JUNE 2017

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

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Saturday, April 08, 2017

THROWING THE DICE

I know of only three ways to win at the game of Monopoly. First you buy or trade to get a monopoly of all four railroads and the three orange properties; St. James Place, Tennessee Avenue and New York Avenue. On average, players land on the oranges more often because they are just after the Jail. Then you build three houses on each, no hotels. This gives you a return on your investment about every ten times your opponents roll the die. The only way to give yourself a better chance of winning is to either become the banker and embezzle your way to victory, or get the other players to adopt a house rule that subtly favors you, and then apply it mercilessly. Real Wall Street bankers play this way all the time.
Surprisingly few people notice the fundamental capitalistic lesson in Monopoly, which is that you play it with dice. Chance always determines the short term outcome of events, much the same way that derivatives always explode, because sooner or later everybody rolls snake eyes. As proof of this consider what happened to the lady who invented the game of Monopoly. Her name was Elizabeth “Lizzie” Magie, a bright, well educated and determined Illinois Quaker lady, who in her late twenties was looking for a cause. See, Quakers had a long history as abolitionists, and the abolition of slavery after the Civil War, left them with an identity crises. “Lizzie”  found her new cause in the rantings of a self taught economist with two first names.
All you need to know about Henry George is that in the 1870's he owned a newspaper in San Francisco, and in 1886 he ran for mayor of New York City, coming in second but still beating Republican Teddy Roosevelt – in short, all his life George was a square peg in search of a round hole. He did not believe in free trade, he didn't like Asians, he liked paper money but he hated taxes - income taxes, sales taxes, and capital gains taxes. He sounds very Republican, doesn't he? Well, he was a Socialist- Catholic- Trade Unionist, who thought government should be supported solely by property taxes. But if you think a government supported only by property taxes is a good idea, I suggest you talk to any school board in America.
“Lizzie” Magie was a Henry devotee, and as the 19th century drew to a close, she was living in a interracial community of Brentwood, Maryland, and looking for some way to popularize her hero's ideas. Possessing that odd combination of whimsy and discipline required to design games, Lizzie came up with a joyless plaything she called “The Landlord's Game”. “Children of nine or ten,” she assured potential customers, “can easily understand the game and they get a good deal of hearty enjoyment out of it...The little landlords take a general delight in demanding the payment of their rent.”
Lizzie's innovation was that unlike previous Victorian board games, her's had no beginning or end. It was an endless loop. The four corners of her board were labeled Absolute Necessity - Coal Tax, Public Park, Jail and a globe encircled by a banner reading “Labor Upon Mother Earth Produces Wages”. Properties along the straightaways were four railroads, a Water Franchise, four Luxury Lanes, and Easy Street, Lonely Lane, Legacy, the Poor House and Lord Blueblood's Estate (No Trespassing, go to jail), and three other Absolute Necessities – Clothing, Shelter, and Bread. Every time you passed the Labor space you got a hundred bucks, and every time somebody landed on a property it went up for auction. In 1902, “Lizzie” took her new game to America's king of games, George S. Parker
When this George was sixteen he had invented a card game called Banking. Players borrowed money from the bank and the draw from the 160 card deck determined how successful they would be. George invested $40 to print up 500 decks of Banking cards, and sold 488 of them. With that $100 in profit he built an empire, hiring his brothers and issuing similar card games called Klondike Gold Rush and War in Cuba. So,  when Lizzie approached him, George found her a kindred spirit and offered a considered critique of “Landlords”. Basically, he said it stunk. “How do you end this game?” he asked, voicing a concern millions of players would repeat over the next 100 years as 2 in the morning approached with no winner in Monopoly.  But he also urged her to get her game copyrighted, which Maggie did. She was granted U.S. Patent 748,626 on 5 January 1904.  In 1906, the brothers hit it big with George's new card game Rook. Frustrated and almost unnoticed, Lizzie packed her bags and moved to Chicago. And there she started her own game company.
She was supported by other Quakers and followers of Henry George, and in 1906, in Chicago, they formed the Economic Game Company, to publish and distribute the Landlord's Game, with a few modifications. She added a bank, wages, and public transportation in the center of the board. Lizzie kept in contact with the Parker Brothers, who, in 1910, published her her new card game called Mock Trial. Game design wasn't a living, but then Lizzie wasn't in it for the money. She was on a mission. Which is probably why what happened next had little to do with Lizzie.
In 1915 economists Scott Nearing was the most popular lecturer at the Wharton School of Business at Pennsylvania State University. Eventually the trustees would fire him for being a radical, but then eventually the American Communist Party would expel him the same reason. But before he was fired, Nearing introduced The Landlord's game to his students, and they set about spreading it from one fraternity brother to another. Future "new dealer" Rexfordd Guy Tugwell introduced a shortened version the game (called Monopoly Auction) to his classmates at Columbia graduate school of Economics. Another Nearing student, Daniel W. Lyman, started marketing his own shortened version of the game (called Finance) in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he labeled the rental properties with local street names and added Chance and Community Chest cards.
In 1929, school teacher Ruth Hoskins learned the game from her brother, who was friends with Daniel Lyman. Later that year she got a job teaching at the Friends (Quaker) School in Atlantic City, and she introduced the game to her students. When she drew up her version of the game board, she named the properties after streets her students lived on in Atlantic City. But unfamiliar with the area, she misspelled the name of a suburb, Marven Gardens (a combination of two town names – Margate City and Ventor City) as Marvin Gardens. And, since her Quaker students objected to auctions on religious grounds, the game was changed again, so that landing on a property gave you the sole right to buy it, for the price listed on the deed. Once again the game proved very popular.
Ruth's student who lived in Marven Gardens was Charles Todd. He had suggested naming the railroads after real lines. The game's B and O was the Baltimore and Ohio, while the Reading was the Philadelphia and Reading railroad. The Pennsylvania Railroad was for many decades the largest railroad in the world, and while The Short Line was not a specific road, it was the general title for any short commuter line. Just as the Great Depression began in earnest in 1932, Charles Todd introduced the game to two new friends who were in a very rough spot.
William Darrow had been a domestic heater salesman in Philadelphia, until the Depression wiped out his livelihood. His was now working at odd jobs, and his wife Esther was pregnant, and one look at the game Monopoly Auction, convinced William that this could be his salvation. Charles Todd would later testify that “Darrow asked me if I would write up the rules and regulations, and give them to Darrow.” Whereupon, Darrow asked for two or three copies, which Charles gave him. And with that, William Darrow was on his way to being a millionaire.
Charles drew up the game on oil cloth (copying Ruth's misspelling), his wife and son filled in the colors, and a graphic artist then added the icons of Jake the jailbird and Police Officer Edgar Mallory on the Go to Jail cards. The little rich guy with the top hat, Uncle Pennybags would come later, after Charles copyrighted the game under his own name in 1933 before selling it to Parker Brothers in 1936 as his own invention, which it was not.
The marketing department at Parker Brothers made Monopoly the most popular game in America, and made William Darrow a multimillionaire. He spent the rest of his life traveling the world in luxury. Of course, eventually the lawyers at Parker Brothers realized they had a problem with “Lizzie”. Remember her? But this also gave them power over Darrow. So, first they pressured him to give them the free and clear rights to publish the game outside of the United States,  in exchange for taking over all legal costs of defending William against copyright infringement. William Darrow caved under just a little pressure. All that remained was to get Maggie to sign over her rights to her Landlord's Game.
The new president of Parker Brothers, Robert Barton, later testified that he asked Lizzie if she would agree to some changes in her game. He testified later that her answer was “No. This is to teach the Henry George theory of single taxation, and I will not have my game changed in any way whatsoever." So being a good businessman, Barton stopped pushing, bought Lizzie's rights for a measly $500, and an agreement to publish her new version of The Landlord's Game. The third edition was shipped to stores all over the United States  in 1939, but Parker Brothers did nothing to promote it. After a few weeks all copies were called back to Parker Brothers and destroyed. By the time Lizzie realized she had been snookered, it was too late. And her game, and its twin named inspiration, were quickly forgotten.
In a way, she had just gotten a lesson in the game she had invented. And Parker Brothers had just gotten a great big Get Out of Jail Free card. And that is the real lesson in Monopoly.
- 30 -   

Friday, April 07, 2017

TAKE YOUR BEST SHOT

I keep looking at her face, and honestly, I just don't see whatever it was that captured his heart. They had the ultimate Age of Enlightenment cute-meet, but where he was a 38 year old endlessly curious bon vivant sociable genius, a doctor, a scientist and a poet, she had few friends and her only interest was religion. Her father, Anthony Kingscote, must have thought that at 27 his eldest daughter had long ago missed her chance to find a husband. And Catherine's plain face and down turned mouth (above)  hints that she had come to same conclusion. And then on a fair September afternoon, his balloon landed in a meadow near her home, and two years later she married one of the greatest men – ever - the man responsible for saving hundreds of millions of lives by applying the scientific method to an obvious problem. Clearly Catherine must have had a secret appeal. And Edward Jenner was smart enough to recognize it. Well, they also say opposites attract.
Edward Jenner had a few advantages. He was born wealthy, but not so rich he didn't have to work for a living, just rich enough he never cared more about money than about people. He never patented his great discovery, because he didn't want to add his profit to the cost of saving lives. And maybe that was Catherine's influence. And maybe it was the humanity he'd always had. And maybe it was because when he was still a child, his own father had inoculated him against small pox.
The two most deadly diseases in the 18th century were the Great Pox (syphilis) and the Small Pox (Variola – Latin for spotted). Reading the genetic code of Variola hints it evolved within the last 50,000 years from a virus that infected rats and mice, and then moved on to horses and cows and then finally people. It disfigured almost all of its human victims, leaving their features scared and pockmarked, even blinding some survivors. It killed half a million people every year – and 80% of the children who were afflicted. The chink in Variola's protein armor was that it had evolved into two strains, one which preferred temperatures of around 99 degrees Fahrenheit before it stated dividing, and the second which preferred something closer to 103 degrees.
They called the lesser of these two evils the cow pox, and sometimes the udder pox, because that was where the blisters often showed up on infected milk cows. And it was the young women whose job it was to milk the cows who were the only humans who usually contracted the cow pox. They would suffer a fever, and feel weak and listless for a day or two, and, in sever cases have ulcers break out on their hands an arms. But recovery was usually rapid and complete, and there was an old wife's tale that having once contracted cow pox, the women would then never suffer the greater evil of smallpox. It was mucus from a cow pox ulcer which Richard's father had applied to his son's open flesh, in the belief it would somehow protect him from smallpox.
The working theory behind this idea was first enunciated by the second century B.C. Greek doctor, Hippocrates. Its most succinct version was “Like cures like.” Bitten by a rapid dog? Drink a tea made from the hair of the dog that bit you, or pack the fur into a poultice pressed against the wound. The fifteenth century C.E. Englishman, Samuel Pepys, was advised to follow this theory by drinking wine to cure a hangover. “I thought (it) strange,” he wrote in his diary, “but I think find it true.” And in 1765 London Doctor John Fewster published a paper entitled “Cow pox and its ability to prevent smallpox.” But he was just repeating the old wife's tale, and offered no proof of his own. So the idea was out there. It only waited for someone smart enough to put the obvious to a scientific test.
In early May of 1796, Sarah Nelms a regular patient of Edwards, and “a dairymaid at a farmer's near this place”, came in with several lesions on her hand and arm. She admitted cutting her finger on a thorn a few weeks previous, just before milking Blossom, her master's cow. Upon examining both Sarah and Blossom Edward diagnosed them both as suffering from the cow pox. And he now approached his gardener, Mr. Phipps, offering to inoculate ( from the Latin inoculare, meaning “to graft") his 8 year old son James, against small pox. The gardener agreed, and on May 14th Edward cut into the healthy boy's arm, and then inserted into the cut some pus taken directly from a sore on Sarah Nelm's arm.
Within a few days James suffered a slight fever. Nine days later he had a chill and lost his appetite, but he quickly recovered. Then, 48 days after the first inoculation, in July, Edward made new slices on both of James' arms, and inserted scrapings taken directly from the pustules of a smallpox victim. And this time what should have killed him did not even give the child a fever. Nor did he infect his two older brothers, who shared his bed. Over the next 20 years James Phipps would have pus from a small pox victims inserted under his skin twenty separate times. And not once did he ever contract the disease. He married and had two children. And when Edward Jenner died, James was a mourner at his funeral. The original boy who lived did not pass away until 1853, at the age of 65.
Edward Jenner coined the word vaccine for his discovery, from the Latin 'vacca' for cow, as a tribute to poor Blossom, whose horns and hide ended up hanging on the wall of London's St George's medical school library. And that was the whole story, but, of course it wasn't, because it wasn't that simple, because nothing is that simple - certainly not the immune response system developed on this planet over the last four billion years.
Edward duplicated his procedure with nine more patients, including his own 11 year old son, and then wrote it all up for the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge. And those geniuses rejected it. They refused to publish it because they thought his idea was too revolutionary, and still lacked proof. So Edward, convinced he was on the right track, redoubled his efforts. When he had 23 cases and the Society still refused to publicize his work, Edward self published, in a 1798 pamphlet entitled “An Inquiry Into the Causes and Effects of the Variolæ Vaccinæ, Or Cow-Pox”
By 1800, Edward Jenner's work had been translated and published world-wide. And a few problems were revealed. There was a small percentage of patients who had an allergic reaction at the vaccination sites, and eventually it would be decided not to inoculate children, as their immune systems were not yet strong enough to resist the cow pox. And without a fuller understanding of how the human immune system functioned, it was impossible to know “to a medical certainty” (to use legal jargon) how the vaccine would affect specific groups of patients. Still, the over all reaction was so positive that Edward was surprised by the reaction of the people he called the “anti-vaks”.
Opposition became centered on the Medical Observer, a supplemental publication by the daily newspaper, The Guardian. After 1807, and under editor Lewis Doxat, it condemned Jenner's introduction of a “bestial humour into the human frame”, and in 1808 its readers were assured they should not presume “When the mischievous consequences of his vaccinating project shall have descended to posterity...Jenner shall be despised.” Edward was even accused of spreading Small pox, for various evil reasons. The argument presented from the pulpit was that disease was the way God punished sin, and any interference by vaccination was “diabolical”. Under this barrage the percentage of vaccinated children and adults in England still climbed up to around 76%. But without 100% protection the Variola survived, and in January of 1902 there was yet another outbreak in England that killed more than 2,000 people.
About 500 million human beings world wide died of Smallpox after Edward Jenner introduced his vaccine. But the last victim was Rahima Banu, a 2 year old girl in Bangladesh, in 1975. At 18 she married a farmer named Begum, and they gave birth to four children (her again, below). And each of her children is living proof that while religion may save souls, science saves lives.
The scientists working for the World Health Organization issued a report on 9 December, 1979, which announced, “...the world and its people have won freedom from Smallpox.” Variola was extinct, wiped out to the last living cell, by the dedication of scientists and those working under their guidance. It was, as Jenner himself wrote after the first successful eradication on Caribbean islands, “I don’t imagine the annals of history furnish an example of philanthropy so noble, so extensive as this.”
His dear Catherine died of Tuberculosis in 1815, and Edward followed her in January of 1823. And for his life – and her's – we all owe a great debt. He was like the bird in his poem “Address to a Robin”: “And when rude winter comes and shows, His icicles and shivering snows, Hop o'er my cheering hearth and be, One of my peaceful family: Then Soothe me with thy plaintive song, Thou sweetest of the feather'd throng!”
- 30- 

Thursday, April 06, 2017

CRIMINAL MASTERMINDS

I hasten to point out that the men who sought shelter at the Inn were not a harmonious quartet of criminal masterminds. It turns out they were not masterminds of any kind. But then, how many people are masters in any line of work? The lead voice in this group was Charles Gibbs, a diminutive thirty-six year old fire plug - and the last pirate in New York City who did not work on Wall Street. His Achilles in crime was the baritone Thomas Wansely, a tall and powerfully built black man too curious by half. The bass was voiced by Robert Dawes, cook and nonentity, a plump man with no criminal record, as of yet. But tenor and ringer was John Brownrigg, who possessed a fatal combination of a greed and a conscious, which caused him to first commit a crime and then to confess it unbidden to a complete stranger.
Perhaps it was the warm food, or the hot rum or perhaps it was the flames of purgatory he saw in the fire place which drove John Brownrigg to draw innkeeper Samuel Leonard aside and spill his tale on that stormy afternoon of November 24, 1830. The four men, explained John, had been crewmen of the small brig Vineland, docked at Vera Cruz, Mexico, loaded with a cargo of cotton bales, and casks of molasses and rum.
Late in the day Thomas Wansely had been ordered by Captain William Thornby to stack a half dozen heavy barrels in the Captain’s quarters. The strain and curiosity drove Wansely to pry open one of the leaden barrels for a peek. Inside he found newly minted Republican silver coins – Mexican pieces of eight. And as the tide pulled the Vineland into the Gulf of Mexico, Wansely shared his discovery with first mate Charles Gibbs.
By Gibb’s figuring the barrels together held today’s equivalent of over one million dollars in untraceable cash. It was untraceable because, without a standardized national currency of their own, Spanish and Mexican coins circulated so commonly in America, that prices were figured as the equivalent in Spanish (and Mexican) currency, to the point that today’s ubiquitous American “$” sign was borrowed from its Spanish inventors.
In the morning, Gibbs and Wansely opened one of the barrels of rum and shared it with Dawes, Brownrigg and the other crewmen. And once they were all well intoxicated, Gibbs told them of the cargo of silver, and confessed that the night before  he had thrown Captain Thornby overboard. With that much money at stake, explained Gibbs, they were now all under suspicion for murder. So, Gibbs suggested, why not share the crime and the silver between them. One crewman balked and joined the captain in the briny deep. The others quickly agreed to become pirates. As the vessel crossed the gulf bound for New York, a second man sobered up and expressed regret. He joined the other two in the cold, heartless sea.
Their doubts thus drowned, on November 23, 1830 the Vineland reached the westernmost barrier island off New York. Its name derives from the Dutch ‘Conyne Eylandt’, meaning Rabbit Island. They anchored in an isolated corner of Jamaica Bay. There, with a nor’easter brewing in the gathering darkness, the four men struggled to lower a skiff and fill it with their burdensome barrels of silver. They then scuttled the Vineland and set her afire. As she sank into the muddy waters of the bay the four men in the low riding skiff set off for shore, at what is today Rockaway Beach.
It was not beach weather. The surf was pounding. A gale was approaching. The landing was a disaster. In the crashing waves the four seamen lost most of their booty, and were able to save just 10% of the coins. Wet, cold and exhausted, soaked by a pounding downpour, the gang of four came to the realization they had not thought things through as well as they thought they had. While Wanesly and Brownrigg stood guard over what was left of their loot, Gibbs and Dawes walked to a tavern Gibbs recalled in the isolated village of Carnarsie.
The tavern was run by the Johnson brothers, John and William. It was the youngest, William, who answered the door that night. He recognized Gibbs and was willing to loan him a horse and wagon for an hour or so. Gibbs explained he had a heavy load to transfer from a boat.
Having thus obtained the tools required, Gibbs and Dawes returned to the beach, and, according to Brownrigg, the four men buried the remaining $5,000 in Mexican silver, marking the spot with a strand of ribbon tied to the saw grass. They then returned to Johnson’s house and Gibbs paid for the rental with a generous bag of new Mexican coins.
The four men were headed for lower Manhattan, where they would claim the ship had been lost in the storm. But their convenient alibi was by now pounding the coast, and after having crossed Coney Creek, the quartet was forced to seek refuge in John Leonard’s Sheepshead Bay Inn, where John Brownrigg spilled his guts.
Leonard was nothing if not decisive. Quietly he gathered his staff and they fell upon the three villains. Well, two of the villains. Gibbs and Dawes were quickly tied to their chairs, but Wanesly broke for the woods, followed by the courageous waiter Robert Greenwood, who was armed with an unloaded flintlock pistol. An hour later Greenwood returned with Wanesly in tow.
The justice of the peace, John Van Dyck, was summoned, and next morning Brownrigg lead the authorities to the buried treasure. Only the treasure was not there.  Under questioning Dawes decided to cooperate, and related the tale of the visit to the Johnson brothers tavern. Under questioning the brothers confirmed the details but, no, they insisted, they knew nothing else. Van Dyck was certain that they did. And Van Dyck was correct.
The instant Gibbs had crossed William Johnson’s palm with the newly minted silver, the mastermind William Gibbs knew that something serious was afoot. Perhaps if the payment had been less generous, or if Gibbs had paid in any other currency, his secret might have remained secret. As it was, 19 year old William immediately woke up his older brother John, and after examining their weary horse’s hooves and finding sand there, the brothers searched the beach. They quickly found the cache of stolen silver and re-stole it. They dragged it inland a few hundred yards, divided and re-buried it in two new caches, one of $40,000 and the second of $16,000. And then they returned home for a hearty breakfast.
JP Van Dyke suspected this, or most of it. But he could prove nothing. And once a beachcomber had discovered Mexican eights rolling in the surf at Rockaway Beach, and was joined by hundreds of others combing the sand, there was no way of proving where the crazy eights had come from, the cache or the surf. Van Dyke could only choke the four birds he still had in his hand, held for now in the Flatbush Jail.
And then something curious happened. William Johnson began to have second thoughts. He approached the insurance company (yes, even in 1830 there were insurance companies), and inquired what they might pay as a reward for the return of some of the silver. The insurance company replied that they would be willing to make a generous settlement which might not leave the brothers filthy rich, but at least they would be free from worry of future legal entanglements. Encouraged, William returned to Rockaway Beach to confirm the security of both of the caches, whereupon he made a most distressing discovery.
The larger cache was gone, as was his older brother John. Had he stolen the silver from William? Well, John was married, so there was John's wife’s incipient criminal mastermindy-ness to take into account.  Clearly John or his wife had reached the conclusion that even though John had not heard opportunity knock, and William had awakened him to it, John was deserving of the larger share of the stolen silver. So he took it. And the 19 year old William Johnson returned the remaining $16,000 in pieces of eight left behind, in exchange for a greatly reduced reward.
On April 22, 1831, on the site that would one day support the Statue of Liberty, criminal masterminds Charles Gibbs and Thomas Wansley climbed the thirteen steps of a scaffold, where they were both hanged by the neck until they were dead. Gibbs had been convicted of piracy, and was the last man hanged for that crime in America - so his death was not entirely without meaning. Wansley died for the crime of murder. Dawes and Brownrigg served short jail terms, and disappeared from history. William Johnson lived in Brooklyn until 1906. He married and produced at least one son and a daughter.
But of the two remaining masterminds, older brother John and his wife, they escaped with today’s equivalent of $800,000 in untraceable cash, and nothing more was ever heard of either of them. But I would very much like to know what became of them, because if, as I suspect,  he or she later turned up dead, then we would know if the percentage of criminal masterminds in this affair was 20% or less - less being the historical average.
 -30 -

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