JULY 2020

JULY   2020
Everything Old Is New Again!


Saturday, July 20, 2019


I am glad I was not there on that Easter Sunday, 26 March, 1894, when what the press would call “Coxey’s Army” set out from Massillon, Ohio. It would have been a depressing sight. It was raining and it was cold, and only 86 men showed up to begin a march which was intended to change the course of American democracy. On the plus side, they were joined by 42 reporters from various newspapers, just about one reporter for every two marchers. The press corps was further augmented by four Western Union telegraphers and two line men. At any time or place they could tap into a telegraph line, and begin sending urgent dispatches about the progress of the army. William Stead, from the magazine Review of Reviews, noted that “Never in the annals of insurrection has so small a company of soldiers been accompanied by such a phalanx of recording angels.” It would quickly develop that he was one of the more sympathetic angles.
"The road to the City of Emeralds is paved with yellow brick," said the Witch, "so you cannot miss it. When you get to Oz do not be afraid of him, but tell your story and ask him to help you. "
1900  L. Frank Baum  "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz"
History records that they were singing new words (written by Carl Browne) and set to the tune "Marching Through Georgia", sung as Sherman’s Army burned its way to Savanna.  “Hurrah, Hurrah, we’ll sing the jubilee, Hurrah, Hurrah, for the flag that makes you free, So we sing the chorus now, Wherever we may be, While we go marching to Congress.” But if they did sing,it was not for long. At least they waited until after noon for it to warm up before they even began their trek.
First there came a man on foot carrying an American flag, who the press dutifully identified as a “negro”, thus mocking Coxey’s determination to treat all races in his army with equal respect. He was followed by Carl Browne, mounted on a white stallion, and bedecked in his buckskin jacket and a huge western hat. Behind him came the financial supporter and ideological inspiration for the march, Jacob Coxey, ridding in a Pheaton built buggy, drawn by a matched pair of magnificent white horses. And behind him came the “army”, all 86 of them,  on foot or bicycle. But who were “them” really?
Later, a Professor Hourwitch from the University of Chicago actually tried to find out. When the marchers had grown in number and in fame, he polled 290 of them. Their average age was 31 years old and on average they had been unemployed for five months. Almost two thirds were skilled mechanics, but less than half of those were union members. There were 88 Democrats in the army, 39 Republicans and 10 who declared themselves to be members of the Populist party. One in four had needed charity to survive the winter just passed. The study also noted that five or six were of “questionable character”. 
"After a few hours the road began to grow rough, and the walking grew so difficult...The farms were not nearly so well cared for here as they were farther back. There were fewer houses and fewer fruit trees, and the farther they went the more dismal and lonesome the country became." 
1900  L. Frank Baum  "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz"
The New York Times noted in their dispatch that by the end of the first day’s march of just eight miles, ending outside of Canton, Ohio, twenty-five men had “dropped out”. Another paper noted that of the “seventy-five stragglers” who had begun the march, several had spent the previous night in the local jail, and were released just before the march had begun. And calling the marchers “stragglers” was one of the kinder characterizations. Routinely they were identified as “bums”, or “tramps”. 
But four days before the march began the magazine “The Coming Nation” noted, “There is to be a presidential election this year; in view of which it may be well to remark-- That workingmen will not be taxed less under a Republican president than they have been under a Democrat. That there will be no more opportunities open to labor in the next four years than there have been in the past four…That there will be no more flour in the bin with a McKinley in the White House than there has been with a Cleveland….We admit that this is rather a gloomy forecast; but experience warrants it and events will justify it.” They certainly did.
What Coxey wanted from the Federal government was not charity. He wanted half a billion dollars to be spent on building and improving roads. We know today, as the beneficiaries of the interstate highway system, that the investment in infrastructure Coxey was promoting would improve the nation, would create new wealth by creating new opportunities for business and in the short run provide honest work for the unemployed. But the tired, old, plaintive ideological repetitions were heard just as loudly in 1894 as they are today - then, that surface roads built by the government were somehow less “moral” than the railroads, privately owned, but each built and run as government endorsed monopolies. In the eyes of the wealthy and thus powerful, who owned the railroads, one was moral and one was not. You need not guess which was which.
Put in such stark black and white imperatives the argument may seem absurd to us today, and, in fact there are indications it seemed just as absurd to the citizens of 1894. But at issue was not what the average American thought, but what the bought and paid for politicians in Washington and the various state capitals were willing to publicly consider. For, much as they are today, the press and the politicians, to their mutual advantage, avoided any honest and open discussion of middle ground, preferring instead to debate positions that most people considered absurdest extremism. 
But the cause of the common man, championed by Coxey and Browne, was not helped by the men Browne had brought in to be his Marshals, the second tier leaders of the group. David McCullaum was an economic author who, under the no de plume of “One of the Dogs”, a supposed Cherokee Indian, had written a pamphlet entitled “Dogs and Fleas”. Also there was "Mr. One"  claimed to subsist only on oatmeal. Then there was Cyclone Kirtland, an astrologer who predicted the army would be “invisible in war, invincible in peace.” Beside him loomed Christopher Columbus Jones, who always wore a silk top hat, which merely accented his five foot tall frame. There was also the trumpeter named “Windy” Oliver. Together they all more closely resembled a circus side show than the managers of a political movement.
But the most disturbing of all them all was a man known only as “The Great Unknown”. It was not a name chosen at random, but self promoted. “The Great” was always followed about by a woman who always wore a veil and never spoke. But Carl Browne knew the Great Unknown  was an ex-circus barker and a current patent medicine “faker” named A.B.P. Bazarro. 
Before the march, The Great (and his wife) had concocted their “blood purifyer” in a makeshift lab and mass production line on the near West side of Chicago. In this earlier life, like a traveling infomercial, Bazarro had  made his living providing a show, featuring testimonials and a protracted sales pitch. And once the crowd was captured, and while they were resting their buying muscles, Browne would make his appearance and pitch his ideas of going off the gold and silver standards, and union organizing. Bazarro knew the monetary possibilities of mixing politics with a sales pitch. He was also the self elected “Great Wizardo” of the “American Patriots”, a self created political organization. But politics seems to have been, to “The Great Unknown”, much as it is to FOX News, just another marketing ploy.
And just to make it easier for the newsmen, The Great Unknown let it be known that he would also answer to the name of “Smith”. So he became known as the Great Unknown Smith. The newspaper men might be forgiven then, for treating these desperate men as if they were members of a sideshow confidence game. Some of them had been, and recently.
Except. of course, that required that at the same time they belittle and dismiss the millions of their desperate fellow citizens whose plight the march was trying to publicize.The crime was that the news media of 1894, like the media of today, were perfectly willing to ignore the drama, and instead portray the march as a joke.
"Am I really wonderful?" asked the Scarecrow. 
"You are unusual," replied Glinda"
1900  L. Frank Baum "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz"
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Friday, July 19, 2019

NEED FOR SPEED, The S.S. Eastland on a Knife's Edge.

I believe the original source of the problem was the  calm, placid river. And the solution to that problem proved to be a disaster. The river was Eastman Creek, stained dark with plant decay, a tributary of the South Branch of the Big Black River, which slipped quietly from Great Bear Lake (above), in west central Michigan.
The stream meanders northward through gently rolling woodlands before pausing at Breedsville, where a mill dam provides the only sense of drama in its course. Once the middle and north branches join the south branch the river abruptly jogs back south 3 miles before slipping quietly into Lake Michigan at the port of South Haven.
In 1861 the channel at South Haven was dredged to a depth of six feet to accommodate lumber haulers. It was the lumber shipped through South Haven which helped build the metropolis of Chicago across the lake. With the woodlands cleared, the land was converted to fruit orchards, to feed the newly built metropolis. To accommodate the fruit carriers, in 1867, a light house was built at the exit to the lake (above), and the channel at South Haven was dredged to a depth of twelve feet. But the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stopped there.
By the turn of the century (1900), each fall steam ships would leave the docks at South Haven, their holds crammed with peaches, apples and blueberries. 
Not wanting to return empty, the shipping lines promoted South Haven as “The Catskills of the Midwest”.
By 1900 the returning ships were carrying 75,000 tourists a year to South Haven’s 215 hotels.
The town boasted theatres, a casino, an amusement park and public gardens.
And for 12 years the S.S. Eastland (above), plied her trade between South Haven (and other ports around the rim of Lake Michigan) and docks on the Chicago River, merely one of a fleet of lake steamers, narrow of beam and fast to carry freight and tourists, and always carrying in their design the legacy of the quiet, un-dramatic and shallow Black River.
The Eastland was built to conquer the Black River. She was 265 feet long and only 28 feet wide. “Fully pumped out” she drew only 10 feet of water. Once christened in May of 1903, she quickly became the “Speed Queen of the Great Lakes”, able to slice through the water at over 20 knots. Speed was profit because it allowed the Eastland to make two transits a day between Chicago and South Haven.
However, during her first summer on the lake, while carrying 3,000 passengers, the Eastland listed so badly that during the winter of 1904 ballast tanks and pumps were installed to control her wild swings.  But no gauges were installed to measure the tilt or the ballast. Worse, an extra deck and heavy air conditioning units were also added, making the Eastland’s narrow wedge shape even more top heavy. In 1906 her maximum passenger load was reduced to 2,400 souls.
And then, in April of 1912, the Titanic sank. One thousand and five hundred people died because there were not enough life boats on board. In America the legislative response was the Seaman’s Act of 1915, requiring a life jacket and a seat aboard a life boat for every single passenger. Installed on the Eastland, the new life boats and rafts added 14 tons to the upper decks.
Shortly after three A.M., 24 July, 1915, the Eastland tied up at the “Chicago and South Haven wharf”, between Clark and LaSalle streets, along Whacker Drive in downtown Chicago. Directly across the river was the Reid Murdoch office building, with its distinctive clock tower, the office windows looking down on the river dock. The Eastland was scheduled this day to be part of a three ship excursion flotilla taking Western Electric employees to Michigan City, Indiana for a company picnic.
Shortly after six A.M., as the sun rose into the cool morning air above Lake Michigan, the Eastland’s ballast tanks were pumped empty. At 6:30 passengers began to board the Eastland; most moved directly below decks to get warm.
Over the next half hour, as 50 passengers a minute boarded the Eastland, the ship began to list, first to starboard and then to port. Each time water was pumped into side ballast tanks to right the vessel. At seven A.M. the tug boat Kanosha cast a bow line to the Eastland. Five minutes later the Eastland’s engines were started. 
At ten minutes after seven the gang plank was closed. The Eastland had on board her full compliment of passengers, 2,400 souls.  At eighteen minutes after seven the operator of the Clark Street draw bridge informed the Captain of the Eastland that he was ready to raise the structure. The captain ordered the stern line cast off.  At twenty minutes after seven  the Eastland began to list so strongly to port that water began to pour into the ship. 
The Captain ordered the engines stopped. A crewman hit an alarm whistle. At twenty-eight minutes after seven A.M. the Eastland rolled over onto her port side. Her bow was still tied to the dock. 845 passengers, men, women and children were trapped below decks and drowned in 20 feet of water 20 feet from the dock. Many people above decks simply walked onto the side of the ship, and then crossed the Kenosha to the dock,, not even getting wet.
Jack Woodford watched from an office building across the river. Years later he wrote in his biography; “As I watched in disoriented stupefaction a steamer large as an ocean liner slowly turned over on its side as though it were a whale going to take a nap…lashed to a dock, in perfectly calm water, in excellent weather, with no explosion, no fire, nothing. I thought I had gone crazy.”
Miss Ina Roseland told one of the Chicago newspapers, “My brother Karl and I were standing near the rail on a lower deck when the Eastland tipped over. I lost Karl as the boat carried me down, until I felt the muddy bottom….Then I began to rise...As I touched the slippery wall that was about me, my hand struck something soft…I screamed and felt myself fainting, but…(I) heard an answering shout. I could not believe my ears. It was my brother's voice. He told me to be brave; that he had come up in the (sunken) state room next to me….
"Several bodies, all of them women or little girls, would keep knocking against me, however much I tried to climb higher. Then I heard the hammering and cluttering as the men worked to cut away the plates. 
As a piece came away a little light filtered through and as I started a prayer of thankfulness, it was choked in my throat, for it fell on the upturned staring faces about me…Brother Karl was there urging them on as I was pulled outside.”
From another Chicago newspaper appeared this tidbit. “Joseph A. Forrester, who holds a Mississippi river master and pilot’s license, declared the Eastland never should have been used for passenger service. Forrester, who is visiting here and was early on the scene, continued: “There were not enough holds below the water line. The Eastland was built too high. When she started listing nothing on God’s earth could stop her, because there was more above water than below, which is contrary to all ideas of boat construction.”
The Chicago Daily Herald recorded the story of Charles Williams who was crossing the Clark Street Bridge when the Eastland rolled over. “"I leaped into the water and the first person that I reached was a man who was choking and crying for help. I swam to him and when I came up to him he threw his arms around my neck in a death grip.
"I knew that the only thing to do was to shake him off…I came up behind him and hit him in the neck. He became unconscious and I swam to shore with him, where spectators on the dock helped me get him out of the water. Next I pulled out a young lady dressed in a pink suit. A patrol boat then came along and a man on it yelled to me that a young lady had just gone down for the third time at a certain spot. I dived, got her and took her to shore, where she, too, was revived…
"I swam to the Eastland and worked my way up on top of the hull, where I assisted four firemen in taking bodies out of apertures that had been chopped through several places. We took out at least fifty bodies, mostly women and children, although there were about a dozen men.”
The bodies pulled from the hulk of the Eastland were transported to a cold storage warehouse, which was occupied by Harpo Studios, and contained the sound stage for the Oprah Winfrey Show. 
Six investigations were made into the Eastland disaster. No one was ever indicted, no one was ever convicted of a crime in this matter. A marker commemorating the Eastland disaster was not erected on the spot until 1989. The sinking of the Eastland remained the single worst civilian loss of life in American history until September 11, 2001.
In 1915 a Coroner Juries’ inquest came to the conclusion that, “…the steamship Eastland was both improperly constructed for the service employed, and improperly loaded, operated and maintained…”. The jury recommended that, “…the state's attorney and grand jury investigate carefully the condition of the construction of this boat, to ascertain if there can be found legal methods by which those responsible can be held accountable.” Eventually it was decided there were none.
As if suspecting that this would be the case, the Corner's Jury also observed that, “…the federal government system of permitting the construction of vessels for use by common carriers is unscientific and a menace to the public safety. There is not now nor has there ever been an inspection service maintained by the federal government for the purpose of determining the stability of boats offered for passenger service. It is the judgment of this jury that the present method of determining the passenger-carrying capacity of vessels is not founded on any proper basis.”
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Thursday, July 18, 2019

ABIUARE! Going After Galileo

I make no claims to understand the Byzantine logic of Catholicism, but I do feel empathy for Cardinal Robert Bellarmine. History records that it was Bellarmine who was the instrument of Galileo Galileo’s destruction. But at least the Cardinal was not an brainless evil little toady like Caccini, or a Machiavellian social tyrant such as Maffeo Barberini (aka Pope Urban VIII), and they both played far larger roles in bringing down the best brain in Europe since Pythagoras. And the Cardinal did write, early the fifteenth century, such a revolutionary sentence as: “…Civil authority is instituted by men; (and that power resides) in the people, unless they bestow it on a Prince.” Such revolutionary sentence could almost have been written by Thomas Paine, a century and a half later, and it speaks of a faith that values logic and democracy. It is a brand of Catholicism that at times today feels nostalgic.
Things began to go ugly in the spring of 1615 when the Dominican monk Tommasco Caccini took it upon himself to journey to Rome. Caccini was very suspicious of mathematics, which he did not understand, and his intent was to throw what he saw as “money changers” out of the Vatican. On the surface Caccini was complaining about Copernican astronomy, but Copernicus was beyond earthy correction, having died in 1543. In fact this “dreadful fool”, as his own brother described Caccini, sought to overturn the dominance of the Jesuit order in the Church. This was an internal Catholic  "cultural war".
Of course the Pope himself, Paul V (above), was a Jesuit, so Caccini aimed at a stand-in instead; Galileo Galilei. Caccini told the Holy See that Galileo had contaminated all of Florence with his heresies about the sun being the center of the solar system, and the moon not being a pristine celestial orb. Worse, Caccini alleged that Galileo was saying in public that God did not perform miracles. Caccini might be a “turbulent ignoramus”, as Galileo described him, and Pope Paul V might know that his own nose was being tweaked by the Dominican, but Rome could not ignore the charges that had been made.
The pope turned to his most dependable cultural warrior, 73 year old Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (above). It had been the intellectual Bellarmine who had out maneuvered and isolated the clever James I of England over his English translation of the bible, and who had prosecuted the magician Giordano Bruno sixteen years earlier. They had been forced to put a wooden clamp on Bruno’s tongue to prevent him from shouting heresies while they burned him at the stake, but in the end Bruno was silenced. It is doubtful the Pope wanted Galileo silenced so absolutely, but he expected Bellarmine to remove the Flrointine as an irritant, whatever that demanded.
The problem was that Bellarmine was too much of an intellectual, and he understood enough about mathematics to know that Galileo’s numbers were right. When the old and ill Bellarmine interviewed Galileo, which he did three times, he fell under the genius’s spell. In the end Bellarmine provided the Florentine with a letter that allowed him to "discuss" the idea of a sun centered universe, so long as he did not claim publicly that it was not opinion but fact. Despite what Bellarmine and Galileo both knew to be fact, officially the Earth remained at the center of the universe because several Popes had said it was so. Robert Bellarmine would die in 1624, and later become a saint, but his letter of instruction for Galileo would prove to be a dead letter.That letter rose from the dead after Pope Paul V died in 1621. He was followed by the brief and sickly Pope Gregory XV, and in 1623 by the energetic and energetically ignorant Pope Urban VIII, aka Maffeo Barberini (above). How Barberini’s mind worked was revealed in 1624 when he issued a Papal Bull, or pronouncement, making it a sin to smoke tobacco - not because it was unhealthful but because it often caused its users to sneeze, an act which Barberini considered similar to sexual ecstasy - which leaves me wondering about Signor Barberini’s boudoir habits during flue season.For the next eight years it was war and not sin which occupied Barberini. If he was not fighting battles to extend the Church’s (and his families') dominions, then he was preparing to fight battles. Barberini turned the Vatican into an arsenal, and built a factory in Tivoli to supply it with weapons. And when the Holy See ran short of cannon Barberini had bronze ripped from the roof of that temple to the Roman Republic, the Pantheon, and melted into more cannon. As an unknown sage put it at the time, “That which the barbarians did not do, Barberini did” (in Latin – “quod non fecerunt barbari, fecerunt Barberini”).
But finally, with the printing of Galileo’s newest book, “Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems”, in February of 1632, the prosaic world of ideas captured Barberini’s attention. Seeing criticism of himself in Galileo’s arguments (and, honestly, it seems to have been there) Barberini ordered the book seized and the printer arrested. And he ordered the Inquisition to investigate Galileo.The Church had been at war with dissenters from the moment Christ died on the cross, and by 1542, when Pope Paul III established the “Congregation of the Holy Office of the Inquisition” in Rome, that war had become formalized and institutionalized, replete with all forms of torture, including water boarding, and with all the advantages and disadvantages found in any bureaucracy.
By 1633, when an ailing Galileo was ordered to Rome (he arrived carried in a litter) to face the Dominican Cardinals who had been given responsibility for his inquisition, the machinery of correction had been perfected. To be charged was to be guilty.
Galileo thought his 1616 letter from Cardinal Bellarmine would protect him, but Bellermine was a decade dead, and instead the Cardinal’s letter would be the clamp used to silence Galileo’s tongue. Galileo was presented with an “official” copy of that letter which included a phrase – “Galileo agrees to neither hold, defend, nor teach the Copernican opinion in any way whatsoever” – that had not been in the original letter, which the old man still had. Holding this official forgery Galileo mumbled, “I don’t remember the clause “in any way whatsoever… ”. And then his voice fell silent. He must have understood at that instant that this Pope (and his army of sycophants) was willing to commit the sin of bearing false wittiness to secure Galileo's silence, or his death.
When presented with his false confession the old man signed. To have refused would have been to invite a death by fire. And in the last act of the farce Galileo was required to openly announced his “abiurare”, that he abjured and renounced the idea that the sun was at the center of the solar system. Later generations would insist the old man left the court muttering his independence, but that was just wishful thinking. Barbarini used the power of Galileo's imagination, which had once opened the universe to all of mankind, to defeat him. He could imagine the endless pain the Pope could cause him. That is not faith. It is obedience. In exchange for his “abiurare” the old man was allowed to return to his home in Florence but he was never allowed to write another word on science. He died in January of 1641, blind and gagged. It was a great victory for Barbarini.

It was not until October 31, 1992 – Halloween, 350 years later –that Pope John Paul II expressed the Church’s official regret at the way Galileo had been persecuted. John Paul admitted that the Earth does indeed revolve around the sun, once a year. According to John Paul II, “The error of the theologians of the time…was to think that our understanding of the physical world’s structure was, in some way, imposed by the literal sense of Sacred Scripture.”It seemed, at least for a time, that Catholicism would enter the twenty-first century in peaceful coexistence with science. Cardinal Bellarmine would have been pleased, but I remain  more than a little wary of the sins the church would commit tomorrow, in God's name.

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