Friday, January 23, 2015

Little Known Dangers of e-Gadgets

Dear George,
I don’t know why, but technology makes me anxious.  Maybe it’s because the cutting edge devices in my youth were ballpoint pens and 45 R.P.M. record players.  I feel unconfident about mastering unfamiliar stuff, but, beyond that, I usually get a sense of impending doom.  Whatever the case, Katja is much more bold and adventuresome.  She and our friend Donna have been talking for a long time about buying mini-computer tablets to replace their bulky desktop computers.  Last Monday they set out to look at options at the computer store at the mall, and I came along out of curiosity.  Though it felt like an alien land, I have to admit to being very impressed.  The store was busy, and there were probably sixty employees in brightly colored shirts out on the floor.  The wizardry of the devices was amazing.  The only gray-haired salesman in the store, Dennis, spent nearly four hours with us, and he was patient, low-pressure, articulate, and helpful.  Both Katja and Donna settled on high-end tablets plus keyboards, and at the end of the day we returned home with new expensive toys in hand.

Katja’s purchase sat in its unopened box on the counter for the next 48 hours.  Neither of us ever acknowledged its existence.  She had also purchased a Wi-Fi box to hook up to our cable system. I didn’t want to open that either.  Fortunately our friend Alice (pseudonym) and her teenage son came over to help us.  Doing stuff we would never figured out ourselves, they got our Wi-Fi up and running.  Then Alice gave us a short demo of some of the wondrous things Katja’s new tablet could do. 

Katja left for her French literature class about 7 p.m. that evening, and I started trying out her tablet, doing e-mail, Siri, and Google.  Wouldn’t you know, after ten minutes the screen froze up and then it went totally black.  I pushed every button I could find, but nothing happened.  I apparently had succeeded in destroying the new foolproof machine.  I called Alice in a panic.  Luckily she lives nearby, and I walked over with the broken tablet.  It took her a while, but eventually Alice got it turned on again.  She said that that shouldn’t have happened, and, if it were to happen again, we should take the tablet back to the store.  I swore eternal gratitude and privately told myself that I would never again go near a device that clearly had been sent by Satan.  

Walking home on Ludlow Avenue in the dark, I called Donna on my cell phone to let her know about the tablet’s problems.  As I was chatting, my foot hit a raised pavement on the sidewalk.  With my cell phone in one hand and Katja’s tablet in the other, I didn’t break my fall and landed smack on my rib cage.  The devices spurted off into the dark.  Lying flat on the ground I reached around and recovered the phone and the tablet, then gradually picked myself up.  I was banged up and in a state of shock.  I explained to Donna what had happened, then hung up and slowly made my way home.  Once in the house I turned the tablet back on and was relieved that it still seemed to be working.  However, its brand new cover had gotten scratched in my fall.  Katja came home.  After fussing about my mishap, she discovered the knicks on her tablet cover.  She was sad but philosophical, observing mournfully that new things possessions get some bruises.

I didn’t feel that I was seriously injured, but, at Katja’s urging, I made an appointment at my doctor’s office the next morning.  They did some X-rays and other tests and gave me a prescription for a painkiller. I said I was doing o.k. and wasn’t worried.  Then they called back today.  Much to my surprise, the X-rays showed two broken ribs and impaired breathing.  The caller said I can expect to be in pain for the next four to eight weeks and need to guard against pneumonia.  That’s a depressing development.  I can’t help our aging dogs get up from the hardwood floor, can’t lift them into the bed or the car, and should avoid strenuous walking with them.  Nor can I drive for a while, work out at the gym, or go to my line dancing class.  I can do some more sedentary things, but the list of restrictions covers most of the enjoyable parts of my life.  I guess, instead of sheepdogs and line dancing, I’ll spend my new spare time learning to use Katja’s tablet.  That would be useful so long as I don’t break any more bones in the process. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Roaring Dan Seavey, Lake Michigan Pirate

Captain Dan Seavey

Dear George,
Thanks to the lumber and mining industries, the U.P. in the late 1800’s experienced a major boom in population growth and economic activity.  It was still, however, a frontier region, rough and unregulated.  One of the more notorious rogues of the day was Captain Dan Seavey, also known as “Roaring Dan” and “Dan the Pirate.”  Seavey was a famous, feared troublemaker in many ports on Green Bay and Lake Michigan including Escanaba, Charlevoix, Frankfort, and Menominee. (1) Here is some of Roaring Dan’s story which I’ve drawn from various sources. [Note: numbers in parentheses refer to citations listed at the end.]

Seavey was born in Portland, Maine, in 1867.  His father was a schooner captain, and Dan quickly took to the sea in his youth.  At age 13, he left home to work on tramp steamers, and he joined the Navy for a three-year term at age 18.  When his navy hitch ended in the late 1880s, Seavey moved to the village of Middle Inlet in Wisconsin’s Marinette County.  He married a 14-year-old local girl, Mary Plumley, and the couple had two daughters.  The family moved to Milwaukee where Dan bought a small farm, operated a commercial fishing business, and owned a saloon near the waterfront.  Captain Frederick Pabst, the Milwaukee beer magnate, encouraged Seavey to invest in an Alaska mining company. Seavey deserted his family in 1898 and spent a couple of years in the Klondike Gold Rush.   His Alaskan excursion proved unsuccessful, and he returned empty-handed to Milwaukee about 1900.  Seavey then relocated to Escanaba in Michigan’s U.P. where he operated a freight service.  He acquired a fourteen-ton topsail schooner, built in 1900 and originally owned by the Pabst family, which he named The Wanderer. (5)

The Wanderer

In Escanaba Seavey married 22-year-old Zilda Bisner.  This was another disastrous marriage, and she filed for divorce four years later, revealing how Seavey beat her and threatened her life. Seavey disappeared on the lake.  Several years later he married Annie Bradley from the Garden Peninsula in the U.P., a marriage that was to last for many years. (2)

Seavey employed the Wanderer and other boats in legitimate business to transport agricultural and other commodities.  However, he used the same boats to transport poached venison, bootleg liquor, and stolen black market items.  Much of his merchandise was pilfered.  Historian Tom Powers reports: "Seavey and a small crew would silently slip the Wanderer, with no running lights, into ports in the dead of night and make off with anything on wharves, in unlocked warehouses, or on nearby streets that was of value and could be carried on the schooner." (4)  Seavey was also notorious for what was then known as “moon cussing”.  He and his crew altered sea lights on the lake, either turning them off or placing false lights at rocks or on sandbars where ships would be grounded.  When their sailors abandoned ship, Seavey moved in to loot the wreck.

Seavey's most lucrative business was poaching venison.  One of his hideouts was on St. Martin's Island, off the Garden Peninsula near Escanaba.  Seavey slaughtered deer there with his rifle and hauled it to meat markets in Chicago.  The Booth Fish Company, a Chicago business with underworld ties, sent a gang of thugs on one of their boats to take over Seavey's territory.  After a vicious fight, Seavey caught up with the Booth boat in the Wanderer and blew them out of the water with a cannon that he'd mounted on his ship’s bow.  All of the Booth Company crew died in the attack. (7)

Seavey also used the Wanderer to bring prostitutes, some of whom he kidnapped from the Iron Range, to U.P. ports along Green Bay like Fayette, Nahma, Garden, and Escanaba.  Though local lawmen were trying to close brothels in their communities, their authority ended at the water's edge, and Seavey took advantage of this loophole in the law by traveling from port to port with prostitutes and liquor. (4)    

Seavey was a large man, 6-4 and 250 pounds, with a barrel chest and a powerful physique.  He loved to fight and was known through the Lake Michigan communities for his willingness to take on any comer.  His most famous fight occurred in the winter of 1904 at Frankfort, Michigan, where he battled a professional fighter named Mitch Love on a large circle drawn in the snow on the ice of Frankfort harbor.  200 lumberjacks placed bets on the battle.  The fight went on for over two hours until a battered and bleeding Love was finally hauled off by his supporters.  Seavey not only collected the main purse from the fight, but also a percentage of the many side bets that his followers had made. (3)

Seavey’s most infamous act involved the theft of a forty-ton lake schooner named the Nellie Johnson in Grand Haven, Michigan, on June 11, 1908.  Serving on the Nellie Johnson as a crewman, Seavey got the schooner captain, R. J. McCormick, and members of his crew to drink themselves into a stupor, then stole their vessel and set off across Lake Michigan for Chicago.  Because of suspicions by the harbormaster, Seavey failed to sell the stolen cargo of cedar posts in Chicago.  When a federal revenue service cutter, the 178-foot steel-hulled Tuscarora with Captain Preston Uberroth in command, was sent to capture them, Seavey and his comrades hid the Nellie Johnson on a river near Frankfort.  The Tuscarora, the fastest ship on the Great Lakes, searched the east shore of Lake Michigan for the Wanderer -- St. Joseph, South Haven, Saugatuck. Holland, Grand Haven, Muskegom, Whitehall, Pentwater, and Ludington -- but not a trace of the stolen ship.  When federal agents eventually closed in, Seavey escaped in the Wanderer.  The Tuscarora took chase at full speed, allegedly burning the paint off her smokestack and boilers.  When the gunboat overtook the Wanderer, Captain Ueberroth is said to have ordered a cannon shot across the Wanderer's bow which ended the chase, and Seavey was arrested by Federal Marshal Tom Currier for piracy, then a death-penalty crime.  Despite the government's best efforts, a Chicago grand jury failed to indict Seavey, and, released on bond, he was soon back on the water, claiming that he had won the Nellie Johson in a poker game.  For reasons that are now obscure, all charges were dropped later that summer. (8) 

The Tuscarora

Perhaps because it takes a crook to catch a crook, Seavey was appointed as a U.S. Marshall toward the end of his career, and he was charged with shutting down illegal whiskey, venison poaching, and smuggling on Lake Michigan.  He was a crack shot with the firearms that he always carried.  In one incident he tracked down a bootleg liquor smuggler to a tavern in Naubinway in the U.P.  The smuggler boasted that no lawman would ever take him in hand-to-hand combat.  Seavey and the smuggler battled for hours, wrecking the saloon and stopping every now and then to drink whisky.  Finally, Seavey won the brawl by tipping over a piano on his opponent's head.   The man received medical attention, but died of his injuries during the night.  Seavey wired the authorities:  "Outlaw expired while resisting arrest."  (9) 

The Wanderer was destroyed by fire under suspicious circumstances in 1918, and Seavey switched to a 40-foot motor launch which he named the Mary Alice.  It's unclear whether he continued as a marshall in his new ship, though he did operate as a rumrunner during prohibition, transporting bootleg liquor from Canada. (1)  

Seavey was known to love kids, and he would talk with them about his seafaring adventures.  When he lived in Escanaba, local boys would wait on the docks for his return, and he would tell them stories for hours.  One boy's disapproving father, a prominent Escanaba businessman, came by, grabbed his son as he left Seavey's ship, and spanked him right on the docks.  As the father started to leave with his son, Seavey grabbed the man, knocked him down, and gave the father a spanking, ordering him to "leave my shipmates alone." (6)

Because of various injuries, Seavey retired from sailing in the late 1930’s.  He reconciled with his daughters from his first marriage, and moved to Martha Champ Weed's boarding house in Escanaba.  He had made over a million dollars from criminal activities during his career, but, with a reputation as a self-styled Robin Hood, he gave away most of his profits to benefit children and the poor. (6)  Later Seavey lived with his daughter Josephine in Peshtigo.  He became very religious in his older years and could be seen around town carrying a Bible.  Roaring Dan died, reportedly penniless, at the Eklund Nursing Home in Peshtigo on Feb. 14, 1949, at age 84.  He was buried next to Josephine in Forest Home Cemetery in Marinette.  And that’s the story of the only Great Lakes sailor who was ever formally arrested on charges of piracy.

SOURCES: (1), "Yo Ho Ho, How the Swabs Made Way for Roaring Dan, the Lone Pirate of Lake Michigan" (4/22/62, pp. 34-35);  (2), “The Giant and the Pirate”; (3), “The Many Tales of Pirate Dan Seavey”; (4), "The Life & Crimes of Dan Seavey"; (5), “Roaring Dan Seavey: The Pirate of Lake Michigan”; (6), "Lake Michigan Buccaneer"; (7), "Dan Seavey"; (8), “Great Lakes Patrol”; (9), “Do you know…pirate problems abounded on Lake Michigan?”

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

My Ideas for the Dog Art Wing

The Cincy Art Museum

Dear George,
One perk of being retired is that I get to go more often to local art shows.  In particular, I go to all the new exhibitions at the Art Museum.  With over 60,000 works, this is one of the most comprehensive museums in the Midwest.  It’s best known for its collections of European old masters (e.g., Botticelli, Rubens, Hals), ancient Middle Eastern art, and its 15-gallery Cincinnati art history wing (e.g., Frank Duveneck, Robert Scott Duncanson, Elizabeth Nourse, Henry Farny).  Though not many people know it, we also have an excellent collection of artworks featuring dogs.  These are currently scattered throughout the museum.  If all of these dog works were assembled in a single wing, it would undoubtedly draw visitors from far and wide.  I’ve taken photos of a number of the museum’s dog paintings and sculptures. They are arranged chronologically below, and I’ve added some poetic commentary. Here’s how our dog collection is looking these days. 

Mithras Slaying the Sacred Bull, c. 150-200, Roman, limestone.

Mithras gets credit for slaying the bull
Though his dog did much of the work
You or I could poke a bull with a knife
But biting the bull is berserk

Relief depicting a boar hunt.  Northwestern Iran, Daghestan.  13th or 14th century.

When you set out to slay the wild boar
Bring two or three dogs to the hunt 
A boar can gore you from stem to stern
That's why the dogs are in front

Millefleurs Tapestry.  Flemish, 1520-25

There were many strange beasts in the Middle Ages
Unicorns and minotaurs and deer
Dogs were the best behaved of the lot
They kept all the serfs in good cheer

Jan Verkolje.  Lute Player with Boy and Dog.  (ca. 1670s)

The lute makes the prettiest sound there is
It leads the all the young folks to dance
This boy is impressed by his hip-hopping dog
Who knew how well he could prance?

Benjamin West.  Anne Allen, later Mrs. John Penn.  (1763)

Anne Allen is looking pretty but sad
Her thoughts are many miles away
It turns out Anne is in love with a cad
Let’s pray her dog keeps him at bay

Sir Joshua Reynolds.  Richard Pelers Symons, M.P.  (1770-71)

M.P. Symons is surely a handsome fellow
Affluent, poised, and genteel
His greyhound is chiseled and masculine
He helps the M.P. look more real

Martin Quadal.  Self-portrait.  (1788)

Martin Quadal wears his finest green robe
His dog’s quite attuned to his master
Some think that the canine’s admiring Quadal
Not true, he just wants dinner faster

English School.  Young Boy With a Dog.  (ca. 1800)

Here is a boy who is baffled by life
He’s lucky he’s got a wise dog
The dog protects his young master from strife
And they’re both thrilled to be on a blog

Cardinal Alessandro Lante Della Rovere’s Dog, Italian School.  (ca. 1816-1818)

The Cardinal’s dog isn’t much of a hunter
Nor a guard dog nor a herder of sheep
He spends his time on his bright red pillow
His singular talent is sleep.

Alvan Fisher.  Little Bo-Peep.  (1835)

Bo Peep is a famous shepherdess
But I think she’s forgotten her job
Her dog better hurry and round up her sheep
Or soon they’ll be lamb shish kebab

Powell, William Henry.  Portrait of a Boy and Dog.  (1836)

This dog has become very worried
His master lost both of his shoes
The dog knows the boy is in danger
No shoes and his feet he will bruise

Daniel Saint.  Lady With a Greyhound.  (ca. 1839-42)

Here is a damsel with a most manly pet
He adds grace and style to her fame
We no longer know who the lady is
But Boris is the greyhound’s name

Theodore Robinson.  A Canine Patient.  (ca. 1883)

This little pup is most content
He rests on his sweet human’s lap
She says that she is ready to play
But he’s busy taking his nap

Lilly Martin Spenser.  The Dogged Class.  1885.  

Betty Sue has gathered all of her dogs
She’s hosting a New Year’s Eve party
The dogs aren’t into parties that much
They’re content to sit back and look arty

Joseph Henry Sharp.  Fountain Square Pantomime.  (1892).  (Segment of larger painting)

Here are some kiddies on Fountain Square
The crowd is awaiting the parade
The little bull terrier has the best seat of all
He’s impressed by the copper’s tirade

Charles T. Webber.  Fugitives Arriving at Levi Coffin’s Indiana Farm, A Busy Station of the Underground Railroad.  (1893)

It’s a cold winter night on the Coffin farm
The dog is greeting freed slaves
He’s there to keep the visitors from harm
And help them escape from the knaves

George Bellows.  Hungry Dogs.  (1916)

These are many wild dogs in the city
They scavenge the alleys for bread
It’s important for dogs to be gritty
Their option is winding up dead

Edward H. Potthast.  Playmates.  (ca. 1918)

Now we’ve arrived at the Jersey shore
The beach, the kids, and the sea
The children are looking for sharks in the waves
While the dog’s getting ready to pee

John Stuart Curry.  The Old  Folks (Mother and Father).  (1929)

It’s Sunday morning down on the farm
The dog has her eye on the cows
Ma is knitting her blue cotton scarf
But Pa would prefer to carouse

There are many other dog pics at the museum that I haven’t had space to include here.  All in all, these images lead me to several conclusions.  (1) Aside from human beings, there are more artistic depictions of dogs than of any other living creature.  The latter would include cats, squirrels, tigers, horses, cows, elephants, turtles, birds, whales, butterflies, and giraffes.  (2) Human beings look much more interesting when they have a dog at their side. (3) Dog pictures elicit more pleasant feelings than do still lifes, landscapes, or abstract expressionism.  It’s no wonder artists are drawn to dogs. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

2015: Tips from the I Ching

Hexagram 38 (Opposition)

Dear George,
Every December I gear up for the New Year by checking with the I Ching. Usually I ask what the coming year will bring.  The I Ching, of course, is the ancient Chinese Book of Changes.  Considered a book of divination, it dates back at least as far as the ninth century BC and offers advice about one’s life and world.*  On New Year's Eve I asked the I Ching how I might make 2015 the best year possible.

To consult the I Ching, the individual tosses a set of three coins six times, constructing a sequence of six lines.  Depending on the combination of heads and tails for a given toss, each line is recorded as either broken or unbroken.  The six stacked lines together make up a hexagram (see example above).  The hexagram in turn is subdivided into an upper trigram and a lower trigram.  Each hexagram represents a different life situation.  With six coin tosses, there are 8 trigrams and 64 hexagrams possible.  The text of the I Ching gives an interpretation for each.

The I Ching hexagram for my New Year’s Eve question was No. 38, Kuei (Opposition).   This hexagram is divided into an upper trigram, Li (The Clinging, Flame) and a lower trigram, Tui (The Joyous, Lake).  Flame burns upward, and the lake seeps downward.  These two movements, in direct contrast to each other, represent the phenomenon of opposition.

The I Ching’s “Judgment” for Opposition is: "In small matters, good fortune."  The I Ching notes that when people exist in opposition and estrangement they’re unable to conduct major common undertakings together because their viewpoints diverge too sharply.  In such instances, one shouldn’t be harsh or abrasive because that only escalates the conflict.  Instead, "one should limit oneself to producing gradual effects in small matters."

The I Ching’s “Image” for Hexagram 38 is:

            Above, fire; below, the lake;
            The image of OPPOSITION           
            Thus amid all fellowship
            The superior man retains his individuality.
Fire and water never mingle, but even when they come into contact they retain their own separate natures.  Mature persons, the I Ching notes, never descend into baseness or vulgarity in instances of opposition, but rather preserve their own individuality.

The top line of my hexagram had this meaning:

            Isolated through opposition,
            One sees one's companion as a wagon full of devils.
            First one draws a bow against him,
            Then one lays the bow aside.
            He is not a robber; he will woo at the right time.
            As one goes, rain falls; then good fortune comes.

Isolation, the I Ching suggests, occurs through misunderstanding and is generated by inner conditions more than by external circumstances.  Thus individuals misjudge their best friends, believing them to be as dangerous as a wagon full of devils, and adopt a defensive attitude.  But when they realize their mistake and perceives the other’s good intentions, they lay aside their bow and tension is relieved.  Just as falling rain relieves the sultriness before a thunderstorm, opposition reaches its climax and transforms into its antithesis of union.

I definitely believe that all human relationships involve elements of opposition.  People perceive things from different standpoints and often have contrary goals. Nowadays, I experience opposition most frequently in my and Katja’s married life, at least in part because we’re together much of the time.  Katja and I have always been very different persons.  She‘s more sociable; I’m more introverted.  Katja enjoys the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts on Saturdays; Patti Page is my favorite singer.  She shops at Saks; I go to Goodwill.  Katja’s dream vacation is a three weeks in Paris; I prefer family vacations.  She’s extravagant; I’m stingy.  Etc., etc.  There are lots of reasons for our divergent styles.  Katja grew up in a big city (Philadelphia) and went to an elite girls’ high school.  Her tastes and preferences lean toward “high culture,” e.g., chamber music, the theater, French literature.  I grew up in a blue-collar town in a rural area where there were more bars and hunting camps than cultural institutions.  I’m much more of a “low culture” guy, enjoying county fairs, camping in the forest, and junior college basketball games.  While we do share areas of communality, e.g., politics, TV and movies, grandparenting, there are numerous areas of our lives where we go our separate ways.  

I thought about my I Ching reading in terms of overcoming opposition in marriage.  The I Ching offers a number of pertinent insights.  The first is that isolation and estrangement are generated more by inner conditions than by actions of the other party.  While it’s natural in conflict situations to attribute problems as due to the other person, the I Ching reminds me that it's my own attitudes that are the immediate source of my irritation.  A second point concerns misperceptions. I do sometimes see Katja as "a wagon full of devils.”  Usually, however, that turns out to be a flawed perception. Third, because we objectively differ in many ways, I should anticipate that we’ll be unable to resolve areas of major conflict, but instead should aim for small-scale change on more minor issues.  Fourth, in conflict situations, it’s important to retain one’s own individuality and pursue one’s own interests.  Finally, the I Ching notes that opposition and conflict can provide the circumstances for creative resolution and increased union.  So my intent for 2015 is to “lay the bow aside.” 

I woke up at 9:00 this morning, and Katja informed me that the upstairs thermostat had dropped to 67 and that she’d called to have the furnace guys come.  That drives me crazy.  I explained that it was zero degrees outside, and the furnace in our brick house can’t keep up with the cold.  Katja was adamant that the furnace was malfunctioning.  Instead of screaming and hollering, I reminded myself that it’s my own stinginess about paying for a service visit that was prompting my angst.  Further, we’ve been disagreeing about the heat for forty years and won’t solve the problem anytime soon.  It’s probably good for the furnace guys to come since they’ll explain the situation to Katja.  I decided to just do my own thing, so I’m finishing up this blog posting.  Good for the I Ching.  2015 is definitely going to be a better year.

*Sources: The I Ching or Book of Changes, The Richard Wilhelm Translation, Pantheon Books, 1961;, "I Ching";, “Rediscovering the I Ching”