Thursday, January 31

Drinking and Driving, It Could Save Your Life

Editors foreword:
Last evening when I read the following story by our gracious contributor Art Cashin, in his highly regarded market letter "Cashin's Comments", I was a tad surprised to find that it was out of order. That's because his historical musings (as I refer to them) are found at the beginning of the market letter, not in the middle where I found this one.

Truth be told, it's the rare day anymore when I read much past the history lesson. I guess the 42 years I spent in the markets was quite enough for me and I don't keep up with the day to day ebb and flow of market movements like I did when I wore a younger man's trading jacket.

So even though Art still stays on the cutting edge of the markets, the man is no one trick pony, and he was wearing his reporter's hat when he passed this story along.

But your editor is no slouch either when it comes to recognizing history. And even though this tale is contemporary, I'm pretty confident that it's a historical first. I'm also more confident than Art that it's true.

By Art Cashin

You Can't Make This Stuff Up 

This questionable story was passed along by a normally reliable source:

The County Kerry Council in southwest Ireland passed a measure on Monday that allows rural drivers to legally drive while under the influence of alcohol. The council voted 5-3 – with 12 absent and seven abstaining – to issue special permits to individuals who live in rural areas and wish to drive home on remote countryside roads after consuming two to three alcoholic beverages. The council will have to rely on Justice Minister Alan Shatter to implement the changes to current drinking and driving laws by issuing special permits.

Councilor and County Kerry pub owner Danny Healy-Rae introduced the bill, arguing that citizens driving while intoxicated in rural areas have never killed anyone. He defended the measure by asserting that it would prevent loneliness and reduce the risk of suicides among those who live in Ireland’s back-country.

“A lot of these people are living in isolated rural areas where there’s no public transport of any kind, and they end up at home looking at the four walls, night in and night out, because they don’t want to take the risk of losing their license,” Healy-Rae told The

What raised strong doubts in my mind was the bizarre vote. The vote was 5 to 3 with 12 absent and 7 abstaining. That would make it a 27 seat panel that saw a key issue narrowly voted by 8 members. These folks would make the U.S. House of Representatives look like a pillar of rectitude.

To address our suspicious, we may have to arrange a research trip to County Kerry. We'll need a couple of rehearsal sessions first.

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, January 29

Nothing More than a Poem

By Grant Davies

On this day in 1845, a very troubled man had his very troubled poem published in the New York Evening Mirror, a very troubled newspaper. In fact, he was employed by the paper at the time but left that job within the next month, perhaps because he was paid only $9 for the effort. It made him famous but he may have preferred more money at the time. Since those are only my speculations, and I'm too lazy to do the research to find out why he left, you can be sure they will never end up in any credible account of his life.

The poem was of course, The Raven. And the poe was Edgar Allen Poet. (Based on that line alone, he wasn't the only writer with problems.) Anyway, the poem was a hit at the time and seems to be doing fairly well even 168 years later so, all in all, it was worth more than a measly 9 bucks.

Poe had a lot of well documented problems, and if you want to be as depressed as he seemed, you can look them up yourself. I don't want to be the one to drive anyone to drink since it might discourage them from driving me somewhere so I can have a drink.

But I will mention a few because they seem to have influenced many of his poems and stories. In addition to his drinking problem, Poe had a few problems with women. The latter almost certainly the result of the former. He failed at his goal of marrying a few different Sarahs, Sarah Elmira Royster, and Sarah Helen Whitman. And while he was married he was embroiled in scandals involving a few different women, Frances Sargent Osgood and Elizabeth F. Ellet. The scandals, it seemed, were a significant cause of his wife's health problems.

Oh, did I forget to mention his wife? Well, Poe seems to have had a peculiar interest in younger women, um, girls actually, since when he married Virginia Eliza Clemm in 1835 she was only thirteen years old. He was twenty-seven, and she was his first cousin. Today, either of those things might land a poet in a quiet place to write, with bars. Poe, it seemed, liked bars, but probably not the iron variety.
Image = Wikipedia

There is only one authenticated image of Virginia known to exist, the one on the right. If she looks a little lifeless it may be because it was painted after she was already dead. The artist used her possibly still warm body as a model a few hours after she died. There doesn't seem to be much in Poe's life that wasn't bizarre, including many of his stories, so a picture of a corpse fits right in.

To celebrate this day, gather some friends and visit The Annabel Lee in Baltimore so you can root for the Ravens to win the Super Bowl next weekend. But after putting in your drink order, when the waitress asks you if she can bring you something else, just answer as Edgar might have, "This it is, and nothing more."

Thursday, January 24

Gottfried Kicked the Bucket

Image courtesy
of Ale
By Grant Davies

On this day in 1935, one of the most important innovations in history was introduced to a test audience. It received a 90% approval rating with that group, and that was enough to set a whole industry humming with its new offering.

The product itself was fairly new, only about 6000 years old, and was still being tested by a lot of people. I still test it myself to this very day. Almost every day.

But it was the method of delivery that was innovative, not the product itself. The product needed an improved method of packaging so it could be delivered more efficiently.

You see, the product was liquid. And before this time it tended to spill during delivery and it didn't keep well after it arrived. First it was carried in small buckets, and later it was packaged in glass bottles.

The bottles, even though far superior than the pails, had plenty of drawbacks. They were heavy, tended to break easily, and had to be washed out before being re-filled again. They also were expensive as hell and the end user had to pay a deposit on them each time they were purchased.

image courtesy of
Dan Morean's
So on this day back then, a company named Gottfried Krueger did something no one else had tried; it put its product into a can. Of course various foods had been canned before, but not this most precious of all liquids, beer.

Once the whole brewing industry caught up, and canned beer became commonplace, people could get sloshed in their own homes without worrying that the golden nectar itself would slosh out while their 12 year old sons carried it home from the local gin mill, er..ale house, in a bucket. (Today, they put the bottles inside a bucket and sell them during "happy hour." Progress is a beautiful thing.)

Without this innovation my teen-aged friends and I couldn't have poked a hole in the bottom of a beer can, put it up to our mouths, and simultaneously popped the pull ring on the top so we could drink an entire beer in about 4 seconds. Think of all the fun we would have missed.

I guess you had to be there...

Editors note -- Permission to use the images of the early beer cans was not in time for original publication of the article, but I think they are very rare and quite interesting so they are being added now. The site they were taken from is quite interesting if you like "breweriana." In fact the site can be found at

Wednesday, January 23

Living in the Wrong Neighborhood - Circa 1556

Dwellings similar to those of 1556 

By Art Cashin

On this day (+2) in 1556 news of a terrible earthquake in Northern China began to reach ports and cities nearby.  The main  quake had occurred two days before but even now violent after-shocks could be felt across much of Asia.  There was no Richter Scale at the time but folks in the area thought it was a grand-daddy earthquake - unfortunately they were right.

But even if the quake lacked something in seismic ferocity, however, it certainly made it up in neighborhood selection.  Just as tornadoes love trailer parks and typhoons fancy the poorer regions of Bangladesh,  this particular earthquake picked an extraordinarily vulnerable part of China.

In this region (Shanxi), for over four centuries, winds from the desert blew ever larger amounts of soft clay into near mountainous mounds.  Several local peasants noticed that air-pocket "caves" in the mounds made easy, safe and cheap living quarters. Soon tens of thousands would carve man-made air pockets in the clay as inexpensive living quarters.  For generation after generation, soft clay and prosperity led to a population that looked like a giant two-legged ant farm.

Then came the earthquake in the dead of night.  Soft clay collapsed on soft clay crushing or suffocating the peasants in their little cubbies.  No one ever excavated the disaster area fully but most anthropologists believe the death toll was somewhere between 800,000 and 1,200,000.  It ranks as one of the greatest natural calamities of all time.

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.

Thursday, January 17

Fast as Molasses

Image =

By Art Cashin

On this day (-2) in 1919, the city of Boston experienced a disaster that would make national headlines the like of which had not been seen since the great earthquake and fire in San Francisco in 1906.  But this time the source was not a natural disaster -- instead it was an industrial accident.

It began as a quiet and relatively warm January day in this commercial North Boston neighborhood.  Workers were lunching, women were shopping and the streets were filled with dray horse carts making deliveries.  Then suddenly things changed.

At the Purity Distilling Company a loud and awful rumble was heard.  One survivor said it sounded like two locomotives colliding at full speed. What it was, in fact, was the bursting of a very huge tank of molasses.  So huge, in fact, that it unleashed a blob of 2 1/2 million tons of goo down the street.  It caught and killed hundreds of horses, men, women and children in its sweep.  It tore buildings from their foundations, ripped the elevated railroad from its tracks and hurled the North Side fire truck into the harbor.  What else would you expect from an 8-foot wall of molasses?

To celebrate stop by the Boston Grog Inn and explain to the Puritan on the next stool that sugar can be dangerous before it's distilled.

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, January 15

Sully's Sudden Withdrawal

By Grant Davies

On this day in 2009, a US Airways plane made a successful landing to end one of the shortest "puddle jumper" flights of all time. The flight was quite a bit longer than Orville Wright's first flight of 120 feet, and it landed in a puddle instead jumping over it, but why let a few details get in the way of a good story?

The flight was from NY to NY, or more correctly, from LaGuardia Airport to the Hudson River. The whole flight took only about six minutes from takeoff to touchdown, which was a tad shorter than scheduled. Its original destination was Kitty Hawk, where it all began in 1903. Okay, it was actually going to Charlotte, North Carolina, but it's the same state and only about 350 miles away from Kitty Hawk, so again, let's not let actual details get in the way.

Enough of the fooling around, you all know what happened that day, so let's get to it.

Chesley Burnett Sullenberger , known to his friends (and everyone else in the world nowadays) as "Sully", was the pilot of that flight and he accomplished one of the most remarkable feats of aviation ever recorded when he landed that plane safely in the Hudson River. The feat saved the lives of everyone on the flight and made Sully into a hero. Even today, very few people know how difficult the maneuver is and how many things could have gone wrong that would have led to a different outcome. Sully is a hero. But not for landing the plane.

Sully is a hero for the most mundane and under-appreciated reason of our day. He is a hero because he is competent. And not accidentally so. He spent his whole life in the pursuit of knowledge of his subject and the quiet, patient, practice of performing it well. Exceedingly well, as it turns out.

Here is what Sully had to say about what actually happened that morning

"One way of looking at this might be that for 42 years, I've been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience, education and training. And on January 15 the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal."

Although Sully no longer flies a commercial airliner, he has continued his heroism to this day by continuing to pursue competence for himself and pass it on to others.

To celebrate that quiet accomplishment, hoist a few "tallboys" to competence and true heroism. But only drink enough to forget the faux heroes of Politics and Hollywood while still being able to remember that there are real heroes right here among us. Here's to you Sully! And to Jeffery Skiles , your co-pilot. And all the others who dedicate themselves to doing their job right.

Monday, January 14

A Pie in the Sky Idea

By Art Cashin

On this day (-1) in 1957, the inventive son of a bright inventor and a company with a flair for marketing combined to launch a product that would captivate the youth of America (and elsewhere) for over a third of a century.

The inventive son was Walt Morrison, whose dad had perfected sealed beam headlights.  The company was the Wham-O Corporation, which had found a way to sell slingshots to kids who used to make them for free in their backyards.

Anyway, Morrison noticed that America, after two back to back wars, was captivated by space, aliens and science.  He also noted that America was filled with young soldiers returning to the girls they left  behind and girls grateful to see young men again.  The confluence of events resulted in the greatest decade of attendance at drive-in movies and the greatest outpouring of grade B & C - science fiction movies for said drive-ins.  

Morrison noted that these movies that the people watched in drive-ins (watched during trips to the snackbar) all seemed to have "Flying Saucers" (or what looked like an inverted saucer hung from a string).  So he resolved to develop a toy that would fly through the air looking like one of the saucers.  And when he and Wham-O introduced it this day, naturally they called it - "The Flying Saucer."

Sales were okay for a while but they decided to try a marketing effort on college campuses.  When they hit Yale, they found students playing games of catch with their own version of a flying saucer -- empty pie tins.  When asked what they were doing, they replied "frisbieing" since the original pie tins had come from the Frisbie Baking Company.  The Wham-O folks were smart enough to re-name the product to catch on to an existing East Coast fad.  Thus the "flying Saucer" became the "The Frisbee."

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, January 9

Drill Baby Drill - But Don't Blow Your Top

By Art Cashin

On this day (+1) in 1901, the folks of Beaumont Texas went about their business (mostly agriculture) while they snickered about some boys, backed by Eastern money, trying to drill for oil on a small hill south of town.  The reason they snickered was that at least four other teams had come up dry in the same spot.

The drilling crew was beginning to think like the cynical locals.  After weeks of frustrating drilling they were down only 1000 feet.  And once again the drill froze up.  They pulled it out, cleaned it and were about to give it one more shot whey they heard a noise.

It sounded like a train - - but there was no train. Suddenly from the drill pipe came mud, then water, then rock fragments and then oil.  Oh boy, was there oil.  In a roar that was heard for miles a geyser of oil shot nearly 100 feet in the air.  And, it kept spouting (nearly a million barrels in ten days) as the surprised and lucky finders wondered how to get control.  (They finally did.)

The hill was called Spindletop.  But, so many con men showed up in the next few months to take advantage of the boom that locals nicknamed the area "Swindle top."  And the vast supply drove oil prices so low and the pollution drove drinking water prices so high; that two years later it took over 200 barrels of oil to buy just one barrel of water.

To mark the event, tell someone you like about an amazing opportunity.  But make sure you know the price of what's in the glass.

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.

Thursday, January 3

Arrogance is Bliss

 By Grant Davies

On this day (+7) in 1862, a Lieutenant Colonel in the US army fought his first battle in the poorly named Civil War, which has very little to do with this story except that the outcome propelled the Colonel into a Generalship and ultimately the Presidency. Our story today has more to do with a guy named Doctor Bliss. Oh yes, he was a doctor, but his first name was also Doctor. I know, ya can't make this stuff up.

The future President's name was James A. Garfield, but if you are like most folks you know very little about him. In Mrs. Speck's fifth grade class you might have learned that he was assassinated, but like a lot of other things in her class, that information was incorrect. You might also have learned that the guy who killed him was an insaniac named Charles Guiteau, but like the first part, that also was incorrect.

The part about Charlie being insane was correct. In an earlier story on this site he was described by the author as "hearing voices without the benefit of a Walkman." And he shot the President for sure, but he didn't kill him. That achievement should be correctly attributed to our very own Dr. Doctor.

It seems Dr. Bliss was also hearing a voice in his head, but the one he heard was his own. And it was telling him that he was a competent physician. It was also telling him that he was in charge of the heath-care decisions to be made in the treatment of Garfield. 

And speaking of crazy, without being appointed by anyone in particular, and certainly no one with the authority to do so, he injected himself into the situation. He took over by the force of his own authoritative pretense. He then fired all the other doctors who were summoned or otherwise showed up following Guiteau's target practice. And you thought incompetence in government was a recent development?

Bliss was originally summoned to the scene of the crime by none other than Robert Todd Lincoln, a member of Garfield's cabinet, who had been waiting at the train station where the shooting took place. Lincoln just happened to be the son of another President who had been shot, and he had been in the room when his father was abused by incompetent boobs who thought it would be helpful to stick objects into his brain to locate the piece of lead that caused his sudden dullness. Robert remembered that Bliss was one of those boobs, so he naturally thought he was a good candidate to screw this situation up as well. It helps to have experience in these matters.

Anyway, Bliss was as arrogant as he was ignorant, so he decided to dismiss the widespread wisdom of most of the European medical community on the subject of bacteria and infection of wounds. Guys like Bliss had decided that there was no such thing as germs since they couldn't see them. (Joseph Lister would have turned over in his grave except that he was still quite alive.)

It took about two months of continual torture from Bliss, who regularly stuck various contaminated objects into the President's wound, before he succeeded in killing the patient who might very well  have survived otherwise. (And what on earth would the country have done without ole Chet Arthur ascending to the highest position in the land?)

So in the end, crazy Charlie Guiteau only succeeded in getting himself hung by his neck until the voices in his head stopped telling him to shoot the President. And Bliss only succeeded in poking Garfield to death before he submitted a bill to Congress for the service of doing so. It was a huge bill, and for once the Congress did the right thing and refused to pay it. They did agree to pay him a lesser sum (which he refused, in the ultimate act of arrogance) so don't go wild giving them too much credit.

To commemorate the events, enroll in a history course at your local community college. But just make sure the professor isn't the same Mrs. Speck who taught you all the wrong things back in the fifth grade. History does have a way of repeating itself you know.

Information found in this story was mostly gathered from the excellent book on the subject, "Destiny of the Republic" by Candice Millard.
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