Saturday, April 4, 2020

Peace amid the chaos-Invocation (to the virus-nature)

My piece. If you want to share yours, leave in a comment.

Peace amid the chaos- Invocation

Nature spare the big-brained ape.
Homosapiens who once challenged nature
with desire for supremacy, mindless self-advantage 
to feed bottomless appetites. 

Primate selves, echoed large as would-be Masters.
Brought low by your tiniest of creatures?
C- virus mutates faster than human minds comprehend.

No free human life or living as once were, ever again.
Quickly! From a safe distance, we play catch-up behind mounting body counts.
Mother-father nature will you banish us from this foreign world we thought was ours?
Remake us to fit your Earth.

Banish this awful virus from human bodies for a reciprocal host.
Gift us a new place in your world order.


Monday, March 23, 2020

WHISTLER'S MOTHER'S SON, before "flash fiction" there was Peter Cherches, innovator of the short short story

Called "one of the innovators of the short short story" by Publishers Weekly, Peter Cherches' Whistler's Mother's Son and Other Curiosities (3/23, Pelekinesis) is a marvel of wit an ingenuity. In this collection of short works, over 100 pieces of prose, he veers from minimalism to satire, noir to children's tale, abstraction to surrealism. Cherches' imagination takes a variety of forms; parodies, standarized tests, nursery rhymes, conundrums, rescued cliches, misbegotten mysteries, dark Americana, existential misdemeanors, optimistic nihilism and more.

Whistler's Mother's Son features material never before published, published in small magazines, and from his early Condensed Book.  Here are beloved characters; Hamlet, Gertrude Stein, Amelia Earhart, Fred Flintstone, Mr. Mondrian--hard-boiled dicks, a man with two mustaches and even a confused Peter Cherches. Though I have read Between a Dream and a Cup of Coffee, Lift Your Right Arm and the recent Autobiography Without words (Pelekinesis), this collection is a surprise, fresh, exploratory and fun.  Some pieces, like Kennedy's Brain and It's Uncle, were performed by Peter and are available in recordings. His first album as a jazz singer, Mercerized!: Songs of Johnny Mercer was released in 2016.

From The Flintstones Variations

   Though undeniably a "modern stone-age kind of guy," Fred Flintstone still retains vestiges of an earlier code. While he does speak English, a sure sign of civilization, he often interjects into his speech, a particular preliterate utterance---"yabba dabba doo"?  This question has occupied the attentions of paleontologists and linguists alike for many years. What is perhaps the most plausible theory is that "yabba dabba doo" is a mating call, a holdover from a time when Man could not express his excitement in a more socially acceptable manner, such as, "Ooh baby, you really turn me on."

From The Anorexic's Feast

     An Alkaline thing happened to me on the way to the recrimination. I had left me pastitso rather early because I couldn't think, so I figured I'd go out and so some cosmetic surgery. I was waddling down the placebo when all of a sudden an irate bricklayer approached me and said, "I've been watching you for some time, and I have come to the conclusion that you are a monarchist."
     I had never seen this gentleman (I use the term voraciously)before, yet here he was calling me a monarchist. Well, what was I to abdicate?  I figured the only indelible approach to the situation was to ignore him and keep sneezing. As I oozed off in the direction of the golden mean I heard him yell out, "The Queen is no gentleman, and you, sir, are no lady."
     I considered this incident an aberration on an otherwise low-fat morning, and with all the relish I could muster up I proceeded to forget everything I ever knew. But that didn't last long, because a few nosehairs later I was reminded of an intransitive incident from my childhood...

  From Kennedy's Brain 

    I take the jar down from the shelf and stare at Kennedy's brain. Kennedy's brain. In a jar. In formaldehyde. I bought it for 3.95. I know it's not really Kennedy's brain. I;m not stupid. I know you can't get Kennedy's Brain for 3.95. It is a real brain, though. A reasonable facsimile of Kennedy's brain.
    Why do I stare at Kennedy's brain?  I loaned my guitar to Eddie, so now I stare at Kennedy's brain.
     My next door neighbors are Indians. From India. From Calcutta. They fight a lot. They make a lot of noise. I always hear them fighting when I stare at Kennedy's brain. I get off on the sound. I can't hear the words, but the sound is something else.....

     Television. It's the light. That bluish-gray light of television. Best kind of light to watch Kennedy's brain by. No sound. I've got all the sound I need. My neighbors take care of that. I just need the light. It  doesn't matter what's on. It's just got to be on.

     For me, Peter Cherches' work has been an acquired taste, it's gotten funnier with the years.
So get your taste, no time like the present, it's safe and gluten-free.


Tuesday, March 10, 2020

An American immigrant family and an impossible divide, 72 MILES TO GO by Hilary Bettis at ROUNDABOUT THEATER

In 2020 ICE is a frightening fact of life for undocumented aliens, as is mistreatment at the border for asylum seekers; a far cry from "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” 

Lazerus' poem, long part of the American creed, is a question in 2020. With the rise of the Trump administration there's a belief among his supporters that illegal immigrants, asylum seekers, are unlike "us" Americans. They are criminals, interlopers stealing our jobs/resources. Ironically, this attitude ignores the reality that hardworking immigrants fueled America's climb to the top. The politics of hate has heated up a crisis in 2020, yet as 72 MILES TO GO Shows, the huge impact of immigrant policy on families is not new.

Set in Tuscon, Arizonia in 2008-16, the fissures between legal and illegal runs through the past and future of a divided family. The deepening of the schism between the American ideal and the criminal branding is precisely detailled in this new play by Hilary Bettis, directed by JoBonney. In 90 minutes both riveting and concise, familiar exchanges of daily life indicate what's unsaid. Understatement takes on devestating significance. This excellent cast touches you with the potential and poignancy of each character. The crescendo of feeling comes as a shock.

The play begins with the father Billy (Triney Sandoval)  explaining the problems of raising kids and how you don't appreciate them until they're gone. Around him is an empty kitchen, the soul of his family. His sadness begs the question of what's missing--his wife. Billy is a man finding his way. And Sandoval loses it deftly, as the children's perspectives take shape. Rachel Hauk's set design and Lap Chi Chu's lighting design are well used to develop mood shifts and passages of time.

In this American family, Eva (Jacqueline Guillen), an uber-competent teenager, wrangles her dreamy recalcitrant brother, Aaron (Tyler Alvarez) into shape for school. She manages clean clothes and nutritious food, checks up on his homework with a concern for excellence--her own school performance. Guillen's bossy big sister is an admirable "Mother Courage," cheerfully carrying on for the missing mother.  Eva is at once herself and her mother's words--They can do well if they work hard enough. Eva's hopeful this great country she admires, where she and her brother were born, where Billy's family lived for generations, will send her mother home.

When the phone rings, she's eager to talk to mom but puts it on "speaker" to get Aaron on track. Real American dreams hang in the balance. Eva has too much to do to focus on feelings. And you root for Guillen's very smart, competent girl. Her insecurity flares around  Christian (Bobby Moreno) her older brother, though he's not home much.

A man on edge, Christian wants a legitimate job, and is tired dodging cops. He rejects Billy, as a father and a pastor. The family's bitterly divided, wounds the missing mother-wife could heal if she were there. Moreno makes you feel the pain of a life struggling against hope. But inevitably for these kids, adult decisions will make their futures and who's guiding them? Will Eva, class valedictorian, seize her chance for college? Will Alvarez' Aaron, a puppyish boy, make the surprising leap to animal biology? Will Christian, finally find DACA stability? Will the estranged Billy ever regain the love of his life? Will Anita, his missing wife (Marta Ekena Ramirez), ever be more than a voice on the phone?

72 MILES TO GO broadens the idea of a typical American family to include the harsh reality for many divided immigrant families. Aspirng to the promise of America, they face a present of deferred dreams and yet are nutured by the love they share. This is a very moving play written with beautiful understated language. The  note-perfect cast is a pleasure to watch.  Roundabout's Laura Pels theater has given us a family play for these times.


Thursday, February 20, 2020

GHOST WALTZ, Volume 1: NYC, Acquainted With the Night, Photo essay by Diana Rivera

Photo Essay. I love photography that begins where words
 leave off. This work is visual poetry, evoking feelings and sight 
below the surface of consciousnes, while showing what we think
we know in one moment of time. Begin this walk. This
is an excerpt of a longer series to be savored some night.

On a Darkened Night, SoHo 2018

GHOST WALTZ, Volume 1: "Acquainted With the Night" by Diana A. Rivera

New York City's architecture is full of layers of history. Rabid development continues to destroy historical buildings at an unprecedented rate. My current urban photography series Ghost Waltz was born from searching for New York City's past eras before they vanish. This series explores different neighborhoods and their singular atmospheres; Downtown’s gritty patrician buildings; Midtown’s unearthly heights; Uptown’s broad swathes of recognizable yet hidden historical elegance. With influences such as Brassaï, silent films and spirituality, I photograph the city in a manner that recalls modernist, early 20th century photography. The view is familiar and otherworldly, as layers of the past come forward; the present recedes in an insubstantial instant.

Toward the Light, 8th Ave., 2018

With Volume 1, I examine the overwhelming psychic effect of being inside “the belly of the beast” through the juxtaposition of shadows with light, movement with static, and silhouette with semblance. Shot on 35mm monochrome film. the grain reflects the grittiness of the urban landscape and the resulting existential crisis one may encounter in such a mystifying environment. Silhouettes walk towards city lights; lone figures that whose alienation emphasizes the dissonance of city life as they walk amid historical structures whose decorative elements seem alien in a modern world built of cold glass and hard steel. Through this lens I analyze the theory that human beings are in their essence living spirits — ephemera within the continuum of time and space.

Silhouette, Irving Place, Union Square 2018

The title of Volume 1 is taken by a poem from Robert Frost, which best encapsulates the atmosphere of this work:

“Acquainted with the Night

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.”

Under the Neon Light, 9th Street 2018

Beyond the Smoke, Washington Square 2018

Diana A. Rivera is an American photographer whose distinctive imagery explores the existential concepts of isolation, dislocation, and mortality in the modern world. Born in 1981, Diana is a self-taught photographer whose original academic discipline was fashion design and illustration. Inspired by her late father, Sucre, she picked up the camera in 2011. This interest led her to a business in event photography, where she spent 8 years observing and capturing intimate moments at high energy events. Her switch to artistic photography began in 2017 with her inaugural work Catharsis: She Moon. In Catharsis, Diana documents performance artists in a rehearsal for a one night only show that tells the feminist tale of society's persecution of queer people using magic and paganism. This body of work remains resonant with the current zeitgeist.

Branching from digital, Diana has embraced traditional 35mm and medium format photography, along with traditional and alternative darkroom processes. Influenced by the New York School photographers of the mid-20th century,  she embarked on her ongoing project Ghost Waltz in 2018; a work on 35mm film that searches for the atmosphere of the past within the rapidly changing metropolis. Capturing haunting night-time scenes that are at once arresting and disorienting, her photographs reveal the many historic layers of the urban landscape, reminding us that existence is ephemera within the dimension of time and space. She is currently working on a series of Requiems as part of Ghost Waltz; homages to immortal men and women who have left an eternal imprint on the historical psyche of New York City and its inhabitants.

Diana still lives and works in New York City. Her work can be found on her website and LensCulture.

Pulitzer Winner, THE SHADOW BOX by Michael Cristofer, a triumph at Regeneration Theatre

THE SHADOW BOX by Michael Cristofer is a Pulitzer-winning play and justifiably so, since it takes on content as difficult as any life lived. This play's focus is on people preparing for the moment when death, abstraction and certainty, will arrive.  Not with the medieval figure in a black cloak carrying a sycthe but in a mythical enclave in California's poconos in the 1970s.

In Regeneration Theatre's wonderful restaging, the scene's a mythic "summer camp" with cabins indicated by roofs of wooden triangles and walls with Birchwood branches (set Samantha Cancellarich). Random furniture fleshes out interiors, though it's dwarfed by the heavenly feel of the invisible Poconos (Lighting Domino Mannheim). Hikers exclaim about the clean air and difficulty finding the place, as they catch their breath in the clearing. Spirits are high, they might be on holiday but for the travelers they seek, who have already arrived. These loved ones have been told this is the end of the Journey.

The why of death for Joe (Jon Spano), Brian (Robert Maisonette), Felicity (Jenne Vath) is without debate, though unlike Sartre's"No Exit" or  Beckett's "Endgame," they do have interrogators. Unseen voices from above inquire about patients' "progress," psychological-physical states. Clinical yet intrusive, are they archangels as clinicians, reviewing  earthly existence pre-death, spurring realizations before the event? All we ever know is the clinical final intrusions are the price for this idyllic retreat. But when interrogators interview caretakers, such as Felicity's daughter, Agnes (Anita Daswani), they seem to be enabling catharsis.

Facing mortality is the subject of this brave play, and Cristofer 's compassion toward his doomed characters is a significant contrast to the Interrogators, as each of the three "families" play out their stories. Though souls may be debriefed after they enter the Afterlife, here they resolve issues before  and loved ones are willing participants. For the devoted couple Joe and Maggie, Jon Spano and Nikole Marone, there's is a duet of habit, need, love, with a fierce undercurrent--her defiance of his death. A large vibrant woman full of life, she is especially poignant hauling out favorite foods and memories to entice him home to their life. She refuses to enter the cabin.

It is up to Spano's Joe to convince her otherwise. He's a brilliantly understated ordinary guy, to her high emotionalism. Yet his understated performance is heart-tugging, as he clashes with her profound denial. Marone's Maggie fights for her happiness. Their son Steven (Leonard W. Rose) is cannily played as a cipher, since we know he hasn't been told about his dad's demise. Though he wants to play his guitar, he's continually interrupted by his mother. Only at the end is the guitar's balm his answer.

Brian's cabin was funny, sad and full of secrets. Maisonette's Brian is an intellectual, a guy who finds fascinating ideas everywhere. His search for truths is a preoccupation, profession, passion and way of life. But this Brian  also has a glint in his eye. He's a fine dancer and lover, busily filling his last . days writing endless intricate books, enjoying natural beauty and taking orders from his devoted caregiver Mark, Cameron Tharma.  Yet Brian yearns for romance. Abandoned by his wild wife, Beverly (Nicole Greevey), a lustful party girl and self confessed man trap, he fondly reminisces before she shows up.  Mark's virtuous indignation at Beverly's antics, sets up a harsh rhythm.

This cabin has a kind of cha-cha dance, as Beverly strips off her "Medals," trinkets from her ex-boyfriends, and sets about rekindling Brian's spark. Greevy's Beverly is a fabulous sensualist, drinking and dancing to arouse romance and life. She is outrageous in her bodily seductions, spilling out of a hilarious dress, sliding her limbs to more sensuous display. And she succeeds in a slow dance with Brian of perfect romance. In that moment, she compensates him for love lost (and regretted) by her catch- as-can existence. Greevey seamlessly switches from wild  to  serious Beverly, who wants to protect Brian from his unknown caretaker. Since he is also fiercely protective, Greevy and Tharma's chacha, taking each other's true measure, is fabulously revealing.

The Mother daughter pair had a mysterious missing sister to make up a third occupant. Their story is a disconnect, the mother, Felicity, is aged, seeming the resident closest to death and the one with the most visible scars of surgical battle against it. Jennie Vath plays Felicity's rants, knowing jokes and  grotesque quips with perfect comic timing. Why Felicity is alive is a mystery to her, and to Agnes, her long-suffering daughter played by Anita Daswani.  Daswani's Agnes well reveals the torturous poignancy of wanting death to finally take Felicity, yet holding her back--in her case without know it.

The cast of Regeneration Theatre was so  attuned to the music in Christofer's words, it was a pleasure to watch. I attribute their success in this soul-searing work to director Marcus Gualberto, who well choreographed the ebb and flow of human emotion. The audience was very moved. My friend, along with others, experienced a personal catharsis. They stood with "bravos" which I offer to Regeneration for having the courage to revive this play.

While moving and humane, I admire the production and the play though it didn't "speak" to me. I am more familiar with the extreme solitude of individuals coming to terms with death. In my experience loved ones have already, in some highly private way, made peace with the "maker," most often the deity within themselves. This private reconciliation I have heard articulated more in Samuel Beckett's "Oh Happy Day, "where an old woman on a mound lives her "happy" days in reminescence and as the days move on, she is gradually buried in a mountain of sand.  It is more true to me about death. For the existential state we live in, I like Jean-Paul Sartre's "No Exit" and Beckett's "End Game." Both may be considered emotionally astringent but the pathos is profound. .


Tuesday, February 11, 2020 publishes short stories about extraordinary everyday exchanges

I have a story on this site, Caroline Leavitt has one featured that's very good.
Site is a small way to counter all the reportage focussed on the reverse of kindness.
Adds an experience people might not think about a lot, the exchange of
small or large kindness. What does it mean? Anyway here's mine.
Leavitt's worth reading on site.


A guy sits in a folding chair that's chained to a traffic sign, reading. His gloved hands hold a shallow cardboard box containing a book. His hooded face leans down, totally concentrated; a private act on this popular downtown corner. His battered sign says he's in the beginning stages of a debilitating disease. Yet he has good color. His clothes look okay, his eyes sparkle behind thick glasses when he talks about books.

A couple feet from his chair is a food wagon. Construction workers, arrayed on the sidewalk, wait for coffee, Danish, egg sandwich on a bagel.  I break the line with my water purchase, though resentful looks disappear as I say, "Just the water." The lady in the wagon takes my dollar. (Everyone knows you don't have to wait for water.)

The homeless guy's still fixed on his pages. He's got thinning reddish hair, late 40's maybe, too alert for a junkie or a guy on a permanent bender. Perhaps a working man down on his luck, if not part of a Dickensian homeless ring, an urban legend of a Fagin character who divvies up misery signs and street corners for a percentage. But I suspect no nights on grates for this guy. There's no patina of dirt or smell. Certainly not a con person with a glint in his eyes, grabbing purses or even finagling for money.  He's hardly paying attention to the paper cup between his ankles.

I put a dollar in the cup. Don't think well of me. I am not a generous individual who feels for the homeless, except in passing. Yet sometimes, in my heart of hearts, I, who have spent decades worried about rent, truly feel ‘there but for the grace of G-d go I.’ I'm superstitious. My dollar is to buy off misfortune, reinforce the strange grace that allows me to survive in this city. Even now, growing old with a mate in a decent apartment, we struggle.

Can I spare the dollar I spend on water? No, but the one toward a brownie can go. He says "thank you," makes eye contact. Before he can go back to his reading, I ask what he likes. "Whatever I can find." "But what's your choice?" "Spy books, true stories, conspiracy, adventure." Hunger there. I can relate. I came to this city as a young playwright, worked in the publishing industry, beginning with a test, a press release on a biography of Jim Morrison. I was thrilled to write materials for a department, paid to be a writer. Despite years of plugging books (my own work on the side)--I still loved them, though publishing had proved a one-sided affair.  

Once a professional reviewer, now I was sent books by publishers to r
eview for free. A stack was next to my desk. First I gave him a thriller, then a book about disinformation and a history of the Cold War.  Each time I put a dollar in his cup, though we both knew his 'thank you' was perfunctory before his one-line spot-on reviews. Curious, I gave him my own dystopian novel.

A week later, as I bought my water, he stopped me to say thanks for all the books and especially the future world one.  He said he had never read a book like that and liked it so much, he would keep it on his shelf (he lives somewhere?). I said I was glad, that the book was my own. He said, “I thought that.” (What? Was I so transparent?).  As one writer to another, he told me about ‘a guy who works for a publisher’ who stops by. This person is interested in a book he's writing.

He confides he needs a cable for his computer to finish but is almost done. I am delighted for him. He also confides he's been in prison. I let him know prison chronicles always have an audience. He says the publishing guy also told him that. I encourage him to finish. He says again that my novel was like nothing he had ever read. I glowed from the admiration of a fan (colleague?).

Is the dollar my price of entry? I test that with a hardcover bestseller about an infamous American spy--a true story. He's excited it's a prize winner but then asks if I want it back. I assure him, no, that I got it for free. So amazing he counts the book, I didn’t finish, a treasure!

When next I stop to talk books, I don't hand him a dollar (I am short that day) and apologize. He brushes that off and asks if I can find some Nietzsche and Jung.  He’s intense, like asking for a serious drug.  I am surprised by a request and say I might have some at home. I talk about Jung's Universal consciousness and Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil, sharing that my grandfather showed me that book in high school, said it was important.  He nodded before returning to his latest read.

I return to my desk to plug other peoples’ books for my dollars, thinking about a person who wants to read everything. In Borges’ fiction, there’s a library containing every book ever to be written and a librarian outracing mortality. But my guy is not about quantity. Perhaps to find “truth” not the plural?  To me, who’s lost the quest, that's beyond value AND he was kind about my own book. 

He asked again about Nietzsche. I was sorry I couldn't find it but said I would look for my Jung. He said he had read ALL of Nietzsche  ,just wanted to own a copy but  could probably get it free online. I nod. The truth is I won’t look for my copy of Jung. I don’t know where it is but am fiercely affectionate about the content. It’s mine.

I am back to giving him my dollar, when I can. What value I get for it!

Monday, January 6, 2020

PARADISE GARDENS Audiobook more radio play w/Nicole Greevy's voices. Codes here

New! Audiobook. It's a collaboration with wonderful actress Nicole Greevy, brilliant at all the voices. More like radio play than reading. Code good for Audible, ACX, ITunes

"Clever, funny, serious, and prescient, this novel takes us on a heartbreaking journey. Lovers of Huxley's and Atwood's dystopias are in for a satisfying treat."--Sonia Taitz, award-winning author of The Watchmaker's Daughter (code: 5L4Q7R9C5T5TA)

Here is audible link with a description.

ABOUT Paradise Gardens
about Paradise Gardens. This is the second of my books, finally published in a completely edited and illustrated version by Pelekinesis Press. It was inspired by the Reagan years and grew  to become a dystopian look at late capitalism in an environmentally devastated Earth. In 2250's the last corporations flee underground to Paradise Gardens. The transition to a feudal corporate futureworld is complete. The novel takes place in 2250s and 3011s underground. I thought this Orwellian but not a few people have said it's closer to Huxley, except it's our world..

This book was read in clubs, Dixon Place and Darinka in the 1980s and in the Pelekinesis version 2017. It was run as a serial in an unedited online version in 2014. I have been grateful to Pelekinesis for toiling with me to get this book in the best form possible and to have me illustrate this world. If you want to read, the New Edition is the best experience. The audiobook is perhaps more entertaining but no art.  Thanks for your interest. Some illustrations on FB. 

BLURB from Dixon Place 2017 UNIMAGINABLE WORLDS in Lounge, 7:30 to 8:30. Free admission.

Imagine the unimaginable. You are living in an authoritarian business paradise but don't know it. Or you know real life is nothing like what is presented to people. You are part of the resistance but need your cover. Yet you are in love. That is the situation between Janet McCarthy, claims adjustor at Rudimental Life Co,, and Michael Thorpe, proprietor of a Greenwich Village store specializing in ethnic artifacts. When is romance key to human survival? For answers to this dilemma, in the tradition of Philip K. Dick's paranoid fiction, come visit Paradise Gardens.

“From the infinitely imaginative mind of Susan Weinstein, PARADISE GARDENS spins a fabulous web. Clever, funny, serious, and prescient, this novel takes us on a breathtaking journey. Lovers of Aldous Huxley’s and Margaret Atwood’s dystopias are in for a satisfying treat.”
—Sonia Taitz, award-winning author of The Watchmaker’s Daughter and Great With Child.

"One of the most disturbing yet oddly funny science fiction/dystopian sagas I've ever read. When corporations have wrung every drop out of nature and mankind has no other option but to build entire communities underground, how do you spin it to make it seem like a dream destination? You call it PARADISE GARDENS of course and you sell it like everything else. When we have no natural water, no natural food, and even the wind and the sunlight has been poisoned you will still have hucksters selling whatever is left for top of the line prices. A thought provoking story well conceived and brilliantly executed."

--Patrick King, author of the Shane Cullaine detective series

Here are some codes for free, if you want to try out the audiobook. .









Tuesday, December 3, 2019

How 3 wealthy American patriots financed a 16 million loan for War of 1812.. before Whistleblower! THE FOUNDING FORTUNES

How 3 wealthy American patriots financed a 16 million dollar loan for the War of 1812 , initiating investment banking. Then came a whistleblower...
"Parish, Girard and Astor jointly pledged to take more than ten million, but not at the 6% Gallatin (U.S. Treasury) had offered. Rather, they agreed to pay in 88.00 a share and in return to receive an annuity that would yield them 13 years of annual payments that would eventually total the full one hundred dollars per share. The pledged amounts were more than the trio's current combined private fortunes, a considerable risk. Nonetheless, they put up 10 million dollars' worth of the certificates apiece, and resold the rest.
The big purchasers were insurers in Philadelphia, and banks and brokers in new York, and merchants in Baltimore, who all resold the certificates in smaller batches to hundreds, perhaps thousands of individuals. A list of the occupations of some of the individuals to whom Girard's bank sold the bonds included:
boarding school operator, clerk, conveyancer, attorney, widow, sea captain, gentleman, clergyman, bookbinder, financier, commodore, sailmaker, Navy Agent, bricklayer, stove merchant, physician, stock broker, goldsmith and jeweler, brewer, grocer, oil and colourman, shoemaker, storekeeper, iron merchant, distiller and refiner, Collector of the Port, merchant taylor, auctioneer, mahogany merchant, and flour merchant.
The historian of the Girard Bank calls what the wealthy did "the commencement of investment banking in America." It was also a ratification of the nonwealthy's willingness and ability to actively fund the country's activities.
Girard, Astor, and Parish had wished to keep their involvement a secret. However, a Federalist clerk in the Treasury Department stole a document about it from Gallatin's desk, and it was soon publicized. Girard and his bank were then attacked even more virulently by the banks in Philadelphia, and Astor and parish also came under fire. Nonetheless the deal held.
The money enabled the U.S. to keep armies in the field and ships afloat during a very difficult 1813, and the loan-purchase structure of middlemen and small-batch buyers set the pattern for absorption of further loans. Astor, Parish, and Girard continued to pitch in individually, and became public advocates for a new Bank of the United States to buy big loans at wholesale and sell them at retail."
Photos, Astor,Girard,Gallatin


"Throughout the presidencies of Washington and Adams, who both professed to desire abolition, the practice of slavery increased, extending without national governmental opposition into what would become Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi."
“This was an American failure, but it should be noted that just then most of the slave-importing trade was British and French: in the decade after the Peace of Paris they made, respectively, 1,073 and 727 slaving voyages to the United States. The expansion of slavery into the new territories also increased as an unexpected result of the awarding of one early national patent, for the cotton gin to Eli Whitney. He had two hopes for his invention: One to make a fortune (which didn’t happen because the gin became so necessary it was widely reproduced without paying him royalties.) His second hope was that since the cotton gin enabled one man to do the work of fifty, it would end slavery. In this, he similarly misjudged human greed: In response to the cotton gin planters bought fifty to a hundred times more acreage and purchased more slaves to work them with the new machines.”


Interview with WAMC's Roundtable is now live! Tom's history of THE FOUNDING FORTUNES provides a great context for tonight's debate.

Why THE FOUNDING FATHERS, who were wealthy men, preferred a rich tax to raise revenue. 
And they favored progressive taxation.

NEW! Atlantic Monthly piece by Tom Shachtman on how the wealthy used their money to show patriotism!

AFTER THE REVOLUTION...Sans Souci Nightclub
The rise of an American middle class began to fulfill the Revolution's promise that property would not be solely reserved for those who already owned a lot of it.
In Boston both the old guard and the nouveau riche flaunted their finery at the Sans Souci nightclub, where two wealthy women proprietors offered costly foods, wines, and entertainments. The high level of ostentation brought condemnation from Samuel Adams as insufficiently republican, and from Mercy Otis Warren in a satirical play, Sans Souci, Alias Free and Easy, or Am Evening's Peep into a Polite Circle. 
"Damn the old musty rules of decency and decorum...Spartan virtues--republican principles," a proprietress says. "They are all calculated for rigid manners...they are as disgusting as old orthodoxy; Fashion and etiquette are more agreeable to my ideas of life--this is the independence I aim at."
The Sans Souci was not an outlier: In this period the pursuit and flaunting of wealth was first acknowledged to be as thoroughly American as waving the flag

Here is a new feature on Founding Fortunes that begins..."Tariffs, taxes on the wealthy, the national debt, regional disparities, keeping manufacturing on these shores, our leaders' public vs. private interests-these are issues present at the birth of this country that retain startling relevance to today's world."

Here also is a new podcast, great interview at end of show!

About Pendulum swings in government from THE FOUNDING FORTUNES by Tom Shachtman, St. Martin's Press 1/2020

"There comes a moment in every pendulum's arc when it slows to a halt before reversing direction and heading toward the apogee. In the spring of 1794, events signaling such a change in direction included Hamilton's resignation; his acknowledgment that the country no longer needed to keep the debt intact to stay united; Gallatin's persuading of the Federalist-controlled House to withhold funding for certain operations until it received adequate assurances on their financial impact; and his instituting of regular Ways and Means Committee oversight of executive branch financial actions. The old direction toward the benefit of the already wealthy was replaced by a new one whose aim was voiced in a toast given at a young men's Republican Society in New York:"Less respect to the consuming speculator, who wallows in luxury, than to the productive mechanic, who struggles with indigence."

Alfred Gallatin and Hamilton bust 

Today 1/20 is pub date for Tom Shachtman's Founding Fortunes from St.Martin's Press.
Here is article in Daily Beast!

For more info on this page, go to:


LUXURY and other Problems with democracy; John Adams and Madison cautioned the Framers before the constitutional convention...
“In his opus (A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States) Adams addressed head-on a subject to which he framers only alluded, Adams insisting that it was inherent in a democracy and had to be guarded against: “A free people are the most addicted to luxury of any.” It was part and parcel of the promise of America, where people who had very little always had the possibility of gaining more:
‘In a country like America, where the means and opportunities for luxury are so easy and so plenty, it would be madness not to expect (luxury), be prepared for it, and provide against the dangers of it in the constitution....Luxury, to certain degrees of excess, is an evil....The evil lies in human nature; and that must be restrained by a mixed form of government, which is the best in the world to manage luxury.’
The prevention of luxury’s overinfluence was a prime reason for what Adams called the “tripleheaded balance,” the apportioning of governing powers among legislative, executive, and judicial branches in such a manner that each branch acted as a check on the worst urges of the others, and in the legislature, the balancing of a house that drew its members from the poorer ranks of society with a senate that drew its members from those who possessed much more property and education. “If we will not adopt that,” Adams warned, “we must suffer the punishment of our termity.”
Madison identified and even more basic problem.
“If the multiplicity and mutability of (state) laws prove a want of wisdom, their injustice betrays a defect still more alarming; more alarming not merely because it is a greater evil in itself, but because it brings more into question the fundamental principle of republican Government, that the majority who rule in such governments, are the safest Guardians both of public Good and of private rights.
(Society would always be composed of groups holding opposite views., “creditors or debtors-rich or poor-husbandmen, merchants or manufacturers-members of different religious sects-followers of different political leaders-inhabitants of different districts-owners of different kinds of property. In a democracy the only way to prevent domination of one group was to configure a government to encompass all.”)

Imagine if the U.S. declared a war and then discovered there was no money for the Army and there was such debt, they had to shut down money sources? 
Excerpt, Chapter 7, The Founding Fortunes by Tom Shachtman. (1/20/20 St. Martin's Press-Macmillan)
"We can no more support the Army without cash, than the Israelites could make bricks without straw, Nathaniel Greene wrote to Washington....and he accompanied the observation with a letter to Congress urging a redoubling of efforts to supply the army and resigning as quartermaster general. The states' response to renewed appeals for help was meager.
That the army was nonetheless supplied during this critical period prior to the French sending larger forces to assist the United States is overlooked by many history books. The heroes were not well-known leaders; they were the dozens and dozens of quartermasters and commisssaries who, when government money and credit were exhausted, spent their own money, and then their own credit, and then the credit of their friends and relatives, to obtain supplies:
"My Credit is nearly sunk with the people here from my not being able to comply with my promises to them,"one such quartermaster wrote. "They now declare they will not part with their property in future to the public without the Money (cash) laid down to them." Estimates of how deeply these government agents wehnt into debt on the country's behalf range from one to five million dollars. Most were never repaid.
Three factors exacerbated the supply problem. Two were beyond Congress' power to control: the British naval blockade and the Hession Fly infestation that devestated grain crops. The third was provided by Congress itself, in an attempt to stem depreciation.In late summer 1779, the members had become frightened upon learning the amount of the country's debt, the sum total of all thos omitted Continentals, had reached 160 million. This should not have been news to them, but they acted as though it was, on September 3 ordering the shut down of the of the printing presses once the total reached $200 million.

THE FOUNDING FORTUNES: How the Wealthy Paid for and Profited from America's Revolution by Tom Shachtman (St. Martin's, January 2020)

SO, the Wealthy not only made our Revolution winnable but passed a Constitution to benefit the poor--even at their expense! WHO WERE THESE PEOPLE?

 In 2020, "Tax the Rich" may seem to some people a fair approach to balancing the distribution of our nation's wealth. But as Tom Shachtman shows in THE FOUNDING FORTUNES (St. Martin's Press (January 2020), the United States owes its existence to the wealthy who financed our revolution and, in the 30 years following the achievement of political independence, guided the new nation to economic independence--often at great personal cost.

Our origin story rightfully celebrates such poor and working-class heroes as Sam Adams, Paul Revere, and the brave ragtag farmers of the Continental Army who stood up to the redcoats. We also know about the roles played by that wealthy Virginia planter George Washington and by Boston’s John Hancock but our story often overlooks the other wealthy who contributed a great deal to the birth of our country, some profiting at the same time, others  losing their shirts. Among them were S. Carolina Plantation owner Henry Laurens, who came late to the Revolution, privateer magnate Elias Hasket Derby, international traders Robert Morris, William Bingham, Jeremiah Wadsworth, and the immigrant Stephen Girard. There were fortunes to be made in the Republic's early years. Even Abigail Adams became a skilled currency speculator.

THE FOUNDING FORTUNES looks into the lives of the men, and some women, who practiced an “economic patriotism,” which often entailed giving up profits to support the very long war with Great Britain and then the new government. Some eventually lost everything – Robert Morris ended his life as a bankrupt, and Laurens was not far behind, while others, such as Morris’s junior partner Bingham, made fortunes that lasted into the 20th century.

Why were these economic patriots able to rise above concern with "the bottom line," when others of their merchant class could not?  Shachtman argues that the economic patriots had a sense of the long term, and that "Freedom for all" meant extending to all classes the opportunity to climb the ladder of success. As Kirkus Reviews puts it, the book’s “provocative argument [is] that wealthy men built America and did a good job.”  They constructed a Constitution that balanced the rights of property owners with the need for democratic representation. They also avoided the tyranny of kings by having power shared between the Executive, Congressional, and Judicial branches.
In our era, lawmakers face some of the same problems as the primarily wealthy men of the new republic did – tariffs, taxes on the wealthy, the level of the national debt, the census as it affects finances, the ratio of imports to internally-manufactured goods, and other hot-button economic issues. 

From before the revolution and through the presidencies of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison, THE FOUNDING FORTUNES shows how nation-building and the economy took shape, stumbled, was righted, and began the foundations of a world-class economic power. In an intriguing critique, the book contends that our history has overlooked the extensive contributions of the Jefferson-Madison years, and Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin, because of the current popular appeal of Jefferson’s long-term rival, Alexander Hamilton.  

Also examined are the economics of the slave trade as brought to the colonies by the British and the role of slavery in the economic calculus of the Revolution. Though castigated by every president as an evil that needed eradicating, slavery was nevertheless tolerated in an awful compromise that ensured the adoption of the Constitution. 

Today, as the United States re-examines the nation's direction and how to deal with the accelerating gap that separates billionaires from the vast majority of citizens, THE FOUNDING FORTUNES provides new insight. Our country’s creators, among the wealthiest men of their time, worked to establish the economic and political structures of a new nation. While fine-tuning a society dedicated to protecting their property, they also provided economic opportunities for people at all levels of income. The wealthy and the non-wealthy united in common cause.  Has that value, so esteemed by our forefathers, gone completely out of style?  Or is it a clarion call for America’s future in the 21st century?  THE FOUNDING FORTUNES is both provocative and wise.