Thursday, April 11, 2013

Wanderers 2013.4.9

Two of us around the table were Princeton alumni, and so knew of Blair Arch, Blair Hall, and maybe Blairstown, New Jersey.  John Insley Blair was to railroads in the industrializing east, near New York, what Sam Hill was to roadways in our area:  an entrepreneurial make-it-happen kind of guy.  He pretty much personified the railroad tycoon of the 1800s, friendly to Lincoln, likewise in the railroad biz.

Yet he's not a well known character based on the histories we read today.  Check any grand sweeping view of US history on the shelves today, and see if he's in the index.  Elliot Trommald, our historian story teller, pointed out that the New York Times had tried to objectively rank financial giants, in terms of their holdings adjusted for inflation, and by their measures Blair was certainly up there with JP Morgan, other heavyweights.

Given Elliot is an historian, he understands there's a lot of forensic science involved, police work, and piecing together puzzles.  What may account for Blair's relative obscurity, strangely enough, was his handwriting.  So much of it seems impenetrable.  He was self educated, self made, to a great degree, and kept all his own books.  He played it close to the vest.  This makes it difficult for those who come later to decipher all that went on.

Elliot has done a lot of work looking into this man and his family.  The Scribner family and company intersects with the Blairs through John's daughter.  Even with so much unreadable handwriting, there's much substantive history to be woven from this cloth.

Elliot has also studied Lincoln quite a bit and presented to Wanderers about him before.  As an illustration of the forensic challenges, he circled a certain quote about the dangers of corporations, oft repeated, including recently in a book by Al Gore, that really cannot be attributed to Lincoln. The paragraph has the lilt and cadence of a pseudo-Lincoln (Lincolnesque), and that fools people, some of them always (the gullible make so much history possible).

Many of our guests that evening wanted to discuss the concept of "corporate personhood", what that means and how it came to be that the money games were so obviously slanted to serve those puppeting corporate persons.  This seemed a murky area in that few of us present had much legal training in corporate law.  What's an "artificial person" versus a real one, and could "artificial people" tell lies to protect themselves?  What would Asimov say?


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