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Right Angle Club 2017
Tales of the Sea abound, even a hundred miles from the ocean.
We are indebted to the President of the Maritime Law Association of the U.S., Richard W. Palmer, Esq. (who unfortunately died in March 2017 at the age of 97), for both a strange definition, and an amusing story. An "allision" is a collision between a ship and a stationary object, such as a bridge or a dock. As you might imagine, the ship is almost invariably at fault, mainly through errors of the pilot, although hurricanes and other severe weather conditions can make a difference. Moving ships have been running into stationary objects for many centuries, and almost every allision contingency has been explored. Ho hum for maritime law.
The Delair railroad drawbridge over the Delaware River at Frankford Junction is just a little different. It was built in 1896 when the Pennsylvania RR decided it needed to veer off from its North East Corridor to take people to Atlantic City. For reasons relating to the afterthought nature of the bridge, the tower for the drawbridge is located half a mile away, out of direct vision of the ships going through. Also, a late development in the history of the river was the construction of U.S. Steel's Morristown plant, bringing unexpectedly huge ore boats from Labrador to the steel mill. The captains of the ships pretty much turned things over to the river pilots.
|Delair Railroad Drawbridge|
Shortly after this service was begun, the inaugural ore boat Captain had a little party with some invited guests. So it happened that the Commandant of the Port, the Admiral in Charge of the Naval Yard, and other equally high ranking worthies like the head of the Coast Guard were on the bridge of the ore boat, taking careful notes of the procedure. The ship tooted three times, the shore answered back with three toots. In real fact, they were connected by ship-to-shore telephone for most of the real business, but this grand occasion called for authentic nautical ceremony. Three toots, we're approaching your bridge. Three toots back, come ahead, the coast is clear. The admirals scribbled it all down.
As the ship approached the point of no-return, beyond which it can no longer stop or turn in time to avoid an allision, the people on the bridge were astounded to see a train crossing the bridge ahead. Several toots, loud profanity on the ship to shore phone. No worry, answered the bridge, we'll lift the drawbridge in plenty of time. But half a minute later the bridge controller made the anguished cry that the drawbridge was apparently rusted and wouldn't open, to which the captain shouted, "This ship is going to take away your blinkety blank bridge and sail right through it".
At this point, the pilot took matters into his own hands, and violently threw the rudder hard left, swinging the ship sideways, soon nudging the bridge with some damage, but nothing like the damage of a head on allision. Lawsuit.
The attorneys for the railroad were pretty high-powered, too, and had piles of legal precedents to cite. But they were quite unprepared for Dick Palmer to put the Commandant of the Port on the witness stand, reading slowly and painfully from his very detailed notes about the conversations on the bridge, about the approaching drawbridge. And so, Philadelphia can claim to have one of the very few instances where a ship ran into a bridge -- and the court found the bridge to be entirely at fault.
The details are hazy, but sometime after graduating as a Registered Nurse my mother-in-law had a spell as a private-duty nurse for Mrs. Pulitzer, and, I suppose later, became head nurse in the University of Pennsylvania unit in France, during World War I. Let's talk about Mrs. Pulitzer, first. The Pulitzers had given the Pulitzer Prize, owned a chain of newspapers, and naturally owned several houses. Although I have to imagine there was a Mr. Pulitzer somewhere, everything was referred to as if it belonged to Mrs. Pulitzer, and Mr. Pulitzer never appeared in the stories.They had a child with rheumatic fever, who was the reason they had a private nurse. Mrs. Pulitzer devoted one afternoon a week to paying bills, which were numerous because of all the staff they employed at several houses scattered around the country, in New York, at Bar Harbor, and so on. One day, seated at her desk, she turned to the nurse, and asked her if she had any idea what a burden it all was.
My mother-in-law had always been very self-assured, and this time she drew herself up in full nurse dignity. "Mrs. Pulitzer," she said, "I don't feel a bit sorry for you." But as more than a century goes past, I have come to see the rich lady had a point. What purpose is there to being rich, if you are expected to spend large amounts of time being a clerk? There were diamonds and minks to be got out of storage for the banquets, and then put away with moth crystals. There were silver spoons to be counted, and portraits of ancestors to be varnished. The gardener seemed to dipping into the best wine, the kitchen maid didn't clean up properly, the roof in the Florida house leaked. Instead of being the rich lady with a glamorous life, she was at best acting the part of mayor of a small town. And instead of being awestruck, her hired nurse was in effect telling her she was a spoiled brat. Now, to be the head nurse of a famous hospital, helping the doughboys win the war to end all wars, there was somebody to look up to.
It wasn't the work. Anyone who has watched nurses rebel against typewriters in one generation and sit glued to the monitor with a very similar keyboard in the computerized phase of change, can recognize it wasn't the work. Not even if it means picking bloody sponges off the operating room floor, or the final degradation of digging out an impaction with others watching you do it. The hallmark, the final test, was to do it without hesitation, and never display the slightest sign of complaint. Because the point of pride was to be useful without the slightest sign of disgust. Dignity, doing something other girls recoiled at doing. The snotty little brats.
It took some time for me to recognize that the image of nursing was formed in Nursing School, so strongly that the Nursing School was really the heart of any hospital. They would come back to reunions for generations, regaling their old friends with stories of Miss This or That, the tough old head nurse with a heart of gold. The head nurse was the mother-figure, and the role model. Anything you could do, she could do better. When she dismissed you, you deserved to be dismissed. You didn't know starch until you saw her starched uniform. And cap. You could tell what school had trained her, after a glance at her cap. And when the caps went, the uniforms were replaced with green unironed operating room gowns, not the same thing, at all. The schools were replaced by money from the US Government, sought out by the nursing lobby, and eagerly accepted by the administrators of hospitals, who didn't know what they were doing. The girls didn't know any better, either, thinking what they needed was a diploma. So now we contemplate a nurse with a bachelor's degree, or even a doctorate, without the faintest idea what to do, placed in charge of practical nurses in their forties who know everything about nursing worth knowing. So they retreat into the nurse's lounge, writing volumes of notes which no one ever reads. The girls who enter the few schools left are much the same. Show me a well-run hospital and I'll show you a hospital that still has a school. Show me a hospital that recruits its nurses from a near-by university, and I'll show you a hospital which is run by administrators.
The Right Angle Club was recently visited by Patrick E. McGovern, PhD. Scientific Director, Biomolecular Archaeology Project, Adjunct Professor, Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania Museum of Anthropology and Anthropology. Author,"The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages; "Rediscovering ancient fermented beverages throughout the world."
Professor McGovern feels that alcohol has been used as an intoxicating beverage for over 2700 years. Because our species began in Africa, that's where you first find evidence of booze. As a matter of fact, the Milky Way is just filled with loose alcohol, with millions of gallons floating around its center, so alcohol has probably been around for eons longer than that. Alcohol is just a step of fermentation away from sugar, so it has probably been bubbling around almost as long as life. The association of yeast fermentation with cell life has fascinated at least one other Penn Professor, who feels that mitochondria are pieces of plants which have somehow got incorporated into animal cells, and probably account for carbohydrate metabolism in animal forms, concentrating an unusually large proportion of cancer transformations in the process. If so, it's a mixture of good and evil, like so much of life.
So if it's so easy to transform carbohydrate into alcohol, it figures that the dominant beverage will be a fermentation of the local dominant carbohydrate. For the most part that's rice in the Orient (beer), fruit in central Asia (wine), and a tribe's favorite beverage tends to endure as long as they stay in the same region. I was tempted to ask about the beer-wine divide along the Rhine River, but decided not to veer too far from archaeology or chemistry. The spread of potato-generated vodka seemed abstraction enough for the lunch-time entertainment of gentlemen who do lunch together, ride the train together, and occasionally venture into off-color jokes and games of chance.
We did sample his own private stock, of a mixture of wine, beer and mead. Quite tasty.
Schneider, spelled Snyder (or Snider) is almost certainly a Pennsylvania Dutch surname in some sense. So I presume Ed Snyder is of that derivation, but at any rate he addressed the Right Angle Club recently on the subject of photographing cemeteries. Along the way, he seems to have picked up a lot of historical facts about graveyards, which he put together into a fascinating story. I get the impression that many of the traditions he described had their origin in Europe and were transported here by various waves of immigration, so we don't have much information about the origins of the customs, except by inference.
The Quakers who settled Philadelphia in the early 1680's didn't believe in putting your name or your picture on anything. saying it was idolatry. That, plus the yellow fever epidemics, accounts for the fact that the Meeting House at Fourth and Arch has forty thousand people buried in its yard in five layers, but only has two tombstones. Just why those two were exceptions is not described. Jonathan E. Rhoads, the famous University of Penn surgeon, has his name on a pavilion there, to which he raised an objection, but finally died there himself, saying, "It didn't look so bad." So we have comparatively few early Quaker monuments still standing in the Quaker City, although it seems pretty certain the Quakers are not responsible for the midnight vandalism now sweeping the country, toppling tombstones. In any event, there definitely is an anti-cemetery movement in our nation, possibly dating back to the days when bodies of parishioners were buried in churchyards if they were in good standing, sort of like a giant compost heap. On the other hand, some people remember that Antigone went to some lengths to recover and honor her dead brother on the battlefield of ancient Greece. And that one of the reasons the Romans fed the early Christians to the lions was their horror at the retention of the bones of ancestors in the catacombs, actually living in the mortuaries in the expectation of a second coming for everybody. The Mormon infatuation with genetic ancestors may be part of this idea.
It has been said that if you stick a shovel in the ground anywhere, you will encounter a cemetery, but not in Philadelphia. Somewhere around 1830 we imported the French set of traditions of cemeteries, which you can still see as the questionable tombstones of Abelard and Heloise outside Paris. Laurel Hill was started as an intentional commercial imitation, at a time when you had to take a boat on the Schuylkill to get there, taking the whole family along to have an all-day picnic among your ancestors; and mighty industrial potentate families competed to construct the biggest most expensive mausoleum for the family. Laurel Hill has since fallen into some disrepair, but there is a restoration movement actively repairing them, collecting donations, tracing histories, etc. Neill Bringhurst, a former president of the Right Angle Club, was once the owner, but he vigorously disliked the whole idea and sold it. Woodland, near the University of Pennsylvania is the other surviving cemetery of this elegance, and it is kept up much better than Laurel Hill, except for the tangled bushes around the periphery to maintain privacy. It's right next to an extensive trolley-car terminal, thus conveying some idea of its former popularity. Prior to being a cemetery, it was the mansion site of Andrew Hamilton, whom George Washington used to visit on his way to Mount Vernon. As you recall, this Hamilton was the original Philadelphia Lawyer, who went to New York to defend the freedom of speech of Peter Zenger the newspaper man accused of telling the truth when he slandered the Governor. Considering the successor governors of New York, it's a good thing he won the case. History has it he was a young unrecognized lawyer, but in fact Hamilton was the most eminent lawyer of his time, having originally purchased what is now Independence Hall.
The traditions of marble angels hovering over tombstones seems to have been imported by Irish and Italian immigrants, and is reflected in their present cemeteries. And the Pennsylvania Dutch tombstones and records are intact in Hummelstown PA, dating back to the Seventeenth century. It reflects that this particular branch landed in New York, went up the Hudson to Kingston, and back down to the Harrisburg area on the Susquehanna. Meanwhile, the Quakers further East were burying their dead in layers without "markers".
There's probably a lot more to this history, but burials are sort of private affairs, and most church groups are unaware of the dissenting attitudes, not very far away.
Some time in February, 1917, Zimmerman the German foreign minister sent a telegram to the President of Mexico, in code. The Germans sensed their submarine warfare might win the war for them, and so it might be very helpful to have a second front attack the allies' main supplier, the United States. Germany would then win World War I, able to give Mexico --Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. The British intercepted the telegram, decoded it, and wasted no time putting in on Woodrow Wilson's desk.
Wilson had just won the Presidential election on the platform, "He kept us out of war." Furthermore, the Germans were the single largest ethnic minority in America. But no matter. Within a few days, Wilson stood before a joint meeting of Congress and urged them to declare war on Germany.
The consequences were immediate: the German minority was cowed with shame, and counting World War II as a continuation of World War II, sixty million people were killed. Because of a single stinking telegram. In retrospect, Wilson should have kept it quiet, privately negotiating something from Germany for the affront, and maybe keeping us out of both wars. That's the sort of thing we are playing around with, when we create an uproar over catching an enemy with red hands.
It may violate the Constitution or some partisan law created by Congress, but it's the way diplomacy has been conducted ever since--well, since Benjamin Franklin was Ambassador to France. It isn't exactly leadership, but it might have saved millions of lives. Muhlenberg told us, "There's a time to preach, and a time to fight." What he forgot was the part about preaching.
The Deputy Managing Director of Philadelphia, former Judge Benjamin Lerner, honored the Right Angle Club by coming to lunch, recently. He immediately improved our opinion of him by first explaining why he resigned as Judge. It seems the Inside Baseball of the last Mayor's election, shifted the politics quite a lot. Under Mayor Nutter, the department heads reported to the Mayor, but under the new Mayor Kinney, everybody reported to the Managing Director. So Judge Lerner promptly resigned his judgeship and became Deputy Managing Director, if you get the drift of that power shift. He had become exercised about the drug problem in Philadelphia, wanted to do something, and knew the ropes to get it done. You've got to like a man like that.
It doesn't matter what got him mad. The drug situation in this town is a disgrace, and any number of reasons might have got the Judge angry. It's too early to know what he can accomplish in his short time in office, but I have every confidence that if he can't improve things, it's time for all of us to move to another city, because no one can fix it if he can't.
In fact, I happen to know something he admitted he didn't know. Several years ago I was mugged in the middle of a police stake-out, so they caught the culprit. That's a pretty open and shut case, but the defense attorney apparently tried to stall me out of being a witness. For nine consecutive trials, I cancelled my appointments and appeared at 9 AM. By the afternoon, I sat there waiting to be told the trial was postponed, for a prisoner in custody, no less. In any event, I watched nearly a hundred trials during this period, and every one of the defendants told the Judge he had been smoking drugs, outside the courtroom in the corridor. Well, as a witness I was free to walk around, and I can tell you nobody was smoking drugs in the corridor. I knew for a fact they were telling the judge they were addicts, when they weren't. I haven't the slightest idea why they were doing this, but I presume they had discovered some loophole in the law, and were exploiting it. The rule that drug addicts escaped a jury trial might be a plausible explanation, but I simply don't know.
The Judge agreed with me he had no idea of this behavior, or if it continued to happen. But I am willing to bet, it's now going to stop.
The Right Angle Club was honored recently to be addressed by Michael Augustyn, who is a sort of amateur expert on Medieval history and warfare as a result of gathering background for his historical novel Vlad Dracula: the Dragon Prince. He didn't talk much about his novel (which is unusual for an author), but gave a sickening description of Medieval warfare, and a fascinating one.
It seems that Ghengis Kahn invented or exploited the invention of the stirrup, which allowed hordes of horseback Mongols to defeat the armored knights of the Western world. But before that, the Turks invading westward had discovered that if you unhorsed the knight into the mud, you could then make short work of him. In those days, the Byzantine Christians were bitter enemies of the Roman Catholics for one reason or another, but the invading Turks didn't make much distinction, and beheaded Christians indiscriminately. Among other charming customs, they catapulted the heads over the walls into the midst of the Christian defenders of castles and walled cities, to soften them up, so to speak.
Today, we regard the death penalty as the most extreme punishment, and some groups are even agitating to eliminate it entirely. But for the Turks, the death penalty was only third in rank, preferable to being blinded in one of three painful ways, or to being impaled on a crooked stick. It wasn't described in great detail, but presumably the crooked stick thrust up the rectum would perforate the colon, and the resulting peritonitis would protract death for two or so weeks. Mr. Augustyn was definitely anti-Turk, but one presumes imitation is the soul of flattery, and plenty of Greeks impaled plenty of Turks, once they got the hang of it.
Dracula was a leader in Transylvania, now part of Romania, and is now generally treated as the Robin Hood of the region for his defeats of the invaders, not described in detail but probably pretty grisly. Evidently, his evil reputation originates in the hatred between Roman Catholics and Orthodox, which sort of persists to this day. Even in modern times, people will justify their hatreds by referring to atrocities between the Serbs and their neighbors in 1328. When President Clinton sent American troops into the Balkans, including the First City Troop of Philadelphia, there was abundant evidence of contemporary hatreds and atrocities attributed to 1328, which must have been pretty notable. It reminds me that sailing the Atlantic Ocean in a wooden ship to immigrate here has the virtue of obliterating such fables, and allowing even Balkan immigrants to forget them. The jet plane keeps these antagonisms fresher.
As I sat there listening to this, it occurs to me that I don't even know for sure what country my ancestors were in, in 1328, so I don't know which ethnic group I am supposed to hate, and if possible, disembowel. There do seem to be some advantages to forgetting about history, don't there?
Uber is a taxicab company which has been around for a year or so, but has finally caught on in Philadelphia, exposing some of the more disconcerting facts of taxi medallions. It is rumored to be true that the fees collected for taxi monopolies often contribute half of some city's budgets, although of course that couldn't be true in Philadelphia. A taxicab company buys a medallion for each cab, indicating a right to operate a cab, and the taxi drivers will tell you their medallions cost several hundred thousand dollars apiece. Most taxi drivers don't own their cabs, so these reports may contain an element of grievance against the actual owners, or the city, or both. At any rate, what is being sold is a monopoly, and the fares they charge customers must recover it. So Uber entered the scene, and the customers have a certain amount of sympathy with them. Uber isn't a taxi owner, it's sort of a cab-summoning system, but to the customer it's hard to tell a difference. To the city, which is in the medallion-selling, or perhaps monopoly pay-to-play business, it's an important legal distinction, which so far they haven't found a way to throttle. In the long run, of course, an improved and cheaper cab-summoning business will improve the local economy and bring in higher revenue, while in the still longer run, it will throttle the city if they don't keep up with other cities which have a better cab-summoning system. Of course, that didn't bother the maritime unions when they drove away the ocean-shipping trade, and it doesn't seem to bother the unions which control the Convention Center, or the stagehands who make it expensive to put on shows, operas and concerts. Or, for that matter, the residents of the city who regularly vote a change of political control, every seventy years.
The Uber drivers explain that they own their cabs, and must keep them fresh and clean according to Uber standards. Each cab has a portable internet connection, with an Uber software package for which the drivers probably pay a fee, but the "app" is free to the customers. When you tell the program where you are and where you want to go, the central office uses GTF to locate and assign your trip to the nearest Uber driver cruising in your neighborhood, whose location is also tracked by GTF. The result is a binging sound in the cab, and a picture of the cab on a map in the customer's "app", together with a button to push to connect the customer's phone to the driver. So the driver, cruising nearby with another customer, can immediately shift to the cab requester in about five minutes. You can tell him what color overcoat you are wearing, and how to negotiate the lane you live on, beware of the dog. In about five minutes you can watch on your portable computer-- while his cab negotiates the turns to pick you up, which he does, and zips you off to where you want to go. The company already has your credit card, so you just get off, and the driver zips away on another call that came in while you were travelling. The driver is often a lady, which fearful lady customers like to see; the lady driver is often a mother who likes to choose her own hours to work, while there is someone at home to watch the kids.
There are some features which might be called disadvantages. The driver is unable to call the dispatcher, so there is no way to notify the dispatcher there is construction at your pick-up point, or it's a blind alley to be avoided if you didn't know the landmarks, yourself. That means the driver doesn't wait very long if you are not where he thought you were, and although you can watch him drive away on the internet screen, he's off on another call while you stand in the rain. And the price of the ride is apparently a continuous auction, so you can watch it go from $13 to $5 and then back to $10; the truth is most people don't know what they were charged until they see the credit card invoice.
The competition has apparently stimulated the local cab monopoly to produce an imitation app, called 215 Get a Cab, for the medallion folks. I haven't tried it yet, but it's heartening to see the effect of competition on an otherwise closed system with political overtones. The last cabby I engaged proudly showed me there were eight cabs within two blocks of where I stood shivering, vainly tooting on my taxi whistle. So, even the medallion taxis are better off for Uber with its destructive innovation. So far.
Lawyers will tell you a newly graduated lawyer doesn't know much about the practical aspects of law practice. That seems to date back to the days when a lawyer didn't go to law school at all, but instead studied the law in the office of a practicing lawyer. It seemed to work out all right, since Abraham Lincoln didn't go to law school, and the last Supreme Court Justice not to go to law school was "Scoop" Jackson, who presided over the Nuremberg Trials. The first law school in America was naturally at the University of Pennsylvania, founded by a lawyer who was very influential at the Constitutional Convention, also held in Philadelphia -- James Wilson, so all those lawyers who wrote the Constitution had either studied law without benefit of Law school, or else were rich and had travelled to London to study at the Inns of Court. James Wilson had a famous battle at his house at 3rd and Walnut, subsequently known as the Battle of Fort Wilson, where five later delegates to the Constitutional convention were attacked by what some call a "mob" in 1779, and probably carried a vivid recollection of the event when they were later writing the "original intent" of that document. In any event, the five law schools which style themselves "national law schools" and from which almost all of the big law firms draw corporate lawyers, are pretty firm about the fact that they will teach the associates all they need to know about the practicalities of the law. There are dozens of "state law schools" who feel differently about this, but it can be noticed that all of the Supreme Court Justices come from national law schools at the present time.
Well, medical schools were pretty much divided along the same lines until the Flexner report of 1913, and subsequently the division was between general practitioners and specialists, with the specialists receiving practical training as residents in hospitals. The medical school administrators never liked this arrangement, and have worked hard to envelop specialty training into the school hospitals. If you hear talk of "town and gown", this is the topic they are usually centered on. The division was pretty static until 1965, held together by the fact that residents in training were paid very little or nothing, so the schools were restrained in their eagerness. With the advent of Medicare, however, arrangements resulted in -- for practical purposes -- the residents being paid a generous salary in order to pay off their medical school debts. Nobody has mentioned this evolution in the current Obamacare-Trumpcare squabble because it isn't central to the argument, but it's part of the mix, all right. Obamacare went a considerable distance toward centralizing specialist training in the payment juggling, and before that, it had a lot to do with Medicare retaining open teaching wards, when the clear intent was promised to start at the economic bottom of the ladder with semi-private accommodations for everyone. And it had a lot to do with the closing of Philadelphia General Hospital, which had seven thousand beds during the Civil War, and three thousand at the end of World War II. One post-war blue ribbon committee, convened to evaluate PGH, began its report with "Philadelphia can indeed be proud..." At the end of WWII, sixty-five percent of the Delaware Valley hospital beds, in 165 hospitals, were free ward beds.
On the other hand, it must be admitted that thirty years has been added to average American life expectancy, in the past century. The system can't be terribly bad, although it is a trifle expensive, and every surviving hospital has a brand-new hospital building, plus more administrators than doctors, depending on how you define an administrator, or a doctor for that matter.
To get back to "continuing" post-graduate medical education, both the College of Physicians and the County Medical Society have largely given it up, replaced in part by seminars financed by drug firms. Naturally, these seminars favored the use of the latest drug, were featured with free lunches for the residents, and highly criticised for a conflict of interest. So in time Sydney Kimmel the philanthropist was persuaded that continuing medical education (at a time of almost tumultuous innovation) was in a sorry state in Philadelphia, and donated something like $250 million to the establishment of a medical school that would do nothing else, or words to that effect. I attend six or so all-day seminars yearly, and find them to be excellent. The last one only cost me $190, and the drug companies donated the meals. So the reviews have to be mixed, since I keep wondering where all of the rest of the money went, and keep thinking about that aphorism of Hippocrates, which speaks of teaching without charge.
As historical background, the following exerpt is taken from the original Hippocratic Oath: To hold him who has taught me this art as equal to my parents and to live my life in partnership with him, and if he is in need of money to give him a share of mine, and to regard his offspring as equal to my brothers in male lineage and to teach them this art - if they desire to learn it - without fee and covenant; to give a share of precepts and oral instruction and all the other learning to my sons and to the sons of him who has instructed me and to pupils who have signed the covenant and have taken an oath according to the medical law, but no one else.
The modernized Hippocratic Oath, written by Louis Lasagna of Tufts University, goes as follows: I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant: I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.
Look Out For That Ship!
Tales of the Sea abound, even a hundred miles from the ocean.
The Burdens of the Rich
New blog 2017-01-24 22:52:17 description
Uncorking the Past
New blog 2017-02-11 03:42:11 description
Uber and 215 Get A Cab
New blog 2017-03-19 13:31:47 description