Monthly Archives: October 2015

Chinese jokes

At college, my chinese room-mate wanted to make a surprise birthday dinner for his girlfriend.

….. But someone let the cat out of the bag.


Then there was the fellow who broke into the Fortune Cookie Factory with a hammer and broke virtually all the fortune cookies — as many as he could find — in an act of wonton destruction.


And finally,


I don’t believe racial jokes are evil, but suppose it all comes down on your idea of good humor. Comedy always involves odd people, or people doing things differently. The difference doesn’t have to be insulting, just different, and all good jokes provide some new insight.

Robert E. Buxbaum, October 29, 2015. Every now and again I post jokes– and then I analyze them to death (it’s funny because ….). Recent ones include an Italian Funeral joke, a fetish lawyer joke, and things on, engineers, dentists, piratessurrealism. Just click the “jokes” tab at right for the whole, unsightly assortment.

What happened to Jack Kelly of Newsies

As my daughters are fans of the Disney play and movie, “Newsies,” and as I’ve taken interest in the early 20th century, they’ve asked me to find out what happened to Jack Kelly, the main character of the play/movie. If you’ve never seen it, Newsies is a musical about the New York newsboy strike of 1899. According to the play/ movie, as soon as the strike ends (the newsboys win), the strike leader, “cowboy” Jack Kelly goes off with Theodore Roosevelt, presumably headed to Santa Fé, New Mexico to become a real cowboy. But a simple search did not reveal what actually happened to the real Jack Kelly; here’s what I found. Noosies NYT

Without looking, I told my daughters that, if Jack Kelly had gone to Santa Fé in 1899, he would have found something very interesting: a cowboy school for young men. As it happened one of Roosevelt’s rough riders from the battle of San Juan Hill, retired to Santa Fé and set up a cowboy school for boys in the mountains above the town. He built a very outdoorsy operation in an area called “Los Alamos”. It ran until 1942 when the location was taken over to become “Site Y” of the Manhattan Project. This is where J. Robert Oppenheimer and co designed and built the first Atom Bombs. That Jack would have gone there would make for a nice, tidy story, but the truth appears to have been more messy, and more interesting. Jack got involved with William Hearst and George M. Cohan, the Titanic, a famous murder, and eventually with the fall of Tammany Hall. Here’s a picture.

Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan, head Newsie. He isn’t ugly, but isn’t Christian Bale either.

First, there was an actual newsboy strike in 1899; it was about raising the price the newsboys paid per paper, but the problem was that the price had been raised earlier, for the Spanish-American War, and not decreased after the war ended. The newsboys did win, and there was a leader named Jack, but according to the papers, the name of the leader was “Jack Sullivan”, not Jack Kelly or Francis Sullivan. The New York Tribune, July 22, 1899, lists Jack Sullivan as the leader of the strike Arbitration Committee and a leader of “the first group of newsboys to declare and demand their rights.” There are other leaders too: Louis “Kid Blink” Baletti, and David “Dave/ Yaller” Simmons. “Kid Blink” (he wore an eye patch and appears in the movie) got an award from the newsboys for making the best speech. I’ll guess that the Dave “the mouth” character is based on David “Yaller” Simmons, but it is not clear that he had any close relationship with Sullivan.

As for the movie showing Jack leaving with T. Roosevelt. it might have suited Roosevelt, but the real Jack appears to have stayed in New York, and appears to have taken a job as a bodyguard for William Randolph Hearst, one of the newspaper moguls who’d raised his rates and precipitated the strike. But it doesn’t end there. In 1904, Jack Sullivan, “the Boss Noosie” has gotten a charter for a Newsies Club to be set-up on 4th street in lower New York (the Bowery). A New York Times article (at left) includes an interview with Jack that fans should find pleasing, if only for his grammar. He uses the word, “papes” instead of papers or newspapers. I suspect this is a put-on affect for benefit of Times-readers, but who knows? It is sometimes the height of wisdom to appear stupid.

By 1909, Jack has lost control of his newsboy’s club. He appears to have used the club to teach boxing (how crude) and on at least one occasion used club assets to post bail for women accused of “loitering,” a jail-able offense in corrupt, Tammany-era New York. The club closed 2 years later. And then Jack gets married (November 27, 1910), and it appears that Jack’s real name was not Sullivan at all, but Reich. He marries Sarah Siegel at the Ohav Tzedek synagogue as “Jacob Reich”. The name Jacob Reich appears on his marriage license, on his death certificate, and on various court records, though he still appears as Jack Sullivan in other activities. Jack/ Jacob appears to have chosen the Irish-sounding name “Sullivan” as an homage to the leader of the Tammany (Democratic) machine, “Big Tim” Sullivan, shown in the photo below.

Turn of the century Tammany boss, "Big Tim" Sullivan, shown at right.

Turn of the century Tammany boss, “Big Tim” Sullivan, shown at right.

By March, 1912, Jack appears again in the news, this time suing two film companies for use of his story and likeness without payment to him. It’s a film called “the Gangsters.” It would be interesting to see if a copy still exists.

A month later, April 15, 1912, The unsinkable Titanic goes down, and six days after that, April 21, 1912, Jack is selling papers at a charity baseball game to benefit the survivors. The game takes place on a Sunday, normally prohibited by New York blue laws, between The New York Giants and The New York Yankees (the Yankees are still called the Highlanders in those days, but are already wearing pinstripes). In the picture below, Jack is under the red arrow with lots of “papes” under his arm, just behind famous song-writer, playwright, George M. Cohan. Both are dressed as newsies. George M. Cohan, known for the WWI song “Over there”, had four plays on Broadway at the time. He is one of the very few successful New Yorkers to have avoided major attachment to the crooked, New York political machine.

Jack Sullivan with George M Cohan, April 1912 selling a special newspaper to help survivors of the Titanic.

Jack Sullivan (arrow) with George M Cohan, April 1912 selling a special newspaper to help survivors of the Titanic.

New York Refuge

The New York house of refuge

And now Jack Kelly / Sullivan/ Reich enters history as a tragic bystander. When he got married, Jack borrowed $1000, from a Jewish gambler and gambling hall owner, Herman (Beansy) Rosenthal. Rosenthal was a good friend of his, and of “Big Tim” Sullivan, but he (and Sullivan) had enemies. Among them, the crooked police Lieutenant, Charles Becker, who headed the city vice squad and delighted in shaking down the gamblers, pimps, etc for protection money. Becker wanted Rosenthal dead, in part to keep him from going to the newspapers with stories of police corruption.

By 1912, “Big Tim” lost control of the Tammany organization and was put in seclusion under Tammany guard. Within a year he’d be dead. Someone (Becker?) then hired four hit men to kill Rosenthal (1:30 AM, July 16, 1912 in front of The Metropole Hotel). It’s an event recounted in “The Great Gatsby.” Several beat-policemen were there to see the shooting, but every one looked away. Not one shot back or took the license of the car. In fact, the police did nothing to catch the murderers except to lock up the only honest witness to keep him from testifying. Before the shooting, Becker took Jack Sullivan out for an evening at Madison Square Garden; he then dropped Jack at the Metropole just before the 1:30 shooting. Becker and the police then blamed Jack and four others for the murder based on testimony that they had concocted. In the end, Jack was acquitted, but not the other four, or Becker. All five went to the electric chair; all five protested their innocence.

Becker was the first US police lieutenant to be put to death for murder. It seems unlikely that he was innocent, but was he a murderer, or just an accomplice. As for the other four, perhaps they were guilty, perhaps not; it’s hard to tell from Tammany-era records. The judge was crooked; Police chief Devery was at least as crooked as Becker in terms of shaking down hoodlums. And Devery had as much motive as Becker to want Rosenthal dead. The witnesses were lying from a script they’d been given — that’s what justice was like in those days. Within a year of the murder, Big Tim was dead and Charles Francis Murphy had gained firm control of Tammany Hall. The police spent the next decade in criminal activities while trying to pin something on Jack, now a cigar store owner. He was busted for gambling and related offenses, but nothing much came of it. Jack cleared his name from the charge of murder only in 1936, two years before his death — three years after Fiorello La Guardia was elected mayor. Republican/ Fusion candidate, La Guardia ran against Tammany and did much to end their police corruption.

As for The Refuge, The New York House of Refuge is a real place. It sat on Randal’s Island between Manhattan, The Bronx, and Queens. The Island is now famous as the center of The Triborough Bridge. There is now a park where The Refuge was. Was The Refuge run honestly? If it was, it would have been virtually the only public institutions to run that way. Tammany was corrupt to the core.

Robert E. Buxbaum, October 25, 2015. Much of the information here comes from a tumbler exchange called, “newsies historical research.” I organized it and added some background about Baseball, Tammany, etc. If you like Newsies, or the era, I can recommend the novel (and movie), The Great Gatsby, or Fiorello!, a musical version of La Guardia’s unlikely rise to power. Hearst is treated somewhat positively in Newsies, but less-so as “Citizen Kane.” If someone’s seen, or has a link to “The Gangsters” please tell me.

Republicans vs conservatives

Most of the great divides of the 1800s pitted conservatives against Republicans. This was the Divide in the Mexican civil wars of the 1800s, and there were several; it is the divide in the South American wars of Independence, and in much of the US and European political debate of the 1800s as well.

Ned Flanders, cartoon conservative from "The Simpsons" He's generally well meaning and helpful, but also a bit creepy.

Ned Flanders, cartoon conservative from “The Simpsons” He’s generally well-meaning and helpful, but also a bit creepy.

In general, the difference between conservatives and republicans is that conservative governments favor religion, and religion-based leadership, while republicans favor individual liberty. In 1800s Mexico, conservatives backed two emperors (Maximilian I and Agustin I) and Santa Anna, the ruler who suspended all personal rights an ignited the war of Texan independence. Conservatives generally favor the religion of the majority: Protestantism in England, Catholicism in Central and South America, Judaism in Israel, and Islam in most of the Muslim world. This tends to annoy the irreligious and minority religious populations, who tend to become republicans. Cinco de Mayo celebrates the 1862 victory of Mexican republicans over the French-backed, conservative Maximilian I, at the battle of Puebla. The US Civil War, in essence, pitted the irreligious, industrial, republican north against the conservative, evangelical South; slavery is in the Bible so it must be good.

Conservatives usually favor government actions against sin in all it’s forms: miserliness, drunkenness, drugs, pornography, wild music, money-making, and freedom as such. Conservative-ruled countries have generally had anti-blasphemy laws and enforced “blue laws”, restrictions on business on holidays. Republican governments have few, or none of these. In pre-revolution France, the penalty for blasphemy was death, just as the Bible mandates. This changed when the republicans came into power. In England, private blasphemy was prosecuted as late as 1977. Similar penalties are still in force in Iran and other conservative Islāmic countries. Many US states still restrict the sale of alcohol on Sunday, for similar, conservative reasons. Conservatives usually favor sexual morality laws, putting strong restrictions on homosexuality, abortion, and divorce. In England, amicable divorce wasn’t legalized until 1930, and homosexuality was illegal until 1970. In the US, sexual laws are a fairly bizarre mix, in my humble opinion, the result of republicans, liberals, and conservatives making inelegant compromises.

In republican democracies like modern-day France, Holland, and Germany, sexual immorality laws are more lax than in the US. Republican governments strive to protect the rights of the individual; among these their right to property and to a fairly unbridled pursuit of pleasure. Republican countries tend to suffer from (or benefit from) significant income inequality. People can become rich due to hard work, talent, luck, or birth. And they very often become arrogant and obnoxious after they become rich — and sometimes before — to an extent that bothers conservatives and liberals alike. People can also become very poor: from laziness or bad choices, or just from bad luck or having been born to the wrong parents. Conservative and liberal elements then strive to help the very poorest, providing them with food, money and basic housing — generally achieved by taxing the rich. This is good in moderation, but taken to excess, this can lead to dependency of the poor, and redirection of the rich into less-productive fields like politics and the church. Conservatives very rarely leave a good pathway for the poor out of dependency, nor have they found a way to keep scoundrels out of the government and the church.

Scrooge McDuck. he'd likely be a Republican, if only to protect his wealth.

Scrooge McDuck, banker, railroad tycoon, steel magnate; he’d likely be republican, though not likely conservative. Motivated by money and power, he may do good, but not in any direct way, usually.

At present, the US Republican Party, the GOP, consists of approximately equal halves conservatives and republicans. That is, GOP leadership is currently an approximate balance between kindly folks like Ned Flanders who would rule by the Bible, and an equal number of rougher individuals, more like Scrooge McDuck who would rule by money.  in a sense, this is a wonderful compromise as the excesses of each group reins in the excesses of the other. In another sense though, the balance between conservatives and republicans is an ungovernable mess that leads to regular de Condorcet failures. I’m not sure how this will play out in the 2016 elections.

Fortunately, not all irreconcilable differences are as irreconcilable as one might think. Many de Condorcet problems are solvable by compromise, or by the effects of time. Compromise between charity and commerce can produce the best of all worlds, a major theme point, as I understand it, of Dickens’s Christmas Carol.

Robert E. Buxbaum, October 20, 2015. I use these essays to refine my thinking — here, more than usual. Any help you can provide will be welcome, feedback, corrections, comments. I’m trying to figure out what I, myself think. The divide between Conservatives and Liberals produces some of the most wonderful quote – exchanges, e.g. between Churchill and Attlee in 1950s England. Liberals, and I have not quite made up my understanding here, seem like a sort of like conservatives in that they believe in wealth redistribution, but without the guidance of a church, or church-based morality. At some point in the future, I’ll hope to arrange my thoughts about them, and about the difference between liberals and democrats.

Why are glaciers blue

i recently returned from a cruse trip to Alaska and, as is typical for such, a highlight of the trip was a visit to Alaska’s glaciers, in our case Hubbard Glacier, Glacier bay, and Mendenhall Glacier. All were blue — bright blue, as were the small icebergs that broke off. Glacier blocks only 2 feet across were bright blue like the glaciers themselves.

Hubbard Glacier, Alaska. Note how blue the ice is

Hubbard Glacier, Alaska. My photo. Note how blue the ice is

What made this interesting/ surprising is that I’ve seen ice sculptures that are 5 foot thick or more, and they are not significantly blue. They have a very slight tinge, but are generally more colorless than glass to my ability to tell. I asked the park rangers why the glaciers were blue, but was given no satisfactory answer. The claim was that glacier ice contained small air bubbles that scattered light the same way that air did. Another park ranger claimed that water is blue by nature, so of course the glaciers were too. The “proof” to this was that the sea was blue. Neither of these seem quite true to me, though there seamed some grains of truth. Sea water, I notice, is sort of blue, but isn’t this shade of blue, certainly not in areas that I’ve lived. Instead, sea water is a rather grayish similar to mud and sea-weeds that I’d expect to find on the sea floor. What’s more, if you look through the relatively clear water of a swimming-pool water to the white-tile bottom, you see only a slight shade of blue-green, even at the 9 foot depth where the light you see has passed through 18 feet of water. This is far more water than an iceberg thickness, and the color is nowhere near as pure blue and the intensity nowhere near as strong.

Plymouth, MI Ice sculpture -- the ice is fairly clear, like swimming pool water

Plymouth, MI Ice sculpture — the ice is fairly clear, like swimming pool water

As for the bubble explanation, it doesn’t seem quite right, either. The bubble size would be non-uniform, with many quite large resulting in a mix of scattered colors — an off white– something seen with the sky of mars. Our earth sky is a purer blue, but this is not because of scattering off of ice-crystals, dust or any other small particles, but rather scattering off the air molecules themselves. The clear blue of glaciers, and of overturned icebergs, suggests (to me) a single-size scattering entity, larger than air molecules, but much smaller than the wavelength of visible light. My preferred entity would be a new compound, a clathrate structure compound, that would be formed from air and ice at high pressures.

An overturned ice-burg is remarkably blue: far bluer than an Ice sculpture. I claim clathrates are the reason.

An overturned ice-burg is remarkably blue: far bluer than an Ice sculpture. I claim clathrates are the reason.

Sea-water forms clathrate compounds with natural gas at high pressures found at great depth. My thought is that similar compounds form between ice and one or more components of air (nitrogen, oxygen, or perhaps argon). Though no compounds of this sort have been quite identified, all these gases are reasonably soluble in water so that suggestion isn’t entirely implausible. The clathrates would be spheres, bigger than air molecules and thus should have more scattering power than the original molecules. An uneven distribution would explain the observation that the blue of glaciers is not uniform, but instead has deeper and lighter blue edges and stripes. Perhaps some parts of the glacier were formed at higher pressures one could expect that these would form more clathrate compounds, and thus more blue. One sees the most intense blue in overturned icebergs — the parts that were under the most pressure.

Robert Buxbaum, October 12, 2015. By the way, some of Alaska’s glaciers are growing and others shrinking. The rangers claimed this was the bad effect of global warming: that the shrinking glaciers should be growing and the growing ones shrinking. They also worried that despite Alaska temperatures reaching 40° below reasonably regularly, it was too warm (for whom?). The lowest recorded temperature in Fairbanks was -66°F in 1961.