MARCH 2020

MARCH   2020
The Lawyers Carve Up the Golden Goose

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Saturday, June 01, 2019

TIME PIECE or Why the Greed of a Mining Company Has Left Us Short on Time

I am assured by fundamentalist Christians that six thousand years ago God created the world in six days. Of course, six thousand years ago a day was about the shortest period of time humans could measure accurately. And the mystical number six is also the number of sides to the electromagnetic spaces that give cell phones their name. Within each 10 square mile cell surrounding every tower, 832 separate frequencies are used, two frequencies for every individual phone conversation. For the last half century the preferred method for defining these frequencies, the time between each electromagnetic wave crest, has been to hit a ball of 10 million pure cesium atoms with a microwave beam. The cesium then releases electrons, each with a new wave crest 9 billion, 192 million, 631 thousand 770 times every second. And the cesium  will maintain that exact frequency - and your cell phone conversations and web connections -  it is estimated -  for about 20 million years. And 20 million beats 6 thousand any day of the week.
The only problem is that pure cesium is rare. The metal is so it eager to combine with oxygen that on contact it instantly steals water's two oxygen atoms, thereby generating enough heat to visibly explode the now free hydrogen atom like a mini-Hindenburg. Given a little time cesium will even dissolve glass to steal its oxygen. Cesium is only stable in nature in a rare rock called Pegmatite (above), and 82 % of all the cesium rich Pegmatite known to exist on earth has been found in one place, beneath a single narrow lake along the Bird River in Manitoba, Canada, a land unknown in 1656, to the Archbishop of Ireland.
In retrospect the Irish primate James Ussher (above) seems an unlikely source for 300 years of dogmatic intellectual stagnation. In life he was a purveyor of political compromises. Ussher's “Annales veteris testamenti” (Annals of the Old Testament), published in 1650, displayed his love of dusty manuscripts, esoteric minutiae and ancient languages. As an academic it was his judgment the world began after sunset on Sunday 23 October, 4004 B.C. He was using the best evidence available at the time, and disagreed about the date for creation with his friend, the Oxford mathematician Sir Isaac Newton,  by just four years.
Bernic Lake is about 60 miles northeast of Winnipeg, just beyond the western edge of the Canadian Shield. But on this spot two and a half billion years ago, Precambrian rains fell upon sterile volcanic basalt of the shield, chemically altering and eroding the rock into the world wide ocean, laying down oxygen poor sediments called Greenstone belts. These belts were buried and heated, compressed and folded at least three times, beginning two billion years ago with the advent of plate tectonics, until eventually batholiths of a new rock, granite, rose and (above) intruded the Greenstrones at depth. And at one batholith, about 15 miles due west of today's small community of Lac du Bonnet, Manitoba, cracks in the Greenstone were injected with chemically rich waters from the granite, concentrating a potpourri of rare earth metals, lithium, beryllium, tantalum and cesium.
Sir Isaac Newton's modern fame is as the discoverer of gravity, the inventor of calculus and optics and his three Laws of Motion. When praised by his contemporaries Newton explained he stood on the shoulders of geniuses. But the great economist John Maynard Keynes also called him “the last of the magicians.” Newton devoted most of his time and effort to alchemy, and his search for the Philosopher's Stone, which would magically turn lead into gold. Newton was no more a fool, than Bishop Ussher. But both of men were of their age, and they lacked the technology to more precisely measure the world they lived in. But they both wanted to do better.  Neither of them thought human knowledge should stop where they were.
The Bird River flows through the largest remaining, seemingly eternal, boreal forest on earth. It is an awe inspiring terrain, but capable of supporting only two humans per square mile. Since 1929 some 60 families in Lac du Bonnet have depended upon the Cabot Corporation's Tanco mine (above) to earn a living.  Since the middle of the 1990's, each year's 30,000 kilograms of cesium extracted from the great rock rooms beneath Bernic Lake, have been destined to lubricate and cool oil drilling equipment world wide, in the form of caesium formate. The tiny fraction used in atomic clocks would never economically justify keeping the mine open. But there is enough profitable cesium under Bernic Lake to last another ten years. If the mine does not swallow the lake first.
At room temperature a single atom of cesium has 55 electrons in six orbits around its nucleus - two in the first level, eight in the second, eighteen in both the third and fourth, eight in the fifth and a lone single electron on the outside or valance level. It is the valance electron that emits energy at a specific frequency when excited by microwaves, as was first predicted in 1945 by Professor Isidor Rabi from Columbia University. With all due respect to Professor Rabi, he was not smarter than Newton, but as Newton put it, Rabbi was standing on Newton's shoulders. Seven years later the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) built the first cesium atomic clock. They kept perfecting and miniaturizing the design until about 1968, when they established the highest standard of measurement - until recently
Until 1989 cesium sold for less than $5 a gram (above). Then came the invention of cesium formate, a slurry that was liquid enough to lubricate drilling bits, and heavy enough improve drill efficiency and to carry rock back up the bore hole, while enduring the temperatures and pressures found thousands of feet underground at the point of a drill bit.  By 1998 the price of 99% pure cesium was over $60 a gram. It was then that Cabot decided to maximize profits by extracting even the ore holding the up the roof of their mine. They shaved away the pillars supporting the ceiling, from 50 feet in diameter to just 25. In 2012 the price of cesium was $70.60 a gram. Then, in 2013, Cabot admitted that over the past three years at least a ton of rock had fallen into their mine because “The crown pillar...is unstable and requires immediate action”.  Corporate greed was destroying the goose that laid the golden egg, and mining had to stop.
The accuracy of cesium clocks is now the limiting factor in available cell phone channels, the accuracy of Global Positioning systems, higher precision and versatility in the electrical grid and better science in every field. So in the new generation of clocks, the NIST-F2, introduced on 3 April 2014, the chamber containing the cesium ball is chilled to minus 316 degrees Fahrenheit (-193 ÂșC). This does not change the frequency of the cesium, but it eliminates much of the “noise” of all the other atoms in the chamber, so the faint electromagnetic vibrations produced by that single valance election can be more clearly heard and more closely defined. Instead of losing a second every 20 million years, the NIST-F2 loses a second every 300 million years. With this the internet will get faster, cell phones will get more versatile and dependable and there will be more profit and better lives for every living human on earth.  Until the cesium runs out.
By 2015 it was figured that Bernic Lake (above) would drown Cabot's golden goose and the world's primary source of cesium within three years,  unless something was done. Cabot's solution was to bulldoze a new road through the virgin forest, build dikes across the lake, and “de-water” the now isolated section over their mine. In Cabot's opinion, this provided “an optimal solution, in that it eliminates the immediate risk of flooding, minimizes the long-term footprint of the project, and upholds Cabot’s corporate commitment to being responsive, responsible and respected citizens...”. It will also keep oil pouring into pipelines around the world, and profits pouring into the pockets of Cabot stockholders. It will also continue to pour $28 million a year into the Lac du Bonnet economy, and save 150 jobs in Manitoba.  In 2016 Cabot's reported to stockholders that,  "We may resume mining operations in the future," So Cabot hopes to provide cesium for new NIST-F2 clocks world wide. But to do so it may have to  kill the three mile long Bernic Lake, and poison the Winnipeg River and Lake Winnipeg which the Bird River pours into.
About six thousand years ago a Sumerian Michelangelo crafted an 8 foot long, 3 foot wide copper tribute to his God, the powerful lion headed eagle Imdugud (above). Copper was a new medium six thousand years ago. The metal has two electrons in its first orbit, eight in the second, eighteen in the third, and like cesium, a single electron in the valance level. But unlike cesium, when exposed to oxygen and moisture, copper slowly forms a layer of green verdigris, or copper carbonate, which then shields the underlying metal from further corrosion. 
The Imdugud frieze, found in the ancient city of al' Urbaid, has been dated using carbon 14 techniques, which uses the science developed by Newton and extended by Professor Isidor Rab. The science of chemistry and metallurgy tells us the ore for the frieze came from mines in present day Iran, mines whose tailings and waste rocks were scavenged by a third and fourth generation of miners for copper not long after Bishop Ussher's birth date for the universe. Perhaps the ore was carried to Ubaid in a ship powered by a sail, an invention which also made its first appearance about 6,000 years ago, as dated from the images painted on pottery, an unbroken line of which can be followed style change by style change, over the last eight thousand years - 2,000 years older than Bishop Usher ever imagined.
In the past the Catholic Church has denied that atoms decayed, that sunlight could be split into a spectrum, that the sun was at the center of the solar system, that anything existed before sunset Sunday, 23 October, 4004 B.C.  None of those contentions proved or disproved the existence of God. And eventually each, and a thousand other beliefs  were discarded, without destroying the faith of the faithful. Only insisting that ignorance is truth, that hypocrisy is devotion, only by taking his name in vain and by mistaking your will for God's will, only that threatens faith..  And your ability to receive a cell phone call from your kids telling you they love you.
         - 30 -

Friday, May 31, 2019

THE BOY JONES Queen Victoria's Stalker

I begin this tale by reminding you of the central thesis of all of my columns, including this one, which is that biologically we humans have a limited number of emotional responses to stimuli, so we tend to repeat ourselves. As that repetitive plotter Antonio puts it in The Tempest, “What's past is prologue”, which he says while plotting yet another assignation. Not that he wants to be king - Antonio is no Richard the Third. He just can't stop himself from plotting. To bring the play to a close, Shakespeare is even forced to induce magic to convert Antonio to pacifism, but that is a dramatist's trick. The reality is not that people never change, it is that PEOPLE never change, from Jack the Ripper to Boy George to Mahatma Gandhi to Genghis Khan to Richard Nixon and his cousin, Donald Trump.  History is not a trail of regrets, it is a Mobius strip of regrets. To drive home that point, consider that there is nothing new in the story about a lad being arrested with Queen Victoria's undies stuffed down his pants. But it is at least entertaining to read about it.
Early on the morning of 20 June, 1837 Alexandria Victoria made a typically teenager's entry into her diary; “I was awoke at 6 o'clock by Mamma....I am Queen.” Except in her case, she really was queen.  
And thus the diminutive monarch was set upon a collision course with an equally abbreviated young lad, who first made his appearance into the world on 14 December, 1838, when his soot blackened face suddenly appeared at the glass door entrance to The Marble Hall in Buckingham Palace...from the inside. No strangers were supposed to be in the palace at that hour. The night porter, Mr, William Cox, was startled by the apparition, and called for assistance. A chase began in the Marble Hall and was concluded outside on the Palace lawn, when the intruder was captured near St. James Street by Constable James Stone. The stubby scoundrel was carrying a sword, linen and a letter written to Queen Victoria, among other items purloined from the Palace. Oh, and he also had several pairs of her majesty's bloomers stuffed down the front of his trousers.  Nothing sexual here. They were probably the first pair of clean underwear he ever seen.
That afternoon the frightful looking young man (everyone agreed he had a very large head and ugly features) was arraigned in the Queen's Square Police Court, where he gave his name as Edward Cotton. He claimed that a year earlier, while living in Hertfordshire, he had met a man who induced him to travel to London and sneak into the Palace.  He claimed that the unnamed man had long since departed, but that he had been living in the palace for the past year, dressed as a chimney sweep to allay suspicions if he were spotted during the day. 
During the evenings, he said,  he sat upon the Queen's throne, and examined the books and paintings in her library. He slept in closets and empty rooms each night, and found what food he could in the kitchen after hours. He often, he claimed, hid behind the furniture and overheard the Queen and her ministers discussing matters of state.
At his next appearance in court, at his trial, our hero was confronted with the truth. His name was actually Edward Jones - the London press began referring to him as “Boy Jones - and he was just 14 years old. He lived in a one room apartment on York Street in the Westminster section of London, which he shared with his poverty stricken father, a tailor, and his five siblings. The boy had a
 "mischievous and restless disposition”, explained the father, and would often disappear for days with no explanation when he returned. He rarely bathed, and spent his time reading and rereading scrap papers he bought for a penny. In desperation his father had sent Edward to work for a builder. His employer explained that Edward was fascinated with the Queen and often spoke of her, always respectfully. 
Edward had entered the Palace, it developed, by coating himself with bear grease and squeezing through a crack in a marble arch by the Palace's front door. And he had been in the palace not for a year, but just for that night. He had first attempted to escape via a chimney, which is how he came to be covered in soot. With the puncturing of his inventions, and with the help of his lawyer Mr. Pendergast, the jury saw Edward as a pitiable character who had no malicious intent. He was found not guilty of trespass and released without bond.  The officials hoped that since the boy had been chastised and would be kept under a close watch, he would stay away from the Queen and the Palace. But as David Letterman could explain, chastisement is not enough to disparage a determined stalker.
During this same time Queen Victoria was busy as well. On 10 February, 1840 she was married to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and within a few months she was pregnant. On 21 November,  1840 , Victoria gave birth to a daughter. The nation celebrated and cheered, but Victoria thought all infants were ugly and that breast feeding was barbaric. 
Thus the Palace was crowded with more than the usual number of servants eleven days later, when, just after one in the morning on Thursday 2 December 1840,  a night nurse named Mrs. Lilly caring for the new princess Victoria, heard a noise coming from the Queen's dressing room. She called other servants and the room was searched. Under the sofa, upon which Victoria had been sitting just two hours earlier, was discovered the grinning horrible edifice of Edward Jones. What might have been cute in a 14 year old was now just creepy in a 17 year old.  
He was described by the author Charles Dickens who interviewed him as “ of a most repulsive appearance; but he was unconscious of this defect as he affected an air of great consequence”. Boy Jones never actually got to meet the Queen, which was good because the young majesty confided to her diary the next day, “But supposing he had come into the Bedroom, how frightened I should have been.” Quite.
This time it was decided to avoid the courts and the publicity. Edward was tried in secret by the Privy Council. Here he claimed that he had actually entered the Palace on Monday 30 November,  by scaling a wall to reach an opened window. But because of the large number of people about he had left again, unseen. But he had come back the following night, 1 December,  at about 1 A.M., and had hidden in the Palace all the next day until he was caught. The Privy Council noted the new lapse in security, found Edward guilty of being a rogue and a vagabond and sentenced him to three months in the brand new Tothills Fields Bridewall prison, also known as the Westminster House of Correction.
The new Tothill Prison was considered the epitome of modern penitentiary science in 1840, where the most common violation of the rules by inmates was talking. The prisoners were required to be silent for all but a few minutes each day. And for “Boy Jones”, talking seems to have been a primary form of personal entertainment. 
Which makes his response to the magistrate who visited him the day before his release disturbing. The officer encouraged Edward to join the Royal Navy. Edward refused. The magistrate then ask him to promise to never invade Buckingham Palace again. Edward refused again. And the next day,
2 March, 1841, Edward was released from Tothill. Thirteen days later, Edward was back in the Palace. It makes me wonder why they didn't just hire him.
Just after 1 A.M on 15 March, 1841,  as a police officer (part of the beefed up security detail inspired by Boy Jones) was walking across the grand hall of Buckingham Palace, he  saw a man staring at him through a glass door of the throne room. The officer immediately recognized Edward Jones and started after him. Edward, deciding on a brazen approach, charged the officer. The approach did not work. Edward was nabbed, pinched and restrained. Examining the throne room, officials found a handkerchief filled with cold meat and potatoes, filched from the Palace kitchen, sitting on the arm of the throne. Again the Privy Council considered what to do, and again Edward was sentenced to three months at Tothill Prison, but this time at hard labor.
The labor of choice for prisoners in this most modern of English prisons was spending six hours a day walking on the treadmill, described by the “Hidden Lives Revealed" web site as “a big iron frame of steps around a revolving cylinder”, or Picking Oakum (above), defined as teasing apart the strands of a hemp rope so that the strands could be twisted into another rope, which would be presented to inmates to be teased apart again. 
After three months of enduring this repetitive repetition in silence, another magistrate offered Edward  another chance to join the Navy. Again he refused. Again he was asked to promise to never visit the palace again. Again he refused. 
This time, before his release, he was also offered £4 a week (about $600 dollars today) to make appearances at a London Music Hall. This too Edward turned down. What was going on in that huge misshapen head of his, we will never know. Because. this time, as he was released from Tothill, Edward was kidnapped and shanghaied aboard a British Man-of-War bound for Brazil. He actually made it to South America and back to England in 1843. Here, Edward managed to jump ship and walked the 60 miles from Portsmouth to London. There he was arrested loitering near Buckingham Palace, and was returned to his ship under arrest. This time the orders were to keep him away from the entire British isles and under watch.
The next year (1844) Edward jumped from ship again, this time into the Mediterranean Sea between Tunis and Algeria. He was rescued and after six years of enforced service was finally set free in the isolated port of Perth (above),  on the lonely west coast of  Australia. There Edward worked for a time as the Town Crier, until he was arrested for burglary. Then he was sent to Freemantle Prison. After his release from here he got a job as a pie seller. But the pull of the Palace was strong, and Edward somehow managed to return to England, where he was arrested for theft in 1856. 
In 1860 one of his brothers, who had a good job in Melbourne, Australia (above), invited Edward to live with him. Back down under, Edward disappeared into anonymity, and there he stayed, until the day after Christmas, celebrated as Boxing Day in England and Australia. 
On that day of celebration, Edward Jones, the Boy Jones, got drunk and fell off a bridge over the Mitchell River in Bairndale, Queensland (above). He landed on that enormous head of his and broke his neck. Says his modern-day biographer, Jan Bondeson, “He didn't have any children and never wanted anything to do with women, apart from his beloved queen."
Though out most of his life, Edward Jones remained infamous for those nights he spent in Buckingham Palace with Victoria's underwear in his pants. He hated the teasing and ribbing about it to the day he died.  But his obituary was published in most of the newspapers in the English speaking world. We don't know what Victoria felt when she heard the news. But I am dying to know what was going in her average sized head, when she did.
- 30 - 

Thursday, May 30, 2019

THE SURPRISING JOAN The Truth About Burning At the Stake

It was Wednesday, 30 May, 1341, in Rouen, the capital of Normandy in France. Guards brought the girl into the very center of the the Vieux-Marche' - the old square. The 19 year old woman walked through the stacked faggots of wood,  to the very center of the platform, where she was bound to a large post. The opening was closed and the wood set afire. And then - and this is the surprising thing I have recently learned - Joan of Arc did not burn to death. No witnesses reported her screaming or writhing against her ropes. We know she did not scream because,  until almost the end, she kept repeating the name “Jesus”.  You see the truth is, Joan d'Arc died of heat stroke.
A wood fire burns at 800 to 900 degrees Fahrenheit. The faggots of lightly bound wood piled around Joan were mostly air. Once the wood was ignited, the air in between the branches quickly expanded and rushed out, drawing more air in from the bottom, and then up and out at the center post, where Joan was standing. While the flame was still barely a few inches high on the distant perimeter of the fire, the air temperature around Joan started climbing. The already badly dehydrated girl began to sweat, which was quickly soaked up by her linen shift, which then prevented evaporation from cooling her body.
Her terror caused her heart to beat faster until she went into tachycardia, with a heart rate above 170 beats per minute. That caused her blood pressure to plummet. That caused the blood to pool in her feet, legs and abdomen. She became light headed and faint. 
Witnesses said she repeated the name “Jesus” just seven times before her head fell forward, meaning she fell unconscious within two minutes of the fire starting. It would take another eighteen minutes for the air around her to reach 300 degrees, when flesh starts to burn. Long before then her brain had been starved of oxygen for long enough that she was dead.
Using a sickle, the binding ropes were cut and her executioners pulled the corpse out of the fire. The crowd confirmed that the body was indeed Joan's, and that she was dead – which meant she had not yet been extensively burned. So they pushed her body back into the fire, and burned it to ash and bone. Under guard, more wood was stacked atop the chard bones, and they were burned again, until they cracked and shattered, ensuring there was nothing left of la Pucelle – the Maiden - but ash. Then the ashes were swept up and dumped in the river Seine, which ran right outside the city walls.  
The English were determined to wipe out all traces of Joan of Arc. Not surprisingly, they failed.
- 30 -

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

NEW PLACE, SAME PLACE, The Sad Tale of Shakespeare's House

“I grant him bloody, Luxurious, avaricious, false, deceitful, Sudden, malicious, smacking of every sin
That has a name.”
Prince Malcolm describing Macbeth, Act IV, Scene 3
In Shakespeare's tragedy of “Macbeth”, Prince Malcolm is the answer to the question 'what should Hamlet have done?' Like the 'unhappy Dane', Malcolm was the spoiled son of a King. When his father is murdered by Macbeth, the boy suffers indecision, just like Hamlet. But then Malcolm adopts all the worst traits he sees in Macbeth, and methodically lies his way to the top, pausing only to kill Macbeth along the way. If there was one thing William Shakespeare was familiar with it was human frailties of greed and self justification. I mean, it brought down his house, for God's sake.
The 'immortal bard' was born in the English midlands town of Stratford-upon-Avon, where the the road - or in old English the 'strat', which gives us our modern word 'street' – forded the river Avon, about 22 miles south-east of modern day Birmingham. At 19 William married a Stratford girl. But it was a very unpleasant place to live. Stratford was the final destination for herds of sheep from the rolling Cotswold county just to the south, which were fuel for a 16th century agro-chemical industry. Stratford was dotted with noisy, stinking slaughter houses and reeking tanneries, which produced meat and wool and glue and soap and leather and a myriad of other animal by-products the world has forgotten it ever needed. Shakespeare's father was a glove maker, and his raw material was sheepskin. As a layer of smog envelopes modern cities, the residents of Stratford lived under a permanent cloud of stench and flies.
Perhaps the flies explain why a good Catholic boy like William left Stratford, abandoning his wife and children, to pursue a career then viewed as sinful – in the theater. Against all odds he became a success, so well paid on the London stage that in 1597 he was able to pay sixty pounds for a 17 acre estate at the corner of Stratford and Chapel streets, in the middle of Stratford.  It had two gardens, two small orchards, two barns and outbuildings, and the second largest house in Stratford, a two story Tudor stucco and beam affair, with a brick foundation - even the cesspit was brick. Though it was already a hundred years old, it was still called called “New Place”, and William deposited his wife and two daughters here, while he returned to London.
But even then the theater was a tough way to make a farthing. Between 1603 and 1610 the London theaters were closed more often than they were open, because of plague. New Place, with its gardens and the mulberry tree William had planted himself, became a sanctuary where he composed his last play, “The Tempest” - about an old man named Prospero, who is exiled on an island with his daughter, and a son-of-a-witch who makes his life miserable. To keep his sanity William often returned to London to go drinking with his friends William Burbage and Ben Johnson. But he was not a spring chicken anymore. He was in fact an ill man. And in 1616, at the age of 53, just two months after marrying his youngest daughter to the guy who owned the liquor store next door, William Shakespeare died. In his will William left his wife, Ann Hathaway, his “second best bed”, but he left the house it sat in, to his eldest daughter and her doctor husband.
The trouble was, none of William's children's children had children who had children. Call it the Shakespeare curse, but within a hundred years his blood line had dried up completely. In 1702 the house and garden was sold to Sir John Clopton, whose family had originally built the house before Columbus left for America. John gutted it to the exterior walls and then rebuilt it. But he regularly allowed the public in to tour “Shakespeare’s garden” next door, including the mulberry tree. Then in 1757 John Clopton died suddenly and his family was forced to sell the house to pay his debts. The buyer this time had no connection to the house, nor any interest in Shakespeare. He was an arrogant neuveau riche Bishop from Chester named Francis Gastrell. We will pause here for a moment so you can boo and hiss this villain’s entrance upon the stage.
Done? Okay. Francis (above) inherited his money when his father, the previous Bishop of Chester, died in 1748 without a will. And he needed one because Daddy had been a very acquisitive clergyman who left behind a lot of investment properties. Now, you might ask how a man of God had obtained all that money – I would - but that is another story. This story is about his son, Francis.
The courts sold the old man's property, and then divided the money between his two sons. It took a few years, but by the time he was 50 Francis was finally “independently” wealthy.  Like any good upwardly mobile Englishman of his time, he used his money to mobile upward further. In 1752 he married the daughter of a Baronet , and then he retired.. Upwardly mobile Englishmen did not “labor” for a living. Even Bishops. In 1756, Francis bought New Place in Stratford as a vacation home. And the first thing he noticed was the crowds of tourists who still expected to wander about in Shakespeare's garden. Except Francis saw it as “his” garden. He put up a fence. And padlocked the gate. Francis saw no reason he should allow strangers on “his” private property. Of course at the same time he saw no reason why he should be paying taxes on “his” property, either.  Does any of this sound like rich bastards around today? You're damn right it does.
The local merchants recognized that keeping the town looking nice was an investment in the tourist trade, which even in 1760 was proving profitable. And keeping the poor off the streets kept Stratford looking prosperous and safe, not to mention it being the “Christian” duty of every believer. But Bishop Francis Gastrell did not see why he should care about the poor. In fact he asked for a tax cut, arguing that he didn't live in Stratford year-round (he wintered in Lichfield) and should not have to pay the poor taxes when he was not in residence. The town council disagreed. The poor did not stop needing food just because Francis was out of town. Francis still owed his forty schillings for the “Poor Tax”. And that made Francis angry. So he cut down Shakespeare's mulberry tree.
Oh, when challenged he explained the 150 year old tree had cast a shadow over the house, making it feel dank and dark. Like Tudor houses don't all feel dark and dank.  But while the entire town went into shock, one man showed Francis how to turn his problem with the tourists into a gold mine. His name was Thomas Sharpe, and he was a local clock maker. He bought the corpse of Shakespeare's tree, at firewood prices, and carved it into Shakespeare mementos, which he sold to the tourists – clocks, statues, medallions, trinkets and cameos (above). He sold so many and he made so much money, that he was accused of fraud. Sharpe was forced to issue a statement. “I do hear by declare and take my solemn oath, upon the four Evangelists, in the presence of the Almighty God, that I never worked, sold, or substituted any other wood than what came from, and was part of, the said tree.”
But rather than sell tickets to the garden for a few days each week in the summer, when he wasn't in town anyway, Francis Gastrell went the other way. To protest his “Poor Taxes”, he boarded up the house (above) and refused to pay any taxes at all. He was a Tea Party thinker before there was a tea party. Of course this meant his servants were now unemployed and without a residence – in other words, poor. Besides being insulted by Francis' treatment of their citizens, the Stratford council did not agree with Francis' morality or his logic. The house might not be occupied, but it was still in the town, so there were still taxes to be paid.
In 1759, just three years after he bought it, Francis Gastrell had “Shakespeare's” house pulled down to make a political point. It was dismantled and burned, so nobody would profit from even the wreckage. Then, according to the London Gazette and Journal, “Upon completion of his outrages on the memory of Shakespeare ...Francis Gastrell departed from Stratford, hooted out of the town, and pursued by the excretions of its inhabitants.” The council even passed an ordnance that no one named Gastrell would ever be allowed to live in Stratford, ever again – not that there is a line of wandering Gastrells waiting at the city gates, but the law is still on the books
And that is why, if you go to Stratford-upon-Avon today, and you should if you can, you will see the house where Shakespeare was born, and the cottage where his wife, Ann Hathaway was born. You can visit their graves in the local church (above). You can visit his garden, where you will see a plaque where the mulberry tree once stood. But the house he owned, where he died, where Ann died as well, is long gone, thanks to an arrogant selfish jackass who could boast to the world, not that “I built that”, but “I destroyed that”.
But then, that is the only achievement of selfish people.
- 30 -     

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