MARCH 2017

MARCH  2017
The Last Time a Republican Reigned in Big Business - 1903

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Saturday, September 10, 2016

THE POLITICS OF CONSPIRACY

I am tired of reading about willfully stupid humans, such as the well education and well accomplished drones at the Language Research Center at Georgia State University. For decades the LRC was mired in intellectual orthodoxy and mediocrity, investigating what you would expect and discovering what you would expect.. Then in 1982 a 2 ½ year old bonobo chimpanzee named Kanzi shattered their comfortable ethos. 
 Bonoboos look  like chimpanzees and like humans, they mate all year long, But Bonoboos do it five or six times a day. Whenever they get nervous or bored.  Which makes it amazing that Kanzi ever found the time to think up what he thought up.  Using American Sign language, which he had picked up from his mother, Kanzi spontaneously signed “marshmallow” and then “fire”. Given matches and marshmallows by the obliging staff - thank God he didn't ask for fissionable material -  Kanzi gathered twigs, struck a match (above) and set the wood to burning. Next he jammed a stick into a marshmallow (above), which he then toasted and gleefully ate. What the humans finally learned from this “Noah Chimp-anski” was that language is not about syntax, its about communication. The revelation changed their whole scientific process...for a time.
Then, long after Kanzi had retired to a farm in Iowa, the humans in Atlanta appear to have fallen back into their academic lethargy, as they recently released a study indicating that apes not only think about food, but they also think about thinking about food. To the humans with degrees this is “metacognation” or big thinking   As one of the two directors of the experiment explained, “There has been an intense debate in the scientific literature in recent years over whether metacognition is unique to humans.”  This was the statement which convinced me that homo-sapians are still in search of a clue. And the clue that occurred to me was the element Flourine.
 
The nine electrons of Flourine are the bonoboo ape, of the periodic table,  eager to share its electrons with any other element.  It took 74 years to purify and isolate Flourine because it bonds with whatever container you put it in, corroding right through it. Even when finally isolated the pale yellow gas desperately bonds to itself – which is why it is called a diatomic. This hunger to mate made Flourine an industrial wunderkind, transferring wanted qualities from one compound to others. It is essential for the smelting of metals. It is the F, in CFC, once used in cooling systems. And when you hit the button on a spray can, there's still a good chance the effective material that jets out, is being carried on some isotope of Flourine.
Flouride is one of those isotopes, one electron short of its parent Flourine, making it twice as eager to bond with any available electron, even ones already happily married - as when six atoms of Florine mate with two atoms of hydrogen already bonded to a sodium atom or to a single atom of chloride. And those are the two most common chemicals, hexafluorosilicic acid and hexafluorosilicate, used in water fluoridation in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control, also in Atlanta, calls fluoridation "one of the ten great public health achievements of the 20th century.” And yet there are some humans who call it a government intrusion, and even spreading poison. To which I am inclined to respond by screeching and throwing my poo at them.
Yes, Flouride is toxic. And toxic is always bad. But remember that salt, which is vital to your survival, is made up of sodium and chlorine, both of which are extremely toxic. And drinking salt water will quickly kill you. Fresh water, on the other hand, is good for you, unless you are drowning. Sugar gives you energy, but is toxic to a diabetic. Eat enough sugar and you will become diabetic. Toxic is a level of consumption, not an absolute. Flouride is toxic in anything over moderate amounts. But at minimal levels, it is a powerful weapon against tooth decay. Areas in Colorado with naturally occurring Flouride in their drinking water had lower rates of tooth decay, which is how it occurred to medical doctors in the late 19th century to suggest adding Floride to water supplies. And stopping tooth decay turns out to also be a defence against heart attacks. It is a public health measure that costs less than a dollar a year for the average family. But try telling any of that to a libertarian, and you are liable to get a riacin tainted post card from hell. And that is what I really want to talk about – the politics of conspiracy.
Any discussion of American conspiracy theories over the last 100 years, must include a mention of Robert Henry Wineborn Welch, Jr., the North Carolina native who invented the “Sugar Daddy”, a 40 gram hunk of Carmel on a stick, 24 grams of which are sugar. The confection made Mr. Welch very rich, which predisposed him to believe anyone suggesting that sugar caused cavities must be a dirty stinking anti-capitalist. So naturally the political organization which Welch founded, “The John Birch Society”, saw fluoridation of the nation's water supply as a communist mind control plot. Lots of people wanted to believe in that conspiracy. Millions still do But the only man who made millions of dollars propagating the myth was Robert Welch.
Among the 12 acolytes at the first meeting of the JBS, on 8 December, 1958, was a chemical engineer from Texas named Fred Koch (above). An admirer of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, Fred was described by a family friend as “a monarch, untouchable.” Just out of college in the 1920's, he had invented a better method for cracking gasoline out of oil. But the big four oil companies, with millions invested in their older methods,  drove him out of business in the United States.  So Fred Koch moved to Russia, where he built a dozen new oil refineries for Uncle Joe Stalin. While the communists made Fred rich, he also found their regulations restricting. When the Second World War forced him home, he felt much the same way about the U.S. government. Anyone who stood between Fred and what Fred wanted, which was money, was not merely wrong, they were evil Communists. Fred now saw a communist hiding under every bed, and like his friend Welch, believed Presidents Roosevelt, Truman and even Eisenhower were either a communist or had been duped by them. 
Fred's son David admitted in 2007, “He was constantly speaking to us children about what was wrong with government.… It’s something I grew up with.” Charles Koch was told, “If you don't make it, you'll be worthless..” Says David Koch, “He could do that sort of thing so effectively." And when the old man died in 1967 while shooting ducks, he left behind a huge fortune and a quartet of sons who felt entitled, inferior, cheated and arrogant. As a progressive writer described them, “The two middle brothers, Charles and David, are the crazy ones. The other two, Frederick and William, are the loony ones.”
David and Charles (center and right, above) took control of the family fortune, cutting William (above, left) out of the loop after he heavily invested in coal mines, which have never lived up to the Koch profitability standards. So William began decades of litigation against his two brothers. He sued over his share of a trust fund, over the sale of company stock, over a coin collection. At one point he even dragged their 87 year old mother onto the witness stand just months after she had suffered a stroke. Did I mention that William and David are twins?
If Fred is looking on from Valhalla, he must be proud of David and Charles, especially for the political groups they have founded and funded with more than $200 million, such as Americans For Prosperity, and The Tea Party. They even found a way to make William's erratic coal mine profits more dependable, by funding part of the global warming conspiracy movement. It was the lesson handed down by Robert Welch and his war against floride. Many climate change critics are honestly driven, or just honestly stupid. Every “green” project stands the same chance of failure and fraud as any “non-green” business.  But the only people profiting from climate change denial are the big oil companies and Charles and David Koch. And that is not an accident.
Which brings me back to our cousins the bonobos. Another recent research paper out of Yale and Duke University “discovered” that our fellow primates “exhibit emotional responses to negative outcomes of their decisions by pouting or throwing angry tantrums when a risk-taking strategy fails to pay off”. This research may be worthy of a reward for restating the obvious 
We might ask Kanzi (above) about the Koch brothers, and their reaction to facing unpleasant truths,  but the old boy is now retired on a farm outside Des Moines, Iowa.  Like Charles and David, Kanzi is the alpha male in his troop, but since bonoboos are matriarchal, his is largely a symbolic role. He spends his time constructing complex sentences complaining about his grandchildren and screwing any and all of his fellow bonoboos within reach. Just like the Koch brothers. But in the Bonoboo world, screwing each other is a way of reducing tension. In the ethos of the Koch brothers, its a form of aggression. And that is the difference between humans and the "less evolved" apes. They know something we don't.  You can see it in Kanzi's eyes.  Quick. Let's have sex.  It's right there. Just look close into those deep brown wise and horny eyes.
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Thursday, September 08, 2016

CRAZY MAN

I doubt that Charles Addison Boutelle was legally insane, but he was confined to an asylum when he was re-elected to his ninth term as a Republican Congressman. Still, the voters must have suspected that something was not right with the contentious old sailor, since his margin of victory was well below his usual level. But sane or not, his whole life was a testament to the power of one crazy man in a world run by people who want to think they are sane.
The dictatorial speaker of the House, Hoosier Joe Cannon, opined that Charles Boutelle (above), “Could get into more controversies in shorter time than any man I ever knew.” And Boutelle's own daughter, in praising her father, asserted, “He could always command attention. No one ever dozed or attended to their correspondence when he was speaking.”  Between those two quotes lies the shadow of a politician whose mouth (and pen) got him into a lot of trouble. And calling him “The handsomest man in the Congress”,  which he was well known as, seems the reverse to describing a woman as having a good personality.  So, I'm pretty sure that Charlie was indeed  loony, the kind of guy who drives friends and enemies absolutely nuts because he is so certain.
The young Lt. Boutelle had led the Union naval charge into the Confederate stronghold of Mobile Bay, in August of 1864. He came home to Bangor an official hero. After the war, first as editor and then from 1874 co-owner (along with his brother Edward) of the Bangor Daily Whig and Courier, Boutelle's dynamic and hyperbolic editorials made him a Republican power across New England. And his willingness to directly buy votes (there was no secret ballot, yet) built the Republican dominance of Maine over the post war generation.
Boutelle first threw his editorial support behind the ambitious and avaricious James Blaine (above, in shame), known accurately as “the continental liar from the state of Maine”. Mr. Boutelle attended the Republican convention in 1876, and in 1880 he was the national chairman of the Blaine Clubs. Blaine came within a handful of votes of being the Republican Presidential nominee both election cycles. Finally in 1884 Boutelle 's unwavering support paid off. He was named the state Party Chairman, and heading into the Presidential campaign that year, the Bangor editor was considered Blaine's “right hand man...and is even now talked of for a cabinet position”. But the nation was saved this turn of events when Blaine lost the election to Grover Cleveland by ½ of 1% of the popular vote
In the meantime, the “robustly-conservative” Boutelle had decided to run for congress himself, selling a mix of jingoism and empire building.  He lost his first attempt in September of 1880, by 855 votes. I guess he ran out of money.  But two years later he threw his growing fortune into his election for Maine's “at-large” seat in Congress, and in September of 1884 he won Maine's 4th district seat, which he was to occupy for most of the rest of his life.
Boutelle was a supporter and friend of the legendary Speaker of the House, “Czar” Thomas Reed (above), also from Maine. Then in 1890, the New York Times observed election day in several small Maine towns, and noted that Reed had influenced the results with cash. “Boodle has elected him, operating directly in the purchase of votes and indirectly by discouraging the Democrats to such an extent as to keep hundreds of them away from the polls.” The story went on to say, “...the richest and most influential man in Wells, sat in the (city hall) with a pile of (dollar) bills in his lap and...in the presence of scores of people, exchanged money for votes for Reed...at least 300 votes (were) purchased in Biddeford”, a small town near the New Hampshire border, at up to $20 a vote." It was a smear, of course. No Republican needed to buy an election  in Maine.  But by the following Sunday, preachers in pulpits across Maine were lecturing on the need for a secret ballot, as was used in Australia. When in 1891 the Maine legislature seriously considered what was called "the Australia ballot", Reed and Boutelle sent a joint letter, warning that such procedures were too complicated for the average voter.  But they were swimming against the tide. Under the new system, in the September 1894 election, Reed won re-election by 17,383 votes. But by September of 1898 his margin of victory had slipped to 12, 380. Change was on the wind
And it shifted most dramatically during the 1896 presidential campaign, when a surrogate speaker for the Democrat candidate William Jennings Bryant (above), visited Maine. He was Alexander Troop, editor of the Democratic leaning New Haven Connecticut Union newspaper. Well, Boutelle could not resist throwing some mud at his New England business rival, running an un-credited story that Troop had once been arrested for indecent exposure. The outraged Troop filed a libel suite, demanding a retraction. As the trial date approached, friends convinced the bull headed Boutelle to leave the negotiations up to his friend, Speaker Reed. Finding that Troop would not take a quiet payoff, Reed wrote out a retraction on the spot.  Boutelle responded by telegraph that he would be “damned” if he would print anything like that in his paper.  Even after Reed explained that without a retraction, it might not remain his paper for long,  Boutelle refused to budge. The arguments swung back and forth until Reed threatened to walk away from their friendship. Boutelle finally ate crow on the front page of his newspaper. But by then the Democrat Bryant had been beaten, and both Reed and Boutelle were safely re-elected by the usual wide margins.
Then, on the afternoon of Thursday, 21 December, 1899, Charles Boutelle was entertaining in the electrified Young's Hotel (above), on Court street, in the financial district of Boston. Charles had used the hotel for years as a lay over between his homes in Washington and Maine, and a place to make personal and political deals out of the public eye. But this afternoon, after an otherwise normal morning, Charles collapsed in the 100 foot long dining room. Rather than taking him upstairs to his suite, he was carried unconscious into a parlor.   Dr. F.W. Johnson, a well known surgeon, was sent for, but would only tell the press that Boutelle's condition was “serious, but not necessarily fatal”. Some considered that report optimistic. In fact Boutelle was delirious and ranting. Late that night Boutelle's brother Edward arrived from Bangor, and about midnight told the press Charles was suffering from “congestion of the brain, brought on by acute indigestion”, or as his Bangor Whig newspaper reported it, “by the strain and overwork in connection with his official duties”.
The next day Charles was carried via a private rail car back to Bangor. But it was quickly realized that he was too violent to be treated at home. The 62 year old was transported back to Boston, and taken to the McLean asylum in Belmont, Massachusetts . Seventy years earlier, it was McLean staff member Mary Sawyer, whose relationship with a pet had inspired the poem “Mary Had A Little Lamb”. But it was also the first psychiatric hospital in America which studied the biological causes of mental illness.  Just five years earlier, under Superintendent Dr. Edward Cowles, the hospital moved to a new hill top “cottage plan” campus (above), where patents could be treated in a residential environment. At week's end the New York Times reported that although “officials are very reticent in the matter...(Congressman Boutelle was) not considered in any immediate danger.” But other than an occasional day trip, he would never leave the McLean Hospital again. And his medical bills would force his daughters and brother to sell the Whig Courier newspaper that March..
It wasn't that Maine was short of loyal Republicans eager to replace the “handsomest man in congress”, nor that Maine voters did not think it important they be represented by a functional congressman. But 1900 would be a Presidential election year, and Speaker Reed simply had too much else on his plate. So, at the end of December, it was announced that the Navy committee which Boutelle chaired, would return to work in January, with the now hospitalized congressman still officially its chairman. His daughters still collected his salary, and his party still had the use of his patronage. Come September Charles Boutelle won his last election, probably already unaware he had ever held public office. He won it by only 10,000 votes, instead of his usual 18,000. And in November the powers of his office, exercised by his friend Speaker Thomas Reed, were able to help fellow Republican and fellow Maine man, William McKinley, to win the White House, defeating (again) the Democrat Bryant.
As soon as the election was over, Reed moved in the House to have Charles (above) retroactively appointed a retired captain in the U.S. Navy. Considering his Civil War record, and his dedication in creating the “Great White Fleet” which had just won the Spanish American War of 1898, this seemed a reasonable reward to an eight term congressman, who at the time had no other pension. To encourage the Senate to agree, Dr. Cowles who came down from Boston, was authorized to issue a public statement on the first anniversary of Boutelle's admission to McLean's. “At the present time,” said the doctor, “the indications are not so favorable...for a degree of recovery.. .In my own opinion he should never resume the cares of active life or under take any business responsibilities, and he may live but a few years.”
It seems likely Charles had suffered for years from an advanced case of Altzeimers, first identified by Dr. Aloysius Alzheimer. In 1901 “Alois” began working in Frankfurt on the Main, Germany, with a 51 year old woman named Auguste Deter (above), who had suddenly begun screaming in the middle of the night. She was befuddled and had lost increasingly large chunks of her memory. When Dr. Alzheimer questioned her, she would repeat, “Ich hab mich verloren” - “I am lost”.  Her dementia progressed rapidly until her death on 8 April, 1906. In a November 1906 speech, after examining slides of her brain tissue using a new staining technique, Dr. Alzheimer identified plaque build-up on the neurons in Auguste's brain as identifying the disease. In effect the disease destroyed her identity from the inside, as it had done five years earlier in America to Charles Boutelle.
On Wednesday, 16 January, 1901, Charles' captain's pension went into effect. And on Sunday, 3  March, Charles (above)  submitted his resignation from congress, the day before the new congress convened.  It was a play, of course. By this stage of his disease, it is very unlikely Charles was capable of signing a letter. Still the smooth transition did honor to its probable architect, Speaker James Reed. Call it the last act of friendship for an old argumentative ally. And as if part of the same plan, eleven weeks later, on Tuesday, 21 May, 1901, Charles Addison Boutelle died of pneumonia, a build up of fluid in his lungs, caused by his inability to get out of bed.
He remains the only congressman on record to be re-elected while confined in a mental institution. But the country is young, yet. Given us another 200 years, and I 'm sure we will get at least one more. And maybe this one will actually be just plain crazy.
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Tuesday, September 06, 2016

A WOMAN SCORNED


I don’t know if Solomon Porcius Sharp (above) could have been President. But a man who had the job, John Quincy Adams, described the Kentucky lawyer as, “The brainiest man that ever came over the Allegheny Mountains.” The 38 year old Sharp had already served two terms as a Congressman, four years as Attorney General for Kentucky, and was now starting his second term as a state legislator – so the boy was not lacking for ambition, brains or talent. He spent his last day on earth, Sunday, 5 November, 1825, conferring with political allies. Every indication was that come Monday morning, he would easily be elected Speaker of the Kentucky House. It even seemed possible his next stop would be the United States Senate, and then, possibly, the White House; except, an ex-girlfriend of his had other plans. 
Her name was Anna Cook, and in her youth she had been a real Southern Belle from the same region and culture that produced Mary Todd, Abraham Lincoln's wife, and Jefferson Davis, future President of the Confederacy. Anna was never described as a great beauty. But Anna was "a freethinker, reader of romantic fiction, and a libertine."  You could also say she had a passion for men and for gambling and for gambling on men.  Like all gamblers, the more Anna gambled the more she lost. Few suitable men of "good families" (i.e. wealthy,) wanted to be responsible for her debts.  In 1820, at the age of 35 and still single , Anna had gambled heavily on Solomon P. Sharp.  But when she became pregnant, Sharp refused to marry her. The lady was now officially socially ruined. She retreated to her late father's tobacco plantation outside of Bowling Green. After the child was still born, the lady had nothing left to lose. In May of 1820, determined to return the pain she had endured, Anna publicly charged Sharp with being the father.  His political allies responded by claiming the dead child had been born with black skin, and thus could not be the child of a white politician
In a slave state like Kentucky, in a bigoted misogynous nation such as America in 1820, in a land "of the fiddle and whiskey, sweat and prayer, pride and depravity"   it was a truly vicious attack.  With no living male relatives willing to challenge Sharp to a duel, (three of her  brothers had recently died) Anna had no way to respond.  In fact, her reputation was left in tatters no matter which side was believed.  And two hundred years later it is impossible to comprehend the depth of her social failure. But we are certain about what happened next. 
By 1824 Anna Cook was a spinster approaching forty, and her rose had withered.  A critic described her as short, with dark hair and eyes, a few missing teeth, stoop shouldered and  “in no way a handsome or desirable woman.” And yet inside Anna there still burned a passion, which had metamorphosed into a burning fierce hatred of her old boyfriend. And just at this opportune moment 22 year old Jereboam Beauchamp had sought her out and sought her hand in marriage. He had been a neighbor to her father's plantation, and had been a law student in Sharp’s office. And to hear him tell it, the hypocrisy of the vicious attack against Anna had awakened an almost religious hunger for justice in him...or so he said.  In response to his proposal, Ann agreed with one stipulation. She would marry Jereboam if he promised to murder Solomon Sharp. Thus, to call their marriage an affair of the heart seems somehow to have missed the point.  And as soon as it was convenient after the 1824 ceremony,  Jereboam traveled to Frankfort, looking to fulfill his promise to his new bride.
Of course there might have been another explanation for the timing of Jereboam’s (above) expedition to Frankfort, besides moral outrage. The week before, on 25 October, 1825,  a warrant for Jereboam’s arrest had been issued by the sheriff in Bowling Green.  It seems a single young woman named Ruth Reed was suing Jereboam for child support.  So the gallant defender of Anna's chaste womanhood might well have been the dead-beat dad of an illegitimate child himself.  Do you get the feeling that the public morality of neither of the times nor Mr. Beauchamp nor Ms. Cook nor Mr. Sharp, were quite what they claimed to be?  Sort of just like today, yes?
Frankfort was a wooden town of just 1,500 souls when Jereboam arrived in November of 1825. It had been established at a ford across the Kentucky River, and was named for Stephen Frank, an early settler. The village became the state capital because local boosters contributed $3,000 in gold to the state treasury, and property for public buildings. It was not a generous act, as the boosters got rich selling house lots in the new burg. But thanks to their investment, Frankfurt was, in 1825, and remains to this day, one of the smallest state capitals in the Union. There were in 1825, a few brick structures in town, but fire was constantly updating the architecture of all the wooden buildings. Earlier in 1825 Frankfort had burned down its sixth state capital building, and the legislature was currently renting a Methodist Church for its use. 
Directly across Madison Street from this temporary cathedral of democracy was the rented abode of Solomon Sharp and his wife and their  3 children (above).
Jereboam waited in the shadows of the church until Sharp returned to his Madison street home, sometime after midnight on 6 November, 1825. Then, as the clock approached two in the morning, he knocked on a side door. When Sharp responded, Jereboam identified himself as “Covington.” As he opened the door, Solomon said he did not know any one by that name. Jereboam then cut the conversation short by thrusting a dagger into Solomon’s neck, severing his aorta. Solomon Sharp was dead shortly after he hit the floor. Jereboam then fled into the night. The first political assignation in American had just been committed.
There were, of course, elaborate conspiracy theories which sprang up around the assignation of Solomon Sharp, spurred on by the victim’s politics and the $4,000 reward offered.  But the police stuck to what they could prove, and four nights after the murder Jereboam was arrested in his home. The cops never found the murder weapon. And although Sharp’s widow eventually identified Jereboam’s voice as the one she heard call out “Covington”,  she had initially identified it as the voice of Patrick Darby, another of her husband’s many political enemies. But several witnesses testified that Jereboam had repeatedly threatened to kill Solomon, and after a 13 day long trial, the jury had no doubts. On 19 May, 1826, after just one hour of deliberations, they returned with a verdict of guilty.
In his jail cell Jereboam dropped all pretense of innocence and wrote out a lengthy confession (above), filled with all the drama and heroics he clearly wanted to believe. The court even delayed his execution so he could finish his diatribe. According to Jereboam, Solomon had repeatedly admitted his crime against Anna, and had begged for mercy.  Even if true (and considering his injuries, such a speech was physically not possible), how that justified the cold blooded murder of a father of 3 small children (above his grave the word "father" had even been carved in stone),  Jereboam did not attempt to explain.  And in the end it did not matter, because, as one commentator has pointed out,  the entire affair now “went from tragedy to romantic melodrama.”
While he awaited execution, Anna was allowed to share her husband’s cell each night, coming and going during the day.  Into his place of confinement she slipped in a bottle of laudanum, a potent mixture of 89% grain ethanol, 10% opium and 1% morphine. The lovers intended a joint suicide, but instead produced only a double regurgitation marathon.  The absurdity of that sickening episode was matched only by the ineptitude of the jailers, because, just two days later,  these pin-headed penitenciariests allowed Anna to carry a knife into the cell for yet another unregulated visit. Jereboam stabbed himself in the abdomen. Anna then grabbed the knife and stabbed herself in the stomach. If it was a race, she won. She died an hour later. Jereboam lived long enough that the jailers had to manhandle the wounded thespian up the thirteen steps of the scaffold, where he died, two hours after his wife.
They were buried together in the same grave, under a lengthy poem, composed by Jereboam (above), filled with noble words and maudlin sentiment. So the real cost of Anna Cook’s revenge and Solomon Sharp's ego was three lives; hers and the lives of two men she professed, at various times, to have loved. And I suspect she thought that was a fair trade. And that is the real tragedy in this so called "Kentucky  Tragedy".


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