Sunday, 28 August 2011

Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance

'Long Lance', the autobiography of Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance, was published in 1928.
It was the story of a man who had been born the son of a Chief in the Native American Cherokee Nation in Montana in 1890.
Long Lance told of his time on the reservation as a child and his decision to join a travelling 'Wild West' show that passed by his home, seeing in it a chance to travel the world and explore in a way that a traditional tribal life never would.
Having spent some time on the road with the show Long Lance applied for a place at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania.
This was the most prestigious school for Native Americans in the country but Long Lance excelled and qualified at the top of his class.
By 1915 he had also qualified from St. John's Military Academy in New York and appealed directly to the office of President Woodrow Wilson to be allowed to join West Point, the most prominent of the Military Academies and the institution from which the United States Army drew its Officer Class.
The President's Office duly endorsed him as a candidate but before he could enter Long Lance enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force to allow himself to join the conflict in Europe without waiting for the United States to join the fray.
He returned home having been wounded eight times and promoted to the rank of Captain.
With his return Long Lance found himself drawn more to the cause of the rights of Native Americans and spent the next decade living among the Plains Indians and working as a journalist for the Calgary Herald highlighting the difficulties that Native Americans were facing with the new restrictions of reservation life.
By 1922 Long Lance was formally adopted as a Blackfoot Indian by the Kainai Nation and given the name 'Buffalo Child'.
National prominence came with his new status as a leading voice in the rights of Native Americans. A lucrative career as a speaker supplemented his income as a journalist as did an endorsement deal with a sportswear company and a prominent part in a feature film about Indian life.
However, the feature film, 'The Silent Enemy: An Epic of the American Indian', had employed a Native American advisor, Chauncey Yellow Robe, who was suspicious of Long Lance's credentials. He alerted William Chanler, a legal advisor on the film, who organised a more detailed investigation into the background of Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance.
What was uncovered was incredible.
It turned out that rather than being born on the plains of Montana, Long Lance was born Sylvester Clark Long in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and was not the son of an Indian Chief but was instead the son of a school janitor called Joseph S. Long.
On top of all this, not only was Joseph Long not an Indian Chief he wasn't even a Native American. He was Black.
Long had been honest in his autobiography when he described joining a Wild West show that passed by where he lived but having joined the show the owner mistook him for a Native American and employed him as such. Long did nothing to correct this assumption and instead immersed himself in the culture of the other Indians in the show and became a fluent Cherokee speaker. Realising that life as a Native American offered him far greater opportunities than life as an African American Long embraced his new identity and began to build his new life as Long Lance.
He had also embellished his military career and may have opted to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force rather than entering West Point fearing that the Academy may have uncovered the truth of his background when he applied to join.
Having made these revelations the creators of 'The Silent Enemy' realised that discrediting their star before the film was released would be ridiculous and so they tried to keep the true origin of Long Lance a secret but, almost inevitably, the truth began to leak out.
Abandoned by many of his former acquaintances Long Lance began to drink heavily and saw many of his formally lucrative contracts for endorsements and appearances dry up.
Irvin S. Cobb, a writer in New York who had counted Long Lance among his friends summed up the attitude of many who discovered the truth about his origins:

'To think we had him here in the house! We're so ashamed. We entertained a nigger...'

Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance was found dead in Los Angeles, California in March 1932.
He had died from a self-inflicted gunshot.

In his will he left all his remaining assets to St. Paul's Indian Residential School in Alberta, Canada.
In death, as in life, Long Lance remained dedicated to improving the lot of the Native American people...
Further investigation into his background found that his parents were both of ethnically mixed heritage with his Mother having some ancestry in the Croatan Nation and his Father partly descended from the Cherokee people.
Although his ethnicity was more African American than Native American Sylvester Long knew that the racial divisions of the United States of the time meant that he stood a better chance to make something of himself as an Indian than a Black man and the response of many of his 'friends' on the revelation of his 'true' racial identity says more for the flaws and hypocrisy of American society of the time than anything about the character of Long Lance himself...

Sunday, 21 August 2011

John Romulus Brinkley: The Goat Gland Doctor

Born in Jackson County, North Carolina in 1885 J.R. Brinkley would become famous for his innovative approaches in promoting his medical practice and infamous for some of the practices themselves...
Wishing to become a doctor Brinkley began his career hawking quack remedies in a travelling medicine show with his wife under the guise of Quaker doctors.
Brinkley soon tired of life on the road and enrolled himself into Bennett Medical College, an unaccredited institution in Chicago that specialised in 'eclectic medicine', a branch of herbalism based around traditional Native American methods.
Unable to keep up with his tuition bills Brinkley left the college without graduating and moved around various towns in Florida and North Carolina operating as a 'Doctor' without any formal medical training.
Eventually Brinkley bought a diploma from the Kansas City Eclectic Medical University and opened up a clinic in Greenville, South Carolina.
He specialised in the dispensation of 'Salvarsan' an 'electric medicine from Germany' that it was claimed could reinvigorate the human body.
In reality it was coloured water that Brinkley would inject into his patients at $25 per shot.
By 1918 Brinkley was operating a 16 room clinic in Milford, Kansas and developed a reputation as a capable doctor and gifted physician after his care and treatment of a huge number of patients during that years influenza pandemic. He also became known as a fair and generous employer and the presence of his clinic proved to be very positive influence on the prosperity and wellbeing of the town.
However it wasn't too long before Brinkley began to push at the margins again.
Visited by a patient who was suffering from erectile dysfunction and complained that he used to be 'frisky as a goat' Brinkley replied with a smile that the problem was that he didn't have the glands of a goat to keep his vigour up.
The patients response would define Brinkley's life and career from this point on:

'Well why don't you put some in then Doc?'

The transplantation of animal gland into humans wasn't unprecedented and Brinkley had actually studied the are somewhat in his time at Bennett College and was intrigued by the idea.
The procedure took place and the patient, having survived Brinkley's untrained surgical skills, went on to impregnate his wife within weeks.
The child was a boy.
They named him Billy...
Word of the success of the operation spread and soon Brinkley was inundated with requests for goat gland transplants. The medical validity of the procedure was unproven and the questionable skill of the surgeon, coupled with his habit of operating while drunk and less than sterile surroundings made the whole affair quite perilous. However most of the patients survived and the glands would be harmlessly absorbed into the body as foreign matter.
People were willing to take the risks for the promised rewards of the curing of impotence, insanity, hardened arteries, prostate problems, high blood pressure, skin disease, old age, and turning grey hair dark again.
Even women would apply for the procedure for the therapeutic relief offered.
Ever the showman Brinkley made a point of only using the glands from the highly prized Angora goat rather than the more common Toggenberg breed and would allow the patient to choose which goat their glands came from...
Hungry to build on his success Brinkley looked to expand the scope of his operations by promoting himself on the exciting new medium of radio.
He founded a station KFKB ('Kansas First, Kansas Best) and began to broadcast a mixture of military bands, French lessons, astrological forecasts and storytelling alongside huge promotional features on his medical procedures.
Armed with a 1,000 watt transmitter Brinkley managed to bring in a huge number of new patients and became incredibly wealthy.
He invested in Milford and built a new sewage system and sidewalks, installed electricity, built a bandstand and apartments for his patients and employees.
He also founded a baseball team, The Brinkley Goats and built a new post office to handle all of his mail, which was approaching up to 20,000 letters per day.
As a reward for his investment in the state Brinkley was made an Admiral in the Kansas Navy.
Kansas is landlocked and the state contains the exact geographical centre point of the United States of America...
Investigated constantly by the American Medical Association Brinkley moved the operations of his radio station to Mexico which was a little looser in its regulations.
He began to promote his medical practice with impunity and armed with a new 50,000 watt transmitter was heard across America and further around the world.
This new transmitter would power up lightbulbs, kill birds and drown out other signals.
People claimed that they could pick up the signal in tooth fillings or from bedsprings.
Another reason for the relocation to Mexico was Brinkley's support for Nazism in the 1930's.
As well as broadcasts in support of Hitler the Brinkley Mansion also boasted a swimming pool with swastikas tiled on the bottom...
Having made a success of his medical career and life as a broadcaster it was perhaps natural that Brinkley would attempt to move into politics.
He stood for the position of Governor of Kansas twice, using the might of his radio empire on both occasions. Standing as an Independent and having applied after the ballots were printed Brinkley began a huge campaign based around his name being written onto the ballot and voted for.
While never gaining enough votes to be elected in Kansas there were reports of confused voters, at the prey of Brinkley's powerful transmitter and garbled campaign, writing his name on ballot papers across the country...
Fittingly, Brinkley's own arrogance caused his downfall.
Morris Fishbein, an employee of the American Medical Association made it his life's work to bring down Brinkley's empire. His series of articles in various medical journals angered Brinkley so much that eventually he sued Fishbein for libel.
This was a huge mistake.
Under cross-examination Brinkley's lack of qualifications and medical expertise was exposed.
He was stripped of his various licences to practice medicine and left himself open to malpractice suits from nearly everyone he had operated upon.
On May 26th 1942 Brinkley died penniless in San Antonio, Texas.
His legacy lives on though.
Every time someone pays for an injection of bovine collagen into their body they are unknowingly paying tribute to a man who knew the lengths people would go to for their health and wellbeing....

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Bhutan and Gross National Happiness

Bhutan is a Himalayan kingdom that has spent the majority of it's history isolated from the rest of the world.
Landlocked, located in a remote mountainous area and lacking any strategic relevance or natural resources that would make them appealing to an aggressive neighbour Bhutan managed to remain cut off from the outside world from it's unification in the 17th Century up until the late 20th Century.
However this policy of isolation would come at a price.
By the time Jigme Singye Wangchuck became King in 1972, Bhutan was suffering some of the highest rates of poverty, illiteracy, and infant mortality in the world.
The King decided that for the good of his people he would open up to the world around them and allow developments in education, medicine and economics that were taken for granted in other countries to be implemented in Bhutan.
He was however wary of the unique culture of Bhutan, which had endured for centuries protected from the influences of other nations, being eroded or even lost altogether.
His solution was to allow the development of Bhutan to take place very slowly and be regulated by an idea would put the good of the country as a whole ahead of that of any particular individuals or institutions.
He called this 'Gross National Happiness'.
With it's roots in Buddhism, the major religion in Bhutan, the idea behind GNH was to allow for development but to put the spiritual and psychological needs of the people at the centre of the process.
The main effect of this has been the decision to prevent large scale industrial development at the cost of the environment of Bhutan.
Instead it was decided that 60% of the country should remain permanently forested, 40% of the land should be protected as National Parks and a further 9% should be maintained as 'biodiversity corridors' to preserve these other areas.
Bhutan was one of the last countries in the world to introduce television, waiting until 1999.
For the first time Bhutanese people could see what the world outside looked like.
Cable services delivered sports, news and entertainment shows from around the world.
With television came advertising. Consumer spending spiralled as the people of Bhutan became aware of branded goods and products such as aftershave.
Spending on these goods rocketed but at the same time so did another phenomenon new to Bhutan.
As the levels of spending rose so did the levels of violent crime.
Consumer goods meant more things to steal and the television shows that were being beamed in seemed to be little more than lessons in consumption and how to commit crimes.
It was decided that advertising levels would be scaled back dramatically and that there would be a greater control on the shows that were broadcast, with those shows that focused on crime and consumption removed from the airwaves.
With this action the levels of crime dropped accordingly...
The actions of the King made him incredibly popular in Bhutan.
His decision to open up to the world while maintaining Bhutanese culture has allowed his country to flourish without a loss of their national identity and the resolution of the problems related to television show the impact that a government more concerned with the happiness of it's people than their material wealth.
In 2005 King Jigme Singye Wangchuck announced that he would be abdicating in favour of his son in 2008 and that Bhutan's first Parliamentary elections would follow.
The King had decided that if Bhutan was to be respected internationally in the 21st Century it would have to embrace democracy and learn to govern itself.
The people were stunned.
Two political parties were established, the Bhutan Peace and Prosperity Party and the People's Democratic Party.
Polls were taken in the run up to the election and found that people asked who they intended to vote for invariably came up with the same answer:

'Who does the King want me to vote for?'

This struggle to embrace the idea of democracy turned the election from an attempt by both parties to outline their policies to both parties attempting to prove themselves more in line with the thinking of the King.
For the record the Bhutan Peace and Prosperity Party won by a landslide...
Bhutan will never be a prosperous country.
It's mountainous location, poor transport infrastructure and lack of natural resources means that it is largely ignored by India and China, it's rapidly industrialising behemoth neighbours.
Bhutan will never be rated AAA by Standard and Poor, it will never win the World Cup, it will never have an army large enough to wander around the world implementing it's policies at an international level.
It's just got a government based around the happiness of it's people and a determination to ensure that their landscape is protected from rapacious developers.
More fool them, right?

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Walking Down the Road with Ted Chippington

The rise of alternative comedy in the 1980's left many traditional comedians baffled by its popularity. Having seen the likes of Alexei Sayle and Ben Elton many of the old guard would shrug their shoulders and declare these new acts an alternative TO comedy.
Then Ted Chippington arrived...
Arriving onstage in full Teddy Boy regalia and supping a pint, Chippington's act consisted mainly of jokes that began 'I was walking down the road...' and cover versions of songs backed by a cassette recording of a keyboard rendition of the tune that Ted would then 'sing' over in a flat monotone.
Audiences were bemused by this figure who eschewed any attempts to actually make them laugh, preferring instead to drawl out gag after gag in his laconic Midlands accent, entirely indifferent to the response of the crowd.
Ted managed to find regular gigs opening for musical acts such as The Fall, who he was also a huge fan of.
Ted was very popular with The Fall as well. Their frontman Mark E. Smith in particular enjoying the idea of riling the crowd in preparation for the group's own set.
The aggression that the audience would begin to fire at him was really what Ted was after. Groans or embarrassed silence was what he worked for and if he could manage to raise heckles and catcalls all the better.
Hecklers would be met with the same indifferent poise that the rest of the act consisted of. Chants of 'Who are you?' would simply see Ted pause and reply 'I'm Ted Chippington' without a trace of emotion on his face.
This deadpan expression was central to Ted's onstage persona.
Comedian Stewart Lee, who has credited Ted Chippington with inspiring him to become a performer, explained the unique position Ted took onstage:

'I was utterly transfixed and my heart was racing as I realised that stand-up could be anything you wanted it to be.
You didn't even have to look as if you were enjoying it.'

One of Ted's gigs supporting The Fall in Birmingham in 1984 was recorded and released by a local record label as 'Non Stop Party Hits of the 50's 60's and 70's' and managed to get played by John Peel on Radio 1.
Another album, 'Man in a Suitcase' followed in 1986 and received airtime on Radio 1 again, this time from Steve Wright.
One track from this album, a cover of The Beatles 'She Loves You' was released as a single and lead to an appearance on Pebble Mill at One.
Ted had dreamed of appearing on the BBC daytime magazine show since he started performing. Mainly as it was recorded in walking distance from his house so it would be easy to get home from.
Despite this gig fulfilling a personal ambition and giving him nationwide exposure Ted did nothing to make his rendition even slightly more accessible.
He appeared in his full Teddy Boy regalia and performed the song in his usual monotone. As he left the stage he was met by a presenter who informed him that he had 'scored the highest rating ever on the naffometer' and went on to say:

'That was pretty appalling, if you don't mind me saying so...'

Ted simply replied:

'Well, I find that quite shocking actually... That you have to say that...'

still in the same flat tone.

Ted went on to perform at the Glastonbury and Reading festivals and released a couple more singles. The first of these 'Rockin' With Rita (Head to Toe)' was his first original composition and, backed by a couple of local bands in The Nightingales and We've Got a Fuzzbox And We're Gonna Use It, managed to trouble the lower ends of the charts at No. 56.
Ted's final single release was his version of 'The Wanderer' which turned the original on its head:

'I'm not the wanderer, I'm not the wanderer, I'm not too keen on roaming around and around and around...'

However, even without becoming anything like a household name or enjoying mainstream success, all the attention Ted received began to take it's toll.
Word had got out on the comedy circuit about his act. People began coming to his gigs and requesting their favourite 'jokes'.
Then the unthinkable happened.
People began to laugh.
Audiences appeared and openly enjoyed what Ted was doing.
His brand of 'anti-comedy' seemed refreshing and different.
Ted was popular.
Ted's response was the only reasonable one he could take given the circumstances.
He had set out to annoy people but they seemed determined to enjoy themselves despite his best efforts.
So Ted Chippington quit.
He moved to America and became a trucker for a while and then moved on to Mexico where he worked as a chef.
Eventually he moved back to the UK and, confident that enough time had passed to allow his small following to dissipate, began to perform again.
Styling himself now as Reverend Ted Chippington he appears onstage in a dog collar and does...exactly the same jokes he did twenty years before.
Rev. Ted promises to continue to perform as long as he enjoys it.
And his audiences don't...