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Friday, November 20, 2015

DOES YOUR COW POINT NORTH?

I am certain that some will think this story is much a moo about nothing. But I think it behooves us to consider the implications of what at first blush seems like a simply grazy observation. Zoologists Sabine Begall and Hynek Burda of the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany have made the startling discovery that at any given instant on any given day, two out of every three cows standing in fields all over the earth have steered themselves along North-South magnetic lines, as if they were over sized leather covered compass needles. We don’t yet know for certain if they are headed for the North Star or aiming their dairy-airs south, but we now know that those of us with frontal mental lobes, single chambered stomachs and just two teats apiece have been missing the meat of this story for the last 10,000 years.
The word “cow” derives from the Latin word ”caput”, meaning the head, which is the ancient way of counting cows, as in “Me and Tex are driving five hundred head to Abilene”. Clearly it was the head of the living cow that Gandi was thinking of when he wrote, “The cow is a poem of pity…She is the second mother to millions of mankind.” She is also, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the source of 18% of the world’s methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. And almost one third of the world’s oversupply of cow burps (the primary source of methane) comes from India’s 280 million sacred cows. Cows belch so much because they re-chew their cuds, regurgitating and re-digesting the cellulose over and over again. So the first secret of cows is that every cow is bull-limic.
The emotional life of the average Daisy or Bessie has been described as comparable to a potato on sedatives. But complexity was always hidden just beneath the hide. The American Humane Society has taken note that if one herd member is shocked by an electric fence, the entire herd avoids the wire. English linguistic bull artists have noted that cows moo in local dialects and inflections. And it has long been common knowledge that ungulates form their own bovine breakfast clubs. Three or four females establish lifelong bonds, a cow herd within the herd, or a “curd” if you will. Daisy actually enjoys a rich emotional life, nurturing animosities against her fellows, developing friendships and even mulling over the bovine equivalent of the Stephen Sondheim conundrum, “Is this all there is?"
This shared arrogance of our two species matches the obsession of Bessie with a subject familiar to many obsessive humans; sex. Eric Idle has described cows as the “…librarians of the animal world; mild by day, wild by night." And John Webster, a professor of animal husbandry at Bristol University in England, describes cows as “gay nymphomaniacs”. The “curds” constantly cowlick one another. And a single Bessie in “heat” can set off a Daisy chain of cow girls “mounting” herd mates in a riot of bovine dominatrix behavior. Unseen by inattentive humans, a pasture of grazing Gurneys is in reality a seething mass of bored libidos on steroids.Literally  It gives a whole new meaning to the term “pasteurization”.
Few have ever denied that individually cows process a certain personal magnetism. Their sheer bulk demands respect, if not religious devotion. These are not cuddly creatures. The one point three billion cows alive at this moment are ponderous moovers and shakers, and udderly unimpressed with humanities’ crème-de-la-crème, logic. Every dairyman has herd that cattle tend to face uphill, into strong winds or turn their flank steak to the sunny side on a cold morning; and that all seems plausible. But the idea that these cow hides might be sharing some kind of mystical, new-age ferris sensitivity seemed until recently to be an oxymoron. But scientists seeking out the magnetic orientation of hills created by the European ground mole (Talpa europaea), stumbled over the realization that perhaps larger mammals might also be influenced by something other than human magnetism.
German researchers examined Google Earth photographs taken at the same local time of day, observing some 8,510 individual cows in 308 separate herds on five different continents, at essentially the same moment. And the humans stumbled upon this udderly amazing fact; cows got magnetism. Generally, at any given moment, 70 % of the cows in any herd are standing about five degrees off of true North-South orientation. In Oregon State, closer to the North Pole, the deviation of cows is all of 17.5 degrees. In the southern hemisphere (Africa and South America) the alignment was slightly more north-eastern, south-western. Still, adjusted for latitude, 70% of all cows point toward the magnetic pole, and this is much too large a percentage to be a mere homogenized coincidence. The next question is, of course, why have cows got magnetism?
Cows are not migratory, but they once may have been. Cows share a common ancestor with whales, the “Pakictids”, which 53 million years ago had a whale’s ear and a cow’s teeth in a really ugly little dog’s body, sort of a Mexican hairless meth addict with hair. Could this ancient mongrel have been the source of the current magnetic deju moo? It could, if it milked its genes for all they were worth.
So it seems, upon rumination, that we owe cows an apology, that to err might be human but to forgive could be bovine. But stop the stampede for animal rights. My guess is we could be apologizing to Daisy and Bessie “auf die Ewigkeit warten”, as they say in Germany, and it would make no difference because Daisy and Bessie are not particularly interested in our moo-tivations, because cows are just as conceited as we humans are. And in the final rendering the squeaky veal always gets the cud. Holy, cow!
P.S. Photographs are from “The Secret Life of Cows” by Glen Wexler.
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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

PARCEL POST

I hate to tell you this, but, contrary to common knowledge, we are the ones living in a “simpler time”, not our parents or even our great-great grandparents. We have E-mail, and I-phones and Twitter and Facebook and every other pseudonymous instantaneous electronic communication device which, with apologies to Socrates, proves that a life under punctuated is a life not worth being self-obsessed about. Sharing every naval-infatuated idea has become de rigueur for the Obama generation. There is no longer room for confusion or miss-interpretation, only for over-interpretation. And that makes the world much simpler.
For the first two million years of human evolution the only limit on communication was the sum of the speed of sound divided by the speed of walking, divided by the number, width and depth of rivers and oceans, and the height of mountains and width of deserts separating you from the persons you wished to speak to. Those kinds of obstacles and those kinds of delays made the world a very complicated place. When the Battle of New Orleans was fought on 8 January, 1815, the War of 1812 had been over since the Treaty of Ghent had been signed on 24 December, 1814. That was three years you needed to refer to,  while talking about just one battle, because of the delays in communications. How much more complicated can you get than that?
Mail was the first invention in long distance communications. Cyrus the Great of Persia invented pony express riders to carry “words” to bind his empire together. According to the first great historian, Herodotus, these civil service riders were so dedicated that “Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these courageous couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds”; which is not the official motto of the U.S. Postal Service. The U.S. Postal service has no official motto.
The next major technical advance in communication didn’t come along until 1792, when Claude Chappe invented a ‘semaphone’ network in France. In his sales brochures he called it a “telegraph” (Greek for “far writing”). It required a series of towers spaced 20 miles apart, upon each of which were erected two movable arms connected by a longer movable arm. A Chappe telegraph operator repeated the 174 different combinations of arm positions to relay up to two words a minute. Although this was such a dependable system that the Swedes kept theirs running until 1880, Chappe never saw it turn a profit, for two reasons. First he threw himself down a well in 1805. And second, it never turned a profit. Worse yet, for Chappe’s family, he copyrighted every thing about his brilliant invention except the name.
In 1837 a failed Calvinist minister, a pro-slavery Federalist, a pedantic anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic conspiracy freak named Samuel Fineley Breese Morse, co-opted the name for his “electronic telegraph” which he copyrighted from top to bottom, including the name. The first recorded “Mores Code” telegraphed was “A patient waiter is no loser”, in 1838. It was the dot and dash equivalent of “The quick brown fox”, etcetera.  The more famous message, “What hath God Wrought”, was telegraphed as a publicity stunt in 1844 and was suggested by Anne Ellsworth from my home town of Lafayette, Indiana. She was married at the time to Mr. Roswell, who gave his name to the New Mexico town where, in 1947, space aliens attempted to communicate with humans. Their message appears to have been the alien equivalent of “Mayday, mayday, mayday.” But, so far nobody has answered that message. 
The perfect expression of this more complicated communication is the traditional or “snail” mail service I grew up with. The complexities involved stagger the imagination. You write a letter, usually by hand. You take the letter to a collection point, a post office or mail box. A representative of the United States Postal Service (your stand in) then physically carries the actual letter to your friend’s home. There, your friend or business partner reads your words from the very paper you once held. It sounds fraught with opportunity for delays and errors, and it is. And yet it has worked in America for two centuries. And what is most amazing is that we expected it to work, and complained when it didn’t.  But then things began to change.
In 2005 the USPS (as it likes to refer to itself) processed (i.e. delivered) almost 46 billion individual first class letters. A decade later that number had dropped by over half - to 22.5 billion letters . In the year 2000 they employed 787, 538 people. By 2014 they employed less than half a million. But the U.S. Post Office still sends 7,000 men and women out on the streets to deliver 513 million letters six days a week, while costing the American tax payer NOTHING,  but generating $68 billion in revenue. What a bunch of "Big Government" people these "pro-mail" people are.
The ultimate complication of that ancient ultimately complicated communication system was Parcel Post, in which individuals were encouraged to send not only words from one end of the nation to another, but goods as well. The service was started in 1912 as an attempt to encourage economic development in rural America. And it worked.
But the first small flaw in the plan became visible when Postal authorities introduced "live parcel post" - mailing live baby chicks (in special containers) for 53 cents apiece. Now, farmers could order chicks from breeders and they would be delivered, cheaply and reliably, right to the farmer's front door. It was a great boon to the egg industry nationwide. But problems arose when some of the little cheeps in ever shipment died in their boxes en route, and the customers sought reimbursement from the Post Office. The rules denied the customer’s appeals, but they appealed anyway. What was not noticed at the time, was a  flaw in the logic of “live” parcel post.
The path to Parcel Post ad nausea was first made visible on the morning of 19 February,  1914, when Mrs. John E. Pierstroff of Grangeville, Idaho, loaded her four year old daughter, May Pierstroff (above), into the mail car of a train bound for Lewiston, Idaho, 55 miles away. A few moments later Harry Morris, the train's conductor, stumbled upon the little girl sitting quietly atop a pile of mail bags. Morris checked the 56 cents postage on the tag tied to May’s coat, and since the mother was no where to be seen, allowed the girl to ride in the mail car to Lewiston. There, mail clerk Leonard Mochel delivered May to her destination, the home of Mrs. Vennigerholz,  the girl’s grandmother.
It was the beginning of a disturbing trend. Later that same year postal workers in Stillwell, Indiana accepted a parcel post box marked, “live infant”.Without opening it, they delivered the box to South Bend, Indiana, where the “package” was accepted and opened by the infant’s divorced father. Cost for the trip was 17 cents. The infant arrived safely. The next year a Pensacola, Florida probation officer shipped six year old Edna Neff to her father in Christiansburg, Virginia. The postage was 15 cents.
The public was unsettled by this mailing of children, since the percentage of child molesters among the population in 1914 was about the same as it is today. The negative publicity probably prevented another child mailing until 1919, when it appears a press agent for the Aluminum Company of America arraigned for the mailing of five year old Marmi Hood and four year old Evan Hedge to their respective scab fathers, who were locked down inside in the company’s plant in Alco, Tennessee, surrounded by union picket lines. After a two hour tearful visit, heavily documented by the company publicity department, the children were “mailed Special Delivery” back to the Alco, Tennessee Post Office, where their mothers were anxiously waiting for them. Postage for the stunt both ways was $2.26 cents.  On Monday, 14 June, 1920 The US Post Office issued new rules, announcing that children would no longer be accepted as a parcel post.
The coda to this regulation was the C.O.D. package mailed to an undertaker in Albany, New York. It arrived on Monday, 20 November, 1922,  and carried no “return address”. In the box was the body of a child who seemed to have had died of natural causes. Her tombstone (above),  now weathered by almost a century of acid rain,  once read, "Parcella Post. An infant whose unknown parents sent the little body by mail...buried here through the kindness of individuals”.  How could you call such a world as that, "simpler" than ours? 
As you would expect from people living in such complicated times, the denizens of that ancient confusion were able to predict the problems and solutions faced by our current, “simpler", electronic age. It turns out the philosophical antithesis to Twitter was written in 1854, not long after the Mores telegraph hinted at the self obsessed simplicity which was to follow. 
It was written by that old fogey, Henry David Thoreau. “Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys”, wrote Henry David, “which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end…We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.” And, what with recent Texas Governors advocating their  re-secession from the union of states, and the recent Governor of Maine advocating everybody just go to hell,  it would appear that our modern politicians are leading the way by getting simpler and simpler all the time. 
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Sunday, November 15, 2015

MAKING PEACE - Nine - Green

I know history says the crowning achievement of the American effort in World War Two was the $2 billion development of the atomic bomb. But in fact the Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber (above), able to carry a 2 ton payload 3,250 miles, cost $3 billion. The atomic bomb would have been useless without the B-29. No other American weapon could have carried “The Bomb” to Japan. But Army Air Force General Curtis LeMay, the man who made the B-29 legendary in the Tokyo firebombing, has acknowledge the big bomber “had as many bugs as the entomological department of the Smithsonian”, and came very close to being cancelled several times.
Each B-29 cost $500,000 (five times the cost of the British Lancaster bomber) consumed 13 tons of aluminum in its construction and required half a ton of valuable copper in its 9 ½ miles of electrical wiring. In addition to the 11 crew members, 74 people were required just to keep each 29 flying. 
But unsure the B-29 would ever work, the United States built a back-up bomber - the Consolidated B-32 Dominator (above). Built in Fort Worth, Texas, the B 32 was just as big, designed to fly just as high, was just as complicated and carried just as heavy a payload, and carried it 500 miles farther than the B-29 could But the B-32 had even more development problems, and ended up costing four times as much as the B-29.
In late 1943 the B-32 Dominator was re-purposed as the “modernized” replacement for the thousands of 
B-17's and B-24's  already bombing Germany into submission. Stripped of many of its innovations – i.e. , its pressurized crew compartment, its computerized remotely fired guns - the B 32 was converted into a heavy medium level (10 – 20,000 feet) bomber. 
It's first missions over Japan were in fact some of the last missions of the war. And the plane proved just as vulnerable to ground based anti-aircraft guns, and enemy fighters as the planes it was replacing. So it was fitting the B 32 was used to tempt the hot heads in the Japanese military to break the tentative peace agreement even before the shooting had stopped. After all the money and effort, the Dominator became a sacrificial lamb on the wing. Such are the economics of all wars, and all “defense” spending..
Once the Japanese acceptance had been received, MacArthur's Headquarters in Manila  issued prompt instructions to the Japanese Government via through the Swiss.  “Send emissaries at once…fully empowered to make any arrangements directed by the Supreme Commander….” And, as a sop for MacArthur’s deflated ego over the glorious Armageddon he would not get to oversee on the beaches of Kyushu, “…General of the Army Douglas MacArthur has been designated as the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers…”  The universe had finally recognized Doug as a supreme being, and that was all that he really wanted – public genuflection. His mother must have been very pleased.
Contact was quickly made with the Japanese government via radio. First, General MacArthur's staff designated the radio frequencies to be used in all future communications by the Japanese (13705 and 15965 kilocycles).  Emissaries to negotiate the mechanics of the surrender should leave Sata Misaki, on the southern tip of Kyushu, “between the hours of 0800 and 1100 Tokyo time” on the morning of Friday, 17 August,  in two transport planes, painted white with large green crosses on the wings and fuselage. They would identify themselves by the code world "Bataan"”  The Japanese replied that the Emperor had ordered the ceasefire for all Japanese forces to begin at 1600 hours on Thursday, 16 August, so the Americans did the same.
There were, of course, sparks of flame that refused to die. Sixteen suicide bombers attacked U.S. warships off Japan hours after the ceasefire had been ordered. All were shot down. I wonder if their commander even told the pilots of the ceasefire order? In fact, Tokyo shamefacedly informed MacArthur that members of the royal family had been dispatched to deliver the cease fire order in person to military units in China. That admission told the Americans volumes about the volatility of the situation in Japan.
In fact, this post cease fire incident also highlights how important it was that the two sides were now talking, even by radio, and could thus explain events that previously could only have been interpreted in the most antagonistic way. If they had simply started talking earlier, even while the fighting continued, thousands of lives might have been saved.
Finally, on Sunday, 19 August, the Japanese radioed, “The planes carrying the party of representatives have left Kisarazu Airdrome (in Tokyo) on 0718”. Again, there was fear on the Japanese side that a die hard might attempt to disrupt this mission for peace, so the planes took off secretly, with sealed orders. Only after becoming airborne was the flight plan revealed to the crews. 
Following the American instructions as closely as possible, the two aircraft (above), one a Mitsubishi G4M1-L2 (Betty) transport aircraft, and the other a Mitsubishi G4M1 (Betty) bomber (complete with a few bullet holes).
Both had been hastily modified for seating the 8 emissaries that flew in each plane. Each aircraft had been painted white with large green crosses on the wings and fuselage. They were known hereafter in Japanese history as the Green Cross Flights. 
They reached Sata Misaki on the southern tip of Kyushu at about 11 A.M, local time. They then flew, as instructed, south on a course of 180 degrees to a point 36 miles North of le Shima Island, off the western coast of Okinawa (above) , and began to circle at about 6,000 feet.
Almost immediately the two Green Cross aircraft were intercepted by twelve Lockheed P-38 twin tailed fighters, from the 49th fighter group, led by Majors Jack McClure and Wendal Decker. The two Bettys called out to the Americans in English on the prearranged frequency of 6970 kilohertz, repeating the password “Bataan”.   (It had been anticipated the Japanese would get the irony. They did not. But American voters back home certainly would.) Jack McClure responded, “We are Bataan’s watchdog. Follow us.” As the 14 aircraft continued on toward le Shima, the P-38’s began doing acrobatics to slow to the Berry's speed, and to thumb their noses at the defeated enemy.
 On the way they were joined by two 2 B-25’s (above) from the 345th bombardment group. The Americans were not going to let any die hard kamikazes or hot headed Americans interfere with this operation. 
Jack McClure landed first at Birch Airstrip on la Shima, followed by the two Betty’s.
The first Betty landed safely.
To the thousands of ground crews and pilots, based on le Shima, the day was exciting. To the Japanese it was tense. 
The second Betty made a rough landing on the crushed corral strip and ran off the end of the runway by several feet, damaging the plane's landing gear. 
Still the strange white machines with large green crosses were down safe, and immediately surrounded by armed guards.
On this tiny island, not much bigger than the airstrip that occupied it, men from both sides of the Pacific, who had spent three long years bathed in violence and fear, trained to despise each other, would for the first time since Pearl Harbor physically touch each other in peace.
One witness remembered how odd it was that the first Japanese out of the Bettys wore shorts.
Formalities were quickly performed.
And 20 minutes later the 8 commissioners were guided up a ladder into a big four engine C-54 transport plane. It was a luxurious accommodation compared to the war worn Japanese Betty’s.
The C-54 climbed off the coral and headed for Manila while the Betty’s crew members were guided to a holding area (above), where the American crewmen could observe how much pilots on both sides looked and acted alike..
On the flight to Manila the Japanese delegation was served box lunches with pineapple juice and coffee with sugar. It was a lunch America front line soldiers never saw, but it was common travel meal for senior American officers, and it had the intended effect upon the emissaries.
They were impressed with the American determination to transfer their lifestyles even into a war zone. And like the Japanese visitors to my fourth grade class some fifteen years later, the emissaries offered to tip the American crew. They were politely refused.
After arriving in Manila, the delegation was driven through the streets of a still devastated city, to the Rosario Manor hotel, where General MacArthur (above) waited. The Japanese were provided with a Turkey dinner; again an unexpected treat. Meat had been unavailable in Japan for over a year. And, wonder of wonders, the Japanese were each given a can of hard candies.What followed was a further surprise.
Taken next to the Manila City Hall on Dewey Boulevard,  the Japanese found that McArthur's chief of staff, Major General Richard Sutherland, was only interested in was solving problems (above). The Americans were often rude, occasionally even insulting in their cultural ignorance. But they were not cruel.  And when the Japanese asked that they be given 3 more days to disarm their own troops before the occupation began, Sutherland moved the process sea born landings from Saturday, 25 August to Tuesday, 28 August, with the advance communication troops to arrive at Atsugi Airfield outside of Tokyo on Sunday,  26 August 1945.  
There were problems, but most were quickly rectified by practical compromises. Nineteen hours later the exhausted emissaries left Manila, each with another can of hard candies but badly sleep deprived. It had all be easier than they had worried. The Americans were firm but not gloating. And the emissaries returned with the message that, by and large, a defeated Japan was going to be treated fairly by the Americans, if the Japanese simply stopped fighting. And the war was going to end as quickly as possible, because of it.
But it was after they returned to le Shima, that their mission of peace was almost derailed, right at the very edge of success.
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