Thursday, May 31

A Puzzling Coincidence

Image courtesy of
By Art Cashin

On this day 68 years ago, one group of very bright people was preparing a surprise for another group of very bright people.  The surprise that the first group was planning would later become known as the Normandy Invasion or "D-Day."  But you probably already have guessed that if you have turned on a TV or a radio or picked up a paper in the last few days.

Anyway, the Surprisors (under "A" for Allies) were trying very hard to keep the Surprisees (under "B" for Bad Guys) from guessing the surprise.  They (the "A" team) were afraid that Hitler (designated Captain of the "B" team) would claim it was "Tuna SoufflĂ© Night" at mom's and thus muck up the surprise if he guessed ahead.

So, the Allies spent lots of time creating diversions or as they call it today "misinformation" an imaginary outfit called "The U.S. Army Group".  (Inflatable tanks and trucks our specialty.  We appear and disappear at the press of an air compressor. We can make your enemies think you're headed anywhere you want.) Post War - Captured code indicates even a genius like Rommel may have bought into that bit.

But, in London, much of the planning group for this greatest amphibian assault in history were so worried that they rushed out each day to buy the paper.  No, it was not the weather over the Channel they rushed out to learn.  Rather it was the crossword puzzle in the London Daily Telegraph.

"Aha!" You say.  Even the bureaucrats and government types cared more for crosswords than co-workers  and conscripts. may be correct -- but this week the rush to get the paper and its crossword was inspired by the fear that the clue to 5 down or 6 across was not just a hint to cruci-verbalists but a clue to Hitler and " the B team." In the preceding three weeks many of the crossword clues of Len Dawe (puzzle editor of the Telegraph) had an eerie hint of the surprise invasion.  One answer was Omaha, another was Utah, another was Pluto, another was Neptune - all were code names for beaches or movements in the Invasion.

But today, May 31, 1944, the cynical code busters were ready to pack it in.  Although that day’s puzzle and the next day's puzzle seemed to clear Dawe...the puzzle of June 2nd nearly got Dawe hung (and it nearly canceled D-Day).  Scotland Yard and MI-5 dragged Dawe in, wondering why so many proposed beach landings were clues...only to have the key clue of June 2nd....Overlord...the super secret code name of the
Invasion itself.

Luckily, Dawe was able to prove it was all a coincidence thus allowing the war to be waged and won on schedule.

Many thanks to Mr. Cashin and UBS Financial Services who graciously allow his historical musings to be republished on this site. To enjoy more of Art's posts simply click on "Cashin's Comments" in the label section on the sidebar.

Wednesday, May 30

Charlie Dissed Andy

Image- Garland County library
By Grant Davies

On this day in 1806, a guy named Charlie Dickinson, a Tennessee lawyer, was shot to death. Normally, in a violent world like ours, such an incident would hardly go down in history. But this killing is notable because of the identity of the killer, instead of the killee. (When talking about lawyers it's best to use legal terms.)

Charles Dickinson was a former law student of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Marshall who also made formal recommendations and introductions for him. His legal pedigree was only outshone by his legendary reputation as an expert marksman. He was also a guy with a big mouth and it ended up getting him a bullet in the chest after he shot it off more often than his pistol.

The main target for his verbal ammunition was a certain former Tennessee militia leader named Andy who had a run-in over a horse race bet with Charlie's father-in-law. It seems that the horse that his wife's daddy was running came up lame at the post, and according to the agreement he made, he owed $800 to Andy because of it.

Anyway, friends of friends got involved, called each other names and the whole thing led to Charlie putting an ad in the paper calling Andy a "worthless scoundrel, a poltroon and a coward." The scoundrel and coward parts were bad enough, but "poltroon" sealed the deal. No one I know would stand for that.

For those of you who seldom get called names from the 19th century, it's synonymous for sissy. Today that might be included as a desirable trait in a "men seeking men" ad, but Andy didn't go that way, so he was righteously indignant and decided to propose a duel with Charlie. (A duel in 1806 was like a cowboy era showdown, minus the quick draw. Basically you just stand there like idiots and fire at each other).

It didn't help that Charlie had also insulted Andy's wife by pointing out that due to a legal technicality in her previous divorce paperwork, she was a bigamist. What a mess.

During a personal confrontation Andy had called him on it. But Charlie got a little weak-kneed at that meeting, mumbled something about not remembering saying it and asked forgiveness. "If I said that, I must have been drunk. Yeah, that's it, I was drunk." It's a tried and true excuse, and it worked. Andy accepted the apology, but when the ad calling him a sissy appeared in the local newspaper, he lost his sense of humor entirely.

Being law abiding citizens, they met in Logan, Kentucky to try and shoot each other because it was illegal in Tennessee. You sure don't want to break any laws when you blow a hole in someone's chest.

Charlie shot first, but his aim wasn't as good as advertised because he only wounded Andy, who then took his time, took dead aim, and Charles Dickinson passed into history. A number of years later, Andy took careful aim at an important position of power in this country and hit that target as well.

The shooter was none other than Andrew Jackson, lucky number seven on your list of Presidents of the United States. Today, a lot of native Americans probably still use Jackson's picture on the twenty dollar bill as a target, and who could blame them? But that's a story for a different day in history.

Tuesday, May 29

Norman and Rosie, a Riveting Story

By Art Cashin

On this day in 1943, the Pictorial Chronicler of Americana gave us yet one more image to sum up a special time. Assuming you didn't sleep through all your history classes, you will probably recall that in 1943 we were in the middle of something called World War II.  You may also recall that fighting a world war required a lot of men.  (Before the politically correct 90's men were considered the more expendable of the two sexes.  This was based on a natural selection corollary that to preserve a species you needed lots of women since one woman could bear one child per year, whereas one did we get from History to Biology and Sex Education.....just see "women and children first!" under maxims.)

Anyway, with most of the men occupied in wartime pursuits, who would run the factories to make the machines of war.  Naturally.....America's women. And to depict this image of selfless sacrifice, the master chronicler - Norman Rockwell - created the image of "Rosie the Riveter" - sitting demurely on a dock piling, a rivet gun in her lap and a ham sandwich in her hand, with the U.S. flag billowing as backdrop.
For "Rosie's" face Rockwell used Mary Doyle a telephone operator from Arlington, Vermont.  The body, however, was a problem.  All the models including Mary were shaped like women, which was probably good for their social life if the men ever came back but it tended to confuse the image. So Rockwell put Mary's face and red hair atop a body copied from Michelangelo's "Isaiah the Prophet" - all decked out in coveralls and snood.

The image caught the fancy of America and was used as a morale booster for the troops ("she's fighting for you, at home) and a recruiting tool to bring more women into factories. To mark the day toast the efforts of a hard worker of the opposite sex but stop before your image gets distorted.

Many thanks to Mr. Cashin and UBS Financial Services who graciously allow his historical musings to be republished on this site. To enjoy more of Art's posts simply click on "Cashin's Comments" in the label section on the sidebar.

Friday, May 25

Coffee Under the Buttonwood Tree

By Art Cashin

This particular May 17th of which I speak is a lovely day indeed in Manhattan.  And this being 1792 and New York being the new capital of the new U.S., there are many citizens out and about to catch the spring airs.  And more than a few of them are milling about a very popular joint, just off Wall Street, called the Merchants Coffee

Personally, I believe this establishment owes its popularity less to its famous cheesecake (which is rather okay for New York City) and more to the beverage in its name. For, while they actually do much of their beverage traffic in liquids other than coffee, it is quite helpful, upon arriving home, to be able to declaim to "she who suspects everything" that you have had a tough day at the Coffee House.  (Somehow, even in 1792, "Honey, I had a tough day at the Ale House" smacks of underperformance.) Another feature of this bistro is one that  I particularly like.  They have a table and bench on the lawn, under a large Buttonwood Tree.  So, I am headed there on this particular morning for a flagon or two of "coffee".

However, before I can eyeball Priscilla to bring me the usual, I find 24 citizens around this outdoor bench which I fancy somewhat.  These two dozen gents are folks of some substance (both physically and financially) so I hold back a bit before claiming my usual spot.  It is then that I see that one of the 24 gents is a merchant and fellow "coffee" drinker whom I know as "Verily, Verily".  He gets this tag because this is
what he says whenever a client doubts his word.  (This happens so frequently that he repeats the phrase so often that whenever a citizen sees him, said citizen immediately says - "Verily, Verily".)

Anyway, "Verily, Verily" says to me - "Art, do you have perhaps a spare $200 with which to join this venture?"  He then explains that each of these merchants puts up $200 apiece to join something they will call "The New York Stock and Exchange Board".  "Verily, Verily" says the boys think this is a very good investment for several reasons: 1) A guy named Napoleon Bonaparte was at this time making all European Bonds as unpredictable as a turf race in a rainstorm; 2) Certain gents were making plans for various ventures like canal companies and private turnpikes.

Well, these are nice thoughts indeed but personally even if I have $200 (a very unlikely event), I do not see much vig in this Stock Exchange idea. "But" says "Verily, Verily", "do not scoff, for a story goes with it" (over the years I learn this can often be a very expensive sentence). It seems these guys are onto a deal that a certain Alexander Hamilton has cooked up.  He wishes to change the large revolutionary debt into Publick Stock.

The aforementioned debt is such a palooka that many citizens shun these "Continentals" as having very little value.  In fact in graffiti school, kids are writing "Not worth a Continental" on walls and such. In further fact, this colonial money is so bad that almost all business is done using a Viennese coin that looked like a Spanish "pieces of eight" (called "the Thaler" at this  time but with a New York City accent it is pronounced "dollar" and this is where this word comes from.)  P.S. - said coin is cut like a pizza so you can break off an eighth or 12 1/2 cents.  If you broke off 2 such "bits", you have a quarter - get it?)

Anyway, Hamilton is having difficulty getting the votes he needs to convert to Publick Stock.  So he strikes a deal with a certain Thomas Jefferson who wishes to move the U.S. capital to Virginia (to be closer to home).  And to prove they were honest, these two citizens decide to build said capital on some swampland owned by a gent named George Washington.

Anyway, the deal is struck and suddenly there is lots of Publick Stock to be traded on the New York Stock Exchange.  Naturally, shy the $200, I miss out on the Buttonwood Agreement but I sign up shortly thereafter and am here since then.  Another day, I'll explain why they call it "a seat" when everybody stands up at the Stock Exchange.

Many thanks to Mr. Cashin and UBS Financial Services who graciously allow his historical musings to be republished on this site. To enjoy more of Art's posts simply click on "Cashin's Comments" in the label section on the sidebar.

Wednesday, May 23

How Curley Kept His Hair

By Grant Davies

On this day in 1923, Curley was buried. He wasn't one of the three stooges, although in his later years many people thought he acted like one.

No, the Curley of this story was a participant in a little tiff called "Custer's Last Stand."  In fact, he was the last guy (on the losing side) to see the flowing hair of a dim-witted Lieutenant Colonel by the name of George Armstrong Custer  before it was used as an ornament on a Sioux lodge-pole.

Curley (one can only speculate on the origins of his name) was a Crow Indian. As such he was an avowed enemy of the Sioux. So it was a slam dunk for him to be on the side of the US army when it came to fighting them in the summer 1876. Hell, he had been fighting them himself since he was a youth.

His service as a cavalry scout would have been more useful to the army if Custer had only listened to what he and the other scouts were telling him, particularly when it came to the size of the enemy force ahead. So instead of being a small part of a series of forgotten military skirmishes, he became the last observer of one of the most memorable slaughters in American history.

One problem was that Custer's ego was twice the size of his IQ. Another was that he wasn't big on correcting his mistakes. Curley, on the other hand, knew how to spot an error in judgment and rectify it. So after making the initial mistake of deciding to stay with the troops after Custer dismissed the Crow scouts just before the battle, he rectified it right after the poo-poo began to hit the fan. He decided to join his other four friends (you will find them listed in your program under "those who made the right decision") and he rode east inside the ravines as fast as his pony could go.

After getting about a mile and a half away, he found a vantage point from which he could observe the carnage through his field glasses. Suspicions confirmed, he beat a trail back to warn the other contingents, led by Generals Terry and Gibbons, who were riding right into the mess themselves. So Curley was able to witness history, without becoming history. At least not the fatal kind.

Over the years, anxious writers were successful in getting him to embellish his story a bit to make for more exciting reading. That led to him being considered by some to be a stooge, but his first reports are now thought to be a very accurate account of what took place that day at Little Big Horn.

So Curley's decision to beat feet allowed him to be buried at the Little Big Horn Battlefield some forty seven years later, after dying from pneumonia, instead of being planted there on that crazy day, after dying from "lack of hair."

Monday, May 21

Hey Chris, This Ain't China!
By Grant Davies

On this day (-1) in 1506, one of the most famous  failures in history passed into the ages.

Christopher Columbus has been celebrated for centuries as the man who discovered America, even though he did no such thing. In fact he failed spectacularly at almost everything he set out to accomplish on his voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. As one historian, Bill Bryson, has opined, "It would be hard to name any figure in history who has achieved more lasting fame with less competence."

Columbus was an Italian-born sailor with a knack for getting the opportunity to make sales pitches to European royalty. The product he was selling was his vision of a trade mission to the far east via a faster and cheaper route. After being shown the door by the King of Portugal, he was somehow able to make multiple presentations to the King and Queen of Spain, who finally bought in and sent him on his voyage to the east (by sailing west) to procure spices with which to flavor the royal treasury, if not their royal palates.

But his sailing prowess was eclipsed by his poor geographical skills and he underestimated the size of the globe by a large margin. Only about two months after setting sail he "discovered" the Orient after blundering into an island in the Caribbean. He promptly hopped ashore and claimed that everything thereabouts belonged to Spain. (Which is rather like getting out of your canoe on the opposite side of the lake and claiming you now own someone else's lake front cottage.)

A few weeks thereafter he discovered Cuba but never quite figured out that it was an island instead of a continent. He thought it was the coast of China. Soon enough he discovered Hispaniola, which he thought was probably Japan. He never even conceived of North America much less set foot upon it. To be fair, it's not his fault that people screwed up the history later on. He probably would have been shocked (and delighted) to learn how he set the stage for all that followed.

But his real failures are in what he brought back to his benefactors in Spain. You see, he wasn't much of a botanist or mineralogist either. He brought back a whole lot of good-for-nothing tree bark thinking it was cinnamon and a lot of what he thought were peppers. He was partially correct on the peppers, but it turned out they were actually chili peppers, which was somewhat of an eye opening experience for the folks back home when they first chomped down on one.

What he thought was gold was actually iron pyrite. He filled the holds with it.  He also brought back some "Indian captives", which is a polite way of saying he kidnapped some local people and made them into slaves.

But back in Spain the royalty (not wanting to admit how much money they wasted on the folly) declared him a hero, gave him the title of  "admiral of the ocean sea" and doubled down on their bet. They sent him back ASAP, and quite a few more times after that. He spent eight years drifting around the Caribbean screwing up one thing after another.

In all fairness, he did bring back gold on some occasions, and not everything he brought back was useless. But of all the things he brought back from the place that wasn't the Orient, the most lasting one seems to have been a gift that keeps giving, syphilis.

Source material:   At Home, A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson. 

Friday, May 18

The Day Harry Truman Lost His Bet

By Grant Davies

On this day in 1980, Harry Truman and sixteen of his best friends went missing after realizing that they had lost the biggest bet of their lives. Oh, they paid up alright, they had no intention of reneging on the bet. It's just that they were a "little under" at the moment. Actually, they still are.

You see, the Harry Truman of this story is not the US President who had the same name. And the reason he is still a "little under" is that he "went with the flow," of pyroclastic ash. Their bet was with Mt. St. Helens and when they lost they were buried under 150 feet of it. The explosive tantrum proved Harry was wrong about being too far away from her to be affected by her temper.

Our Harry was none other than Harry R Truman, 83, the proprietor of a lodge that was named after the mountain and sat on the shores of Spirit Lake. His best friends and fellow gamblers were his sixteen cats. (They basically just went along with Harry's bet.) He had been on that site for fifty six years and had no intention of leaving just because some folks said it wasn't safe there.

It wasn't the first time Harry's plans were torpedoed. When he went off to fight in WWI, the troop transport he was on, the USS Tuscania, was sunk from under him by a torpedo in 1918. But he won that bet because he was among the survivors.

This time though, Harry maintained that the mountain: was too far away from his lodge (about a mile), was protected by huge numbers of trees, and had an entire lake to overcome before it could reach him. When the mountain began to grumble a loud warning to him shortly before the event, his only concession was to move his mattress to the basement. (For safety's sake, it's assumed.)  It's clear that Truman was a better caretaker than a volcanologist.

To say that he was surprised that he lost his bet is an understatement. He was blown away.

Learn more about the legendary Harry and the Mt. St. Helens eruption in this video.

Thursday, May 17

Unintelligible At Any Speed

Image-Ask Mr. Music
By Grant Davies

On this day 1965, the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced its findings on a matter of grave national concern.

What was threat that had been taking up so much of the time of the national police force? Why, it was that extra dangerous Louie, of course! More specifically, it was "Louie Louie", the hit song that was sweeping the nation and threatening to undermine the moral purity of every high school kid in America.

The lyrics of the song were said to be so pornographic and obscene that when the concerned citizens wrote letters to the US Attorney General demanding federal intervention they claimed the words couldn't be included in the text due to their vile nature. Actually, the problem was no one knew what the words really were.

As one historical account has it, lyrics like - "A fine little girl, she wait for me..." - came out sounding like "A phlg mlmrl hlurl, duh vvvr me." Such was the quality of the performance by the group "The Kingsmen" when they recorded the song in 1963 in one take.

So the feds began their investigation by interviewing the writer of the song, Richard Berry, who scribbled the words back in 1955.  He claimed that the lyrics referred to conversation between a Caribbean sailor and his bartender (you guessed it, a dude named Louie) about how much he missed his girlfriend back home. They also interrogated the record producers, with similar benign results.

That's when they really got down to business and went forensic. The crack lawmen and their scientific associates began to listen to the record over and over again at various speeds, going slower each time to see if the vile contents could be discerned so the evil doers could be brought to justice for violating the federal "Interstate Transportation of Obscene Material law."

In the end, they were forced to admit what anyone who ever heard it already knew, it was impossible to tell what the heck was being sung. I'm guessing they did come to one inescapable conclusion though: no matter how many people were buying the record, the song really sucked.

Their final report declared that it was "Unintelligible At Any Speed."  Which, come to think of it, is rather like almost every federal law.

Monday, May 14

She Turned His World Upside Down

By Art Cashin

On this day (-1) in 1918, the U.S. Postal Service (then known as the U.S. Post Office Department) issued the first "Airmail Stamps."  Of course, there was no airmail service available yet (it would not start for several days - but you'd need stamps wouldn't ya). The stamps came in 6 cent, 16 cent and 24 cent denominations.

On the second day of sale (that would be May 14 if you are an MBA), a certain Bill Robey bought a sheet of a hundred of the 24 cent types at the local post office.  As he walked toward the door, he noticed that in each stamp on the sheet the plane (a biplane Curtiss "Jenny") was printed upside/down.  Robey knew he had a hot item but he assumed hundreds of similar sheets would be running off the presses.  (Actually only 8 other sheets had been run off before they caught the error and they destroyed every one of those - but Robey didn't know that).

He quickly sold the sheet to a philatelist (that would be a stamp collector if you are a PHD).  The price was $15,000.  Nice trade you think.  So did Robey.  But the guy he sold it to was already sitting on a $20,000 resale bid.

About 60 years later, one single stamp traded for $198,000 which would make Robey's sheet worth $19,800,000 (that would be $19.8 million if you an economist). Circumstance (or the Twilight Zone) may have added to the value of the stamps.

When actual airmail service began on May 15th, the first flight was of course a Curtiss "Jenny" bearing the same markings (JN-4H) as the Jenny in the stamp.  After a lot of bravado on the takeoff, in mid-flight the pilot ran into turbulence and crash-landed.  The pilot (with the mail) walked away but the first airmail plane ironically ended up in a guessed it...just like the plane in Robey's sheet - upside/down.

Many thanks to Mr. Cashin and UBS Financial Services who graciously allow his historical musings to be republished on this site. To enjoy more of Art's posts simply click on "Cashin's Comments" in the label section on the sidebar.

Friday, May 11

This Boxing Match Was a Real Gem
By Grant Davies

On this day (perhaps -1) in 1871 (or was it 1870?), one of the most unusual fights in boxing history was fought. The prize was to be the Heavyweight Championship of America. Also to be decided was the Heavyweight Championship of the World, which would seem to make the first title just a tad superfluous.

It was said that the fight lasted one hour and seventeen minutes. But given the the historical confusion about the date of the contest, I'm not super confident about that particular stat. The thing that made the fight so unusual was that during the bout, no punches were landed by either contestant. 

It seems the boxers waited a little too long to stop dancing and actually get to the point because soon enough the cops showed up. Of course they intervened, and the whole thing was called off. No decision was rendered and the champ retained his crown.

However, the defending champion's life is a more interesting story than the actual event was. His name was Jem Mace. (That wasn't a ring name, even though he could hardly have made up a better one.) His opponent in the match was an Irishman named Joe Coburn, who was a pretty fair fighter himself, but not nearly as interesting.  Coburn hated Jem, and later (it is said), he tried to have him assassinated.

Jem was an Englishman, and a violinist. In fact, his fighting career actually started when three drunken sailors emerged from a seaside bar just as he was entertaining an appreciative crowd outside. They saw his instrument and broke it into several pieces just for grins. So, as any self respecting violinist would do... Jem kicked all their asses.

Word got around, Jem got a little tutelage from a well known bare-fisted fighter, and his career path was set. After the English people, ( particularly their police) lost their sense of sport, and their sense of humor about fist fighting, he traveled to America where many folks still were happy to pay good money to watch two guys knock each other senseless.

He became the first ever world champion. Today he is known as "The Father of Modern Boxing."  That designation came largely because he was the first to use fancy footwork, a dancing style, and intelligent defensive maneuvers. Oh yeah, and his punch wasn't bad either.

But mostly it's because he pioneered the training methods of today: skipping rope, running distances, and practicing the left jab. Mace was the principle influence in the transition from bare knuckle fighting to gloved contests and was instrumental in the development of ten second counts, time limits to bouts, and uniform ring sizes.

Always the nomad, Mace journeyed the world most of his life. Along the way he got married three times (twice as a bigamist), had numerous affairs, and fathered fourteen children by five different women. (None of whom seemed to resent it.) He made a ton of money in his life, but he was a better fighter than a gambler, so all of it disappeared. In 1910 he died a pauper back in his native England.

If life is a diamond, Mace's life might be described as rough cut. But you have to admit, the guy was a gem.

Learn more about Jem Mace at

Wednesday, May 9

What's a Park Without a Theme?

Photo credit -

By Art Cashin

On this day (-1) year might give it away. Let's start again....somewhere between the "Rest of the Story" and maybe O'Henry on heavy prescription drugs.

Once upon a time there was this man who was so marvelous at presenting marvelous tales to children (some marvelous, some not) that the world scrambled to buy his work. The characters he invented were so popular people began calling them modern classics. Folks thought they might live forever.

So far it looks like they were right - the characters are as popular today as ever.  Every new generation of kids love the stories and clamor to buy the character dolls.  The movie versions are shown again and again. So this very ingenious man decided to kick it up a notch.

How about a theme park, built around the stories and characters.  He solicited friends and associates to invest in the plan.  It was a natural.  But where to build?  How about near Hollywood?  Good weather and all those movie tourists.  He bought up lots of land near Los Angeles and began working one more wonder.

The result of course was a fantastic least it was when Walt Disney did it several years later.  But this wasn't Disneyland and it was surely no success. This financially failed fiasco was the creation of an earlier genius - L. Frank Baum who created the Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  The failure of the theme park broke Baum and on this day (-1) in 1919 he died - perhaps of a broken heart.

The financial fiasco may have indirectly led to one of the great odd coincidences in movie making.  When the filming of the Wizard began in the late 1930's the costume people couldn't find just the right design for the shabby great coat worn by Professor Marvel when he and his horse, Sylvester, are visited by Dorothy.

Then one of the costume crew noticed "just the right coat" in a secondhand clothing store in L.A.  He bought it and brought it to the set.  Everyone thought it was perfect, and with minor alterations it fit Frank Morgan who played the Professor.  One day, as Morgan was examining the coat he noticed a label on the inner pocket.  It said - Baum.  Could it be?

Yes Dorothy, all you have to do is believe!  By checking old tailor markings they discovered that the ratty old coat accidentally bought in the secondhand store belonged to the late L. Frank Baum.  The Wizard would have liked that.

Many thanks to Mr. Cashin and UBS Financial Services who graciously allow his historical musings to be republished on this site. To enjoy more of Art's posts simply click on "Cashin's Comments" in the label section on the sidebar.

Tuesday, May 8

Gimmie That New-time Religion

Image courtesy of Shardcore
By Grant Davies

On this day in 1950, a book with the subtitle  "The Modern Science of Mental Health" was first published.

The subject of the book seemed to be quite a bit different than the stuff the author usually wrote. His previously published works were all in the science fiction/fantasy genre, and even though this book wasn't much different in that regard, lots of people took it seriously.

So many in fact, that over 100,000 copies were sold in the first couple of years and the author, an ex-navy WWII vet, began a speaking tour of the country giving lectures about what it all meant and how to live your life.

The book explained that people could become "clear" of their "engrams" if they "exorcised" them to an "auditor." That sounded about right to a lot of folks back then, and to a lot of Hollywood types even today. So, after he wrote and sold six more books in the next year, the whole thing became a new religion. Which was just in the nick of time for the author and some of his cronies to make mega-millions off the simpletons who were looking for anything other than actual religions to "show them the way."

The author's name was Lafayette Hubbard, (L. Ron Hubbard for those of you keeping score) and his new religion was called "Scientology."

The religion was based on his book, the full title of which was "Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health." As it turns out, he made it all up, just as he had all the stories he wrote for the magazine "Astounding Science Fiction" right before his financial ship came in.

Unfortunately, right in the middle of all this success, his wife (#2) filed for divorce claiming he was guilty of beating and strangling people, "scientific" systematic torture, and kidnapping their child.  As one might expect, these allegations put a crimp in his style for a time. But even today, years after his death, there are plenty of dopes who buy into the gag. He was a sort of trail blazer though, because later another scam artist jumped into the "fantasy as reality" business with a great deal of success as well.

This person was actually convicted of systematic torture (not necessarily scientific), beating someone, and pushing a water hose down their throat. That guy calls himself, M. Ron Karenga, Dr. Maulana Karenga, Maulana Ron Karenga, and just plain ole' Ron Karenga, but his real name was Ronald McKinley Everett. While he was in prison, he made up an "African Festival" that he calls Kwanzaa.

A whole different group of gullible people still buy into that scam but the story is really the same: you can make a ton of money writing fiction, particularly if your middle name is Ron and enough people take your BS seriously.

Sources:  and Wikipedia

Monday, May 7

Bad Gas - "Oh, the Humanity"

 (Credit: Popperfoto/Getty Images)
By Grant Davies

On this day (-1) in 1937, the worst, second worst, okay, the third worst airship disaster in history took place. The German airship, Hindenburg, caught fire and burned to a crisp in about thirty seconds while attempting to dock at Lakehurst, New Jersey.

Because of the spectacular film footage and a dramatic eyewitness account of the tragedy most people today believe that it was the worst accident of its kind to occur. However, measured by loss of life, two others were even more horrific.

Anyone watching the footage or listening to the broadcast of WLS-AM (Chicago) reporter Herbert Morrison as he cried out in genuine anguish, "Oh, the humanity", while narrating the events, could be forgiven for thinking that no one could survive such a conflagration. But in fact, many more survived (62), than perished (36). 

The largest loss of life in an airship mishap was 73 men when the U.S. Navy airship, USS Akron, crashed into the ocean in a storm in 1933. Only three men survived. Further back, in 1930, a British military airship found tragedy and 48 lives were lost.

While it has never been indisputably proven exactly what caused the fire and subsequent crash, one thing is sure; the use of hydrogen - instead of the less flammable helium - to float the ship, certainly didn't help the poor souls who were burned to death in the fireball.

As hard as it is to believe, the ship actually had a smoking lounge. It must have made perfect sense (to someone) to burn some tobacco in the middle of a hydrogen balloon. And while smoking on board didn't cause the disaster, it only goes to show: although smoking is bad for your health in the long term, bad gas can kill you in thirty seconds.

Source material: and Wikipedia

Wednesday, May 2

The Commodore Had Class

Image - Wikipedia
By Art Cashin

On this day (-1) in 1898, a decisive battle of the Spanish-American war took place. And it took place far away from both Spain and America.

The battle occurred when Commodore George Dewey sailed the U.S. "Asiatic Squadron" against the large Pacific Fleet of Spain.

Dewey's squadron consisted of only six vessels while Spain had nearly four times as many.  But Dewey's boys were faster and better gunned.  And, he had caught the Spaniards inside Manila bay. In what looked to some like a duck shoot, Dewey's squadron sailed among Spain's best, blowing ship after ship out of the water.  The Americans lost no ships at all and suffered only eight casualties.  Spain lost the bulk of its fleet and nearly 1500 men.

But in mid-battle, as Dewey's men celebrated each sinking, the victorious Commodore Dewey sent out a message that was for many years to be the symbol of the American ethic.  Amid the hurrahs he said - - "Don't cheer men, those poor devils are drowning!"

Since the media had not yet  discovered the "Whimp Factor", this compassionate comment did not keep Dewey from becoming a national hero - - in fact he became the most popular man in the country.  The stock exchange even closed twice to celebrate his celebrity.  In fact, much of the country was thought to want him to run for president or at least vice president.

To celebrate this historic victory, stop by the Salty Porthole and have a depth charge.  But beware of any random conversations that start - - "Hello Sailor!"

This article is republished here with the kind permission of Mr. Cashin and UBS Financial Services Inc. To read more of Mr. Cashin's posts simply click on "Cashin's Comments" in the right hand sidebar.

Tuesday, May 1

The Man Who Saved the Whales

By Grant Davies

Sometime during the year 1846, a doctor in Halifax, Nova Scotia, named Abraham Gesner, became fascinated with the study of coal, specifically coal tar. He found that if he distilled the otherwise useless tar into a substance he called kerosene (no one knows why he chose that name), it burned with a light as nice and steady as whale oil, and was a hellava lot cheaper to make.

The vast majority of sperm whales (not known for sperm) and a lot of the other types of whales had already been harvested to the edge of their existence so people could stay up late at night to read stuff like this. Thus, the price rose higher than most folks could afford anymore.

With his discovery/invention, the doctor made more than enough to afford a lot of other things and was able to make enough of the kerosene to light the streets of the town. But it soon became obvious that no one could make enough of it using his method to light the world and the whole thing became a conundrum he couldn't overcome.

Meanwhile, a few years later (1853) and a few miles south, in Hanover, New Hampshire, a guy named George Bissell, a former educator and Dartmouth alum, stopped to see an old prof of his there. During his visit, he just happened to learn that some "stuff" in a bottle on the shelf, called "rock oil", was seeping to the surface of the ground in Pennsylvania. George was curious about the stuff and started to experiment with it.

He found that it burned even brighter than the kerosene that Gesner invented and figured that if it was already seeping to the surface, all he would have to do is find a way to pump it out of the ground in industrial quantities to solve Gesner's conundrum.

He set up a company, sent some people to Pennsylvania, and started drilling holes. After some fits and starts, and just as their money was running out, they got lucky. Bissell got rich, and the whales were saved.

Oh yeah, there's more to the story, there always is. A few others took notice (one named Rockefeller) and began to do a better job than Bissell of finding it, refining it, and selling it. They got even richer.

In the end, because the doctor found coal tar interesting:
The people saw the light, a once useless byproduct (gasoline) found a use, and the whole world, as well as the whales, was better off.

The moral of the story; you can save more whales making some Green, than you can making some Peace.

Source material - At Home - A short history of private life - Bill Bryson
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