JULY 2018

JULY 2018
One Hundred Years Later, Same Message. 1916 - 2017


Friday, August 07, 2015


I have long held the view that "anarchist" as a label became passé with the invention of psychiatry. Of course it has stuck around as a vestigial etymological fossil, but any current criminal shrink can now vouch that the loonies who espoused anarchy are really just pathological egotistical narcissists. As proof of this contention, I now present you with the head of Emile Henri, who lost his head over the injustice he suffered because of another inarticulate Frenchman who sought to overturn the establishment and managed only to blow his nose at them.
Everything about Auguste Vaillant screams of irony. He was a kin of Lee Harvey Oswald, a little man who wanted to be important, but lacked the necessary attention span. He claimed to be the leader of a socialist group but seems to have been the only regular member. While waiting for the revolution he was ironically employed sewing expensive handbags and wallets for rich people to store their money in. 
Concerned about justice for the poor, Vaillant had abandoned a wife and two children - leaving them in poverty - and then lived with a deaf woman. For a political revolutionary to be living with a woman who could not hear his rants against capitalism passes beyond ironic into the realm of absurdity. And that is where we find Auguste Vaillant on Saturday 10 December, 1893,  entering the public gallery above the Chamber of Deputies, the French congress, carrying a sauce pan bomb in his overcoat. Ce n'est pas ironique, c'est le plus absurde
Auguste had constructed two sauce pan bombs, but discarded the larger one after realizing he could never sneak a 3 quart sauce pan past security. Spotting his intended target, the French President, standing on the Chamber floor, Auguste revealed and armed his 1 quart sauce pan. This attracted the attention of the woman sitting next to him. (“Excuse me, but is that a sauce pan bomb in your pocket or are you just unhappy to see me?”). She was able to deflect his throw so that the sauce pan bounced off a decorative cornice before exploding. The blast shattered Auguste’s right arm. The nuts and bolts packed around the explosive, shrapnel intended to kill 150 deputies, instead lacerated Auguste’s neck and chest. And the explosion blew his nose completely off his face. Unfortunately, the quick acting heroine was also badly wounded, as were at least 20 politicians. But the only person who died, if not immediately, was Auguste. Ce n'est pas tragique, c'est le plus absurde.
Auguste’s trial was brief. And on 3 February, 1894, the guillotine finished what Auguste’s own bomb had started. His last words, before the blade severed the rest of his head from his body, were, “Mort à la société bourgeoise! Vive l’anarchie!” The translation would be, “Death to the Bourgeoisie! Long live Anarchy!” Even his last words turned out to have been ironic.
The irony developed because, of the millions who were outraged by Auguste’s departing utterance, the most significant turned out to have been another nobody anarchist fanatic, this one named Emile Henri, a 21 year old who was consumed with envy. Henri was convinced that Auguste’s noble death scene should have been his. After all, just over a year before had not Henri stricken a much more effective blow against the bourgeois but had received little of the press coverage afforded to the now headless incompetent dead man?
Henri had decided to strike his blow for striking miners. He packed 20 sticks of dynamite into a sauce pan and rigged to explode if it was jostled. He then carefully left this “infernal device” outside the second floor offices of a mining company just before lunch on 8 November, 1892 - 2 years before  Auguste Vaillant's incompetent attack on the Chamber of Deputies..
A lowly Porter noticed the sauce pan, and realized immediately it was probably not somebodies' lunch. But rather than evacuating the offices he ordered an office boy to carry the suspect sauce pan down to the street. Somehow the office boy made it in once piece, but he felt a little uneasy about just leaving it on the sidewalk, in case a passing pedestrian should be injured. So he alerted a nearby school crossing guard. She called the police, and two patrol officers responded. They tied a napkin around the bomb and then the three of them, the cops and the office boy, carried the bomb suspended between them, to the local police station at the rather mis-named Rue des Bon Enfants (Street of the wonderful children.) There the bomb exploded, killing four cops and the office boy.
Henri had to lay low for awhile, but he was still living in anonymity in a crummy apartment when he opened his anarchist newspaper on 4 February, 1894 to read of Auguste’s dramatic speech at his execution. And Henri was green with envy.
Now, there might be some who feel my tone slights the victims of such attacks; baloney. Murder has been anathema for at least six thousand years, when the ancient Egyptians made “Thou shalt not kill” their first commandment, predating Moses by at least two thousand years. If a human being is murdered by a serial killer, a lunatic at the controls of a hijacked jet, a deluded doctor, a drunk at the wheel of a car, a Christian with a gun, or a waiter too busy to wash their hands, the result for the victims is the same; tragedy. Fundamentalist Islamic-Christian-Marxist- Socialist-white supremacists - cultural and political justifications matter only to the perpetrator; I say again, baloney.
As if to prove my point, one week after the glorious execution of Auguste, Henri entered the restaurant at Hotel Terminus, next to the Gar Saint Lazare train station in Paris. He had stopped at two other bars earlier but, he claimed later, they weren’t crowded enough. My guess is he had not yet drunk enough courage. He nursed two drinks for an hour at the Terminus, and then as he staggered out the door, tossed his bomb back into the cafe, where it exploded, killing one. A waiter ran after Henri, who shot him. Two policemen took up the chase. Henri shot one of them. The other knocked him down and restrained him. Henri’s toll was now eight dead – five at the police station and three at the restaurant.
At his trial Henri was defiant and bombastic, until his attorney put Henri’s mother on the witness list. Henri objected. He told the judge, “It never occurred to me to inflict such pain on my mother.” In fact I suspect Henri was more concerned about sullying his image. It would be difficult to maintain the role of a logic driven dedicated anarchist while his mommy was telling stories about what a emotionally unstable childhood he had suffered.. 
According to the New York Times, On 21 May, 1894 at “4:07 a.m.…the iron doors swung apart…Henri was ghastly white, but walked with a firm step. As he approached the platform he shouted, “Courage comrades. Long live anarchy.” His voice…trembled noticeably…As they pushed him against the plank he shouted again, “Courage comrades. Long live anarchy.”  He had evidently worked this out and wanted to be quoted exactly. The click of the knife was heard the next moment, and Henri’s head dropped to the ground. The blood from the his body spurted high as the body revolved and dropped into the basket. (The executioner) himself picked up the head from the sawdust and threw it viciously into the basket with the body.”
Anarchy, it turned out, was not long lived. History proved it to be a temporary delusion, to join those other temporary delusions people have claimed as justification for random murder; communism, fascism, Black power, White power, the Basque Independence Party,  abortion, the Irish Republican Army, the John Birch Society, the Confederacy, and the myriad other stupid self-justifications invented by humans.

 Hatred is a just another ideology in this respect - reduced to its core it is all about self.
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Wednesday, August 05, 2015


I have decided that people are like turtles – we can't go home again, so we carry a piece of our old home around with us. We keep 25 feet of the primitive earth's atmosphere trapped in our intestinal tracts, occupied by little buggies who die in the presence of oxygen and breath and exhale methane and hydrogen sulfide. They turn what you eat into what keeps you alive. But in order to stay healthy, you have to keep the bugs in your gut from getting above your neck, around your mouth, nose or eyes. And off your hands, because you put you fingers on your face about 2,000 times a day. Trust me. If its on your hands, it will end up in your face. Modern humans have invented a device making it harder for the bugs in your gut to get to your face too often; The flush toilet. Pull the lever and your stinky, dangerous poo vanishes, as if it were never there, just the way it used to in the Garden of Eden.
But a flush toilet is not just a hole in the floor with water running through it. The Romans built those, and the found they not only stank, they were also dangerous. Methane can explode at anything higher than a 5% concentration and hydrogen sulfide above 4%, giving a naval meaning to the term “powder room”. Both gases are lighter than air, so they tend to rise back into the place they came from.   The Romans even had a prayer asking the god of sewers to please not burn their bums in the occasional fecal flash over. So before a home toilet could be perfected, a way of keeping the stinky hydrogen sulfide and explosive methane down and out of the “lieux a soupape” had to be found.
Some of the best minds in the world tackled this problem. Benjamin Franklin thought he had “a cheap and easy” solution. “The excrement may be received in...proper cisterns. The excrement are soon dissolved in water.” If he had kept at it, Franklin might have invented the septic tank. But he got distracted by politics, leaving the problem to be attacked by a Edinburg Mr. Fix-It and a crippled Yorkshire tinkerer, both of whom thought more about money than they did about politics. Which is odd since English politics would play such a crucial role in starting this story.
In 1745 the last rebellion of the highland Scottish clans was smashed on the field at Culloden. Lowland Scotsman John Campbell, the 5th Duke of Argyl, chose to fight for the winning side, and he was rewarded by the English King with honors and £21,000 in gold. To display his new fortune, Campbell decided his new castle at the foot of the highlands in Inverness (above), needed a new pipe organ, and he hired two mechanically inclined young Scotsmen men to build it - John and Alexander Cumming. Impressed with the younger boy's mechanical talents, Campbell bought Alexander an apprenticeship to a clock maker, and then in 1752 set him up in business in Inverary as a watchmaker. For a cut of all his future profits, of course.
Alexander (above) was very good at making watches and watch-work driven mechanical devices for wealthy patrons, and within a few years moved his business to the fashionable Bond Street in London. 
In 1765 King George III commissioned him to build a clock that also recorded the barometric readings for an entire year (above). And it was this project that lead Alexander Cumming to the toilet problem, although he didn't entirely trust his own fix.
Now, for something over fifteen hundred years, Catholic theology had enshrined the ideas of Aristotle - the earth is at the center of the universe, the stars are fixed and unchanging, nature abhors a vacuum, and air has no weight. People were burned at the stake for questioning the Macedonian tutor. Then in 1640, the free thinking Italian, Gasparo Berti poured water into the open end of a glass tube sealed at the bottom. He then inverted the tube in a bow (above)l. When he removed his finger from the bottom opening, naturally, the water drained into the bowel. But the tube never completely emptied. This proved Aristotle wrong twice. First, the empty space appearing between the top of the tube and the new water level, was a vacuum, which Aristotle said did not exist. And secondly, the supposedly weightless air pressing down on the water in the bowl, held up the water column in the tube. Berti had invented the barometer. And a hundred-thirty years later Cumming turned Berti's invention into the world's first flush toilet. Almost.
Cumming wrote, “The advantage of this water closet, depends upon the shape of the bowl.” But that was just a sales pitch. Alexander farmed out the bowls to Wedgwood for the production models. And in most of its functions, his water closet was not so much revolution as evolution. After “doing your business”, you pulled the handle. That slid open a copper valve at the bottom of the bowl, at the same time releasing water from the storage tank, which washed your “business” down the pipe. And that was where the Cumming evolution started.
What Cumming actually invented, and what he patented, was the original “U” tube, also known as a plumbing “trap”. In his revolutionary design, just below the bowl Alexander added an “S” turned on its side in the pipe. After every flush air pressure held a reservoir of water in the bottom of the first “U” bend which blocked the lighter than air noxious gases from escaping up from the lower levels in the system, be it a latrine, a cesspit or a sewer. It was simple. It required no moving parts - the valve sealing the bowl served the customer's expectations only. Alexander Cumming's 1775 patent for a flush toilet was far more revolutionary than Franklin's American Revolution, and it was a lot quieter.
Alexander's design had just three small problems. First – if the water in the U-trap should evaporate, the gases would float back into the “water closet”. Second - below the “U” trap there was now a slight negative air pressure, which encouraged the occasional unpleasant blow back up the pipes. Third - the copper valve over the drain at the bottom of the bowl - which, thanks to the “U” trap, it didn't actually need, but the customers expected – that seal was not water or air tight. And as the copper valve was also periodically coated with crap, flushing only partially cleaned it. And the valve had a tendency to rust, and stick and stink. And fourth, the seal between the bowl and the pipes usually leaked, adding to the ordour of the powder room. And this was when the second genius arrives in our story, a crippled farm kid cum cabinetmaker named Joseph Bramah (below).
Braham was working for a London plumber, installing Cumming water closets, and dealing with angry customers. Complaint number one over the winter of 1776-77 was that the thin sliver of water left in the bowl after flushing, tended to freeze, locking the valve closed. 
Bramah fixed that by replacing it with a simple flap (above), and left more water in the bowl to prevent freezing.. Bramah got a patent for it in 1778, and another for inventing a float valve that would automatically refill the water tank after every flush. When Cumming saw what the kid from Yorkshire had done, he went back to his watches. And with the fortune he made, Joseph Bramah turned his Denmark Street water closet factory into a sideline, invested the profits into making locks, and the machinery to make locks.
And that was where toilet development got stuck until somebody dealt with the problem of what to do with your poo, after you flushed the toilet.
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Sunday, August 02, 2015


I can say with confidence that Meriwether Lewis was, at 35, an American hero. He had been the official leader of the Lewis and Clark expedition . And on his return in 1807 from that three year, 6,000 mile trek across the continent and back, President Thomas Jefferson had rewarded him with the governorship of the Upper Louisiana Territory. And just two years later he was dead, in an isolated hostel just north over the border of Tennessee, shot twice and with knife cuts across his throat.
Before the march over the Rocky Mountains, before he even served as the personal aide to the President, Lewis exhibited all the indications of suffering with a mild form of Asperger syndrome. He was socially inept, a painfully shy, solitary man, “touchy, opinionated, and quarrelsome”.  Making friends was difficult for him, and he had the sorry capability of turning first-time acquaintances into instant lifelong enemies. 
And then there had come the expedition, the greatest achievement of his life. But it had cost Meriwether more than is or was then generally appreciated. While on this three year adventure, not only had he repeatedly starved, been frozen, and several times nearly drowned,  he had also been shot by one of his own men (by accident). And he had probably contracted syphilis (I assume another accident).
There is no unambiguous proof of this last affliction, of course. But the average incubation period for syphilis is about 21 days. And, “Six to eight weeks after the initial sore disappears the patient will feel tired, may experience a headache with a fever, have swollen lymph nodes and a sore throat. Some patients may even experience weight loss, hair loss and a skin rash...These symptoms can last for over three months, and sometimes as long as six months.”
We know from the private journals kept by its members, that on the 13th and 14th of August of 1805 Captain Lewis and some of the men from the expedition ‘partied’ with some Shoshone women. Twenty-eight days later, on September 19th,  Meriwether Lewis became so ill he stopped writing in his diary for three months. And when the expedition returned to St. Louis in late September of 1806, they tarried there for six weeks without any reasonable explanation.
Today an infection of syphilis would be treated with a course of antibiotics. But in the 19th century the standard was a month's treatment with the poisonous metal mercury -  taken either orally, applied as a balm, breathing in the vapors, or by a direct injection. Physicians at the time can be forgiven for thinking mercury could cure syphilis because in the normal course of the disease, the symptoms disappear and then reappear at random, perhaps with years between outbreaks. But even more misleading was that the symptoms of mercury poisoning – numbness and pins-and-needles in the hands and feet, loss of coordination, muscle weakness, mood swings, memory loss,  impairment of speech and hearing and mental disturbance- are the same symptoms as advancing syphilis. It is not merely a case of the cure being worse than the disease. In this case, the cure reinforced the disease.
In March of 1807,  after his month long delay in St. Louis,  Captain Lewis reported to the President in Washington, D.C.  Jefferson then appointed the Captain to the governorship of the Upper Louisiana Territory, with its new capital back in St. Louis. Then he released Lewis to visit with his family in Virginia, and prepare his journals for publication.
Then, unexpectedly, before Meriwether was ready to assume his new post, the President added to Captain Lewis’ burden. He asked him to go to Richmond to attend the trial of that lightning rod of Federalist politics, Aaron Burr.
Burr (above) was, depending on whom you choose to believe, either a hero seeking to strike a blow against the Spanish empire, or he was a traitor who had raised a small army to foster rebellion within the United States. Jefferson chose to believe the latter because he hated Burr. 
After Burr was acquitted, Meriwether Lewis returned to his mother’s home,  not far from Jefferson’s home at Monticello. He wrote to a Philadelphia friend, Mahlon Dickerson, in early November, “What may be my next adventure, God knows, but on this I am determined, to get a wife.” Many women were interviewed for the job, in Virginia and Philadelphia and even Cincinnati, but none were willing to move with Lewis to the distant frontier, even as a Governor's wife. Meriwether's relations with women were as clumsy and difficult as his relations with men.
By late November the still single Meriwether and his brother Reuben had arrived at the falls of the Ohio River (above), in Louisville, Kentucky. There Lewis hired Joseph Charles to run the newspaper he intended starting in St. Louis, and in early January 1808 he advertised for subscribers at $3 a year. It was a shrewd political move, making certain his side of political events made it into print, and had probably been suggested by Jefferson who had a history of using newspapers to attack his political opponents
Lewis would need all the help and support her could muster, because in St. Louis (above) he was walking into a den of thieves almost as treacherous as Washington.
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