Sunday, March 29, 2020

The Masque of the Orange Death

Watching Trump's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, it struck me as the most tone deaf, myopic public health policy since Prince Prospero locked himself and a thousand of his richest friends in his abbey and tried to party through the plague. But then I remembered our own Henry Tifft Gage, and his "Business First! Bodies Second!" approach to the San Francisco plague of 1900.

Henry T. Gage was a lawyer from East Saginaw, Michigan who followed the advice of Horace Greeley and went west to seek his fortune. He managed to marry the heir to a minor Spanish Land Grant family, and parlayed her real estate holdings into a single term as California Governor.

Gage served from 1899 to 1903, and is chiefly remembered for his resemblance to Hal Holbrook as Mark Twain, and for his tireless efforts to hush up an outbreak of bubonic plague, fearing the news would be bad for business. And Henry was big on big business; if he'd still held the governorship in 1906, I imagine you would have found him in the smoldering ruins of San Francisco, bitterly denouncing the Fake News and their irresponsible rumors of rubble.

But why would someone in a position of public trust basically commit negligent homicide, especially when there were multiple better options (Gage spent the last half of his term beating the Federal government off with a stick to prevent their assistance). Well, Gage was a Republican, and like others of his kind he paid greater obeisance to his constituents in the boardroom rather than the boarding house. But he was also a pioneer, and faced with a deadly public health crisis, he whipped up an avant garde parfait of science denialism, sociopathy, and personal pettiness which anticipated the Trump Administration by well over a century.

Gage began his political career as a corporate lawyer for the railroads, which basically owned California government at the end of the 19th Century, and proved himself just the kind of grasping, ambitious, morally gray lickspittle the likes of which Cornelius Vanderbilt, Collis P. Huntington, and E.H. Harriman doted on. In 1898 the Southern Pacific Railroad engineered his selection as the Republican gubernatorial nominee, but even with the backing of the railroad barons he only managed to squeak out a narrow victory against his opponent, San Francisco's Congressional representative.

He began his inaugural address by slavering over the spoils of the Spanish-American War, rhapsodizing, "The peaceful acquisition of the Hawaiian Islands, extending our empire beyond our Pacific shore, should be followed as a political necessity by the annexation of the Philippines. The center of commerce must move westward." Which wasn't great for the Hawaiians, and wouldn't have been fabulous for the Filipinos either, but it would certainly have proven a windfall for the railroads, a fact which the press noticed. One newspaper published an editorial cartoon depicting a railroad tycoon leading the new governor around on a leash, and Gage responded by "ramrodd[ing] a censorship bill thru the Legislature, restricting the press whenever editorial content involved politics or politicians." Again, c'est très Trumpy!

Gage demanded the formation of a "western merchant marine for the carriage of our imports and exports, and luring to our markets the nations of the world." Unfortunately, that year one such ship arrived in San Francisco with a cargo of imports that included "rats carrying the Third Pandemic of the bubonic plague."

The disease quickly gained a foothold in Chinatown, and Gage, realizing this could be bad for his patrons' bottom line, snapped into action by denying there was any plague at all, and by defaming the head of the federal Marine Hospital Service, who was in charge of quarantines.

When the U.S. Surgeon General arranged for a commission to investigate the situation, Gage immediately denounced their findings, and "denied the federal commission any use of the University of California, Berkeley's laboratories to further study the outbreak."

Sticking with his belief that "On a scale of 1 to 10, the 1st Amendment has to be the least important, right?", Gage tried to ram through another law, this time making it a crime to even report on the plague. It failed, but other laws gagging the medical community did pass, making it harder for the public to get scientifically valid information.

Republican newspapers in San Francisco backed up the governor's lies, but scandal sheets like the Sacramento Bee honestly reported on the pandemic, even as Gage begged the U.S. President to cancel the quarantine. Rebuffed, Gage took the Trumpian tack of fighting news with rumor. He accused the Federal government, especially the hated head of the Marine Hospital Service, of injecting germs into cadavers to make it look like they'd died of plague. Can a dead body develop a disease? I dunno, and Gage gagged all the doctors who could'a told me, so...

They say money can't buy happiness, and apparently it also can't be used to buy off a virus, because even though "$100,000 was allocated to a public campaign led by Gage to deny the plague's existence", the plague continued to exist. And while the plutocrats holding Gage's leash were happy to pooh-pooh the plague to the hoi polloi, they did actually want the pandemic dealt with, before it killed all their customers.

So Gage backed down in a sulfurous cloud of ill grace, and sent a gaggle of railroad lawyers to Washington to "negotiate a settlement with the Marine Hospital Service", i.e. the federal official Gage had been slandering. Why not just negotiate directly with the man, who was right there across the Bay? For the same reason Trump refuses to meet face-to-face with Nancy Pelosi: his grudge was > the lives of his constituents.

Incapable of doing the right thing for its own sake, Gage devised a means to save face, promising that if the Federal government would only remove the head of the Marine Hospital Service, then "the state would secretly cooperate with the Marine Hospital Service in stamping out the plague outbreak."

You caught that, right? "[T]he state would secretly cooperate" in stamping out the plague the governor publicly declared was a hoax. When they finally went in and decontaminated Chinatown, ground zero for the outbreak, the state denied it was an anti-plague measure and painted the massive effort as routine street maintenance.

And in a final Trumpian gesture, when the feds agreed to remove the head of Marine Hospital Service (remembering that the only thing he did wrong was be right), Gage reneged on their bargain.

"Despite the secret agreement allowing for [MHS head's] removal, Gage went back on his promise of assisting federal authorities and continued to obstruct their efforts for study and quarantine."

Ultimately, the plague--or rather, Gage's response to it--was his undoing.  Business interests appreciated the lies and censorship, but now that other states were beginning to boycott California exports--due to a runaway plague problem obvious to everyone but the governor--the bald-faced denials in the face of fact finally began to wear away at Gage's support among the monied class.

Say what you will about Henry Tifft Gage (and make it profane, I beg you), he was an incompetent and, one might argue, homicidal servant of the people. But he was also a loyal and effective servant of the railroads dating back to his earliest days as a corporate lawyer in Los Angeles, which makes what happened next all the funnier.

Because now Henry T. had a credibility gap, and the railroads had a fall guy. "At the state Republican convention that year, the Railroad Republican faction refused Gage renomination for the governorship. In his place, [they supported] former Mayor of Oakland George Pardee, a German-trained medical physician."

So after spending much of his term harassing the press, stifling the medical community, and stymying public health efforts to contain the outbreak, because the only Red Death he feared was scarlet ink in his patrons' ledgers, Gage was bumped from the ticket in favor of...a doctor. Which led--for me anyway--to a long, richly detailed, Designated Survivor-style fantasy in which our current government is decapitated by the disease, leaving the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases as the highest ranking official.
Stay safe, guys.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Happy Birthday, MaryC!

By World O' Crap Special Birthday Correspondent Bill S.

Today we celebrate the birthday of MaryC, and, as always, search for that perfect gift. It's a bit different this year, with most of the country in quarantine. What do you get for the girl who's housebound?
Let's see what we can find in the Carol Wright Gifts catalogue

all sizes only $19.99
This slimming-look, zip-front lounger has lace trim and two roomy pockets.

Best of all, it's stylish!

DELUXE GOPHER Pickup and Reaching Tool
$9.99, additionals $7.99
E-x-t-e-n-d You Reach Nearly 3 Ft.!

Hey, this is a great idea if you have to shop for essentials, such as liquor. Get two of them, grip one with the other, and hold it in front of you to maintain social distancing (and SMACK! anyone who tries to violate your space.)

Why pay $11.99? Ours only $9.99
Your Own Personal Bidet

If the hoarding of toilet paper continues, this could be the biggest seller during the holidays. (A, um, stocking stuffer.)

But what about fun indoor activities? Perhaps we can find something in that other great catalogue, Things You Never Knew Existed

[Note from Scott: Sadly, Things You Never Knew Existed, which has been a part of Bill's birthday posts for many years now, has gone the way of the Steller's sea cow. When you click on the link above, this is what greets you:

So let this last appearance stand, not only as Bill's encomium to Mary's special day, but also as an epitaph for that great American institution, the Catalogue Full o' Bullshit.]

Great Low-impact workout! Tone up your arms and chest muscles without ever leaving your seat! Sturdy fitness device secures to virtually any chair with 21" Velcro straps. Elastic Power Chord bands with cushioned handles--

So basically you sit on a bungee chord and stretch it out? I said a fun activity. Moving on...

Perhaps some light reading...?

EXECUTIONS IN AMERICA Over 300 Years of Capital Punishment
Heavily illustrated with rare pictures of the condemned criminals, their executioners, the official instruments used to carry out the sentences, and in many cases, the actual execution.

300 years? So they're including future executions?

Jeff Dunham and his iconic creations (Achmed, Walter, Peanut, and Bubba J.) travel the world pushing the limits on 5 continents, in arenas few Americans have dared to perform!

Well, that's probably a little bit funnier than the "Executions" book.

[From Scott: Only if it includes photos of Bubba J. in the gas chamber.]

Electronic vinyl keyboard fits around the commode so you can tap out a tune with your toes while you tinkle!
Well, I'd refrain from doing a Jerry Lee Lewis impression, but apart from that, I think we've found our winner!

Happy Birthday, MaryC!

[From Scott: And what's a birthday around here without the traditional Sexy Birthday Lizard!]
This Parson's Chameleon wants you. Bad.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Mary's Homeschooler Help Desk #2

Home economics lab at McKinley High School in Washington circa 1910

Okay! We are in our 2nd week (at least) of homeschooling. For this post, I'm going to suggest one of my favorite resources for teaching:

This resource has craft ideas, worksheets and lesson plans for almost all grade levels.

Here are my favorites for this week:

1. This class book project is sure to hatch students' interest in describing words. If desired, begin by reading aloud Easter Bugs by David A. Carter. Have each child decorate an egg cutout. Then give her a strip of paper with the question shown. Ask her to write in the blank a word that describes her egg.

Next, have each youngster glue her question near the top of a sheet of paper. Instruct her to trace her egg below it and to glue a small photo of herself in the middle of the tracing. Place her decorated egg on the tracing and staple it at the bottom. Compile students" completed work into a book. Have students look behind the eggs to discover the answers to the questions!

2. I love this one because it's all about decorating eggs:


What happens when you swirl an egg in tinted water and oil? Youngsters will be fascinated with the surprising results of this investigation!


food coloring
egg dipper
water in a clear
disposable cup
2 hard-boiled eggs
vegetable oil
paper towel
Mix a few drops of food coloring in the cup of water.

Display an egg. Ask, "What do you think will happen to this egg if we put it in the colored water?" After students share, immerse the egg. After a few moments, lift the egg and discuss the color of the shell. Then set the egg aside.

Pour a tablespoon of vegetable oil in the tinted water. Help students notice how the oil floats on the surface. Then stir the contents, directing youngsters' attention to the oily swirls.

Show the second egg. Ask, "What do you think will happen to the egg if we put it in this mixture?" After students respond, immerse the egg while swirling it and then remove it and pat it with the paper towel. Display the egg and discuss the marbleized results.

What Next?
Have students dye eggs in solid colors. Then have them marbleize the eggs with contrasting colors!

Marie E. Cecchini
West Dundee, IL

[Previous installments in this series: Quarantined Schoolhouse Rock!]

It's Twue, It's Twue, in Twends For You!

Twitter may have its uses beyond inducing daily panic attacks, but I've yet to discover them. Today I signed on and found this diabolical Trolley Problem waiting for me:


bye jackie chan??

Is he sick? Did he die? This is terrible! I grew up on Jackie Chan! Idolized him! He's a filmmaking legend! An international treasure! Why? WHY??

Fran Drescher

Huh. You know, I've met Fran. Worked with her even, and she's...definitely one of God's creatures. I mean, if you believe all human life has intrinsic value, then you'd certainly have to concede that hers meets that basic standard. No man is an island, and all that.


Yeah. Well...It's not exactly Sophie's Choice, is it?

[NOTE: They're both fine as of press time. The Jackie Chan trend is just about some asshole New Yorker being racist to an Asian cop, while Fran has evidently turned into Emma Goldman and is raging against the machine ("Capitalism has become another word for Ruling Class Elite!"). Fight the Power, Nanny.]

Friday, March 20, 2020

Slumgullion 75: Orson Welles' Lost Silent Film

New Slumgullion! It's a weirder than usual Unknown Movie Challenge as we take on Orson Welles' first film. No, not Citizen Kane, we mean the recently discovered Too Much Johnson, a 1938 silent flick (What?? IKR?) starring Joseph Cotton as Harold Lloyd and most of the Mercury Theatre as people who put on and take off hats.

A lot.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Quarantined Schoolhouse Rock

By Mary Clevenger

As a former school teacher, here is my advice for parents finding themselves needing to homeschool their children during this stressful time.

1. Let them have their spring break. They need it. Let them play, do arts and crafts, watch movies, whatever they need to unwind.

2. Once spring break is over, get them back on their school schedule. Get them started with their online schooling ASAP.

3. If there is no online learning being offered from their schools, contact their teacher and find out what the daily schedule is for each child. Set up your child's day based on that.

4. If you have no materials to help with their lessons--improvise!

For example: Math: Bring them into the kitchen and have them help cook meals. That can teach them measuring and fractions. Play Store with them; that can help with money, adding and subtracting.

Reading: Pick a favorite book. Have discussions about their favorite characters; break down the plot-it can be as simple as identifying the beginning, middle and end. Have your child write a book report about the book (google for great looking book report forms)

Choose a book they haven't read, yet. Read it yourself, first. Identify words that they may not be familiar with- instant vocabulary lesson.

Make sure to have your child read aloud to you. Note words that were difficult for them to read and help them with the phonics of reading.

History and Science: First find out what the standards are for your child's grade level for those subjects (again google for your state standards) Then use the internet to help. National Geographic for Kids is a great resource.

Finally, have your child keep a journal of their learning. Ask them to write down what they learned that day, then list any questions they have about their learning and what more they would like to learn about the subject.

Wow! This was long. I hope it helps!

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Johnny Got His Price Gun

When I was a little kid, several intersections in my hometown had service stations on every corner, each with a sandwich board declaring a "GAS WAR!" on their surrounding competitors with all the Prussian hubris of a Großer Generalstab convinced Imperial Germany could prevail in a two front war. Failing to grasp the metaphorical nature of the taunt, I spent a lot of grammar school worried I would die as collateral damage in the coming conflict, never knowing love's first tender kiss, or even if the castaways ever got rescued from Gilligan's Island.

Later, after Omega Man came out, I was pretty sure I'd catch some biowarfare bacterium and become a crazed, mime-faced vampire who just wanted to kill Charlton Heston, even more than I already did after seeing Omega Man.

And even later still, when Ronald Reagan was president and Civil Defense tests of the Emergency Broadcast System suddenly returned to TV after a ten year hiatus, I became confident I'd end my existence toasted, like so many Lucky Strikes, in a nuclear conflagration.

I'm easily panicked, is what I'm saying.

But now that a genuine pandemic is finally here, I find I don't have the energy to panic. Fear is another matter; fear is on a pilot light and can be turned up at will, but panic requires a spike of freely available glucose that I can't seem to manage without sucking on a couple Pixy Stix. Instead, I'm filling the emotional gap with bafflement and disgust at humankind as I try to buy supplies for my invalid mother-in-law and confront aisles of denuded shelves at Ralphs and CVS. It makes me surprised that by this point God hasn't grabbed the earth, tucked it under his arm while angrily scrubbing away tears with the heel of his hand, and shouted, "Hoarding toilet paper? When it's a respiratory, not even an intestinal infection? Fine! FINE! If that's how you assholes wanna be--greedy and stupid--I'm taking my planet and going home!"

There doesn't seem to be much I can do to make things better, except sit here and not interact with the world more than I normally do, which is really only not making things worse. So I'm plowing through my Kindle library at a non-sustainable rate, and in looking around for fresh reading material I see a number of authors that I follow are cutting the cost of their books. I investigated how to do that, and now, armed with the knowledge and a mad sense of power...I'm declaring a "BOOK WAR!"

Until further notice, the ebook version of Better Living Through Bad Movies is 99¢. And unlike toilet paper, they can't run out of digital copies. Of course, unlike toilet paper you can't wipe your ass with it, but hey, that's what the Op-Ed page of the New York Times is for (and there's a new Bret Stephens column today, so eat plenty of roughage!).

Stay safe and sane everyone.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Slumgullion #74: The Abyss of BS Episode

Jeri Ryan goes on a killing spree! Disney convenes a Warren Commission to find out who killed Star Wars! While Jeff & Scott fill a half hour discussing fine, artisanal Bullshit, over a tureen of the rarest ruminant feces flown in at great expense from Stockyard City, Oklahoma!