Monday, April 30

An Artist With a Message

Dying Hercules
Image-Wikipedia
By Grant Davies

On this day (-3) in 1791, a noted painter was born in Charleston, Massachusetts. His art was oft times meant to send a message. In fact, his most famous masterpiece was titled Dying Hercules and many thought it was meant to represent a political statement about the War of 1812. It may be because he was an American, living in England, while painting it during that conflict.

But it seems that his most lucrative artistic endeavor was painting portraits. He painted a lot of famous people, including a former President, John Adams, in 1815, and a sitting President, James Monroe, in 1820. But it was when he was in the middle of painting a portrait of the Marquis de Lafayette in 1825 that a tragic event occurred. That event led to the reason most people today remember him as an inventor, instead of an artist.

While he was away from home working on the painting, Samuel Finley Breese Morse received a message telling him that his wife had fallen deathly ill back in Massachusetts. He left immediately. But by the time he arrived home, she had passed away and had already been buried. In his grief, the need for faster communication was impressed upon him, and it would become part of the inspiration for his later contributions to the invention of the telegraph system. He also co-invented the code that bears his name.

Sam was a complicated guy. He was an admirer of Thomas Jefferson because he (Jefferson) favored the common man over the aristocrat. He favored a smaller government because he feared that a large centralized one was dangerous to freedom. But, he was pro-slavery. It wasn't that he owned any slaves, but because he thought it was a divinely inspired system of life. Not a sin, just a part of the grand plan. He gave large amounts to charity in consideration of his fellow man, yet he was vehemently anti-Catholic and anti-immigration.

So, he helped the world to send its messages, but the message he personally was sending was garbled in transmission. It must have been in Morse code.

Thursday, April 26

Hey Wormwood, What's That Strange Cloud?


 By Art Cashin

On this day in 1986, folks at the Swedish Institute of Science began to notice something strange.  So they picked up the phone and called the Kremlin. "Excuse us," they asked, "but could you tell us why our instruments are showing a nuclear cloud drifting our way from an area in the Ukraine near Kiev, in the province of Sverdlovsk that we see on our map as the place called Chernobyl."

The initial Kremlin reply was something like - - "Thank you for your solicitous call. However, we not only think your instruments are faulty, your maps must be outdated, for there is no place called Sverdlovsk nor a place called Chernobyl."  "We hope to have new maps out by Thursday!"  

Well, a little while later, the Russian leaders, looking glowing and radiant, did admit that they had invented a new form of eternal flame.  And a variety of biblical scholars (non David Koresh variety) did a minor gulp.  For in the book of Revelations, a burning Wormwood poisons all the waters of the Earth.  The gulp was caused by the fact that in Ukrainian the word Chernobyl means "Wormwood." But that was 26 years ago and you've never felt better, have you?

 (Editor's update - Sixteen years ago there were news reports that some of the regenerating radioactive detritus from Chernobyl had begun to seep into the local river and may spread into the European watershed. Just an odd coincidence, we are sure.  Anyway, don't you worry!  I'm sure you do know where your bottled water comes from, don't you?)

This article is republished here with the kind permission of Mr. Cashin and UBS Corp.

Wednesday, April 25

The Midnight Ride of....Sybil?

Image - http://eslaudio.blogspot.com
By Grant Davies

On this day in 1777, during the Revolutionary War, two thousand British soldiers arrived in Fairfield, Connecticut, and proceeded to march toward Danbury in search of military supplies to confiscate from the Continental army.  They didn't molest any private property along the way and, all in all, were a really well behaved group of nice guys in cool looking red uniforms. They didn't seem to be a rowdy bunch, at least not yet. But all that changed when they found the rum.

A search party was dispatched and issued chalk in order to mark an X on the buildings and homes which were to remain unmolested. Those being, of course, the "FOGs". (friends of George - the king, not the general) You see, when they found all the other supplies, they had no problem setting the buildings ablaze. But c'mon, who burns rum? I mean, if ya have to get rid of it, there are better ways. So they drank it, discipline broke down, they burned a few villagers private homes, and the party was on.

This is where our heroine enters the story. Her name was Sybil, or something like that. It's spelled "Sibbell" on her tombstone, it's "Sebal" on her Revolutionary War pension application, (which apparently she filled out), it's "Sebil" according to her sister Mary, the same way in the 1810 census, and "Cybil" on still other records. No official documents have her as Sybil, so that's how history records her. Go figure.

However you spell her name, she was a pretty good rider for a girl who had just turned 16 and she knew her way around the area at night. That's why she either volunteered, or was chosen by her father, Col. Ludington (head of the local militia), to take the place of the weary and geographically challenged messenger who had brought the news to him.

Sybil took off on her dangerous ride at 9pm on that rainy night and rode forty miles, first to the town of Kent, and then to Mahopac and Stormville, before finally getting back home around dawn the next morning. Along the way she had to avoid the British troops, the loyalist neighbors, and the "Skinners", a group of ruffians and ne'er-do-wells who didn't care who was in charge after the war. A famous guy named Paul Revere had nothing on this girl.

By the time the militia was able to rally and get down to Danbury, it was too late to save the town. But they were able to engage the enemy and drive the drunken British troops out. Well, actually they were already leaving, but why ruin a good story?

So listen my children and you will hear, of the midnight ride of...Sybil Ludington.


For more about this remarkable girl and her family...ELS Audio Blogspot and Historicpatterson.org

Tuesday, April 24

The Day the News Business Took Off

By Grant Davies

On this day (+1) in 1850, the stock market in Brussels was soaring, literally. Actually, the prices were pretty stable, it was the messengers who were going up and down. You see, the news was flying from Brussels to Aachen, Germany on the wings of forty pigeons who had been released with the Paris stock market prices attached to their legs. The "attacher" was an enterprising man named Israel Beer Josafat. (At least that's what his parents named him when he was born thirty four years earlier.)

The idea was to make the news transmission between those two cites faster than the train and fill the missing information link between Paris and Berlin. It worked rather well in that period before the telegraph could transmit the happy, or sad, news of the day's activity.

By the time Izzy was releasing his birds he had already changed his name more than once. The son of a Jewish Rabbi, he moved to London from his birthplace in Kassel, Germany and started to call himself Joseph Josephat as soon as he got there. A short time later, he made it official by changing it to Paul Julius Reuter when he converted to Christianity before getting married back in Germany only a week later.

By the time he moved back to England (a year after his couriers took flight) and set up offices at the London Stock Exchange, Reuter's name began to get as recognizable as it is today. He ended up as a British subject, was named a Baron, got confirmed by Queen Victoria as English nobility, and produced a slew of children and in-laws, all with goofy titles too.

Along the way he got into the financial news business full time. Yep, it's the same "Reuter's News Agency" that still operates today as Thompson-Reuters. The company is not considered a "high flier", but it could be argued that the day he set the pigeons loose was the day the business really took off.

Friday, April 20

The Chap Who Really Invented the Internet

By Grant Davies

It was in the year 1793, a few hundred years before an American politician claimed to have invented the internet, that a clever chap named Claude actually did  so. It wasn't precisely the same of course, but it was the first practical  high speed network of communication ever built, and it revolutionized the way important messages were sent.

The inventors name was Claude Chappe, a Frenchman, who along with his three brothers, figured out and then built a mechanical system that could relay messages between stations some ten to twenty miles apart. The  message could then be passed along the "grid' so that it took less time for information to move a hundred miles (about an hour) than it takes today to boot up the PC I'm using to write this.

The whole thing was built on a system of mechanical arms, set on towers for visibility, that could be set in 196 different positions. The use of a telescope allowed the next operator to set the arms on top of his tower exactly the same way and so on down the line.

Chappe thought he would call his invention the tachygraph or "fast writer", but a friend talked him into the final name, the telegraph, meaning "far writer."

It was pretty high tech for the times and avoided the obvious problems others in the world had with smoke signals, torches, mirrors, couriers, and the like. It was so high tech that when a guy named Napoleon snatched up power some six years later and saw how fast he could send military orders, he had a whole bunch of them built that linked all the major cities in France. Eventually they numbered 500 and were copied by others all across Europe.

But with success came heartache. With envious competitors claiming credit for his ideas and his own possibly failing health, Claude decided that he would check into a hotel, rent the highest room, and jump out the window to end it all. Unfortunately, in those days the highest room in the hotel was probably a tad too close to the ground to insure completion of the task, so he threw himself down the well instead.

I'm thinking that was a bad way to end. If he lived just a few hundred years later, he might have become a VP and come within a hanging chad of being a modern day Napoleon.

Thursday, April 19

A Sightseeing Cruise, With All the Passengers You Can Eat

By Art Cashin

On this day in 1536, there began one of those ventures that remind us cynics of the hope and promise that once was America.  To hear today's citizens tell it, there's something in America that brings out a "dog eat dog", survival of the fittest attitude. When did all this happen??

Well, anyway back in 1536, America was new, pristine, an innocent wonderland. Columbus had found it just 44 years earlier.  Cabot and Verrazano claimed to have seen wondrous shores teeming with lobster just a few years earlier.  It would be nearly a century however until there were pilgrims, Henry Hudson, John Smith or
Pocahontas.

But rumors of this new and glorious virgin land inspired curiosity - a kind of Jurassic Park of its day.  And as Michael Eisner might say when folks are curious, or seek adventure and hope to see something new - there is money to be made.  (Okay! Okay! Skip Euro Disney.)

So a man named Richard Hoar (or Hore) offered (for a fee) a fantastic cruise to this wondrous new land and back.  He was an experienced sea-captain and also knew how to advertise.  Soon, 25 well-to-do young men (and their servants) as well as a small group of the aspiring middle class signed on.  Capt. Hoar rented two boats and with 120 adventurers sailed west.

Ship A, which Hoar captained, led the way and also led a rather spartan, disciplined life for a cruise ship.  Ship B, which had more of the wealthy young men aboard confused itself somewhere between "the Love Boat" and a frat party.  When they arrived in Newfoundland, Ship B had somehow run out of both wine and food. Hoping to conserve the remaining provisions, Hoar suggested they set out in this bountiful land, to hunt and forage to feed themselves.  Used to playing fox and hounds (but lacking the requisite horses, grooms, valets or even red riding coats), these well-bred lads tended to come back to camp bearing bunches of either
dandelions or poison-ivy (often both).  Soon the food was virtually all gone and stomachs were growling in hunger.

Then two lads, whom we'll call Percy and Throckmorton, went off on a two man foraging party. They went into the woods and over the hill. The next day folks saw smoke from the boys' campfire.  The second day, more smoke.  The third day, Percy came back and said Throckmorton got lost on the way home.  After a brief memorial service, folks began to notice Percy kept picking his teeth and burping which was strange in a guy starving to death.  Soon Percy asked one of the chubbier guys if he would like to go over the hill and look  for Throckmorton.  Soon everybody was inviting everybody to go for a walk, and more and more folks seemed to get lost.

That Sunday, for some reason, Captain Hoar felt compelled to preach a sermon on cannibalism. Ironically, that very night more tourists showed up in the person of a French fishing boat.  The stranded cruise crew waved hello and when the French came close enough they seized the boat and pummeled the crew.  Now having food and a functioning boat, they returned to England.

Apparently nobody signed up for the cruise the following year.

This story originally appeared in the Cashin Comments market letter, a publication of UBS Corp. It is republished here by permission of the author. Many thanks to Arthur Cashin and UBS. We are delighted to present their articles to new audience. The titles and images are the work of the editor of this site.

Wednesday, April 18

If You Can't Swallow the Bull, Try a Diet of Worms

Image - Wikipedia
By Grant Davies

On this day in 1521, a Roman Catholic professor of biblical interpretation at the University of Wittenberg made an appearance in the town of Worms, Germany. His name was Martin Luther and he was there to appear before the Imperial Diet (a formal assembly) to either defend or renounce his beliefs about the church.

It seems he had a list of about 95 things that caused him a great deal of irritation. Some say that in order to get  them off his chest he nailed them to the door of his local parish a few years earlier. One way or the other, he sure made them known.

One of the people who knew about them was Pope Leo X and he disagreed with a lot of them. So, in June 1520, in order to make his irritation with Luther known, he issued a Papal Bull which addressed them.

One of the people who knew about the Pope's Bull, a guy named Emperor Charles V, decided to do something about it. He summoned Luther to the Diet where a contentious debate ensued. When Luther wouldn't back down, Charlie declared him to be "an obstinate heretic" and ordered that he be arrested and punished.

The kind of punishment he had in mind usually resulted in a distinct lack of breath for the "punishee", so a supporter of Martin's, a guy named Prince Frederick, had him arrested instead and taken to Wartburg Castle to digest his diet of worms. There, he was basically a guest of the Prince and continued on with his work of translating the New Testament into German and protesting against the church.

Meanwhile, the Emperor became distracted with other things and let the whole thing drop. Martin returned to his freedom, and Protestantism was born.

So the moral of the story is something like this: If you can't stomach the bull anymore, don't just "go eat worms", as the children's song suggests. Do something about it like Martin Luther did. Go start your own gig.

Tuesday, April 17

Don't Shoot Willie, We're Republicans!

image - Wikipedia
By Grant Davies

On this day in 1945, the Battle of Okinawa, code-named "Operation Iceberg", was raging in the Pacific Ocean. One of the ships participating in the largest amphibious operation of the Pacific War was a destroyer named the USS William D Porter. She acquitted herself well in the battle, firing over 8500 shells and downing five enemy aircraft. But this story is about all the other things that happened in the history of the ship that came to be known as the "Willie Dee."

You see, the ship made quite a lot of history before being sunk by  enemy aircraft, from below the ocean surface. (Huh? more on that later) But it's the history she didn't make that is of such interest.

It was in November 1943, the Willie Dee was an escort ship in a convoy that included the massive USS Iowa battleship which was carrying President Franklin D Roosevelt and the joint chiefs of staff. They were on the way to meet with US allies at Tehran. The President decided he wanted to see the ships in action and called for some exercises to be held. Weather balloons were released for target practice and the guns were fired for the President's amusement.

During the fun, the Captain of the Willie Dee decided to get involved and his hapless crew ended up accidentally firing a live torpedo at the Iowa. Luckily for everyone involved, even though the warnings from the ship were garbled beyond belief, the Iowa was able to make an evasive maneuver and the explosion took place 3000 yards behind the Iowa. So the President didn't die and the wrong kind of history didn't get made.

The Captain and entire crew of the Willie Dee were put under arrest and were lucky that the Iowa didn't blow them out of the water immediately. They actually had their main guns aimed at Willie for a time in case the ship was trying to assassinate the President. You just can't be too careful ya' know!

In retrospect, the whole fiasco was sort of predictable given that the ship had already: crashed into another destroyer while backing out of its slip, lost a sailor overboard when hit by a rogue wave, and accidentally dropped a live depth charge into the ocean, where it exploded, setting the entire convoy off on a wild goose chase hunting for enemy submarines.

Later, on duty in the Aleutian Islands, the ship fired a five inch shell into the front yard of the base commander, which destroyed his garden. After another incident, where she riddled the sides of her sister ship (The USS Luce) with gunfire, she was often hailed by other ships as she entered harbor with the radio message, "Don't shoot, we're Republicans!"

In the end, on June 10th, 1945, she was sent to the bottom by the explosion of a fully loaded kamikaze bomber which somehow ended up directly beneath her after hitting the water, perhaps after her gunners shot it out of the air. If in fact that was the case, in effect, she sank herself.

It's not all bad news though, not a single sailor was lost when she sank three hours after the explosion and only twelve minutes after the "abandon ship" order was given. So there is something to celebrate about the whole story after all.


Today we make a little history of our own here. It's our first ever "15 Seconds of Fame" award, which goes to regular reader Capt. Kevin McCann, USMC (Ret), who sent the idea for this story in along with the excellent article describing the events. Most of the information in that story, along with info from several websites, was the source of the facts found in this post. So here's a tip of the hat, or perhaps a salute instead, to "Cappy" for recommending it.

Monday, April 16

Going to Bat for Your Brother

Image - old-picture.com
By Grant Davies

On this day in 1881, a famous sportswriter named William Barclay Masterson was involved in a violent incident on the streets of Dodge City, Kansas.

It wasn't the first time that Bill had been caught up in a confrontation that resulted in gun play, but as it turns out, it was his last.

No, he didn't get killed, he wasn't a sportswriter at the time, and his name wasn't really William Barclay Masterson. In fact his actual birth name was Bartholomew Masterson, but folks back then and for that matter now, just called him "Bat." To say he had an interesting life, both before and after the gunfight in question, would be an understatement.

The gun battle that occurred on this day was the result of a misunderstanding of sorts. You see, Bat had already lost one of his brothers, Ed, who was killed in the line of duty as Marshal of Dodge City three years before. So when he got a telegram in Tombstone, Arizona, informing him that his other brother, Jim, was about to meet the same end back in Dodge, he hopped the first available train to get back there. It seems he was looking for a repeat performance of the vengeance he took on a certain Jack Wagner who killed the first brother. Bat shot him and one of his friends up pretty good and old Jack didn't get any older after that.

So when he hopped off the train in Dodge City without waiting for it to stop and accosted the two people who he thought were out to get his brother Jim, the situation deteriorated rapidly. The two figured out pretty quickly that he wasn't there for tea and pulled their pistols.

The battle was on, with several local miscreants joining in on both sides, possibly for sport. Bat took cover behind the railway bed while the two ran behind the jail. After everyone was done shooting at everyone else, and the Long Branch Saloon was perforated numerous times, the local mayor and sheriff showed up with shotguns and arrested Masterson.

Remarkably, no one was killed and only two were wounded, one on purpose and one bystander who was caught in the crossfire. Since no one could say with certainty who shot who in the melee, Bat drew only an $8 fine for his part. (The type of offense wasn't recorded, but it sure wasn't for loitering.) After paying his fine, he and his brother Jim, (who turned out to still be living) were allowed, perhaps encouraged, to "get outta Dodge." And they did.

Masterson went on to have quite a resume that included: buffalo hunter, Indian fighter, army scout, lawman, saloon keeper, gambler, boxing promoter, US Marshall, sportswriter, editor, and finally VP of the company he wrote for.

He was friends with a US President (Teddy Roosevelt) and an infamous confidence man named Soapy Smith. He used to buy pistols at pawnshops, put notches on the handles, and sell them at inflated prices to unwary collectors after telling them they were the ones he used while still a famous lawman.

He died of a heart attack in 1921, in New York City, while typing a sports column at his desk. It's not known if he had his boots on at the time.

Friday, April 13

Did Irving Fall Flat?

Image courtesy of US History.com
By Grant Davies

On some day in January, 1828, a famous author named Washington Irving published a four volume biography of Christopher Columbus. It quickly became a best seller because of the success of his previous books, not the least of which were "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and the short story "Rip Van Winkle." It was possibly the best, and probably the only, biography of Columbus at the time. So it's understandable that people took the "facts" in it to be true.

Unfortunately, a few of the more salient "facts" in the book were nonsense. It's a little like the situation with many newspapers and bestselling books today. Novels become fact and reporting often is fiction. Readers swallow much more nonsense today with a lot less heartburn afterward, so like I said, it's understandable.

So what was the biggest mistake in the book? It had to be the chapter that described a heated meeting that  Columbus had with a group of scholars during which he tried to convince them that the earth was round instead of flat, as they believed. And that therefore he could sail west to arrive shortly in the east where he planned to trade with the Indians who didn't wear feathers.

The truth is that although the meeting took place and the discussion was real, the topic was wrong. They actually debated about the size of the earth, not the shape. Chris probably figured that if he could convince them of the smaller version that he lobbied for, he could gain some much needed credibility and it would be easier to get a bunch of start-up cash from Ferdinand and Isabella for the trip.

You see, a guy named Aristotle had convinced the world some two thousand years before that the earth was round by  pointing out that if it was flat it wouldn't make a curved shadow on the moon during an eclipse. So virtually every educated person had long ago taken for granted that the world was round.

Irving's mistake notwithstanding, the folks who buy text books for schools loved the book and bought it in large numbers for many years. That's how all those little mushy minds got firmed up with the wrong information and everyone bought into the story for a really long time.

Given the recurring theme of sleep in "Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle," you have to wonder if Irv himself was asleep when he wrote that part. In the end, even though the earth is round, Irving's "facts" fell flat.

Oh, and if you are wondering whether the history on this site is as good as Irving's was, you can sleep easy. Everything on this site is correct.. maybe.

Thursday, April 12

Blown Apart by a Case of the Hiccups

By Art Cashin

On this day in 1814, Napoleon Bonaparte stood in the hands of captors.  Just three years earlier he had been the self-proclaimed Emperor of France, de Facto ruler of most of Europe and the proud father of a new-born son by his second wife.  In addition, even his enemies had conceded him a unique sense of governance - his Napoleonic code stands to this day on two continents.

But he had an aggressive Merger & Acquisition department that told him to gamble all this for a hostile takeover of Russia.  It wasn't junk bonds that did him in.  Instead it was junk weather.  When his victorious army found itself forthright but freezing, he was forced to retreat.  And even though he fought off old enemies in incredible ways - once they touched French soil he abdicated to save his people.

So, here he was, a short Corsican kid with a great mind and a lousy stomach who had come up just short of ruling the world in a way Alexander and Caesar never quite made. Unable to accept this fall from grandeur, he secretly asked his private doctors for poison, that he might die rather than be humiliated.  Once he had taken the potion, he decided to move for the melodramatic.  Why die in your room alone when you could make a grand gesture?

He summoned his guards and demanded a meeting with his counterparts, the leaders of his captors.  Once in audience, he would speak of the great work he had done and then die dramatically at the feet of these Lilliputians. At the audience the medicine began to take its effect.  But it was counterbalanced by the medication for his ulcer.  Before his magnificent speech began, he developed -- hiccups.

So the nearly emperor of the world did not die defiantly at the feet of his captors.  Instead he hiccuped and stammered until he had to be helped - incoherently and inaudibly back to his bed. Doubly lost, he quietly went into exile at Elba, but a year later when the medication wore off, he escaped and within 100 days, he had nearly recouped all his former glory.

But then came Waterloo - but that's another story, for another day.

This story was originally written for Cashin's Comments, a publication of the UBS Corporation, and is republished here by permission of the author.

Wednesday, April 11

Who's Your Dada?

A 1977 caricature of Amin
 by Edmund S. Valtman.
Image - Wikipedia
By Grant Davies

On this day in 1979, the dictator of an African country was overthrown and fled to Libya, never to return to his former home. It was amazing for such a thing to happen to such an important guy. After all, if you go by his title, it would seem like it could never happen.

The country in question was Uganda, but it was actually more of a giant crime scene than a country. And the guy I'm referring to was none other than "His Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea, and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular." Yep, that fun guy was better known to the rest of the world as Idi Amin Dada.

Idi was a particularly accomplished guy. He had a self conferred doctorate of law degree and claimed to be the King of Scotland as well. He was pretty good at a few other things too, including gold and ivory smuggling, polygamy, and that old favorite, mass murder. As  difficult as it is to destroy a country that's already essentially in ashes, he managed the task.

Estimates of the number of people he had murdered run from 80,000 to 500,000, but the record keeping wasn't good, so it's anyone's guess. It's a smallish country or it's certain that the toll would have been much higher.

Anyway, suffice it to say that this imbecile caused more misery and destruction than could be reasonably expected of a guy who was engaged 24/7 for his entire life in mental masturbation.

When he died in Saudi Arabia  in 2003, rational people all over the world shed exactly zero tears. Even in Scotland, not a soul missed their King.

Tuesday, April 10

Moses Walker, He Was No Jackie Robinson

Image - Wikipedia

By Grant Davies

On this day in 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to play for a major league baseball team.
 
It was an historic moment and a great story. Since then, Jackie and his story have become part of American history. Not only was he a terrific ballplayer, but his employment also represented something good about human nature. Namely, eventually people will stop doing the wrong things in favor of doing the right things, even if it isn't on a timetable to our liking.

So you may be thinking to yourself, "Hey, I know what Jackie Robinson looked like, why the heck is the picture on the left of some other dude?" It's because, like a lot of the history that we are sure we know, it just ain't so. The picture is of a guy named ″Fleet″ Walker, and he was actually the first black man to break the color barrier, 63 years before Jackie.

"Fleet" was born Moses Fleetwood Walker in Mount Pleasant, Ohio, to the first black doctor in that town and his white wife. His parents saw to it that he was well educated, and after his high school graduation, he was recruited by the University of Michigan where he played ball in 1882. He was a hellava athlete.

"Fleet" played for the Toledo Blue Stockings (then a major league team) in 42 games between May 1st and September 4, in 1884. He played catcher in a time they didn't even wear gloves, much less any other  protective equipment. He batted .261 and scored 24 runs, but he was injury prone and he ended up going back to the minor leagues where  he played  for several other teams. His brother, Welday Walker, joined him on the team for a time, so as it turns out, Jackie Robinson wasn't even the second black player in the big leagues.

Moses's later life was even more successful than his baseball career. He owned a hotel and a movie theater and even published his own newspaper. He also received a patent for an exploding artillery shell and filed for patents on several other inventions.

In 1891, he was attacked by a group of white men in Syracuse, NY and he stabbed a man named Patrick Murray in the groin (a fatal injury) while defending himself.  He was charged with second degree murder, but was acquitted of the charge by an all white jury. That didn't happen too often back then.

In celebration of his life, this site is declaring this day a national holiday. So take the day off work and go to a ball game. If your boss asks you where you were, just say "Oh, you didn't know? It's Moses Walker Day!"

Thursday, April 5

Why Was Lisa Moaning?

By Art Cashin

On this day in 1507, a well-to-do patron of the arts finally lost his patience with a certain painter whom he had hired to paint his wife's portrait.  But, who could blame him?  Sure the painter had a good reputation but he had been working on this portrait for over four years.  All this time hanging around the house, inviting himself to dinner and often sampling the house wine.

So, the patron, whose name was Francesco del Gioconda and his wife, whose name was Lisa, told the painter to take a hike. That left the artist with an unfinished painting to sell.  Luckily a new patron wanted to hire him - but this hiring was for his talents in military engineering not his painting talent.  However, to seal the deal the gent agreed to buy the artist's unfinished leftover.

Thus, the new patron - King Francis I of France - came into possession of the partially unfinished portrait by the aging Tuscany painter.  But while the painter, Leonardo Da Vinci, continued to call the portrait "La Gioconda", the King's court reverted to the first name of Mrs. Gioconda and called it, "Mona Lisa."

(Oddity Dept. - for several years King Francis hung the Mona Lisa in his bathroom.)

To celebrate, drop by the local Victoria's  Secret outlet (30% or more off) and buy something nice for a young lady with no eyebrows and an enigmatic smile.

This article was originally published as part of "Cashin's Comments", a daily market letter written by Art Cashin for UBS Corp. It is republished here by express permission of the author.

Wednesday, April 4

X Marks the Law

By Grant Davies

On this day (+1) in 1792, George Washington - a guy accustomed to being the first to do things - became the first U.S. President to tell the U.S. Congress to shove it. The act is politely called a veto, but the message is the same. Unfortunately, it's a lost art.

It seems that a group of congressmen from the northern states had decided to try to stack the political deck against their southern neighbors by passing a new law that would increase the number of representatives the north enjoyed in the lower chamber. Washington, who was from Virginia, was sure this was a poor idea, particularly for Virginia.

The vote on the bill had been split right down the geographical line. But the real problem wasn't political, it was philosophical. Washington's tiny cabinet was split on many things, and philosophy was one of them. But they had their heads screwed on straight back then, and one of them, a certain Tom Jefferson, pointed out to George that among all the other problems, the law was unconstitutional because the number of representatives was fixed at a certain number in that still relevant document.

In the end, George told the congress to shove it where the constitution don't shine. They did, and it never saw the light of day again. It was a crappy law even before they shoved it.

Jefferson went on to suggest the apportionment system. The congress and the President agreed that it was a good plan, and it took the place of the vetoed bill. Washington signed it and it's the system we have today.

Recent Presidents should have taken a page from Washington's book, but they didn't. Instead, they propose unconstitutional things themselves and only veto laws that aren't passed by their own parties.

Maybe "we the people" should tell them to shove it.

Monday, April 2

La Florida

By Grant Davies

On this day in recent history, one month ago to be exact, the author of this blog first discovered St. Augustine, Florida.

No, I wasn't the first person to discover it. It was just my first time being there. The distinction of being the first person to discover it belongs to a guy named John P. DeLeon. (No relation to a guy with a similar name who made a car that nobody bought.) John arrived aboard a boat powered by free air, instead of  the way I got there, via an automobile powered by hugely expensive gasoline.

Actually, his name was Juan de Leon, but today everyone knows him better by his middle name, Ponce. And it really was on this day, in 1513, that he first got off his ship and came ashore in his quest to find immortality, or more precisely, the fountain of youth.

It's a good thing he wasn't searching for the fountain of wisdom, because the idea of drinking the water there was really, really stupid. In the first place, it stinks to high heaven (like a billion or so rotten eggs), and in the second place, just a few sips would have killed you back in the day. Which, I guess, would keep you from getting older, although that's not exactly the same thing as staying young.

Anyway, there was no town to discover back then, or even a place called Florida, much less the fabled fountain. So he just looked around a bit and then claimed that the whole peninsula (which he mistakenly thought was an island) now belonged to his royal benefactors back in Spain. He named it "La Florida" after Pascua Florida, the Easter feast, because it was just about that time of the year when he arrived.

He liked the area so much that he returned there in 1521, just in time to be set upon by the native people and get mortally wounded. He fled to Cuba, perhaps because he heard they had free healthcare there, where he subsequently died from his wounds. So much for immortality.

As for me, I liked the area for different reasons than old Ponce. It has great weather, sightseeing, restaurants, bars, beaches, and some terrific golf courses. The World Golf Hall of Fame is there as well. The water still stinks, but at least you won't die if you drink it. I drank the beer instead. I also put on about six pounds while I was there, which probably won't help me stay young either.

Unlike Ponce, I was never attacked by any Florida natives, but then again, I didn't try to claim I owned the joint.
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