JULY 2017

JULY  2017
Greed and Monopolies Take Over the Ship

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Saturday, December 31, 2016

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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Friday, December 30, 2016

LINKS IN A CHAIN

I can tell you the very moment the chain was broken.  At 4:55 p.m., Howard and Marjorie Boggs were returning from a Christmas shopping trip to the river side town of Gallipolis, Ohio. Marjorie, who was just 18, was driving. And as they crossed the half mile wide Ohio River, bound for Point Pleasant, West Virginia, Howard remembered “the old bridge began to gently bounce, as always” - as it had done every day for the last forty years. But on this December day, perhaps it felt different. Perhaps Marjorie was more sensitives because her 15 month old child was also in the car. Whatever the cause, Marjorie turned to her husband Howard and asked, “What would we do if this thing were to break up?”.
Since the middle of the twentieth century, West Virginia has had only two exports: coal and people. The old joke said “The Mountaineer State" school children studied their three “R's” - reading, 'righting and route 35. Over the decade of the 1950's one in four residents - almost half a million people- took the “Hillbilly Highway” north, looking for work and new homes.
And the choke point for most of this coal miner diaspora occurred 265 miles downstream from Pittsburgh, at a single two lane link just upstream of the mouth of Kanawha River and just downstream from a C.and O. railroad bridge,  between the tiny villages of Point Pleasant, West Virginia and Gallipolis, Ohio (above).
The design was put out for bids in 1926 by West Virginia. It called for three separate bridges, tied together. Beginning in downtown Point Pleasant, the two lane, 22 foot wide roadbed crossed a standard 380 foot truss bridge to the southern pier in the Ohio River. For the next 700 feet, the road would be suspended by twisted steel cables hanging between two 510 foot towers. From the northern pier a second truss bridge carried the road 380 feet to the Ohio shore, and a 400 foot approach ramp. But the primary subcontractor for the winning bid, had a couple of suggestions.
First, the American Bridge Company wanted to raise the northern pier by eight feet, to give the roadbed 102 feet of clearance over the barges that used the river. And secondly, they suggested replacing the steel cables with a new technology – 45 to 55 foot long bone-shaped heat treated steel I-bars, joined into chains.  I-bar chains had a century of use behind them, but this would be the first time the new heat treated steel bars with a maximum working stress of 50,000 pounds per square inch, would be used in America.
Eyelets drilled at the ends of each I-bar allowed an 11” diameter steel bolt, washer and nut to lock adjoining bars into a chain, or into a sealed triangular junction which transferred the horizontal load of the roadbed to the vertical towers. The stronger steal would require just a single I-bar on each side of the chain, and the “give” designed into the joints allowed the load to be transferred as traffic moved across the structure. Because they were forged off site and were quickly assembled on site, construction cost was just $825 thousand, and was completed in just six months. The new bridge, painted silver, opened on Memorial Day, 1928 A rain storm failed to dampen the inaugural day spirits. As the “The Engineering News Record” crowed,  the Silver Bridge would last 100 years.
It was later estimated the new bridge added $1 million a month to the local economy, the traffic growing to 4,000 vehicle crossings a day, 340 cars and trucks every hour. But built to spur the economy of West Virginia, it instead become a link in an immigration chain that ran north from Charleston to Point Pleasant, and then Columbus or Cincinnati, Ohio, and the steel belt beyond - St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
During the 1960's the population of West Virginia fell by another quarter of a million, an exodus of another 44 people every day heading north. The joke now went, St. Peter was giving a tour to a new arrival in heaven. When asked about a section surrounded by a wall, he explained, “Oh, that's where we put the West Virginians. Otherwise they all try to go back home on the weekends.” And each year, between Thanksgiving and New Years, the back splash of homesick exiles became a tidal wave, filling the country roads with nostalgic melancholy expatriates returning home to West Virginia.
As with any chain, there were weak links. The Point Pleasant (above) approach terminated at a traffic light at the corner of Sixth and Main streets. Every red light cycle backed up traffic onto the bridge. Another traffic light on the Ohio side added to the load, and the redundancy was further stretched by progress. 
In 1928 (above),  the average fully loaded truck weighed 5,500 pounds, or 2 ¼ tons. Thirty years later the weight of a tractor-trailer was up to 60,000 pounds, or 30 tons. By 1967 such trucks were 20% of the traffic crossing the Silver Bridge, and rush hour, particularly during the holiday season, had extended until it lasted all day long.  The bridge seemed to deal with this increased load easily, in part because, as was noted by “The Engineering News Record” back in 1928, it was not possible to examine the underlying I-bar in the triangular joints, nor was it possible to make “any adjustments in the chains...after erection.”
The state gave the Silver Bridge a “full inspection” on 8 and 9 April, 1965, and $30,000 was spent on repairs to the roadway, replacing peeling paint, and patching some erosion on the chain anchorages. But inspector Paul McDowell admitted later he completed only 11 of the 21 standard checks. Lack of funding prevented him doing a full, eyes on, examination of the links before using his “engineering judgment”,  to declare the bridge “structurally safe”.  When the bridge was checked again on 6 December 1967, the maintenance engineer used binoculars to check the I-bar chain links, and saw nothing of concern. Ten days later, just after 4:50 on the cold Friday afternoon of 16 December, 1967,  Lloyd Forge, a semiretired welder from Point Pleasant, was crossing the bridge when he spotted a large steel nut lying in the road bed near the Ohio shore. It was, according to all reports, the first evidence of any failure to any structural part of the bridge. And it was already too late to do anything about it.
Five minutes later, at the intersection of Ohio Route 7 and U.S. route 35 (above), a hundred feet north from the Ohio approach ramp, Mr. H.L. Whobrey was loading the evening's first sale from his Christmas tree lot into the trunk of a customer's car, when he heard what sounded like an auto crash on the bridge. To gas station owner Dick Kuhn, working on the south side of the same intersection, it echoed like a shotgun blast fired from under the bridge. Other witnesses heard a jet -like roar., or a clanging noise. Bank employee, Roger Wysell was eastbound on Route 7, and had just pulled up to the traffic light at the intersection with Route 35,  between Whobrey and Kuhn, when his passenger, Cathy Zuspan, screamed, “My God the bridge is falling.”.
A half mile south, Bob Rimmey was parked in front of the Point Pleasant court house, a block from the bridge, when he head a loud crack. He could see nothing from where he sat, so he stepped out of his car. In the distance he saw the Silver Bridge swaying, and watched one tower after the other fall, then saw the roadway pitch over to one side and collapse into the 42 degree water. It took less than a minute before it was over. He ran toward the bridge.
Looking up from the tree he had just loaded, Mr. Whobrey saw “the bridge just keel over, starting slowly on the Ohio side, then following like a deck of cards to the West Virginia side...I saw it but I didn't believe it”  The last car to clear the collapsing bridge pulled into Whobrey's parking lot and screeched to a stop. Whobrey noted the driver “...looked like a ghost. He just sat there - then he was sick right in the car.” Station owner Kuhn ran to the riverbank and watched a truck floating south with the current. "There was a guy hanging onto the roof yelling his head off. I think they got him off.” There were now, just seven minutes of daylight left.
A half mile away, 20 year old Charlene Wood was heading home from her job at a hair salon. She was 5 months pregnant and had just driven her yellow Pontiac through the traffic light at Main and Sixth streets in Point Pleasant. “I was traveling in the right lane about 15 miles an hour when this car in front of me started going in...I felt a shaking of the bridge...I threw my car in reverse. The shaking was so severe my car died, but it kept rolling back because of the incline. As I was watching in horror, the bridge was falling right in front of my eyes. It was like someone had lined up dominoes in a row, and gave them a push, and they all came falling down and there was a great big splash of water. I could see car lights flashing as they were tumbling into the water. The car in front of me went in. Then there was silence”
A few seconds later Bob Rimmy and a West Virginia State Police officer reached the yellow Pontiac just four feet from the broken end of the roadway. Charlene Wood's hands were frozen on the steering wheel, and she did not respond to their shouts. Rimmy and the officer helped Charlene out of her car and back to safety. Four months later she would give birth to twins.
Young Howard Boggs did not remember the fall, or escaping from the car. He did recall feeling the river bottom , thirty feet down, under his feet . When a Gallopolis ice and fuel boat pulled him from the cold water, he told his rescuer, “I just hope to God Marjorie and the kid got out okay.” His wife and baby were pulled out of the river, still inside their crushed car, six weeks later.
Volunteer fireman Lee Long responded to the call and found a scene of confusion. “It was a hell of a mess”, he told a reporter. “I saw this car float past. It looked like there were people inside beating their hands on the windows....We couldn't see very much, but we could sure hear it."
"There was a tractor-trailer rig hanging on the riverbank, partly in the water. The driver was hanging from the open door of the cab, dead. Then we heard this banging from the back...it was the driver's partner who'd been sleeping...We worked two hours to cut him out of there...Standing there naked except for his shorts...Man, was he shivering. Then he saw his partner, and he just broke up.”
Sixty-four people in 31 vehicles were dropped into the river or on the Ohio approach.. Forty-four of them died, most by drowning or from severe trauma.  
Two of the dead were lost to the Ohio River. Eighteen others survived.
It was later decided that the break began with a speck of impurity in the steel of one particular I-bar, labeled as C-31, used to form the second link in the western chain from the top of the north tower. Hidden beneath a locking nut, it took forty years of heat and cold, tension and release, to expand to one tenth of an inch in length. 
At that instant, it went critical, snapping through the lower side of the eye-let. The I-bar shifted outward the next time it flexed. That threw the locking nut onto the roadway, and left the entire load of the bridge, the steel, the roadbed, the traffic, the human beings, a 15 month old baby, balanced on half of an unhinged I-bar. It could not carry the load and gave way. 
That transferred the entire load to the opposing chain link, which gave way. Like the collapsing floors in the World Trade Center on 9/11, each successive member of the bridge was now asked to carry even more weight than the failed member before it.  Each link thus failed in their turn more quickly, until the entire structure of the bridge fell in less than sixty seconds.  
The engineering lesson was, as it had been before and will be again, that redundancy must be designed into  entire structure, not merely in the individual members of those structures. .
The lives of 15 month old infants are simply too valuable to risk on a single support.. 
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Thursday, December 29, 2016

ONE NIGHT IN DODGE CITY

I suppose the way these three men crossed paths could be called fate or kismet. But to label it a mere chance encounter could be seen as denigrating the life of one who died and the one who killed him. And, yes, there were great invisible social forces guiding events that hot summer night, and cold blooded economic factors as well. But there was also poetry, and the wild card of alcohol. But whatever the cause, in 1878 when a “rather intelligent looking young man” named George Hoyt, a young vaudevillian named Eddie Foy, and a young assistant sheriff named Wyatt Earp collided in Dodge City, Kansas, they made history.
Dodge City owes its fame to a tiny tick, the Boophilus microplus, which carries anthrax. The tick and the disease were endemic among the herds of Texas Longhorns, which had developed a resistance to the fever. But in 1868 anthrax on imported Longhorns killed 15,000 cattle across Indiana and Illinois. So as the sod busters plowed across Kansas they insisted the state restrict the rail heads for Texas cattle drives further and further westward, away from their farms. 
In 1876 the demarcation line was moved to the 100th meridian, which made the town on the north bank of the "Are-Kansas" River, the new “Queen of the cattle towns”, the ‘Wickedest Little City in America’, "The Beautiful, Bibulous Babylon of the Frontier", Dodge City, Kansas.
Like the other ten to fifteen cowboys in his crew, George Hoyt had just ended two months of hard, dusty, dangerous and monotonous work. He now had $80 cash money burning a hole in his pocket. And it was the business of the merchants of Dodge City to separate George from as much of that cash as possible before he left town. In essence Dodge City was a tourist trap, dependent for its yearly livelihood on the May through August ‘Texas trade’.
The little town of less than 1,000 year-round citizens could boast, during the season - June to September - 16 saloons. And south of the “deadline” (Front Street, which bordered the tracks of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railroad) it was worse. On the wrong side of the tracks there were assorted brothels and dance halls where “anything goes”.
All the bars served the latest mixed drinks and ice cold beer, and enticed customers with a piano player or, in the case of the Long Branch saloon, a five-piece orchestra. There was the cavernous Ben Springer’s Theatre. The even larger, The Lady Gray Comique” (com-ee-cue), at the corner of Front and Bridge Street (modern day 2nd Avenue), was divided between a bar and gambling parlor in front and a variety theatre in the back.
In July of 1878 the Comique featured an entire vaudeville show headlined by “…that unequalled and splendidly matched team of Eddie Foy and Jimmie Thompson.”  Eddie Foy had been dancing and clowning in Chicago bars to feed his family since he was six.   He was now 22, and this was his second swing through the western circuit, telling such local jokes as “What's the difference between a cow boy and a tumble bug (a dung beetle)? One rounds up to cut, and the other cuts to round up”:  Hilarious.  Eddie had an appealing V-shaped grin, and a comic lisp, which he offered each night in a solo rendition of the plaintive homesick poem, “Kalamazoo in Michigan” 
At about 3 A.M. on Friday, July 26th, while Eddie was just beginning his reading, George Hoyt and several of friends were just leaving the Comique. Loaded with drink and unloaded of their money, they saddled their horses at a nearby stable, and then buckled on their gun belts. While no one was allowed to wear guns while in town, most check their weapons where they checked their horses. George and this friends then mounted up, and headed back to their camp, out of town.  As they rode up Bridge Street on their way back to camp, they passed the Comique. And for some reason George suddenly wheeled his horse and returned to the side of the theatre.
George pulled his six shooter and banged out three quick shots into the side of the building
According to Eddie Foy, inside the hall “Everyone dropped to the floor at once, according to custom.”  Among the crowd of 150 gamblers and poetry aficionados in attendance was lawman Bat Masterson and gambler Doc Holiday, both of whom, according to Eddie, beat him to the floor. “I thought I was pretty agile myself, but these fellows had me beaten by seconds at that trick.” The Dodge City Globe agreed. “A general scamper was made by the crowd, some getting under the stage others running out the front door and behind the bar; in the language of the bard, “such a gittin up the stairs was never seed”. Observed Bat Masterson, “Foy evidently thought the cowboy was after him, for he did not tarry long in the line of fire”.
But in George Hoyt’s impulsive decision to blast away at the Comique, he had failed to notice two men lounging in the shadows on the sidewalk right in front of him. One was Jim Masterson, younger brother to Bat and a fellow city deputy. The other shadow was soon to be legendary lawman Wyatt Earp.
Wyatt on this night was 30 years old. He stood about six feet tall, and weighed a skeletal 160 pounds. He had pale light blue eyes. But what friends and opponents remember most about Wyatt was his manner. The editor of the Tombstone Epitaph would later note his calm demeanor, saying he was “…unperturbed whether...meeting with a friend or a foe.” Bat Masterson described him as possessing a “… daring and apparent recklessness in time of danger.” But those were later descriptions.
After serving in an Illinois regiment during the Civil War, Wyatt became a teamster between the port of Wilmington, outside of Los Angeles, and the desert mining town of Prescott, Arizona.  He had then managed houses of prostitution in Peoria, Illinois for several years, before becoming a lawman in Wichita, Kansas. He lost that job in 1874 for embezzling county funds, which he probably used to finance his education in gambling.
Moving on to Dodge City along with the cattle herds, Wyatt was hired again as a police officer. During the off season he traveled to Texas and Dakota Territory to continue his schooling in poker and games of chance. As a “cop” in Dodge City Wyatt's fame did not extend beyond stopping spit ballers disrupting an evening’s performance at the Comique, and his recent slapping of a prostitute named Frankie Bell.
Frankie spent a night in jail and was fined $20, while Officer Earp was fined $1. But the incident made clear that the nominally bucolic Wyatt Earp would not sit idly while his honor or his life was insulted, not even by a woman.
So when George Hoyt began blasting away in the dark, Wyatt made the immediate assumption that the cowboy meant to kill him. As George galloped his horse back up Bridge Street, chasing after his friends, Wyatt drew his own weapon and fired after the fleeing cowboy; once, and then a second shot. The second bullet hit Hoyt in the arm.
Bat Masterson claimed years later that George Hoyt fell from his horse, dead on the spot, but that seems embellishment. Bat, as we now know, was on the floor of the gambling parlor. His brother Jim was outside standing next to Wyatt, but Jim never spoke of the shooting. But other accounts agree that the two lawmen, Masterson and Earp ran up the street together after Hoyt, who had fallen from his horse.
Given the lack of adequate street lighting in the frontier cattle towns of 1878, as he rode up the street Hoyt would have soon disappeared in the dark. And that makes it seem likely that Bart got that much right; Wyatt fired only twice. And George Hoyt just wasn’t fast enough in escaping. The cowboy fell from his horse, and either from being shot or from the fall, he broke his arm. Wyatt and Jim Masterson caught up with Hoyt and first disarmed him. Then sent for Dr. T. L. McCarty,  to treat the injured cowboy.
The Globe commented that George Hoyt “…was in bad company and has learned a lesson “he won’t soon forget”.  George didn’t. Gangrene set in and the cowboy died a slow and foul death, passing at last on Wednesday, August 21st, 1878; 26 days after Wyatt shot him. Whatever the cause of death, the Legendary Wyatt Earp had killed his first man.
Eddie Foy would later claim that his suit, hanging back stage, was punctured twice by the gunfire. However the Dodge City Times said the bullets went through the theatre’s ceiling. But it made a good story for Eddie's stage show. 
Eddie Foy went on to a successful career on the vaudeville stage, appearing for several years with his children in an act billed as “Eddie and the Seven Little Foys”. He was the last of the great vaudeville entertainers before the advent of film, and so is almost forgotten today. Eddie Foy died of a heart attack in 1927 at the age of 71.
In September of 1878 a cattle broker and gunman named Clay Allison came to Dodge looking for a showdown with Wyatt Earp. One story told is that Allison was a friend of George Hoyt’s, and was looking for revenge. But again there was no classic street shoot out. It seems that Wyatt sensibly stayed out of sight until Allison left town, despite Wyatt's later stories to the contrary. 
For whatever reason, in 1879 Wyatt and his brothers moved on to Tombstone, Arizona. There, in October of 1881, he took part in the infamous Gunfight at the O.K Corral, which in fact was little more than a gang fight,  which occurred in a vacant lot between two buildings, down the street from the rear entrance to the O.K. Corral. But none of that reality stopped the fight from becoming the most famous twenty seconds in the American West.
Wyatt remained a professional gambler all his life and died in Los Angeles of a chronic bladder infection at the age of 80 years, in January of 1929.  He is mostly portrayed today as a hero, mostly it seems to me because he had no aversion to spinning tall tales and because he was that true rarity, a gambler who usually won.
After the railroads penetrated south Texas in the mid 1880’s the need to drive cattle a thousand miles to Kansas came to an end. And with it the “Queen of the Cattle Towns” became just another small American town of some 25,000 people. It’s only living connection to its past is the Dodge City Cargill packing plant, whose 2,500 employees can slaughter up to 6,000 head of cattle a day, turning them into four and a half million pounds of meat, which is shipped all over the world.
That was always the unpleasant underside of Dodge City. The town depended for its fame and fortune upon the death of so many. 
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