Saturday, January 9, 2021

Who Killed Pakistan’s President Zia?

 With the exception of days in Indochina during the Vietnam War, only occasionally have I been caught up in political crises abroad. In that genre perhaps the most notable event was my trip to Pakistan in 1988 to develop a proposal to support U.S. business development efforts there.   On my second day in Islamabad, I was having drinks at the home of a former USAID colleague, when the phone rang.   His daughter answered.

“Dad,  they want to talk to you.

“Get the number and tell them I will call back,” my host replied.

“Dad, it’s the Embassy,  they say it is urgent.”

When he returned, his face was ashen.   “The President’s plane has crashed on takeoff.  He was aboard with the American ambassador, Arnie Raphael.  Both are dead.”

The President was Mohammud Zia ul-Haq, the same Zia who had insulted Carter, winked at the burning of the American Embassy by a mob in 1980,  and ordered the execution of his predecessor,  Zulfikar ali Bhutto, despite the pleas of international leaders, including the Pope.   The general was widely known as the Bad Zia among American diplomats to differentiate him from President Zia of neighboring Bangladesh, known as the Good Zia.

There ensued an almost surreal five days during which the U.S. embassy strictly decreed that all Americans should stay in their hotels.   Television showed scenes of wild emotion among crowds surging here and there.  At the same time, with all shops closed, streets downtown were empty and quiet.  I was unable to visit the USAID Mission.  It was closed.  Nor could I visit the quarters of local collaborating organizations and potential subcontractors.

A Pakistani businessman whom I had hired to help me arrange appointments was a member of the inner circle of Benizir Bhutto, later to be Prime Minister herself.  As Pakistani and world leaders memorialized Zia with words of praise,  Benizir was quoted in the Islamabad press expressing a few tepid words of sympathy.

“What is she really saying behind the scenes?”  I ask my contact.  

“The Lady  [as he always referred to her] says that justice has come to the man who murdered her father.”

In this atmosphere of heightened tensions, the Embassy advised all Americans to stay off the street.  A quiet service quickly was conducted for Ambassador Raphael, whom I had never met, shown here at his swearing in by President Reagan.  He was buried in a local cemetery.

I found it possible to do business only by asking contacts to meet me in the hotel lobby.  A half dozen contacts visited to discuss the project over the ensuing days.  Even that traffic stopped as the day of the funeral approached.  There was nothing to do but watch on television from my hotel room as wild expressions of grief and political turmoil gripped Pakistan.

As these tumultuous events were unfolding, my head was throbbing with the worst toothache I have ever experienced.   Quickly running out of aspirin, I went searching for more.  There were only two tablets in the entire hotel and no way of going anywhere to get more.   Forced to substitute by sucking on ice cubes made from tap water, I soon compounded my misery by bringing on  “Mohammed’s revenge.”

The moment I stepped aboard my Pan Am airplane bound for the U.S. it was like waking from a very bad nightmare.  The attendant quickly brought me aspirin and the trip home was blissful.  The USAID project for which I had ventured to Pakistan, however, subsequently was cancelled.  My trip had been a wild goose chase.

No conclusive proof exists on why Zia’s plane went down.  There have been plenty of theories:   a suicidal pilot,  a nerve gas bomb in the cabin,  a sidewinder missile launched from the end of the runway.  Because the airplane was a U.S.-made C-130, suspicion fell on Americans. One or two individuals who wrongly have thought me a covert member of the “Company” have suggested that my presence in Pakistan at that time was more than coincidental.

My response:  “The CIA is not in the habit of killing the American ambassador.”  But then again maybe I do not see enough movies.

Note:  Above is Ambassador  Raphael as his swearing in by President Reagan.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

N.C. Wyeth Defined Advertising Art


Foreword:  Fascinated by the design and images of American advertising, I previously have featured on this website a number of well-known artists and illustrators who have made notable contributions to the genre.  They have included Thomas Hart Benton, Norman Rockwell, Theodore “Dr. Seuss” Geisal, and Ludwig Bemelmans. This post is devoted to the acknowledged dean of American illustrators whose career spanned almost half a century, N.C. Wyeth.

One of the most successful illustrators of all time, Newell Convers Wyeth, shown here,  was born in Needham, Massachusetts in 1882.  Wyeth showed an early passion for drawing and was encouraged by his family.  Beside credited with more than 4,000 illustrations, N.C. Wyeth is famous for being the father of artist Andrew Wyeth and the grandfather of artist Jamie Wyeth— among the  most famous families in the history of American art.

N.C. Wyeth’s first illustration, published when he was 21, ran in the Saturday Evening Post in 1903.  Soon after he became in demand to do advertising art.  Here I have displayed a dozen of the artist’s commercial illustrations, roughly from his early career to his final days.  The 1906 ad for Cream of Wheat hot breakfast cereal demonstrates that the young man had a lively sense of humor.  My reading is that this grizzled old rancher has made his Cream of Wheat case into his mail box.  Although born an Easterner Wyeth early made rugged Western themes central to his artistic efforts.

In 1909 he did another ad “going postal,” this time entitled “Alaskan Mail Carrier” and advertising Champion Harvesting Machines.  They were the product of a farm machinery company located in Springfield, Ohio.  What message Wyeth was attempting to convey escapes me.  A tough looking postman has dropped his mail pouch on the ground while he has shot down no fewer than eight wolves that apparently were intent on making dinner out of him.  Perhaps the Alaskan was “harvesting.”

Guns were a familiar object in Wyeth illustrations.  In a period encompassing at least 1909-1911, he did a series of ads for the Winchester repeating arms company of New Haven Connecticut.  Among them were the relatively benign illustration of a hunter with two dogs hunting in a corn field.  The target likely was pheasants.  The quarry in a second Wyeth effort for Remington is distinctly more dangerous as a duo of hunters bang away at a bear.

During the following decade the age of the automobile came to full bloom with car companies springing up all over the landscape.  Among them was the Overland Motor Company, originally located in Indianapolis, Indiana.  Wyeth gave  the automaker a view of their #1075 Runabout in a Wild West setting, showing riders on horseback enthusiastically welcoming the Overland to the “lone prairie.”  Lest we lose the meaning, in the upper left he shows ox-drawn wagons and labels the central image, “The West of Today.”

The Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company was an American motor vehicle manufacturer based in Buffalo, New York, that was active from 1901 to 1938.  Pierce-Arrow was best known for its expensive luxury cars, some of which were still running in my childhood.  The picture is of a blacksmith with space in the upper right for the sales pitch.  Another automobile-related picture was done in 1917 for the Fisk Tire Company,  headquartered in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts.  It shows workers bringing balls of rubber to a ship docked in some tropical port, perhaps in the Caribbean.   Although an attractive picture, it romanticizes the often harsh realities faced by rubber workers. 


That lack of sensitivity is also is evident in this 1935 ad for Paul Jones Whiskey.  Jones and his successors, strong believers in the Confederate cause, in the 1930s shaped company advertising around a pre-bellum gentility that was largely a myth.  Here the Colonel is commanding his obviously enthralled black servant:  “Toby, fetch…”  A similar whitewashing of history occurred in a series of ads Wyeth did for Philip Morris on the theme “Nature in the Raw is seldom MILD.”   At left below is a heroic depiction of General George Armstrong Custer firing away at the surrounding Indians, far from the modern day view of the reckless commander.  At right, two menacing Indians look down on a group of (unseen) pioneers below them.  The text suggests Wyeth was“inspired by the fierce cruelty of the savages….”

Wyeth seems to have found other, more benign, sources of inspiration as he gave a definite Norman Rockwell look to a circa 1936 ad from Coca Cola A frequent illustrator for the soft drink manufacturer, he shows a straw-hatted boy with a pole and his dog headed off to the “old fishin’ hole.”  The lad has two bottles of Coke in his hand.  While the theme is redolent of Rockwell, the clouds that are the backdrop for the image are patently Wyeth.

The final illustration below is similarly benign.  Done for the Home Insurance Company near the end of Wyeth’s career in 1940, it depicts Daniel Boone with his family and others crossing the Appalachian Mountains to reach their new home in Kentucky.  Although Boone and others in the party are carrying rifles, a tone of tranquility is set by the woman riding a horse and tending to a baby. 

Killed in a train-car accident in 1944, Wyeth left a lasting mark on American advertising but that accomplisment is perhaps is less well recognized than his contribution to book illustration.  The artist’s ability vividly to present to his audiences images ranging from the violent to the romantic and bucolic, all done with equal skill, mark him as a master.

Note:  The information about N.C. Wyeth was gleaned from multiple Internet sources, as were the illustrations of his work in advertising. 

Saturday, December 12, 2020

High Jinks at the UN General Assembly

In the Fall of 1973 I moved to New York City for the General Assembly Session of the United Nations (UNGA) as part of the U.S. delegation.  As an assistant to two congressional delegates. I had an office in a nearby building, a secretary, and a mandate to keep the House members happy.  From the beginning things went badly.  

Henry Kissinger had just been named U.S. Secretary of State,  having successfully undermined the incumbent, William Rogers,  with President Nixon.  Kissinger was anxious to be part of the U.S. delegation at the opening ceremonies of the General Assembly.   Since his confirmation was still pending in the Senate,  his status was still unofficial and as a result he was assigned to the periphery of the U.S. retinue.  

Henry ended up seated next to one of the congressmen, the Honorable Robert Nix of Pennsylvania,  an elderly African-American gentleman and longtime member of the House of Representatives and chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa.   The United States delegation was seated alphabetically right next to the folks from Upper Volta and their sign was not far from Nix’s elbow. Kissinger leaned over to Nix as the Assembly was coming to order and inquired in a friendly fashion:  “How are things going in your country?”

Highly insulted and disdaining to explain,  Nix walked out and could not be found later for the delegation photograph or to accept Henry’s apology.   Although an official member of the delegation, I had not been invited to the opening session and was in my office when the frantic calls came in from the State Department.   When I stopped laughing,  I began to look for Nix and finally found Nix at the fancy Beekman Towers apartment the US/UN Embassy had rented for him.  

“Tell ‘em to go to hell,”  he growled.   Although he continued to occupy the Beekman and take the New York per diem,  Nix never showed at another UN meeting or social function for the entire four months.

The plus side of Nix’s absence was his willingness to let me program his $800 representation allowance.   Bradford Morse, a former Massachusetts congressman who now headed the United Nations Development Program,  proposed that the U.S. congressional contingent host an event for all the parliamentarians in the various delegations.  John Buchanan, the other House member,  was willing so we arranged a catered lunch in one of the UN Headquarters dining rooms.

At issue was alcohol.  Buchanan was a Baptist minister and at least theoretically a teetotaler.    After I pointed out that a glass of wine was appropriate -- for toasts and the like at international gatherings -- he agreed but seemed reluctant.

The response to our invitation was huge.   It seemed that virtually every country in the world had 1) one or more parliamentarian delegate,  2) delegates who once had been parliamentarians, or 3)  perhaps my imagination -- people who would like to be thought of as parliamentarians and thereby nab a free lunch.

The banquet table seemed to stretch the length of the building.  “It will take a while to prepare meals for this many.  There will be a short delay until we can serve,”  the maitre d' whispered to me.  “May we offer some mixed drinks before lunch?”

I went to Buchanan with the problem, and he promptly tossed the decision back to me.  “Serve ‘em up,”  I told the maitre d'.  The short delay turned into over hour -- a period during which the alcohol flowed like water, with notable effects on our guests.  During the meal a Dutch delegate -- a stocky gentleman with one arm -- rose majestically and roared,”I propose a toast.”  Everyone raised a glass and a long silence ensued.  “I drunk,” the Dutchman concluded.  “I sit down.” 

Shortly after that an African gentleman from Niger, who was elegantly dressed in an embroidered gown and wearing a tall conical hat, slid out of his seat and under the table.   As I left, clutching a bill that was more than double the estimate,  Brad Morse,  our guest of honor,  was waltzing enthusiastically with a gray-haired waitress.

Lest it be thought that the United Nations is solely a party animal, serious things were happening there as well.   The 1973 October War broke out in the Middle East during the session and the UN Security Council began to meet early and late to obtain a ceasefire.  The crisis occurred during a high boiling point in the Sino-Soviet rift.  

While these events of some magnitude swirled around me, my role was minimal.   Although I was accredited to the United States delegation and bore all necessary credentials,  State Department officers apparently were frightened that I might someday be embolden to speak during one of the committee session I regularly attended.   On one occasion when I momentarily was left alone as the sole American representative at a meeting, the Embassy dispatched a 23-year-old secretary  to replace me in the American chair.

In the final analysis, I found the United Nations -- essential as it is -- too much talk and too little action.   By comparison, the UN made the Congress of the United States look like a dynamo of action.  When the General Assembly session ended,  I returned to Capitol Hill with not a little relief.


Saturday, November 28, 2020

San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf

 In the Summer of 1950 when I was fifteen the family drove from Ohio to California to visit close relatives in Pasadena.  We were treated to a weekend in San Francisco, a city this adolescent immediately fell in love with and declared to all who would listen that this was the place he wanted to live as an adult.  Contributing significantly to this euphoria was finding Fisherman’s Wharf, shown below, and the seafood served there.

The story of Fisherman’s Wharf began in 1900 when the State of California set aside that area of the San Francisco waterfront for commercial fishing boats.  That led to fishermen selling part of their catch to retail customers from wharf side stalls.  Then one enterprising fisherman had the idea of selling clam chowder across his counter to hungry patrons, according to historians.  A neighboring stall added table and chairs.  Soon others got the memo and dropped angling in the deep to angle for diners.  Among them was Mike Geraldi, who abandoned his boat after 26 years and built a restaurant — Fisherman’s Grotto.  About 1930 he served the first complete seafood meals on the Wharf.

It was to Fisherman’s Grotto that the family hied that weekend.  The dinner was delicious.  I became thoroughly hooked on Grotto seafood and recall insisting on going back a second night.  Same result.  I never realized my dream of living in Frisco, going East instead, but as an adult transited through the city on several occasions on trips abroad, staying a night or two downtown or near the airport, never venturing anywhere near the wharf.  In the meantime I heard tales that Fisherman’s Wharf had become a tourist “trap,” somewhat seedy and the food mediocre.

All that changed in 2003 when I came to San Francisco for a weeklong conference, staying in a hotel not far from the wharf area.  Arriving in the city in the early morning, my cab took us up Jefferson Street right past Fisherman’s Wharf.  More than a half century had passed since I had last been there and a wave of nostalgia washed over me.  I had to go back.

Lucky some of my fellow conferees were of the same mind.  Better yet, they knew of one of the Wharf restaurants that still had a solid reputation:  Scoma’s.  Shown on a map here, this eatery was opened in 1965 by Al Scoma in a small coffee shop on Pier 47 that served local fishermen breakfast and burgers.  From that small beginning Scoma and his brother expanded the place into what has been called “one of the nation's highest grossing independent restaurants.”

Because it is both highly successful and relatively small, with no reservations taken, it is also difficult to get into.  Often with long lines of perspective patrons stretch down Pier 47.  By judicious timing of a visit, however, it is possible to endure only a relatively short wait — one well worth the trouble.  That week and subsequently, whenever in San Francisco, I found my way to one of Scoma’s restaurant tables and enjoyed.

The experience also invariably casts me back those many years I first cast eyes on Fisherman’s Wharf and San Francisco, deciding then and there to make the city my future home. Instead, I will settle for looking at a few souvenirs and remember boyish dreams. 

Saturday, November 14, 2020

On the “Weighty” Track of John Deere

The very first motorized vehicle I ever drove was a farm tractor — a John Deere  similar to the one shown below — round the barnyard of my Grandfather’s farm when I was about eight years old.  My young uncle was at my side to prevent mishaps.  Since that time I have been fascinated by tractors.  Fortunately Deere & Company has recorded its history on a long line of paperweights that help tell its story.

Company history began when Vermont-born John Deere, a master blacksmith, moved to the village of Grand Detour, Illinois, and began to craft pitchforks and shovels, along with a self-scouring steel plow in 1837.  Prior to Deere's invention, most farmers used iron or wooden plows to which the rich Midwestern soil stuck, so they had to be cleaned frequently.  In those early days, my grandfather plowed his Ohio 100 acres with a Deere plow, reins over his shoulder walking behind a horse.  The company issued a weight to memorialize of that pre-tractor period.

In 1918 Deere made a giant leap from plow and implement maker by buying the Waterloo (Iowa) Gas Engine Company and began to manufacture tractors.  At the time a crowded field of some 100 American companies were making and selling tractors. In that competitive environment Deere gained a reputation for vehicles that were relatively lightweight, reliable and less expensive.  Just as a winnowing process was going on in the automotive world, so with tractors.  By the end of the 1920s Deere & Company were prospering and soon to become one of the top three American tractor manufacturers.  Its models became known for yellow wheels, green body and a red seat.

Fast forward to the 1930s.  Deere was going strong with its Model B, shown here in a marble weight, when the Great Depression caused many farmers to default on their implement loans.  According to company lore, no tractors or other Deere equipment were ever repossessed, a policy that likely benefitted the firm’s reputation with farmers.  Deere became synonymous with tractor.

With the outbreak of World War II, Deere & Company expanded.  In addition to a strong Government-backed demand for farm tractors, John Deere manufactured military tractors and transmissions for the M3 tank. It also made aircraft parts, ammunition, and mobile laundry units to support the war effort. During this period the Model H — the one I was “driving” — was dominant, introduced in 1939 and replaced post-war in 1947.  Shown below are two Model H weights.

Fast forward again to 1980 and a weight that shows the kind of tractor required for the giant industrial farms of the present day.  While much of the body of the vehicle have remained unchanged since the past, the plain tractor seat has become an enclosed cab likely with a CD player and other comforts of home.

The same enclosed “cockpits” are in evidence on a 1992 paperweight, one that presents the Gen. II model and the 7000 series.  Note that the latter breaks from the traditional look of large wheels in the rear and smaller ones up front.  In recent years Deere, with headquarters in Moline, Illinois, has been the largest farm machinery company in the world, employing some 87,000 workers, half of them in the US and Canada.  The Waterloo Works, noted on the weights, provides power systems and engines.

I end this post with a photo of the first tractor ever used on my Grandfather’s farm, taken around 1922. Given the precarious nature of the family finances, it likely was a used vehicle.  Possibly a Deere;  probably not.  At the wheel is my mother at about 15 years old and the family’s “designated driver.”  Having graduated to the tractor from driving a team of horses pulling a plow, no wonder she is smiling. 


Saturday, October 31, 2020

On the Wings of a Plastic Dove

Foreword: Given the impending end of the election season, it seemed appropriate to tell another story about what can happen on the campaign trail.

Each of the three Congressional campaign I helped coordinate -- 1962, 1964, and 1966 -- had high and low points.   The most outlandish situation occurred in the last of the three, occasioned by the opening of a short stretch of highway on Milwaukee’s South Side.  The roadway was just a final small piece in the local interstate network.  The big celebrations had taken place months before when most of the roadway opened.

A group of tinhorn South Side Milwaukee politicians, however, decided that there should a ribbon cutting anyway.  They invited  Zablocki.   I advised him against going that morning on the grounds that there would be no other dignitaries above the rank of alderman attending.  Never one to duck an occasion,  he ignored me and went anyway.

About two o’clock that afternoon,  the phone rang.  “Was Congressman Zablocki at the ribbon-cutting this morning?” the male caller asked.   We confirmed it.   “Were there flowers in the ribbon?”  he wanted to know.   Unsure,  I asked Clem who was working next door in his office.  Yes, there had been flowers in the ribbon. 

“Those flowers,” the caller shouted into the phone, “were stolen from my mother’s grave.   We don’t care so much about the flowers,  but we want the plastic dove back!   If it is not returned immediately,  we’re going to the newspapers.”

As Zablocki later reconstructed events,  the cemetery was adjacent to the ribbon-cutting site. One of the politicians apparently decided that no one would miss some flowers from a grave,  jumped the cemetery fence and snatched them.  How the plastic dove got involved was never adequately explained.

It took little imagination to see the headline in the Milwaukee Journal the next day:  “Politicians Purloin Poseys and Plastic Pigeon.”  The tinhorns would get what they deserved but Zablocki also would be implicated. 

“Ask the family to come over here this evening,” sighed a weary Clem.

In the meantime we got in touch with the  organizers of the ribbon-cutting.  They stoutly denied having stolen the flowers and feigned no knowledge of the whereabouts of the highly treasured plastic dove.  They later delivered us a copy of a flower shop receipt that was a patent phony, then cleared out before the irate family arrived.

I can still remember the son of the deceased, a 30-something man about six-six and weighing a good 270 pounds. He refused to sit down, instead kept striding back and forth in Zablocki’s small office, waving his arms and shouting repeatedly about how he was “going to the papers.”   It took all of the Congressman’s ample diplomatic skills to calm the situation but after a time and multiple apologies he succeeded. The family shook his hand warmly as they left.  We exhaled and poured double martinis.

The press never knew. The plastic dove, alas, was never recovered. 

Saturday, October 17, 2020

The Joys of a Political Advance man

Foreword:  As the Presidential election season winds down, I was brought back in memory to an earlier time when I was a participant in those hi-jinks.  Here is one vivid remembrance.

After John Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, the 1964 Presidential election pitted Lyndon Johnson against Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona.     My chance to meet Johnson came early that year when as Vice President he was preparing to make a speech in Milwaukee.   He called together the entire Wisconsin Democratic congressional delegation and their aides -- in an earlier day Johnson had been a staffer -- to discuss his visit.  In the course of the confab he went from person to person, asking their ideas.   When he got to me, unaccustomed as I was to advising Vice Presidents of the United States, I stammered that all the ideas that had been vetted earlier seem good to me.  Johnson passed on quickly, clearly convinced that Congressman Zablocki’s aide likely was retarded.

Nevertheless, the Johnson Presidential campaign in 1964 saw fit to call on me.   Local politicos without serious races, like Zablocki, were asked to second their people to help elect the Texan.  I was offered up and made part of the advance group on Lyndon’s campaign stop in Milwaukee.   Two jobs were assigned:  I was named “Bands Chairman” with the responsibility for lining up local high school marching bands to be stationed at strategic points along the President’s motorcade route from Billy Mitchell Field to Kosciuzko Park on Milwaukee’s South Side, a distance of 7.5 miles.   They were to be kept playing suitable patriotic airs for the waiting throngs.

My second assignment was to arrange a place for the President to urinate before going to the podium.  That proved more difficult since the ordinary construction site john was deemed 1) too ignominious for the Commander in Chief of the Free World, and 2) too tempting for the commoners to employ as their own bladders dictated.  Instead I rented a small oval house trailer that featured a bathroom and stationed it strategically behind the speaker’s platform.  A staffer from the Mayor’s Office, George Simos, was enlisted to intercept Johnson as he stepped from his limo and direct him to the trailer.

On the day of the President’s visit,  two large banners announcing “Bands Chairman” were affixed to each side of my small Ford and I was sent forth to make sure sweet music entertained the crowds.  On my first pass I found bands on corners a block off the route or barely assembled.  One was playing “The Eyes of Texas” out of tune.  The President’s plane was more than an hour late.   

On my second pass, not knowing whether Johnson was five minutes or five hours behind me (no cell phones in those days),  I drove around a corner onto the route.  All cars had been cleared off for blocks ahead.  Thousands of onlookers turned as one in anticipation.  A cheer echoed and reechoed.  I waved feebly.

Once back at the park it was clear that, having landed,  Johnson was in no hurry to get to the rostrum.  Along the route he stopped to talk to onlookers and even dropped into a grocery store.  He brought a large salami, hacked off pieces with his pen knife, wolfed it down, and threw the rind out the car window.  (We feared the next day headline:  “Lyndon the Litter Bug.”)

When the President finally arrived, George signaled as delicately as possible to the waiting rest station.  Johnson ignored him.   After his speech he hustled back to his car -- once again ignoring George and the potty stop.  I noted to George later that it was a shame we had spent so much money on the toilet and it had not been used. “I used it,”  he volunteered. 

I was shocked:  “What if Johnson had walked in just at that moment?”  

“I would have said, ‘Be through in a minute, Mr. President.’”

Postscript:  Spear carriers in politics also are fair game for unpaid bills.  They started rolling in, addressed to me, a week after the event -- for the trailer, sound system, the overweight Polish lady who sang the Star Spangled Banner.  I sweated. It took some fancy footwork but eventually the Democratic Mayor declared the occasion a “civic welcome” and City coffers were tapped instead of mine.