Double Your Money – Part Thirty Four

The Black Friday Gold Scandal, 1869

One of the (many) consequences of the American Civil War was that the United States moved off the gold standard – gold was at the time the official currency of international trade. In order to raise money to fund the Unions’ war effort Congress had authorised the issuance of $450 million government-backed greenbacks. Once the war had ended it meant that there were two competing currencies in circulation.

That there was only $20 million of gold in circulation at any one time and Wall Street had created a special Gold Room in which brokers could trade, Jay Gould thought he had found the perfect get-rich-quick scheme. If he could only corner the gold market, he would be able to drive up its price, sell at the height of the market and make a fortune.

There was one significant problem. Ulysses S Grant and his administration had a policy of buying up greenbacks with gold and such was the government’s pre-eminent position that it controlled gold prices and could thwart a speculator simply by selling off gold and driving its price down. For the scheme to work, Gould had to persuade the Government to abandon its policy.

The solution to that conundrum was simple and, in many ways, elegant. He simply bribed officials, in particular the President’s brother-in-law Abel Corbin, whose palm was greased with $1.5 million in gold. Suitably encouraged, Corbin used his political influence to have General Daniel Butterfield appointed as US sub-treasurer in New York. He too was given $1.5 stake in the scheme and a $10,000 loan, his role being to alert Gould to any imminent government gold sales. By the late summer of 1869 Corbin had succeeded in persuading Grant to abandon his policy of selling gold.

This was the signal that Gould and his co-conspirators were waiting for. They had been stockpiling gold during the summer but went into overdrive, using an army of brokers to buy up as much gold as they could. By mid-September they held as much as $60 million in gold – one of Gould’s partners, Jim Fisk, bought $7 million – and the price rocketed. Rumours spread that speculators were manipulating the market and pressure was exerted on the Treasury to take some action.

Corbin advised Gould that the President had rumbled them and was going to resume selling gold, information that Gould omitted to tell his partners. When trading resumed on 23rd September, Gould sold as much gold as he could and the price closed at $144.5. On Friday 24th September when trading resumed it reached $160 and Fisk was filling his boots, confident that the price would rise still further.

At midday, the President announced that the Treasury would sell $4 million of gold the next day. The reaction was cataclysmic or, as the New York Herald noted afterwards, “possibly no avalanche ever swept with more terrible violence.” Gold prices plunged, even the stock market took a dive, dropping 20% and bankrupting or severely damaging a number of old Wall Street firms in the process. Thousands of speculators were left ruined, foreign trade stopped and farmers saw the value of their crops halve.

As for the protagonists, Gould is said to have made around $12 million from his fire sale of his gold stock whilst Fisk was able to evade his massive losses by claiming that the trades were made by third party brokers without his knowledge. Despite numerous inquiries and claims of malfeasance, the array of lawyers they deployed and their political influence and network meant that the duo evaded justice. Grant’s presidency, though, was blighted by the affair and the American economy took some time to recover.

If you enjoyed this, look out for Fifty Scams and Hoaxes by Martin Fone,

https://www.troubador.co.uk/bookshop/business/fifty-scams-and-hoaxes/

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Rebrand Of The Week

Fortunately, I am of a shape and size that means I don’t have to worry about weight. A good job, too, as there are a bewildering range of diets on offer. Which to choose?

I have always thought Weight Watchers was a rather odd name for a diet company, conjuring up an image of someone sitting on a sofa stuffing their face and watching the avoirdupois pile on. Perhaps I have got it wrong but even the company seem now to have had second thoughts about the name.

In an attempt to get hip (remember those?) and trendy, they have abandoned worrying about weight, like many of their frustrated dieters, and slimmed down to just WW.

At last, a diet that has worked overnight!

It is sobering to think that those who enjoyed the dubious delights of Club 18 – 30 in its prime are now old enough to sign up to be Saga louts on  package holidays retailed to the over-50s.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise then that having failed to find a buyer for what was once marketed as offering sun, sea and sex, Thomas Cook have decided that it no longer fits with its new, responsible image and closed the operation down.

Still, it is good to see that the spirit of 18 – 30 still lives on.

Gadget Of The Week

I’m a fool.

All these years I have pointed Percy at the porcelain, emptied my bladder and flushed the chain, not realising that there is a booming secondary market for pure, unadulterated urine.

With the growing adoption of drug testing by employers here in Blighty, some workers are looking to beat the system. And where there is a need, there is always someone around to satisfy it.

The market leader seems to be The Quick Fix Piss Perfect Synthetic Urine Delivery System, yours for just £106. It comes with a prosthetic fake penis in a variety of colours to match skin pigmentation together with temperature pads, hand warmers and a harness. I assume there are some instructions with it.

If that all seems a bit over the top, you could just visit urinetheclear.com (great name) who stock a range of frozen and dehydrated urine. Indeed, they boast that their testing processes are so rigid that they have never had a positive test from any sample of urine they have supplied.

Others have taken a more direct approach by contacting a good clean-living neighbour and buying a quantity of their urine off them, bottled, of course. If times get desperate and with the state of my prostate, I could have found a welcome supplement to my income.

Of course, you could just go straight for a while but with all these options now available, what would be the point?

Editor’s note – Frimleyblogger wishes to point out that he does not condone any actions that would endanger the health and safety of the general public or fellow workers.

What Is The Origin Of (201)?…

Grasp the nettle

I may as well grasp the nettle on this one and tackle it head on. When we grasp the nettle we tackle a difficult problem or situation with determination and vigour. An example of anything but grasping the nettle is the Government’s lamentable approach to extricating the United Kingdom from the European Union. But that is another issue.

Occasionally, I see the phrase expressed as grasp the mettle. Users are simply displaying their ignorance because it is simply a meaningless corruption of our phrase. Perhaps they are discombobulated by the image of someone deliberately wanting to touch Urtica Dioica, aka the stinging nettle. All will be explained later.

In the halcyon days of my youth when I wore short trousers and lived in the countryside, one of the (many) hazards of taking a stroll down the lanes near where I lived was inadvertently brushing one’s skin against the leaves of a nettle. The result was an irritating pain and a rash, caused by the pesky plant injecting toxins into the skin of its victim through its stiff, hollow hairs.

Fortunately, assistance was often at hand. Crushing and rubbing the leaf of a dock, which usually grew adjacent to a patch of nettles, on the affected area seemed to do the trick. Quite why, nobody seems to know. It may be that the dock leaf simply cools the inflamed area or that there are some antihistaminic properties contained within the leaf. Or it may simply be the power of a placebo.

It should come as no surprise in a country like England that was essentially rural, that the stinging properties of an inadvertent brush with a nettle were well-known. In 1578 John Lyly, in his didactic romance entitled Euphues, pointed out the perils of a pusillanimous approach to a nettle; “true it is Philautus that he which toucheth ye nettle tenderly, is soonest stung.” If you feel the need to grasp a nettle with your hand rather than cut it with a blade, you are best advised to grasp it firmly at the base of the plant where there are no or very few of those perilous hairs.

The correct way to handle a nettle was enshrined in verse in 1753 by Aaron Hill; “Tender-handed stroke a nettle/ and it stings you, for your pains:/ Grasp it like a man of mettle,/ and it soft as silk remains.” You will note that mettle appears in the verse and this may, if one is being overly generous, explain why it appears in the mangled version of our phrase.

Hill used it, almost certainly, because it rhymed with nettle, not to sow the seeds of confusion. Indeed, the origin of mettle is altogether different. It started out life as a variant of and interchangeable with metal. Naaman the Syria, his disease and cure, written by Daniel Rogers in 1642 illustrates the point; “then she shewes the metal she is made of….to try the spirit of men, of what mettle they are made of.”

Showing your mettle made its appearance as early as 1619 in John Fletcher’s Monsieur Thomas: “When did he ride abroad since he came over? What Tavern has he us’d to? What things done That shews a man, and mettle?”  By the 18th century the two words diverged in meaning, mettle being used to describe the disposition of someone’s character as this extract from the Free-Thinker of 1719 shows; “I like the Lady’s Wit and Mettle.  

So I show my mettle by grasping the nettle. Let’s consign grasping the mettle to the dustbin of history.

We Call Upon The Author To Explain (3)

Well, that was an interesting morning.

I’m pretty impressed with my new publisher. Thanks to the sterling efforts of Troubador’s Marketing Controller, Emily Castledine, she is managing to drum up some media interest for my new book, Fifty Scams and Hoaxes.

Following a Press Release, the Daily Mail and the Big Issue Ireland have asked for review copies. I must remember not to say “Bless you” when I pass one of the Issue sellers in future. But the piece de resistance, to date, was a request from BBC Surrey to attend their studios in Guildford for an interview to be featured on a forthcoming edition of their Breakfast Show.

After a nanosecond’s deliberation I agreed and arrangements were set for me to turn up at in good time this morning for a 10.15 pre-recorded interview. No stretch limo for me – I got there through a combination of the ever-reliable Shanks’s pony and the not so trustworthy South Western Railways.

I was parked in the green room – now, there’s a curious question; why is it so called? Oops, wrong book! – or what passed for it. It was actually a couple of red sofas in the corner of the general office which looked a bit like an aircraft hangar.

I was given a cup of coffee whilst my interviewer, co-host of the Breakfast show, Lesley McCabe, read the ten o’clock news. This gave me time to compose myself and to re-read the helpful interview preparation notes available on Troubador’s website.

It is too easy to over psych yourself up on occasions like these. It was time for a few deep breaths and to remember a piece of sage advice given to me many moons ago by a boss, that I would know far more about my chosen subject than anyone else present so what was there to worry about? And if you don’t know why you wrote the book and what it is about, perhaps you shouldn’t be addressing the great British public.

World and local affairs safely put to bed, Ms McCabe came out, greeted me and ushered me into a room. Her friendly style quickly put me at ease and after a sound level check, the tapes, or whatever their digital equivalents are, started rolling. Surprisingly, I was very comfortable behind the microphone and all my anxieties and fears of the previous twenty-four hours disappeared as I talked about the virtues of my book. It was all wrapped up in one take. The interview file was saved and that was it. Job done!

Of course, the proof of the interview is in the hearing but it didn’t feel like a car crash, Diane Abbott stylee.

I will post details of the interview if/when it sees the light of day. And on the way out I received news that TalkRADIO had booked me for next Tuesday afternoon, live this time.

Who said video killed the radio star?

For more details about Fifty Scams and Hoaxes by Martin Fone, visit https://www.troubador.co.uk/bookshop/business/fifty-scams-and-hoaxes/ or https://wp.me/P2EWYd-37w

Book Corner – October 2018 (2)

Sister Carrie – Theodore Dreiser

I’m a great fan of these collections of the world’s greatest books that you can find to feed your Kindle for less than a pound. One that took my fancy was the grandiloquently titled One Hundred Eternal Masterpieces of Literature, although you actually need to buy both volumes to get the ton. As well as the usual suspects – I find it comforting to know that if I’m knocked down in the street, at least those who scoop me up will be impressed to see what I’m reading – the contents of your Kindle are the modern day clean pair of underpants, I feel – you can come across something that you might not otherwise have bothered with. Dreiser’s Sister Carrie falls into that category.

Published in 1900 by, according to Dreiser’s biographer, “a publisher who detested both the book and the author”, it met with mixed critical reaction and was condemned for its immorality and philosophy of despair. Others saw it is as the dawning of 20th century American literature, hailed by H L Mencken as capturing “the gross, glittering, excessively dynamic, infinitely grotesque, incredibly stupendous drama of American life.”

I found it a strangely compelling read, even though I found the main characters hard to empathise with and Dreiser’s prose unpolished and clunky, betraying his journalistic past. Perhaps Saul Bellow was right that it should be read at a gallop. But if you stick with it, you get a very powerful, closely observed picture of life in the booming Chicago of the late 1880s and early 1890s. This is not a story set in the refined salons inhabited by the upper classes a la Henry James. This is life in the raw and Dreiser paints a vivid picture of the drudgery, grind, hand to mouth existence that many who were chasing the American Dream had to endure.

Dreiser’s world vision is that essentially life is a Manichean struggle, leaving no room for any shade of grey. That this is the case is made pretty clear on the opening page; “When a girl leaves her home at eighteen, she does one of two things. Either she falls into saving hands and becomes better, or she rapidly assumes the cosmopolitan standard of virtue and becomes worse.”

The story tells of the rise of Carrie Meeber, the eighteen year old who leaves home to find her fortune, falls into the clutches of George Hurstwood, escapes and then makes her name as a theatrical star. But for all her riches, she is unfulfilled, her eyes having been opened to greater things by the slightly other worldly Mr Ames who told her that “riches were not everything; that there was great deal more in the world than she knew.

The counterweight to Carrie’s (eventual) rise is George Hurstwood’s decline into abject poverty and despair. I found his story much more compelling than Carrie’s and Deiser’s narrative shows the momentum of decline once poverty has you in its clutches. It was ever thus and will continue to be so. Deiser spares no details as he paints his picture of the desperation to find something to eat and somewhere to lay your head, an even more galling experience for someone who had previously been so proud and relatively well-off as George. His suicide is a merciful release.

Deiser’s rather priggish interjections can be a bit tiresome and his protagonists are not nuanced characters. But their rather black and white characteristics fit in with the tale he wants to tell and Deiser delivered what many consider to be America’s first naturalistic novel.

I’m glad I found it.

An Eye For An Eye Will Only Make The Whole World Blind – Part Twelve

The Siachen Glacier

Although it was Mahatma Gandhi to whom the quotation which forms the title to this series is attributed and he is still, largely, revered in India, it seems that the authorities do not always pay heed to his sage advice.

Take the Siachen glacier.

It is to be found in the Karakoram range in the Himalayas and at 76 kilometres long, as well as being the longest glacier in the range, it is the second longest to be found outside of Earth’s polar regions. But no one lives there and so for all intents and purposes, it is worthless. Crucially, it is just to the north-east of NJ9842, the spot where the line of control between India and Pakistan ends. The Indians and Pakistanis who seem to want to pick a fight where no one else would bother, have been disputing the glacier since 1984.

The source of the problem can be traced to the Karachi agreement concluded in 1949 which carefully drew the borders between the two countries. But they seemed to have given up with the glacier, probably thinking it didn’t matter a jot, and just said, rather airily, that the line of separation, after NJ9842, would simply run “north to the glaciers.

The Indians have claimed that the line of separation should just run northwards to the west of the glacier, putting it under their control. The Simla Agreement of 1972, which had another go at finalising the borders of the two countries after the creation of Bangladesh in 1971, didn’t address the thorny question of the glacier.

Matters heated up in 1984, always dangerous with glaciers, I feel, when the Pakistan government started issuing permits to people who wanted to climb the 20,000 foot glacier. India immediately responded by launching Operation Meghdoot and occupying the heights of Saltoro Ridge to the wars of the glacier, thus, effectively, giving them control of the glacier. The Pakistanis, whose own expedition, Operation Ababeel, got there a day too late, had to content themselves with glaring menacingly at their foes and securing what land was left.

And there matters remain, with the odd skirmish and with neither side willing to back down and give the other a symbolic victory.

Whoever was to prevail in the dispute – the Indians are firmly in the driving seat – would only win a Pyrrhic victory. Far more soldiers from both sides have been killed by the climate and the conditions than in any armed conflict.

In 2012 the Gayari Sector avalanche accounted for 140 Pakistani military personnel and between 2003 and 2010 they have lost the colossal number of 353 soldiers to the elements. But this pales into insignificance when you look at Indian losses. In December 2015 the Indian Minister for Defence admitted that since the launch of Operation Meghdoot 869 Army personnel have been killed on the glacier due to adverse weather.

No one lives in the area, other than the thousands of soldiers to this day deployed by the two states. If only Mahatma was still around to knock their heads together.