Friday, December 26, 2008


Despite the "shocking" news about corruption in Illinois government, it's not a new phenomenon here. Since most of the Illinois governors in the past 40 years have served at least some Federal time, it's rumored that a chair at the Metropolitan Correction Center will be reserved and dedicated for future governors. It's not known whether that chair will be wired for electricity, but we can leave that for the voters.

In the early evening of November 8, 1939, a colorful character from Chicago's South Side, the Capone mob lawyer Edward J. "Easy Eddie" O'Hare Sr. was gunned down in his Lincoln coupe in traffic on Ogden Avenue. That was hardly an unique event in Chicago which has had over 1000 gangland killings since the 1920's. In this case, however, his son, Edward J. "Butch" O'Hare Jr., a young Navy pilot, got an opportunity 2 years later in World War II to redeem the family name, and in the process place it on what was to become the World's Busiest Airport.

The senior O'Hare was born in St. Louis in 1893 to first generation Irish parents. He passed the Missouri bar exam in 1923 and joined a St. Louis law firm representing inventor Owen P. Smith who had patented a mechanical rabbit used in dog racing. O'Hare helped patent and market the device and placed it in dog tracks in the 3 states where they operated--Florida, Massachusetts and Illinois. Smith died in 1927, and O'Hare. representing Smith's widow, was able to obtain the rights to the rabbit for himself.

Most dog tracks were owned by gangsters, and the Hawthorne Kennel Club (dog track) in Cicero, Illinois, was no excaption. It was owned by the infamous Al Capone. In Illinois, although dog racing was illegal, Capone continued to operate the track while O'Hare was able to drag out the matter in court for several years. O'Hare also helped the Capone mob acquire control of dog tracks in Boston, Tampa and Miami. The attraction for a mobster was that dog races, which weren't regulated at the time, were fairly easy to fix--feed all the dogs before the race except the one you're betting on. The well fed dogs obviously don't run very fast after a rabbit.

When the authorities finally closed the Cicero, IL. dog track, Capone and O'Hare converted it to a horse track which they named Sportsmen's Park, with O'Hare as president. It happened to be next door to another race track, Hawthorne Race Course, which had operated for many years. Hey, if one race track is good for the town, two should be twice as good!

Easy Eddie, the lawyer, solved many legal problems for the Capone mob in the areas of murder, prostitution and gambling, as well as setting up real estate, stock transactions and money laundering. He befriended judges such as Chicago Rackets Court Judge Eugene J. Holland who, in a 15 month period, dismissed gambling charges against more than 12,000 defendants, while finding only 28 guilty. "I'm shocked, shocked that there's gambling going on!"

In his personal life, O'Hare was intensely loyal to his children, sending them to the best schools and doting on them as a good father should. He taught his son Butch how to target shoot, a skill which he honed at military school. O'Hare was fascinated with flying and often took commercial flights, where, unlike today, he found chances for young Butch to briefly take the controls of the planes. He had many connections, even hitching a ride with Charles Lindbergh on his mail plane out of St. Louis. Upon graduation from high school, Butch expressed a desire to attend the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. Certainly O'Hare Sr. had the funds to send Butch to any school he wanted, but for the young man to attend the Naval Academy, he must be appointed by a Congressman.

While O'Hare had several Congressmen who were prepared to appoint Butch, the Feds were at that time becoming intensely interested in the workings of the Capone gang. O'Hare knew the inner workings of the gang, and if he chose to cooperate with the government, was uniquely able to decipher Capone's secret codes that could obtain for the prosecutors a conviction for tax evasion. The accounts of what happened then are in dispute.

One story is that O'Hare's friend, St. Louis newspaper reporter John Rogers, also a friend of I.R.S. Investigator Frank J. Wilson, brokered a deal whereby if O'Hare would cooperate with the Feds, his son Butch would be admitted to the Naval Academy. The other story is that O'Hare simply got an agreement from the government that his involvment with Capone would not be used against Butch's appointment. In any event, O'Hare decided that family was more important, and he talked to the Feds. Just before the start of the 1933 Capone trial, O'Hare learned and advised the prosecutors that Capone had fixed the jury that was to hear the case before Judge James Wilkerson. Forewarned, Judge Wilkerson switched juries with another judge. As a result of O'Hare's information and assistance, Capone was convicted and sentenced to 11 years at Alcatraz.

Capone had contacted syphilis and his mental health deteriorated while in prison. Because of his health, Capone was due to be released from prison in 1939. O'Hare Sr. was killed a week before Capone's release. The murder, like most gangland murders, was never solved.

Two years later, when the U.S. entered World War II, Lt. Butch O'Hare was sent to the Pacific to fly his single engine Grumman F4F fighter plane. In early 1942, O'Hare, flying from the aircraft carrier Lexington with one other plane on his wing, encountered a squadron of 9 Japanese twin-engine bombers heading toward the Anerican carrier. The other plane, O'Hare's wingman found his machine guns jammed, leaving only O'Hare between the enemy and the Lexington. His mission was to hold off the enemy, and hold the line he did--singlehandedly.

Butch O'Hare grew up on the South Side of Chicago and was not a man to back down from adversity. He flew directly at the heavily armed enemy bombers and shot down 5 of the 9 (and damaged a sixth) with close range machine gun fire while avoiding enemy anti-aircraft fire. Three other enemy planes were destroyed when reinforcements from the Lexington were able to take off and come to O'Hare's assistance. The aerial dogfight was witnessed by Lexington crew members. O'Hare became the Navy's first "ace" of World War II and was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions. He was also promoted two grades to Lieutenant Commander.

He continued to fly and encounter enemy aircraft, particularly at night, and earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for his exploits. His luck ran out and he was shot down on November 16, 1943 while on night patrol near Tarawa and lost at sea. A Navy investigation determined it wasn't "friendly fire" as originally thought, but rather a "lucky" hit by a Japanese gunner. Butch O'Hare was 29 years old and left behind a wife and infant daughter.

President Roosevelt described O'Hare's bravery in combat as "one of the most daring, if not the most daring single action in the history of combat aviation." Those words were engraved on a plaque which stands today at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.

The airport in 1949 was a tiny regional airport called Orchard Depot (ORD), formerly used as a military airfield. After a suggestion by Col Robert McCormick, publisher of the Chicago Tribune the airport changed its name to honor Butch O'Hare. It subsequently embarked on an ambitious expansion which eventually made it the World's Busiest Airport for many years (an honor now held by Atlanta's Hartsfield Airport). It is also one of the most confusing airports, and because of Chicago's bad weather, a leader in frequent flight delays and cancellations. Because of limits on flights imposed by the federal government to reduce flight delays, O'Hare Airport relinquished its title as World's Busiest. But the airport designation "ORD" remains as a vestige of the long history of the airport.

This major airport is a fitting memorial to Navy aviator Butch O'Hare, a truly American hero who became who he was through a strange sequence of events unique to Chicago.



Tuesday, December 16, 2008


On a couple of our many trips to Las Vegas, we took overnight trips to Flagstaff, Arizona, which is the home of Lowell Observatory. I'm always amazed at how clear the sky appears at night at the 8,000 foot altitude. One can see the Milky Way without a telescope--you can't see that in Chicago. This is a public observatory, and for a small admission price, they'll let you look through the telescope. We had the good fortune to be there to observe when Mars made a close pass a couple of years ago. It was an awesome sight.

Lowell Observatory is famous because the former planet Pluto (or was it the planet formerly known as Pluto?) was discovered there in 1930 by Clyde W. Tombaugh. Pluto, of course, hasn't gone away but instead, in 2006, in a controversial decision, was re-classified as a dwarf planet.

This was distressing to Mrs. Venetia Phair, who was the first to suggest the name "Pluto" to the discoverer Mr. Tombaugh. Mrs. Phair, an Englishwoman, who is now 89 years old, was 11 at the time. She came from a family of prominent scholars. Her father, Rev. Charles Fox Burney was a professor of theology at Oxford. Her grandfather, Falconer Madan was Librarian of the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford. His brother, Venetia's granduncle, Henry Madan had suggested the names Phobos and Deimos for the moons of Mars. Her family carried some serious clout in the astronomical community.

As the story goes, on March 14, 1930, Falconer Madan read young Venetia The Times story about the discovery of the new planet. She suggested the name Pluto, the Roman God of the Underworld who was able to make himself invisible. Madan was so excited for his granddaughter that he forwarded that idea to astronomer Herbert Hall Turner who in turn thought enough of it to cable his American colleagues at Lowell Observatory. Tombaugh liked the name because it started with the initials of Percival Lowell who had founded the Observatory and who had years earlier predicted the existence of the new planet. A month later, the girl's suggestion was formally adopted for the planet. Inverviewed recently, Mrs. Phair declared, "At my age, I've been largely indifferent to [the debate], though I suppose I would prefer it to remain a planet."

Clyde W. Tombaugh was an interesting guy himself. Of course, his major claim to fame is the discovery of Pluto, but he also discovered 14 asteroids and called for serious scientific research of UFO's which he claimed to observe on several occasions. Tombaugh hailed from Streator, Illinois, a small village surrounded by cornfields, about 100 miles southwest of Chicago. He built a 9 inch telescope in his garage which he used to make detailed drawings of Jupiter and Mars. He sent his pictures to the Lowell Observatory, and by return mail he was offered a job as an astronomical photographer. The year was 1929, and he was 22 years old.

His job was to perform a systematic search for a new "Planet X" to confirm Percival Lowell's prediction. Lowell actually would have discovered the planet years earlier, but he had a defective photographic plate--the defect was where the new planet would have appeared.

In any event, Tombaugh took photographs of the same section of sky several nights apart. He used a device called a blink comparator to compare the different images. When one shifts between the two images, back and forth, a moving object, such as a planet, would appear to jump from one position to another. The more distant stars would remain stationary. Tombaugh did this each night for weeks at a time and developed a trained eye, which noted the moving object, Pluto. To the casual observer, the photos with millions of stars look exactly alike.

The reason astronomers predicted a "Planet X" was because irregularities in the orbit of Neptune indicated that another large planet further out was causing them. After astronomers studied Pluto, they determined that Pluto was too small to cause those irregularities. There must be another planet out there.

In 1978, astronomer James Christy discovered a slight bulge that appeared periodically on highly magnified images of Pluto. It turned out that Pluto had a moon, named Charon which is about half the size of Pluto. It is so large compared to the planet that it is not really a "moon" in its conventional sense, but rather Pluto and Charon could be considered a dwarf planet system. This was confirmed when in the late 1980's Christy observed a series of mutual eclipses which occur only twice during Pluto's 248 year orbital period when their orbital plane is edge-on as seen from Earth. His timing was very fortunate.

Christy was apparently watching too much TV because he wanted to name a star after his wife. He suggested the name Charon because his wife's name was Charlene, or "Char". That's not a name connected with mythology, but Christy learned, coincidentally, that Charon, in Greek mythology, was the ferryman of the dead, with close ties to the god Hades whom the Romans called Pluto. So there was a serendipitous ending to this story. Christy paraphrased the forgettable song by Paul Revere & the Raiders called, I Ain't Sharin' Charon.

But there were many more large objects out there waiting to be discovered. Using the Hubble telescope and other giant telescopes, we learned about Trans-Neptunian Objects (TNO's) like Quorar, Sedna, Makemake, Haumea, and now Eris, which is significantly larger than Pluto. Eris was discovered by astronomer Mike Brown in 2003. To go along with the Pluto theme, some wags have suggested that these TNO's be given names like Mickey and Goofy. Eris, which was at first unofficially called Xena , even has a moon, Dysnomia (which in English means "lawlessness" in honor of actress Lucy Lawless who portrayed Xena on the popular TV show). I'm not making this up! To date 1075 TNO's have been discovered though only 142 of them have their orbits determined so that they have been given names or number designations.

Because of the relatively small size of these objects compared to the other planets, and the prospect of discovering other similarly sized objects, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) was forced to define the term "planet" for the first time.

Incidentally, the names of astronomical objects are determined by the IAU. All the planets, asteroids, etc. have Classical names from Greek and Roman (and even Norse) mythology except for the third planet. That one was named after the legendary Johnny Earth from the South Side of Chicago, a classmate and acquaintance of mine who was known for using his head. Mr. Earth reportedly discovered the planet when he woke up seeing stars after using his head to shatter a nearby windshield with the help of a guy named Ed, during a brawl on 79th Street. Mr. Earth, informally known as the Mayor of 79th Street, departed this world (Earth) with these words of wisdom, "Always steal a Cadillac or a Lincoln, if you can't outrun 'em, you can run 'em over." Actually I am making that up, but only the part about the planet being named after Mr. Earth.

Seriously though, now that the IAU has designated dwarf planets, it assigns numbers to them in their approximate order of discovery, coupled with a name assigned by the discoverer or the provisional designation. For example, we have 90377 Sedna, or 2002 TX 300 (a provisional designation). Essentially, if you want to name a minor planet, you have to discover it. But the discoverer must write a report to the IAU explaining the reasons for assigning the name according to IAU guidelines and get the approval of a 15 person committee of professional astronomers from around the world. Some guidelines are: it must be pronounceable (in some language), it must be non-offensive, non-commercial (Exxon is out) and one word, 16 letters or less. Political or military figures must be dead for 100 years.

So-o-o, you can pay $40 or so to have a star named after you, but it is unlikely the IAU will put your name on the official star maps. So save your money! Its easier to get your name on a minor planet if you're friends with the discoverer. Even Donald Trump isn't on the astronomical map--yet.



Tuesday, December 2, 2008


One of the greatest inventions in history, aside from sliced bread, was the telefacsimile, or fax machine. For bringing this to my attention, I thank my friend and fellow geek, Chicago lawyer, Ben Cohen, who actually gave a presentation on this subject to the Bar Association. Shortly thereafter, all those lawyers were tippling in the other bar.

Most people assume the facsimile machine is a relatively new invention from the
1980's, but in fact it was invented in England by Alexander Bain in 1843. That was more than 30 years prior to the invention of the telephone by Elisha Gray, uh, excuse me, by Alexander Graham Bell (see KENSUSKINREPORT Sept. 9, 2008). Actually Gray, who founded the Western Electric Company, and died in 1901, did obtain a patent for a facsimile transmission system in the 1800's.

Bain was a Scottish clockmaker who used clock mechanisms to transfer an image from one sheet of paper to another. His invention consisted of two pens connected to two pendulums, which were joined to a wire which was able to reproduce writing on an electrically conductive surface. It was called the "automatic electrochemical recording telegraph". The name alone would scare away most potential investors.

In 1862, the Italian physicist, Giovanni Caselli invented the Panetelegraph, using Bain's invention with a synchronizing apparatus. It was the first telefax machine to be used commercially. Caselli introduced the first commercial telefax service between Paris, Lyon and Marseilles which was used by the French Post & Telegraph agency through the 1860's. Remember, the telephone was still 10 years in the future.

In 1902, the German inventor, Arthur Korn created telephotography to transmit still photographs over electrical wires. He transmitted a photo from Munich to Berlin in 1907. He achieved fame by transmitting a wanted-person photograph from Paris to London in 1908.

In 1925, the French inventor Edouard Belin improved further on this system with the "Belinograph" which placed an image on a cylinder and scanned it with a powerful light beam with a photoelectric cell to convert light into transmittable electrical impulses. All subsequent and modern fax machines use this Belinograph process.

Another amazing device from that era was the transoceanic radio facsimile, invented by RCA designer Richard H. Ranger in 1924. The lone Ranger transmitted a photograph of President Coolidge (unsmiling, of course) from New York to London that year. Radio fax is still used today for transmitting weather charts and information. The same year Herbert Ives of AT&T transmitted the first color facsimile.

In 1934, the Associated Press began transmitting "wire photos" and newspapers began running instant photos transmitted from afar.

A competing technology was the Hellschreiber, invented in 1929 by German electrical engineer Rudolf Hell. It never caught on in the U.S. Maybe the name had something to do with that. Hell's device was used by the German military in World War II where, of course, it raised you know what. Seriously, in Germany, Hell was a well known businessman and inventor who also pioneered television technology. He helped operate an early television station in Munich in 1925. When Hell died in 2002 at age 100, the Mayor of Kiel, Germany, described Hell as "the Edison of the graphic industry". His company became part of the German manufacturing giant Siemens.

Aside from news organizations and government, fax machines were not used much in the business world because they were cumbersome, expensive and difficult to operate. In 1966, Xerox introduced the Magnafax Telecopier, a smaller, 46 pound facsimile machine which could be connected to any telephone line. Although it took 6 minutes to transmit a single letter sized document, it was a start, and the businesses that used it were crazy about it because they didn't know better. You could fly a 50 page document from New York to Los Angeles faster than you could fax it. By 1973, there were 30,000 fax machines in the U.S.

Leave it to old fashioned Japanese ingenuity, however. In the late 1970's, the Japanese companies created a new generation of faster, smaller and more efficient fax machines, and within a few years, this revolution reached virtually every office in America and worldwide. Revolution it was. In 1983, the number of fax machines in the U.S. had jumped to 300,000 and then exploded to 4 million by 1989.

As you can see from this brief history, there's not much new under the sun. The bottom line is that the telefax kept a low profile for much of its history until innovators could create a smaller, cheaper, faster model which the public would buy.