“Ambition is like love, impatient both of delays and rivals.”
Buddah
Sam Patch's next opportunity arrived in the form of an invitation from businessmen in the city of Niagara Falls, New York. They had recently discovered a cave which protruded from beneath an outcrop under Goat Island, which divided the American Falls. Seizing upon the cave's official opening for tourists on 5 October, 1828,  they had scheduled a series of black powder blasting around the gorge and a kamikaze voyage of a two masted schooner over the falls. A dive by the Yankee Leaper off a 125 foot ladder against the backdrop of the falls at the exit of the “Cave of the Winds” seemed the perfect fit. And they only had to pay him $75 for the stunt.
“I hope the ambitious realize that they are more likely to succeed with success as opposed to failure.”
George W. Bush. American President
The only problem was Sam was now suffering from bouts of delirium tremens, and he missed his jump-off date.  He apologized in a one sheet broadside to those who had not yet left town, and assured them “...on Wednesday, I thought I would venture a small Leap...of Eighty Feet, merely to convince those that remained to see me...I was the TRUE SAM PATCH, and to show that Some Things could be Done as well as Others...” . Ten thousand showed up to see if he would finally make the leap.  He did, coming down feet first into the whirling white eddies below the falls, and then did it again on Saturday, 17 October, this time in a pouring rain storm. As he climbed out of the river after the last jump, Sam greeted the adoring crowds with the words “There’s no mistake in Sam Patch!”
The psychoanalysis of neurotics has taught us to recognize the intimate connection between wetting the bed and the character trait of ambition.”
Sigmund Freud
Sam was a hit. The businessmen in Rochester, New York, immediately booked him to leap from atop the 99 foot high falls of the Genesee River, in their town. And on Friday, 6 November, 1828,  Sam fell to fame. The response was so positive, that Sam scheduled another leap on the following week, Friday, 13 November.  During the week a 25 foot high platform was constructed atop the falls, making this drop his  highest yet, 125 feet in total. It was publicised as “Higher Yet! Sam's Last Drop”.
Hasty climbers have sudden falls
Italian Proverb
There were 8,000 witnesses along the banks of the Geneseese River, just about everybody in town. .
As he climbed the ladder, some would later say Sam Patch staggered a bit. He had taken at least a single glass of brandy before ascending that ladder. And once atop the tower, Sam shouted down to the crowd. “Napoleon was a great man and a great general. He conquered armies and he conquered nations, but he couldn't jump the Genesee Falls. Wellington was a great man and a great soldier. He conquered armies and he conquered nations, but he couldn't jump the Genesee Falls. That was left for me to do, and I can do it, and will.”
“Ambition is a drug that makes its addicts potential madmen.”
Emile M. Cioran 20th century Romanian philosopher and Nazi apologist.
He began his plunge as usual, straight as an arrow. But then his arms drifted up, away from his sides, he began to lean, and he entered the water at an angle. There was a huge splash. And when the water calmed, there was nothing. Sam Patch was no more, dead before the age of 30.
"Ambition never comes to an end."
Yoshida Kenko 14th century Japanese Buddhist Monk and poet.
They dragged the river, but did not find his remains. Then, on  17 March, 1829,  5 miles downstream, near the river's joining with Lake Erie, farmer Silas Hudson paused to let his horses drink from the river, and was started to see a body under the ice, jammed against the shore. They identified the corpse by the black scarf around the neck and the frozen features. They buried the Daredevil near where they found his body, in the Charlotte Cemetery, on River Street. His original marker read simply, “Sam Patch – Such is Fame” A later marker, paid by donations in the late 1940's, got his birth date wrong. And it said he had “leaped to his death over the upper falls”, as if he had committed suicide.  And “suicide” implies Sam had a choice. But that was the entire point of Sam's life. He never really did.
“Ambition has but one reward for all: A little power, a little transient fame; A grave to rest in, and a fading name!”
Walter Savage Landor 19th century English Poet.
- 30 -

Blog Archive

Amazon Deals