Friday, January 24, 2020

Dr. Seuss, Horton, Who-ville and Climate Change

Forward:   This is my third post on Theodore Geisel, better known as “Dr. Seuss.”  My first, “Dr. Seuss Sells the Sauce,” (July 3, 2010) featured Geisel’s early career when he drew beer and whiskey ads.  The second, “When Dr. Seuss Shot Down Lucky Lindy,” (July 16, 2016) displays his later work as a political cartoonist taking on the pro-Nazi movement, centered around aviator Charles Lindbergh, in pre-WW II America, This current post was occasioned by my seeing the motion picture developed from Seuss’s famous children’s book, “Horton Hears a Who.”  The theme takes on new meaning in our time of climate change.

The original Dr. Seuss story was written in 1954 and dedicated to “My Great Friend, Mitsugi Nakamura,” dean of Doshisha University in Kyoto.  It followed an extended trip Geisel made to Japan and has been seen as a subtle reference to the effects of nuclear weapons.  The movie, made more than a half-century later, elaborates on the original to bring new messages to the fore.

The story:  A speck of dusk is adrift in the air in a jungle setting. The dust speck floats past Horton the elephant and he hears a tiny yelp coming from it. Suspecting that an entire society of very small creatures are living on that speck, he catches it and places it on top of a flower.  Thus, we are introduced to Who-ville, a microscopic idyllic village that seemly has existed for centuries.  Who-ville’s Mayor smugly can trace his ancestry back to a caveman.

But the Mayor is worried. Since the Who universe began to drift, the city has begun experiencing strange phenomena — changes in the weather and violent shakings.  When he tries to warn the citizens and have them retreat into shelters, he is opposed by the scheming Chairman of the Town Council who in effect calls the warning a hoax.  The Mayor also has learned from Who-ville’s only scientist how small their universe really is and that if Horton does not find a “safer more stable” landing place, Who-ville and all its inhabitants will be destroyed.

Speaking through an amplifying device, the Mayor convinces Horton to find such a location and in the book tells him:
“My friend,” came the voice, you’re a very fine friend,
You’ve helped all us folks on this dust speck no end.
You’ve saved all our houses, our ceilings and floors,
You’ve saved all our churches and grocery stores.”

What the Mayor fails to realize is that “it’s a jungle out there” and many of Horton’s fellow animals are just as intent on destroying the speck as Horton is to protect it.  They snatch the clover and speck away from the elephant and a vulture drops it into a field.  The result is damage to the town but nothing catastrophic.  Not being able to hear the Whos, the skeptical animals are about to drop the speck into boiling oil when the message gets through and Who-ville is saved.

At the conclusion of the movie the narrator (Charles Osgood) points out that Horton’s jungle and the earth, like Who-ville, are specks floating in a giant universe.  My own thoughts take the Who-ville story futher.  The Council Chairman is like President Trump and other climate change deniers.  For short term political advantage (e.g. courting the coal industry) they are willing to sacrifice valuable time and even the future of the Earth.  Dr. Seuss’s jungle for me is the rest of the universe — chaotic, unforgiving and no help in a planetary crisis.  In that sense we are all Whos, but without a Horton to save us.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Drinking and Hunting — One More Time

Forward:  Regular readers of this blog will recall my fascination with the concept of advertising whiskey, beer and other alcoholic beverages with hunting motifs.  Although examples have been greatly reduced in the years since National Prohibition shut down the legitimate liquor trade in 1920, many of the earlier ads are still around to remind us of the close identification of drinking and hunting in an earlier day.  My three earlier posts are referenced below. 

The first example here is from a saloon sign entitled “Old Joe Perkins.”  It depicts a hunter, shotgun in hand, who apparently has just riddled a trio of quail.  His retriever, having dutifully has brought the bagged prey to the feet of his master, now has gone afield to fetch something else.  By enlarging the shot we can see that the dog is carrying a bottle of whiskey in his mouth — Old Joe Perkins.  This brand was the product of the Perkins & Manning Distilling Company of Owensboro, Kentucky.  The sign likely dates from the mid-1910s and recently sold at auction for $510.

The next example is also a saloon sign, issued by the Rheinstrom Bros., a liquor house in Cincinnati.  The sign depicts four hunters ranged around a table with their dogs at their feet, apparently having shot a covey of birds.  One of them is sitting on a barrel that advertises “Old Joe Clayton,” one of a blizzard of whiskey brands issued by Rheinstrom.  Three of the men have their shotguns at the ready, apparently in the hope of a passing flock, while being served glasses of whiskey by a genial black gentleman, apparently the proprietor of this roadside log cabin saloon.  Rheinstrom Bros. claimed founding in 1876 and closed in 1917 when Ohio went “dry.”

While a hunter contemplates the dead deer at his feet, an angler returns to camp with a hefty stringer of fish.  A shot glass of whiskey — “Humbolt Rye” — is there to greet the fisherman;  the hunter has already downed his drink.  Meanwhile other men are readying the fire.  Fish on the menu tonight.  Humbolt Rye and this saloon sign both were the product of the P. J. Bowlin Liquor Company of Saint Paul, Minnesota.  This liquor house was founded in 1904 and went out of business about 1916.   The whiskey apparently was named for Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), the famous Prussian explorer, naturalist and geographer.

On a damaged saloon sign is the image of two duck hunters poised to fire from a flat bottomed boat.  One man is standing with his legs positioned to brace him against the recoil of the shotgun.  Not a good idea.  The sign was issued by the Mallard Company, an outfit that operated in  Baltimore the early 1900s.  The firm was not named for the duck but for Charles and Ira Mallard, respectively president and vice president. 

Another St. Paul liquor dealer with hunting on his mind was A. Hirschman.  He advertised his “Minnesota Club” a serving tray that featured a woodlands scene in which two dogs are leading a hunter, shotgun at the ready, through some tall grasses where there may lurk a grouse or woodcock.  This alcoholic libation carried the slogan, “The Perfect Whiskey.”

In addition to advertising through saloon signs and serving trays, whiskey dealers used a range of items for marketing purposes.  A favorite was the watch fob, a giveaway that would allow a customer attaching it to his pocket watch to be a walking advertisement.  The fob above, showing a hunter and his dog on brass, was the product of Schiller Bros., a Kansas City liquor wholesaler and proprietor of “Old Sunny Times” whiskey.  In another marketing gambit, Schiller Bros. as a means of reaching the African-American community offered photos of Booker T. Washington as a premium.  Schiller Bros.  stopped when Washington objected.

By far the most colorful and artistically interesting sign advertises “Champion Mike Whiskey,”  the product of the Russell, Olcott Company of Milwaukee.  The
Illustration is of a dog, presumably Champion Mike, with a dead mallard duck still in its jaws, ready to add it to a pile of other indeterminate dead birds.  The breed is a curly-coated retriever, described by enthusiasts as:  “…Among the oldest of the retriever breeds, is a famously versatile gundog and peerless swimmer. Poised, proud, and wickedly smart, the Curly is a thinking person’s retriever who will never quit before you do.”  

Founded in 1913 and later to become a liquor behemoth, Schenley Distilling Co. of Chicago featured a hunter of an earlier day with a muzzle loaded rifle, a buckskin jacket and a coonskin cap.  This pioneer has seen a primitive sign for “Old Schenley Whiskey” nailed to a tree and, apparently with little else to do, has stopped to admire it, intoning “I’ve Struck the Trail.”  

Note:  My three previous posts on hunting and alcohol were as follows: “Booze and Bullets:  Mixing Whiskey and Hunting,” February 13, 2016;  “Brews and Bullets:  Mixing Beer and Hunting,”  March 15, 2016; and “Drinking and Hunting:  A Sequel,” March 10, 2017.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Revisiting the Senegal River and Manantali Dam

The photo above is of a major dam above the Senegal River in Mali, North Africa, known as the Manantali.  In 1993 Carl–Dieter Spranger, then Minister for Development Assistance for Germany, a country that had co-funded the project, called Manantali an "act of economic and environmental nonsense.”  This is the story of how my partner and I played a role in assuring that U.S. foreign aid funds were withheld from the Manantali Dam.

The early to mid 1970s had brought drought, abject poverty and starvation to what is known as Sahelian Africa.   The world development community responded with relief aid and sought longterm solutions to the region’s water problems.  Two high-ranking USAID officials were awarded the Rockefeller Prize for an ambitious series of water-related engineering projects, among them the Manantali Dam on a tributary above the Senegal River.  Strong momentum had built within the Ford Administration for a contribution of $36,000,000, for the dam and associated works.

In November 1975, the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee directed my partner, John Chapman “Chips” Chester and me to visit a number of African countries and report on Peace Corps and USAID assistance programs in West Africa.   Among specific assignments was to assess potential American participation in the construction of the Manantali and its downstream works. 

Through our advanced research on the Manantali and associated “irrigated perimeters” proposed at Matam in Senegal, we found that USAID’s enthusiasm was not shared by all in government.  Two relatively low-level specialists at the Federal Bureau of Reclamation had done a study that warned against letting politicians and technocrats dictate solutions.  Such decisions, they wrote, “would meet the needs of everyone involved, except the people and cultures directly impacted….”

Keeping those ideas in mind, we visited Senegal, downriver from the proposed dam and site of the Matam project.  A photo shows us with our vehicle and entourage furnished by USAID.  Chips is far left; I am far right.  Our first stop was San Louis, at the wide mouth of the Senegal River.  The city is seen here in the distance across the bay. 

In San Louis, we stayed at the Hotel la Residence, shown here, and met with Sahelian officials, all of them enthusiastic for the projects, but fuzzy on details, including the fate of the 10,000 people estimated to be displaced from their ancestral lands.

The next several days were spent moving slowly but steadily up the Senegal River, a waterway that narrows significantly as one moves inland.  We were driven to Matam, the proposed site of the irrigated perimeters and taken to a nearby irrigated plantation, shown here, where rice was being grown on land that earlier only cropped dry land millet for the local farmers.

Along the way we met a German agricultural engineer who had been brought in to assess the functionality of the irrigated perimeters.  He told a story of disastrous consequences from creating the dikes (called “polders”) to contain the irrigation water.  The earthworks had attracted thousands of snakes and, afraid, people refused to work in the fields.  Crews were dispatched to kill the snakes.  As a result, rats proliferated and their holes undermined the dikes, rendering many unusable.

With those and other troubling information from our investigation we returned to Washington to cast doubt on the desirability of the Manantali and associated works, reporting:  “Our findings indicate it would be premature for the United States to make a major pledge of funds….”   We added that USAID should proceed with funding of the irrigated perimeters and the Manantali only after Congress had an opportunity for further review and could act on the proposed commitment.  

Faced with important opposition in Congress and elsewhere, the Ford Administration subsequently decided against a commitment of funds.  I gained a lifelong enemy, one of the USAID Rockefeller Prize winners, who now found his dream project stymied.  Others in the donor community went ahead, however, built the dam and constructed the other works. After reading the German minister’s statement that opens this post recently, forty-five years removed from our investigation, I did some additional research.

Only the power generation of the Manantali Dam has met expectations.  However, the increased availability of power did not translate into financial benefits because the three governments involved — Senegal, Mali and Mauritania — pay only about half of the required toll for electricity.  Agricultural benefits have fallen short of expectations and cereals production in the region actually has fallen.  

More important have been the environmental and social impacts.  Incidence of waterborne disabling and sometimes fatal diseases like schistosomiasis have increased substantially.  Moreover, only a few of the 10,000 farmers turned off their ancestral lands were ever compensated with land irrigated by the Manantali reservoir.  The fears expressed in the Bureau of Reclamation study and echoed in our 1975 report had come to pass.  I take no joy in that, but have great sympathy for the disease victims and dispossessed farmers.  There is pride, however, in having helped stop American participation in “an act of economic and environmental nonsense.”

Note:  The reference for our House Foreign Affairs Committee report is “U.S. Development Projects in West Africa, Report of a Staff Survey Mission,” 94th Congress, 2nd Session, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., March 22, 1976.