Wednesday, March 27

The Straight Story

By Grant Davies

On this day in 1998, a chemical substance of great significance was approved for use in the USA by the FDA, after having been discovered by medical researchers in the UK two years before.  It sailed through the approval process in an extraordinarily short time.

What could this invention accomplish that would be so important that its application shot straight to the top of the list? The question is hard, to say the least, but let's look first at some of the benefits that have been uncovered since that day.

Researchers in Israel and Australia  have found that if the drug is dissolved in a vase of water it can extend the shelf life of cut flowers. It can make them stand up straight for up to a week beyond their natural life span. Amazing! It does that by slowing the breakdown of cGMP-specific phosphodiesterase type 5(cGMP), but you probably already guessed that.

The same process also slows down plant ripening. According to Wikipedia, "Tests were done on strawberries, legumes, roses, carnations, broccoli, and other perishables." Truly a wonder drug.

But that's not all. In 2007, three people in Argentina won the Nobel Prize in Aviation when they discovered that the same stuff aids jet lag recovery in hamsters. This had previously been a huge problem for the many hamsters who fly across multiple time zones. But no more, thanks to this wonder drug.

As impossible as it seems, the drug wasn't initially intended to fix these pressing problems. It seems that millions of men were having problems getting things straight. They had the same problem as the flowers that went limp too soon. The drug fixed that problem and formerly lethargic men became upstanding citizens.

The drug was Sildenafil citrate, more commonly known as Viagra. The people who use it are firm in their support and it became one of the biggest blockbuster drugs of all time.

Monday, March 18

Murder Isn't Funny, It's Hysterical

The crime scene
Image =
By Grant Davies

On this day (-2) in 1881, a woman made it clear to her boyfriend that he would never lay eyes on her again.

She did so by shooting him in the eye. The wound was fatal, of course, so the last thing Francisco "Chico" Forster saw was Lastania Abarta, his eighteen year old jilted lover.

The incident took place after Francisco leaped from a carriage that he was sharing (at their insistence) with Lastania and her sister Hortensia.

The problem stemmed from a slight misunderstanding among the parties. It seems that Chico had a habit of promising girls that if they slept with him he would marry them. And as hard as it is to believe, he really didn't mean it.

After a flirtatious encounter at a party where Lastania was singing, the two stole away to a nearby hotel where Chico stole the poor girl's virtue. It wasn't the first time Chico had pulled such a heist, he had two children out of wedlock already. When the "passionate affair of short duration" had concluded, Chico's plan was to tell Abarta that he was leaving to fetch a priest and a ring. The part about leaving was carried out, the rest...not so much.

So after a while, Lastania figured out that it was time to enlist her sister Hortensia to help find Chico and show him the way to the church. They found him at the race track (an unlikely place for him to find a priest) and strongly encouraged him to accompany them to the waiting carriage. But on the way to the nuptials, it seems the forty year old Francisco decided his future bride could be a tad too young for him and decided to hop out of the cab and elope, minus his betrothed. For Chico, the shotgun wedding turned out to be a pistol affair instead, and the rest is history.

Lastania went on trial, but her lawyers were an early version of OJ's dream team and they claimed she was driven by "female hysteria" (all the rage in 1881) because her brain was "clogged with blood." They had an expert witness, a certain Dr. Joseph Kurtz, who told the court that "Any virtuous woman, when deprived of her virtue, would go mad, undoubtedly." The  spectators in the courtroom exploded in applause when he made that assertion and the jury took only twenty minutes to find her not guilty. She disappeared from LA right after her acquittal and was not heard from again.

The moral of the story is:  if you decide to tell a girl that you will keep an eye out for her, be careful she isn't packing heat, or you may end up never seeing her again.

Wednesday, March 13

Chief Charlie Tokohama

By Grant Davies

On this day (-2) in 1901, a native American named Tokohama (first name Chief), was signed to a contract to play major league baseball for the Baltimore Orioles. He was signed by John McGraw, one of the top baseball managers of that time, or any time.

Before being discovered by McGraw, Tokohama had played second base for the Columbia Giants of Chicago, a Negro League team.

When he played with them his name was Charlie Grant, and he was as black as any of them. Or at least as negro as any of them, because his complexion was light and his hair was straight, even if his story wasn't. In fact, he could easily pass as a native American. At least that's what John McGraw thought when he cooked up the whole idea of putting him in an Orioles' uniform.

During spring training that year, McGraw's team was staying at the Eastland Hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas.   When he saw Charlie playing in a pick-up game with fellow employees of the hotel where he worked as a bell-hop, he signed him up. He changed his name to Charlie Tokohama (after a nearby river of that name he saw on a hotel map) and the whole righteous deception was on its way.

Back then there was an unwritten rule against black people playing in the major leagues, but McGraw was no fan of the rule, and neither were a lot of other people. According to, folks like Bob Feller, Ted Williams, Dizzy Dean, Paul Waner, Lloyd Waner and Jimmie Foxx, Hall of Famers all, thought the whole thing was BS. McGraw had long coveted the talent in the Negro Leagues, scouted their games on many occasions, and had been a proponent of integration.

But the whole thing unraveled when the team traveled to Chicago to play the White Sox. It seems that "Chief" Charlie was recognized there because he was such a stand-out player with his old team, the Columbia Giants. It didn't help that his friends threw him a big public celebration.

Another guy named Charlie (last name Comisky), who happened to own the White Sox, got wind of the plan and objected. Grant and McGraw stuck to their stories for a while, with Charlie claiming his father was white and his mother was a Cherokee living in Kansas. But McGraw finally couldn't withstand the pressure and left Tokohama off the opening day roster, claiming he was inexperienced as a fielder.

So Charlie Grant returned to his real identity, played in the Negro Leagues on a few different teams until 1916 and tragically died in a freak auto accident in 1932 when a passing car crashed into him after its "Yokohama Chief" tire exploded. (Okay, I made up the tire name. I couldn't help myself.)

Sadly, John McGraw, after winning eight National League pennants and three World Series, died in 1934, two years after Grant, and twelve years before Jackie Robinson integrated Major League baseball.

Friday, March 8

Remember the Cottonwood!

Editors note:
We hope you have enjoyed the great stories by Art Cashin while I was in Florida on a research sabbatical. (Okay, I was visiting family and playing golf for nine days.) I will return to my scribbling next week. But don't worry, there are many more great stories in Mr. Cashin's collection to be published when I can't think of anything to write about.

Image = Son of the

By Art Cashin

On this day (-1) in 1836, a real estate transaction took place in San Antonio, Texas. The property happened to be an old Spanish mission called the Cottonwood. The existing holders of the property were about two hundred men under the command of a certain Col. Wm. Barret Travis. It was a volunteer group including some interesting names like Davey Crockett and Jim Bowie.

The people who eventually assumed title to the property were several thousand Mexican soldiers under the command of a certain General Santa Ana. When the transaction was executed, so were all two hundred Texans (only a woman and a baby survived).

Tales of this amazing self-sacrifice swept Texas and were compared to the mythically heroic stand at Thermopylae by three hundred Spartans in 480 B.C. Although Santa Ana and his men clearly won the battle (albeit with nearly 25% fatalities), the General made a nearly fatal error in the area we now call "spin control".

He felt he could intimidate these Texans by tales that his forces had been overwhelmingly large and were ruthlessly efficient. He hoped that imagery would frighten the Texans enough that defections would surge, collapsing the incipient rebellion. He dispatched riders to carry that tale and image to every corner of the Texas territory. Unfortunately, the only part of the story that caught on was the word "ruthlessly".

From town to town, tales sprang up of shooting the wounded and torturing and executing prisoners. Most prominent of the latter was former U.S. Congressman and frontier hero, Davey Crockett. Rapidly spreading folklore claimed Crockett had surrender, hoping to beg mercy for four wounded associates. No mercy was shown and legend said that Crockett was tortured and summarily executed by Santa Ana.

While historians can find no proof of that tale, it is said so many Texans believed it at the time, that Sam Houston denied mercy to Santa Ana's troops in Houston's victory at San Jacinto because of Santa Ana's behavior at the Mission. He reputedly said –"Mercy Sir? The kind you showed back then?"

But a great battle needs a great slogan and "Remember the Cottonwood!" lacked zing - - So they opted for the Spanish word for Cottonwood - - Alamo….thus "Remember the Alamo"....and a legend took off.

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, March 5

The Ice Man Cometh

Image = Todayinsci

By Art Cashin

On this day in 1806, one of the best examples of American capitalism took place. It had it all. A product that could be produced very cheaply. A group of people who could use the product. A clever but inexpensive means to transport the product from where it was made to where people needed it.

On this day in 1806, Fred Tudor arrived in the Caribbean port of Martinique. Tudor had sailed from Boston with a shipload of ice that had been harvested in the dead of winter from his dad's pond. Despite the claims of critics, Tudor made the ice last by insulating it with sawdust and hay (which were naturally to be washed off when the ice was sold).

The first day of Tudor's arrival was a smashing success. People paid high prices for the product he offered. But the next day...that was a problem. They had unloaded all the ice and, the boys at the dock, trying to be helpful, had washed off the insulation. Net result...night two...puddle of water...lots of screaming people offering to pay any price for the ice they now missed. Thus Tudor's ice idea was a failure...but he had
learned two key parts of marketing...keeping a product fresh (storage) and how once you create demand people will pay up in scarcity. He returned to Boston, poorer but wiser.

There he raised new capital and bought the rights to harvest ice from several local ponds. But travel got risky as the War of 1812 broke out. After the war, however, Tudor sent a ship to Havana...not with ice but with thick cedar planking and sawdust...he was going to build an ice-house in Havana to keep the ice fresh. Then he sent some ice to see if the ice-house worked. It did.

He then asked for a 10 year exclusive contract to be the sole supplier of ice to Cuba and Martinique. No one thought it was a big deal since folks were not used to having ice in those locales. Then he started giving the ice away, especially to bartenders (along with exotic frosty drink recipes). The "free ice" created a demand, so then Tudor began charging higher and higher prices (remember the exclusive).

This ingenious marketing concept was later adopted by King Gillette and is commonly called the razor/razorblade theory. (You practically give the razor away and when they need new blades only your blades fit that razor....Op. Cit. "Barbie & Ken dolls.")

Tudor went back to New England bought up the ice rights of hundreds of ponds, commissioned the manufacture of huge ice saws to cut the blocks of ice from the ponds. He compounded the strategy all through the South (one source says he invented the mint julep just to sell more ice).

For 80 years, Tudor and his heirs were the "Ice Kings" of America. All from a product nature supplies for free. And he became a multi-millionaire in the process.

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.

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