JANUARY   2020


Saturday, May 05, 2018


I can't help wondering why so many politicians keep calling for a new approach to politics  Aren't the same politics we've been using for the last 10,000 years good enough?  Maybe the real problem lies not with the lying, two faced, double dealing, back-stabbing, opportunistic, insincere politicians we have, but with the idiots who vote for them: i.e. us.  Check my math, please: politicians lie, politicians get elected. Could there be a connection?  Let me give you a little example from ancient history, so nobody feels insulted.
James K. Polk (above) was America's eleventh President, serving from 1845 to 1849. He was, until Richard Nixon, our most secretive President. He did not even tell his own cabinet members what he was thinking. He was a Jackson Democrat,  and no matter what your history books tell you he did not campaign on the phrase "Fifty-Four Forty or Fight" – that came up later. During his actual campaign for President, Polk was most famous for insisting he did not brand his slaves. And trust me, this smear was so good they still haven’t figured out who did it.
The story was first published in the 21August, 1844 edition of the Ithaca New York "Chronicle". It was a a Whig Party newspaper. And the story claimed to be a letter to the editor, quoting a three paragraph extract from an unpublished book, titled “Roorback’s Tour Through the Western and Southern States…” The extract claimed to detail Baron Von Roorback's conversations with a group of slave traders on the Duck River in Tennessee. “Forty of these unfortunate beings had been purchased, I was informed, by the Honorable J.K. Polk…; the mark of a branding iron, with the initials of his name on their shoulders, distinguishing them from the rest.”  Now, even in 1844 the idea of branding human beings, even those treated as slaves, was appalling to many people...even in places where the economy had been built on slavery.
Which was why the story was picked up by the "Albany Evening Journal", and other Whig newspapers, particularly in the 1844 “battleground states” of New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Many voters in those swing states were outraged that a man standing for President would do something so despicable as to brand human beings the same way you brand cattle. To Whig politicians the story from "Roorback’s Tour" was almost too good to be true.  And almost as quick as Republican bloggers caught Dan Rather, the Democratic press found out there was no such book and no such Baron. The details about Polk had been inserted into a real travel book, of a run in with some slave traders on Virginia’s New River. Polk’s farm was in Tennessee, so the inventor of the smear had shifted the scene to where it would do the most good. Besides, it was not common practice to brand slaves. Like whipping scars, branding tended to reduce their value as property,  since it indicated this slave had a tendency to escape. Slaves were certainly whipped and branded because in 1844, most Americans still believed black slaves were property and would have been equally offended if some government official tried to tell them how to treat their horses or how to slaughter their hogs.
Still, embarrassed at being caught repeating what was so obviously a fabrication, the Whigs pinned the whole thing on William Linn, a lawyer and a Democratic operative in Ithaca. But why would a Democrat smear his own candidate? Well, if I were a believer in conspiracy theories, I might say that this kind of allegation against Polk was actually a fairly safe charge to make. Polk did own slaves, but his Whig opponent in the election, Henry Clay, owned even more slaves than Polk did.  And it has been suggested by some historians that the “Roorback” story was a case of nineteenth century “wedge” politics. Abolitionism was still a minor issue in 1844, but abolitionists formed a solid voting block in New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania, those key battleground states. Convince enough abolitionists in those states that the Whigs were lying to them, and they just might choose the Democrat Polk over the Whig Clay as the lesser of two evils. And the letter to the Ithaca Chronicle had been signed, “An Abolitionist”, thus adding insult to the injury.
Well, maybe....And maybe that theory implies a level of sophisticated conspiracy that did not exist in the simpler culture and times of 1844 – and certainly would not have existed in Athens in 415 B.C., when Alcibiades was accused of vandalizing statues of the god Hermes.
You see Hermes was the mythical inventor of fire, and "...a robber, a cattle driver, a bringer of dreams, a watcher by night, a thief at the gates....who protects and takes care of all travelers, miscreants, harlots, old cronies and thieves and injured athletes".  Each Greek home had an anatomically correct statue of Hermes standing on its front lawn, and it was common practice for visitors to pause at the stature and stroke his stone phallus for good luck before knocking on the front door. And when the owner left the house for the day or on  a business trip, they would also give the statue a tug for good luck.  And that was why it was so shocking that on the morning that Athens was launching a massive naval assault on Sicily, the city awoke to discover that every home statue of Hermes had its phallus knocked off during the night.  
It sounds to my modern ears as if the neighborhood kids had been drinking sour wine on the street corner and started smashing phalluses as a prank. But to the devout in Athens (and there were many who believed in the gods) it was also sacrilege. And rumors began almost immediately that the person responsible was the golden boy politician who was heading the expedition, and known for his past sacrilegious opinions, Alcibiades (above). Of course Alcibiades had his own theory. He thought it had been the work of his chief political opponent and co-commander of the Sicilian expedition, Nicias.  Two thousand five hundred years later, it is impossible to know who the phallus hackers really were and why they were whacking off in the dark.. But whether they planned it all or just took advantage of the situation, the one thing we know for certain is, that the people arguing both sides of the scandal were politicians.     
The point is, politicians have been gaming voters since voting was invented. And voters have been playing along, else the game would not have remained so popular for so long. And that is why when a politician tells me he is selling something new, especially when it is something I want to believe, my first reaction is,  “Pull the other one.,”  When the American political system works  (which it has not been doing recently)  it is been based upon pragmatism, as it was in the 1844 election.  Polk won 49.5% of the popular vote to Clay’s 48.1 %, and part of that razor thin margin was victories in New York and Pennsylvania - by less than 6,000 votes in both states.  Those two states gave Polk 62 Electoral Votes, out of his sixty-five vote margin of victory (170 to 105). It seems that if the Roorback story was a double blind trick, it worked.
Oh,... and remember the phrase “Fifty-Four Forty or Fight!”? That was not used in the 1844 election. Well, it was actually invented by Ohio Senator William “Earthquake” Allen, known for his thundering speeches, and he used it well after the election. The number was  the Southern border (54 degrees & 40 minutes of latitude) claimed by Russia when they owned Alaska. A simple glance at a modern map will confirm that the modern border between America and Canada,  agreed upon by President Polk, was (and is) the 49th parallel. So much for the “…Or fight!” part of the slogan. Have you noticed how often politicians don’t actually mean what they seem to say? You might say they make a career out of it. And always have. And we keep buying what they say. 
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Friday, May 04, 2018


I can describe the exact moment of conception. On the evening of 22 September, 1880,  Father John O’Malley was sharing a meal with American journalist James Redpath. At some point in the meal the priest noticed that the American had stopped eating. When queried, Redpath explained, “I am bothered about a word. When a people ostracize a land grabber..." And Redpath struggled for a moment, before explaining, "But ostracism won't do" The priest, according to Redpath, "tapped his big forehead, and said, 'How would it do to call it "to boycott him?” Mr. Redpath wrote, “He was the first man who uttered the word, and I was the first who wrote it.” (Talks About Ireland, 1881) And thus was born another contribution to the English language. Of course the importance of this invention requires a little explanation.
Freed from its incubator in the central highlands of  Mexico, 'Phytophthora infestans' -  the Potato Bligh - arrived in Ireland in the 1830’s. By then the humble potato, which had preceded the blight,  had become the primary food for the 8 million people of Ireland. It could be grown almost year round. It produced so much protein per square foot that a family could be supported on a quarter of an acre of land. But because of this dependence, in the decades after 1845, the blight created "The Starving Time". Each year more and more of the crop was consumed by the moldy blight.  But because it did its work underground, unseen, its ravages could not be seen until the crop was harvested. By 1855 20% of the population of Ireland had starved to death, and another 20% had emigrated.
The British government struggled to respond to the disaster with church based relief, but politics then compounded the human misery. Potatoes were molding away in the fields. But wheat, which was growing healthy and abundant in Ireland, was too expensive for the starving Irish to buy,  thanks to the Corn Laws. These were duties (taxes) charged on imported grain. This was done to protect the Irish landowners from having to compete with cheap American wheat. But by 1880, of the four million souls still surviving on the emerald isle, fewer than 2,000 owned 70% of the land. The three million tenant farmers owned nothing, not even their own homes, and over the two previous years their rents had been increased by 30%, and many were being thrown out of the homes they lived in (above). . The very life was being squeezed out of the people of Ireland.
Meanwhile, most of the largest, wealthiest landowners, those benefiting from the Corn Laws, were absentee landlords, Englishmen and women who hired local farmers to manage their Irish estates. “Captain" Charles Cunningham Boycott was one of these local farm owners/managers. Those tenants who could not pay their rent were evicted by the managers. Those who were evicted usually died. To argue it was not intended as “genocide” misses the point. Intended or not, it was mass murder. Ireland was teetering on the edge of a revolution.
On Tuesday, 3 July, 1880, outside the quaint village of Ballinrobe, County Mayo, three men emptied their revolvers into the head and face of twenty-nine year old David Feerick,  an agent for a absentee landlord.  No one was ever charged with that murder.  In early September, outside of the same village, “Captain” Charles Boycott, called on the tenants to harvest the oat crop of absent landlord Lord Erne. 
“Captain” Boycott would be described by the New York Times (in 1881) as 49 years old; "a red faced fellow, five feet eight inches tall, the son of a Protestant minister who had served in the British Army." He earned his title of Captain not in the military but for his daring attitude in sport. He owned 4,000 acres of Irish farmland, and besides managing Lord Erne's property.  The day he called them back to work Boycott also informed the tenants that their wages were being cut by almost half.  The tenants simply refused to work at those wages.
The Boycott family and servants by themselves struggled for half a day to cut and harvest the oats before admitting defeat. Mrs. Boycott then appealed to the tenants personally. They responded to her by bringing in the oat crop before the winter rains ruined it.
On Sunday, 19 September 1880,  Irish politician Charles Stuart Parnell (above), addressed a mass meeting in the town of Ennis.  Parnell called on the crowd to shun any who took over the property of an evicted tenant. “When a man takes a farm from which another has been evicted, you must show him on the roadside when you meet him, you must show him in the streets of the town, you must show him at the shop counter, you must show him in the fair and the marketplace, and even in the place of worship, by leaving him severely alone — putting him into a kind of moral Coventry — isolating him from his kind like the leper of old.”  It was the birth of the modern non-violent protest. Unstated, was the reality that this was a religious war, the Catholic south of Ireland against the Protestant controlled north and England.
On Tuesday, 22 September, 1880, a local process server, under orders from "Captain Boycott",  and accompanied by police, issued eviction notices to eleven of Lord Erne's tenants.  The tenants were not surprised. Speaking of Boycott, one tenant told a local newspaper, “He treated his cattle better than he did us.”  The server would have issued even more eviction notices, but a crowd of women began to throw mud and manure and the agent and his police escort had to retreat into the Boycott home. That night, in the house of Father O'Mally, the word "Boycott", as a verb, was invented.  It was put to immediate use.
The next morning, Wednesday, 23 September, a large crowd from Ballinrobe (above) marched to the Boycott home and urged the servants to leave. By evening the Boycotts and a young niece living with them, were alone in the house.
A letter written by “Captain” Boycott was published in the London Times. It made no mention of the raising of rents, only of the refusal to pay those rents. It made no mention of the cutting of salary, only of the refusal to work. It did detail the travails of Captain Boycott and his family. His mail was not being delivered. He was followed and mocked whenever he left his farm. “The shopkeepers have been warned to stop all supplies to my house. I can get no workmen to do anything, and my ruin is openly avowed…”
 Harper's Weekly Illustrated News for 18 December, 1880,  reported what happened next. “A newspaper correspondent first started the idea of sending assistance to Captain Boycott…one person alone promised to get together 30,000 volunteers.  Mr Forester, Chief Secretary for Ireland, at once vetoed the project of an armed invasion…
"It was accordingly decided to pick out some fifty or sixty from the great number of Orange (Protestants) from northern Ireland who were anxious to volunteer. Under military protection (of 1,000 troops) these men harvested Captain Boycott’s crops… The cost of this singular expedition was about ten thousand pounds…” (over $20,000).
It took two weeks under military guard for the inexperienced Ulster men to bring in the crop of turnips, wheat and potatoes, valued by Boycott as worth about three hundred and fifty pounds ($800).  Mr. Parnell estimated the harvest had cost the English government “one shilling for every turnip.”
Boycott left Ireland with his family on Wednesday, the first of December, 1880,  shrouded in the back of a military ambulance and escorted by soldiers.  His exit had been achieved by nonviolence. He never returned. Some one described his exile as the “death of feudalism in Europe".  
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I think it a profound insight that all telescopes involve mirrors. In 1846 this idea was stumbled upon by the obsessive-compulsive painter Alvan G. Clark, when he realized there was more money to be made in selling  telescopes to rich people than in just painting portraits of rich people. And since both involved selling positive self-images, Alvan dropped his brush and took up the polishing rag. It was said this self taught optician could feel imperfections in the glass lenses through his thumb while polishing them. For over a half a century Alvin and his sons ground magnificent telescopes for rich clients who saw funding observatories as grand monuments to their own intellectual beneficence. Five times Alvin Clark and Sons produced lenses for the largest refraction telescopes in the world. But it is another sad truth that making optical telescopes is an ephemeral art form, since all lenses tell lies. Even a Clark.
One of Alvan Clark's most enthusiastic customers was Mr. Percival Lowell, whose mommy gave him a 2 1/4 inch Clark on his fifteenth birthday. Astronomy was the kind of hobby mother and son could share atop their Brookline mansion. At his father's insistence Percival went into business in Japan (above - the tall one without the hat). But he always returned to his first love; astronomy. And as  the end of the 19th century approached, Percy was attracted by the approach of Mars. 
The more people looked at the red planet, the more it looked like earth. Kepler was the first to realize that Mars was a neighbor of ours. But it was the Dutchman Christiaan Huygens, who drew the first detailed maps of the planet's surface. Then in September of 1877, as the orbits of Earth and Mars converged, Giovanni Schiaparelli used a new telescope and saw what looked like mountain ranges and plains and long mysterious grooves which criss-crossed the planet. He described the grooves in Italian as “canalii”,  a word meaning a channel, or path.  It is sad to point out here, that although Percival Lowell spoke fluent Japanese, he did not speak Italian. 
In 1896, Percival retired from the business world and built his own world class observatory in the mountains, 7,180 feet above Flagstaff, Arizona, atop a peak he named Mars Hill.  Here, for $20,000 (half a million today) Percival installed a 24 inch Clark refracting telescope. Every summer night for the next 23 years, Percival Lowell (above) sat at the bottom of his telescope, observing Mars. During the days he slept in the 24 room mansion he also built on Mars Hill. Being born rich has its advantages, and Percival would have been a fool if he had not taken advantage of his advantages.
And what he saw through the eyepiece of his expensive magical tube was amazing. He saw canals - real canals - more than 180 of them, some of them 4,000 miles long. And he wondered what sort of creatures had constructed such a massive, intricate irrigation system. “Quite possibly, “ he wrote, “such Martian folk are possessed of inventions of which we have not dreamed...Certainly what we see hints at the existence of beings who are in advance of, not behind us, in the journey of life.” 
Percival wrote three books, “Mars”, “Mars and its Canals”, and “Mars as the Abode of :Life”. Each and every book became a best seller. He inspired H.G. Wells to write “War of the Worlds”, as well as inspiring Edgar Rice Burrows, who besides the “Tarzan” series, wrote 13 adventure books centering on Mars. By the year his third book was published, in 1907, Percival Lowell was recognized as the world's expert on the planet Mars. And then, almost over night, Percival's magical red world was deflated by his doppelganger, Mr. George Hale.
George Hale also came from a rich Boston family. But where Percival's father had insisted he attend business school, George's father had sent him to MIT to become a professional astronomer. And in 1908 George opened the lens cap on his new 60” reflector telescope in his new observatory atop California's 5,700 foot high Mount Wilson. And almost the first thing George peered at was Mars, where he found...no canals. Not a one. No matter how hard he looked. It is alleged that George saw an elf in his bedroom, but he saw no canals on Mars.
The photographic proof was conclusive. What Percival had seen as canals proved, when seen through a  newer, bigger, telescope,  proved to be just an optical illusion, or maybe the blood vessels in the back of Percival's own eye.  Percival had a nervous breakdown. And when he recovered he sought to re-establish his reputation. He took up the search for the the last great mystery in the night sky, the powerful conundrum of Planet X.
According to Percival's own mathematics, there was something very odd about the planets Neptune and Uranus. They were too big, their orbits were odd, Neptune was spinning on its side and they both wobbled. It looked to Percival as as if there had to be another planet further out from the sun, tugging at Uranus and Neptune. He called his suspect Planet X. Percival even calculated Planet X's mass, and he knew exactly where it had to be in the sky, 40 times further out from the sun than the earth.
For ten years Percival and his assistants – okay, mostly his assistants – scoured photographs of the night sky, searching for the tell-tale movement in the star field that would herald the discovery of Planet X. Twice the camera on Percival's 12” Clark took pictures of the moving X.  But the humans who had to examine each one of the thousands of photographs, failed to notice the one dot that had moved slightly. And then,  in 1916, at the age of sixty-one, Percival Lowell suffered a stroke and died. He was buried next to his beloved 12” Clark atop Mars Hill.  But thanks to Percival's fortune, the search for Planet X continued.
In 1930 Clyde Tombaugh found Planet X. And since he was being paid by Percival's endowment, and still using Percival's 12” Clark, Planet X was named using Percival Lowell's initials – PLuto. And isn't it amazing that Planet X became the official IX planet in the solar system? You don't often get to use Roman Numerals in a joke.
Ah, but things were about to get even more amazing. With the refinement of observations of the outer planets a number of new great mysteries appeared in the night sky, as they always do. The more you know the less you know, you know.  You know?
The first thing astronomers realized they did not know was why  two of those three cold blobs of rock and ice circling far out from the Sun– Neptune and Uranus - were so darn massive, too massive to have been formed so far out at the edge of the spinning disc that eventually became the solar system. In 2005 the mystery was solved (we think) at the University of Nice, France.  Neptune and Uranus, said the French astronomers, had actually formed in the inner solar system, and out of rock, like the Earth, Venus and Mars.
Four billion years ago the newly formed gas giants Jupiter and Saturn had turned the inner solar system into pool table on the break -  with the still molten planets and asteroids slamming and careening into and off of each other. This gravitational pin ball game had pulled the moon into a collision with the Earth, and allowed its capture. It had ground up the rocks trying to form a planet into the asteroid belt. And it had flung Uranus and Neptune out of their formation orbits and into their current orbits, leaving behind a lot of oddities as they swerved out into the edge of our solar system.
And that left Pluto. The more people looked at the guardian of the outer realms the odder it looked. Better telescopes, including one in earth orbit, showed it to have less than two tenths of 1% of the mass of the Earth, and to be only about half the size of our moon. That was too small to have perturbed the orbits of Neptune or Uranus. In fact it was even too small to be classified as a planet.
On August 24, 2006 the International Astronomical Union struck Pluto from the list of planets and gave it the new title of "134340 Pluto, dwarf planet".  It seems that for all of Percival Lowell's careful calculations, and for all of Clyde Tombaugh's perseverance, and for all the power of Alvan Clark's thumb,  finding Planet X right where it was supposed to be was...just a coincidence.  It was the human mind which mistook blind luck for a deep cosmological insight,  just as the swelling in the blood vessels behind Percival Lowell's eye had built the canals of Mars.
It makes me wonder how we can ever really be certain we are certain of anything. And it seems that no matter how big our telescopes become, we will always looking into a mirror.
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Thursday, May 03, 2018


"God... a being whose only definition is that he is beyond man's power to conceive."
Ayn Rand
I think, if you look it up, Sir Francis Bacon is credited with saying, “money is a good servant but a bad master”.  Actually, it was an old French proverb, far older even than the Elizabethan politician, and Sir Francis merely quoted it – and in French, “L’argent est un bon serviteur, mais un méchant maître.” His own original observation (in English) about money said the same thing, but was as prosaic as fertilizer. “Money is like muck,” Sir Francis said, “not good except it be spread.”
"The alleged short-cut to knowledge, which is faith, is only a short-circuit destroying the mind."
Ayn Rand
You see Sir Francis believed in the biblical warning that “The love of money is the root of all evil” (Timothy 6:10) , and that a buck in your hand is worth a buck, but a dollar spread through the economy is worth several more. You buy a loaf of bread and you employ the baker and the driver who delivers it, and the check-out clerk, etc. Amongst economists this is called the “velocity of money multiplier effect”, or the VMME, and most economists multiply each dollar spent on bread by six.. This is the material logic which – in addition to Judeo-Christian and Islamic morality - justifies food stamps and unemployment insurance.  And yet, today's devotees of Ayan Rand, like Republican Majority Leader Paul Ryan, do not believe in the VMME. They believe wealthy Americans should act only out of self interest while the working poor, aka the middle class, should sacrifice for the good of the nation. Heads the bankers win, tails, anybody who borrows from a banker, looses.
"We will rebuild America’s system on the moral premise...that man is an end in himself."
Ayan Rand Atlas Shrugged
According to Wikipedia, “A bank connects customers that have capital deficits to customers with capital surpluses.” But in the post “Citizens Untied” world, where a Supreme Court majority can believe that corporations have the same rights of free speech as individuals – and enough money to reduce “Free Speech” to an oxymoron - money has become the master. Five American banks now hold – hold - more than $8.5 trillion in assets – 56% of America's $15 trillion economy.  These mega-bankers practice zombie capitalism, trading their cash surpluses back and forth between themselves, hedging their equity by shifting the money from this pocket to that, paying themselves a bonus every time their computers shift the funds. At some point reality must intervene in this monetary computer game world, as J.P. Morgan discovered yet again in recently. And when it does, the destructive effect is suffered by the nation as a whole. Sacrifice might be required, but only for those who cannot afford to live in the fantasy world of 21st century mega-bankers.
"I will never live for the sake of another man."
Ayan Rand Atlas Shrugged
It brings to mind an observation once made by a very angry young man. He wrote, “There have been gambling manias before... (but) the ruling principle of the...the present mania, is... to speculate in speculation...” The angry man was Karl Marx, and he was writing about the swindle of the moment in September of 1856, the collapse of the Royal British Bank.  It was a fabulous enterprise which seemed solid as granite at one moment and in the next a cruel fraud and a fantasy. And the most interesting thing about the case, besides the moral lessons the father of Communism saw in it, is that the bankers who perpetrated it actually went to jail, however briefly, without bringing down capitalism.
"Until and unless you discover that money is the root of all good, you ask for your own destruction."
Ayn Rand Atlas Shrugged
The Royal British Bank, created in 1849, was innovative. Previously, banking had been a rich man's game. Those with money had banded together to lend to those who could afford to borrow it. But the fortunes created by the industrial revolution were not exclusively blue blooded, and both blue blood and non-blue blooded advanced thinkers in Scotland invented the publicly owned bank, in which small investors with some extra cash could combine their money, and once they had sold L50,000 in stock, could open their doors and begin accepting accounts and lending money to make a profit. In this case the idea belonged to Londoner John Menzies, who suggested the idea to his lawyer, Edward Mullins. They printed up a prospectus, and went looking for investors. But as England was in the middle of a recession (its fourth “Panic” since 1817) they found little money around, until they approached John McGregor, a Liberal Party politician representing Glasgow, Scotland. For the price of ten shares – at L10 per share –McGregor achieved a seat on the board of the bank. He immediately suggested the board hire an old friend of his who had knowledge of the “Scottish style” of banking, fellow MP Hugh Innes Cameron.
"If any civilization is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that men have to reject."
Ayn Rand Atlas Shrugged
Cameron was offered the position of Managing Director of the Royal British Bank. And with McGregor's help, Mr. Cameron obtained a seven year contract which would impress any modern equity or hedge fund manager. The first year Cameron would be paid L1250 (equivalent to $2 million today) , rising to L2,000 a year ($4.5 million today), with an annual housing allowance of L200 (about a hundred thousand modern dollars). Within a few months he had squeezed out Mr. Menzies, buying out the bank's founder with L400 of investors' money. Now there was nobody looking over his shoulder.
"If you ask me to name the proudest distinction of Americans...they were the people who created the phrase "to make money”.
Ayan Rand Atlas Shrugged
From that moment, the bank never stood a chance of surviving. Instead of the L50,000 the law required and appeared on it's books, at its opening the Royal British Bank actually had no more than L18,000 in its vault. Over the next six years, while the 6,000 depositors supplied the salaries, advances and loans never repaid to the officers and directors of the bank, each of those men became involved in enumerable kickbacks, scams and frauds which removed even more of the customers'/ investor's  funds -  about L130,000, or the equivalent of $247 million today). The whole thing collapsed in the summer of 1856, producing, yet another nation wide “Panic”, which taught so much to the Father of Communism..
"The question isn't who is going to let me; it's who is going to stop me."
Ayn Rand Atlas Shrugged
John McGregor was forced to escape his the law by sailing to Boulogne, France. He died deeply in debt in April of 1857.  In February of 1859 the seven surviving board members were finally tried on seven counts of fraud. The jury convicted them of six. At sentencing the judge, Lord Cameron, could have been speaking directly to Jamie Dimon, the CEO of J.P. Morgan when that firm lost between $2 billion and $7 billion in the 2007 derivative collapse.  “It would be a disgrace to the laws of any country” said the judge 150 years ago, “if this were not a crime to be punished. It is not a mere breach of contract with the shareholders and the customers of the bank., but it is a criminal conspiracy to do what must inevitably lead to a great public mischief, in the ruin of families and the reduction of widows and orphans from affluence to destitution; I regret to say that in mitigation of your offense it was said to be common practice. Unfortunately a laxity has been introduced into certain commercial dealings...and practises have been adopted without bringing in a consciousness of shame...”
"When I die, I hope to go to Heaven, whatever the Hell that is. And I want to be able to afford the price of admission."
Ayn Rand
Because it was his first conviction, Hugh Innes Cameron could only be sentenced to a year in jail. All the other board members received lesser sentences, and one was only fined a single shilling. The scandal sold a few newspapers, and produced a marvelous pamphlet, “The Curious and Remarkable History of the Royal British Bank showing how We Got it Up and How it went down.” But judging by recent history, nobody learned anything from the affair, or any of the other enumerable “Panics”, recessions and depressions which have stricken capitalist economies once or twice every decade since.  I think we learn nothing because greed makes you stupid, and the mega-bankers and their paid political apologists are purveyors of greed and thus are selling and buying stupidity . And we have known how that philosophy plays out since biblical days. To acknowledge this reality and yet not deal with it is to acknowledge you are a zombie, addicted to greed, and without hope of ever learning a better future. Like Ayn Rand.
"You can avoid reality, but you cannot avoid the consequences of avoiding reality."
Ayn Rand
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