Happy Birthday Al Capone

Capone

Capone showing the scars that named him Scarface

Al Capone was a low level criminal born in New York to Italian immigrants on this day in 1899.  Expelled from school at age 14 for hitting a female teacher in the face, he picked up odd jobs and drifted into crime.  He joined an Italian crime gang in the Five Points district of New York, where he was a bouncer in night clubs and brothels.

It was on the door of a nightclub in New York that he insulted the sister of Frank Gallucio who slashed his face.  Capone hated the nickname “Scarface” and pretended to people they were war wounds.

It was as a bouncer in the brothels of Chicago that he contracted Syphilis, the disease that stayed with him for his life, and caused him brain damage.  He died at age 48 of complications arising from tertiary stage syphilis.

What changed Capone from a low level crook to the flamboyant anti-hero of the roaring ’20’s was Prohibition.  100 years ago this week the USA prohibited the manufacture, distribution and retailing of alcohol.  For 13 years the drinks industry was placed in the hands of organised crime, and boy did they have a party.

When his boss in Chicago, Johnny Torio, resigned after being shot in the territorial wars waged between the crime gangs, a 26 year old Capone stepped into the top job in 1925.  Noted for his charisma in the press his real tools were bribery, intimidation and brutality.

After numerous attempts to bring him to justice failed he was famously sentenced to 11 years in prison in 1931 for tax evasion and made liable for court costs and back taxes.  His party ended just 2 years before the repeal of the Prohibition laws.

Capone was an early indicator of what happened in the crime gangs when alcohol became legal again.  When he was processed in the prison he was found to be a cocaine addict.  The gangs switched seamlessly from alcohol to drugs as soon as alcohol was legalised.

I wonder what would happen if we decriminalised drugs?

 

 

Happy birthday Samuel Morse

Morse

You can convert this online if you can’t read dots and dashes.

– — -.. .- -.– / .. … / – …. . / -… .. .-. – …. -.. .- -.– / — ..-. / … .- — ..- . .-.. / — — .-. … . –..– / -… — .-. -. / .- .–. .-. .. .-.. / ..— –… – …. / .—- –… —-. .—-

Morse code, the simplest, if very long winded form of electronic/radio signalling.  Can be replicated using signal lights also.  Takes very little bandwidth.  Morse code is not dead yet, and may never be.

I love the story of Morse code and Baltimore in West Cork, Ireland.  In the days of transatlantic sailing the ships from Britain, France, Germany and the rest of Europe left via the “Western Approach” which skirted the south west coast of Ireland.  One of the earliest telegraph lines in Ireland ran from Dublin to Baltimore in West Cork.  An early submarine telegraph ran across the Irish Sea and connected West Cork to the London Market.

Packages were telegraphed to Baltimore in West Cork by Morse Code.  They were pasted onto letters, and placed in the mail.  Then a pilot cutter would sail out to the departing liners and deliver the very last mail to the ships for the New York market.

When the Liners arrived from New York they placed their urgent letters on the pilot cutter on the way East.  The boat sailed into Baltimore and the messages were telegraphed to London.

The local business people in Baltimore realised that for a short few years, before a working transatlantic cable was laid, they lived on a gold mine.  A smart businessman with a fat pocket and a trading account could make a lot of money by buying the right stocks and shares before the news reached the markets.  The smart businessmen living in Baltimore made sure their telegraphs to London arrived on the trading floor before the news from New York.  In the process some fat pockets got even fatter.

A poor telegraph operator might open the mail packets and slowly stack them up in preparation for sending them.  He might then wait for ten minutes while a smart businessman wrote an instruction and put it to the front of the queue.  I’m pretty sure the poor telegraph operator was rewarded handsomely for the favour.  That would be pretty standard good neighbourliness in a place like West Cork.

Delmore Schwartz RIP

Considered in his youth to be one of the most gifted lights on the literary scene the young Schwartz was lauded by TS Eliot, Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams.  His father died young, at only 49, leaving a sizeable inheritance.  Unfortunately Harry Schwartz picked the wrong person as executor of his will and his children saw little of his money.

Delmore died on this day in 1966, alone in the Columbia Hotel in New York, depressed, alcoholic and only 52 years of age.  His body lay for two days in the morgue before he was identified.  A bright flame that burned out too soon.

-o0o-

Calmly We Walk through This April’s Day ; by Delmore Schwartz

Calmly we walk through this April’s day,
Metropolitan poetry here and there,
In the park sit pauper and rentier,
The screaming children, the motor-car
Fugitive about us, running away,
Between the worker and the millionaire
Number provides all distances,
It is Nineteen Thirty-Seven now,
Many great dears are taken away,
What will become of you and me
(This is the school in which we learn …)
Besides the photo and the memory?
(… that time is the fire in which we burn.)
(This is the school in which we learn …)
What is the self amid this blaze?
What am I now that I was then
Which I shall suffer and act again,
The theodicy I wrote in my high school days
Restored all life from infancy,
The children shouting are bright as they run
(This is the school in which they learn …)
Ravished entirely in their passing play!
(… that time is the fire in which they burn.)
Avid its rush, that reeling blaze!
Where is my father and Eleanor?
Not where are they now, dead seven years,
But what they were then?
                                     No more? No more?
From Nineteen-Fourteen to the present day,
Bert Spira and Rhoda consume, consume
Not where they are now (where are they now?)
But what they were then, both beautiful;
Each minute bursts in the burning room,
The great globe reels in the solar fire,
Spinning the trivial and unique away.
(How all things flash! How all things flare!)
What am I now that I was then?
May memory restore again and again
The smallest color of the smallest day:
Time is the school in which we learn,
Time is the fire in which we burn.

Herostratic Fame

Artemis

On this day in 365 BCE the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, was destroyed.  It was burned down by an arsonist named Herostratus.

He committed this heinous act in a bid to become immortally famous.

The temple was located in Ephesus (now Efes) in Ionian Greece (now part of Modern Turkey) .  The Ephesians sentenced Herostratus to death, but also passed a greater sentence on him.  They forbade anyone to use is name, on pain of death.  Their intention was to prevent him achieving the very thing that he sought.

Unfortunately the story was recorded by historians and Herostratus won out in the end.  Herostratic fame is “Fame acquired by destructive means”.

In modern society we see many examples.  School shooters are a prime example.  People like Mark David Chapman, who murdered John Lennon and said “The result would be that I would be famous; the result would be that my life would change and I would receive a tremendous amount of attention”.

Terrorism organisations have learned that they can gain notoriety through herostratic acts such that a small terror cell can dominate global media.  ISIS, Al Qaida, Hammas, Hezbollah etc all leverage this dynamic in the Middle East.

Since the destruction of the Temple of Artemis the greatest Herostratic act was the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York City on 9/11.

Ground Zero