Disclaimer: My wife works for the company that put together the American Prohibition Museum. I was not charged admission on my first visit.
The American Prohibition Museum is an interesting tour through a time in American history I think a lot of people don't know about — a time we can learn a lot from.
That will be a story for another post, though. For now, this is just a look at the museum.
If you're not familiar with Savannah, you should know that booze plays something of a big role here. Our open container law allows you to walk around in the historic district (read: tourist area) with a drink. You can still see openings in basements and walls for tunnels used for rum running or kidnapping.
When Georgia voted to go dry a dozen years before prohibition was ratified as a constitutional amendment, Chatham County seriously considered seceding. It would have formed Chatham State, with Savannah as its capital.
The museum takes us through the temperance movement, from marches and posters and cartoons and editorials as early as the 1850s, through the rise of the political version of the movement, and into prohibition, when alcohol became the realm of mobsters (Al Capone saw his rise through bootlegged liquor), auto tinkerers (people would buy scrapped chassis and outfit them with souped-up engines to outrun the law) and pharmacists (Walgreens never would have become a national chain without being the primary dispensary of medical whiskey during prohibition).
We learn the Charleston. There's a speakeasy (also open after the museum closes for the evening). There's a room dedicated to racing — those souped-up bootlegger cars became the beginning of NASCAR when there was no longer a need to outrun police with a trunk packed full of illegal booze.
We even learn how to distill whiskey and what the penalties would be if you were caught with bootlegged whiskey — or worse, a still. And we learn how much business and tax money was lost during the years of prohibition.
Admission is reasonable, and comes at a discount if you buy online or as part of a package with a trolley tour. Give yourself 45 minutes to an hour inside, longer if you grab a drink. It's located in City Market, with an entrance next to Wild Wing Cafe.
After the museum closes, the speakeasy opens to the public (no hats or shorts, guys).
I think the Webb Military Museum may be one of the more overlooked historical spots here in Savannah.
It's a private collection that's been turned into a museum, and includes items from the Civil War all the way up through the Iraq War of the 1990s, with new pieces still being acquired. Here are some eye-catching items.
If you go: Park on the street, pay a meter. If you read everything, it'll take about 90 minutes.
Certain kinds of government records are available to the public, but you have to ask. The types of records required to be made public are outlined in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Among those are certain types of investigations (the FBI handles law enforcement inside the United States; the CIA, by charter, is not allowed to operate within the US — I'm not so naive to think they might not be, but that's the way the agency was designed).
You can request a file on yourself or any dead person. You need some law enforcement reason or court order to allow you to request information on another living person (for example, you couldn't ask for my file).
I sent away electronically for my file on a Wednesday afternoon, and had a letter the following Monday saying the FBI had no information on me they were required to share under the Freedom of Information Act, but they could neither confirm nor deny there could be other records or investigations on me (no kidding).
Aside: I worked at a federally chartered bank from 1997-2000, so I know there's a folder somewhere with my fingerprints. I have no idea if there's anything else in that folder.
For fun, here's the letter they sent me. Emphasis (bold) mine; incorrect usages theirs.
Dear Mr. Shear,
This is in response to your Freedom of Information/Privacy Acts (FOIPA) request.
Based on the information you provided, we conducted a search of the Central Records System. We were unable to identify main file records responsive to the FOIA. If you have additional information pertaining to the subject that you belivee was of investigative interest to the Bureau, please provide us the details and we will conduct an additional search.
By standard FBI proactice and pursuant to FOIA exemption (b)(7)(E) and Privacy Act exemption (j)(2) [5 U.S.C. §§ 552/552a (b)(7)(E), (j)(2)], this response neither confirms nor denies the existence of your subject's name on any watch lists.
For your information, Congress excluded three discrete categories of law enforcement and national security records from the requirements of the FOIA. See 5 U.S.C. § 552(c) (2006 & Supp. IV (2010). This response is limited to those records that are subject to the requirements of the FOIA. This is a standard notification that is given to all our requesters and should not be taken as an indication that excluded records do, or do not, exist.
For questions regarding our determinations, visit the www.fbi.gov/foia website under "Contact Us." The FOIPA Request Number listed above has been assigned to your request. Please use this number in all correspondence concerning your request. Your patience is appreciated.
You may file an appeal by writing to the Director, Office of Information Policy (OIP), United States Department of Justice, Suite 11050, 1425 New York Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20530-0001, or you may submit an appeal through OIP's FOIAonline portal by creating an account on the following web site: https://foiaonline.regulations.gov/foia/action/public/home. Your appeal must be postmarked or electronically transmitted within ninety (90) days from the date of this letter in order to be considered timely. If you submit your appeal by mail, both the letter and the envelope should be clealy marked "Freedom of Information Act Appeal." Please cite the FOIPA Request Number assigned to your request so that it may be easily identified.
You may seek dispute resolution services by contacting the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) at 877-684-6448 or by emailing email@example.com. Alternatively, you may contact the FBI's FOIA Public Liaison by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. If you submit your dispute resolution correspondence by email, the subject heading should clearly state "Dispute Resolution Services." Please also cite the FOIPA Request Number assigned to your request so that it may be easily identified.
Enclosed for your information is a copy of the FBI Fact Sheet and Explanation of Exemptions.
David M. Hardy
Records Management Division
Enclosed: FBI Fact Sheet, Explanation of Exemptions.
The photo at the top of this post was taken with a cell phone on a plane while I was listening to Tchaikovsky on Sirius XM through headphones.
Can we break all of this down for a minute?
First off, I'm sitting in a chair in a metal tube in the sky with 150 other people. We're going 1,000 miles in under two hours. What a giant fuck you to gravity — and pretty much everything else we thought we knew 125 years ago.
125 years. Seriously. Your grandfather's grandfather was an adult already. That's a blink ago.
While sitting on this plane, I've got headphones in. There's sound coming through these little wired pods in my ears that only I can hear. Specifically, it is an orchestral recording that has been committed to some digital medium and sent from earth to space and then bounced back to me moving 500 mph through the sky in a metal tube.
An orchestral recording? That's 100 different people sending sound through instruments we built and shaped to make sounds. All the sounds are coordinated because we came up with this language drawn in symbols we could all agree on that say, "On this instrument, play this sound for this long." And one person put all those instructions down on paper and someone else is standing up and reading it and leading a whole bunch of other people who are reading it to make sure everyone's in the same place.
At the same time, the sound is traveling into some sort of device that captures that sound and can reproduce it in a format that is readable by other devices, including the one that can send it into space for me to hear.
Now, can we look at the stuff in the photo?
I don't even know where to start. Maybe with the book? It's full of words. Printed words. We not only agreed on sounds that mean something, we drew symbols to represent those sounds. Then we figured out how to pulp wood to make paper, have some ink and a press to permanently impress the symbols onto the paper, bind them together, and reproduce that a whole bunch of times.
We then took that ink, created a container that can leak just a little bit, in a controlled manner when in contact with a solid surface, and put the ink inside.
Now look a little to the left. We got more ink to stay on that napkin, which is a different version of the reconstituted pulped wood. The cup is yet another version of reconstituted pulped wood, also with some ink, and it's full of hot coffee — a drink that is amazing in itself. We took this berry, got the seed out, roasted the seed and steeped it in hot water. And we managed to get it hot in a metal tube in the sky.
If you can look at everything around you and not be AMAZED at our ingenuity, you might need a perception adjustment.
Happy second wedding second anniversary to my lady love! A little explanation: We got married in a small private ceremony on July 24, 2014, then had a big ol' family wedding on July 26 of that year. So, celebrating two years of marriage, and this happens to be the date of our second wedding.
So. We got a recommendation for the 17hundred90, a beautiful little haunted inn and restaurant with a bar attached.
We made reservations but showed up 15 minutes early and were seated immediately anyway. The dining room is like stepping back in time. A piano player sits in the corner playing everything from Pachelbel to Disney themes. The dining room is small, and the carpet and low ceiling keeps the sound in check. It really is a lovely room with great atmosphere.
We shared a house salad with a house-made raspberry vinaigrette (creamy and delicious) and an appetizer of bacon-wrapped scallops, seared in butter. The scallops were amazing.
We each opted for a blackened New York strip steak with a bleu cheese sauce (medium rare), served with mashed potatoes and green beans. Everything was excellent. I paired with a Malbec; J— with a white zin.
The restaurant comped us dessert for our anniversary — we opted to share a "chocolate bomb," essentially a chocolate tort — and a cup of coffee.
If we'd paid for the dessert, dinner would have come in just under $125, including four glasses of wine. Definitely reasonable for such a nice place. I'd highly recommend it.
We'd been talking about doing a Segway tour for over a year now, and J— surprised me with one. It was a lot of fun. It started with a quick lesson in how to actually work a Segway — pretty easy if you balance well or ride a bike often. And then off we went onto the streets of downtown.
Now, I don't know about the place you live, but it's easy to play tourist in the town we live in. The city itself has about 100,000 residents. We get something on the order of 12-17 million tourists a year.
We take a lot of different tours — trolleys, walking, museums, houses of worship. We hear a lot of the same stories, but this was fun. It was only us on the tour, so we got to trade stories with Bill, our guide.
We stopped at famous houses and squares and got to hear stories, and experience the city at a pace we don't often take time for, particularly without a destination in mind.
You may have heard the name Walter O'Brien in your sitting-on-the-couch moments. It's the character played by Elyes Gabel in the CBS television drama "Scorpion."
Also, he's a real dude. "Scorpion" is his nickname, and also the name of his company. It's a company that does a bunch of stuff, including inventing a lot of the systems you see on the show — notably a device that feeds oxygen to the blood so that you don't have to breathe, giving you, say, 20 minutes or so underwater, as long as you remember not to try to bring air into your lungs, thereby swallowing water.
Scorpion was his hacker name back in the '80s, when, as a child in Ireland, with a 400-baud modem before most of us had heard of the Internet, he downloaded mechanical drawings of the space shuttle. The U.S. one. From NASA. From their "secure" servers.
Imagine his parents' surprise when he produced an extradition waiver from his book bag, since he figured law enforcement would be knocking on his door.
He turned 41 yesterday; it's not like he's been at this stuff for all that long.
In case you're wondering, and I imagine by now you are, his IQ was measured at 197.
O'Brien notes that the purpose of our bodies is really to keep our heads functioning, and more specifically, our brains. Our brains are essentially wired data networks. While we have memories that it's easy to think about as data, like computer files, they also have a bunch of software in them, if you will. The brain keeps the heart beating, the lungs functioning, and moves our limbs, without conscious thought.
It stands to reason, then, that all that data could be backed up, the way a hard drive is backed up. O'Brien thinks we'll be able to get a brain's worth of data on a chip in about 10 to 12 years.
How? Clone yourself with stem cells, change the programming on the telomeres so that you get to about 20 years old in, say, four years before you slow the aging process back down, then simply do a data transfer from brain to chip to brain.
O'Brien tells Ferriss we should be able to transplant (such as it is) a brain with 80 to 85 percent reliability in the next 15 years or so. Ferriss' question described "success" as being able to make the new body walk and write with the dominant hand. It sounds, though, like O'Brien thinks those successful transplants might do better than that.
The second piece I want to mention is something that O'Brien talks about when explaining another of his businesses, ConciergeUP. The tagline for that business is "Any funded need." Basically, if you want something done, it's not against O'Brien's ethical code and you're willing to pay for it, you can hire ConciergeUP.
He tells the story of a billionaire dad whose wealthy son was the target of a gold-digging scheme. He wanted to stop the impending marriage without his son knowing he had anything to do with it.
It took a long time, but suffice to say it included enough actors that one point everyone in a full Starbucks except the perpetrator was working for ConciergeUP. You have to hear O'Brien tell it — it's the sort of thing that makes you think Osama bin Laden really could be alive if someone wanted badly enough for him to disappear but keep breathing.
The third thing is O'Brien's discussion of IQ (intelligence quotient) vs. EQ (emotional quotient). He's of the opinion that there's only a certain amount available in total, so people with higher IQs often lack emotional connections (like empathy), and that having an IQ over, say, 120, might start to be an impediment to getting a job or finding a good relationship. If you've watched the show, you'll recognize the character Paige, played by Katharine McPhee, who helps explain normal emotional interaction to a bunch of out-of-touch, really smart people. He's actually had to hire people like that.
I hope I haven't said so much that you're not going to listen to it now. It's so amazing I had to share.
It's been called the Staircase to Mount Meru and the Khayyam Triangle, but many people know it as Pascal's Triangle. It's an infinite triangle of numbers with ones on both risers, the positive integers at the next diagonal, and then it just goes crazy from there. There are formulas for developing a row or a diagonal. You can black out the odd numbers and make fractals. Watch the video above, read more about the triangle, and then check out the Sierpinski triangle, which is the equilateral triangle fractal you can make from Pascal's triangle.
Careful, you might need a nap afterward to process all of it.
My sister's baby was due July 31, but has decided to make everybody wait. She and her husband have started a private Facebook group for family and close friends to come together around the impending birth. I posted this letter the other day, and a lot of people have said they're moved by it, so I thought I'd share with everybody.
Note that they are using the nickname "Kishkah." It makes sense for us Jews. The rest of you can Google it. Enjoy.
I know where you are is warm, and food comes whenever you want it, without effort. I also know that change is scary, that New England is getting ready to enter its cold season, and that trying to get attention for food is not a happy prospect.
But there are some things you should understand.
The world you are entering is amazing. There are trees and flowers and big metal boxes that move people around at remarkable speeds. There are love and heartache.
There are smells and tastes — refueling your body in this world is so much more wondrous than getting nutrients through a cord.
The planet you will inherit is in need of some help, to be sure, but we are currently adding one day to the human life span every two months; by the time you can vote, we'll be closer to adding a day to the life span every day or two. You'll be a member of the first generation that could potentially live indefinitely, and I have no doubt you and your cohort will use your lives for good, to help each other and the world as necessary.
It sounds like a big responsibility, but understand that you'll have help. Your parents will be your first line of help, but there are hundreds of hands right behind them. In no time, you'll be able to communicate with them and with others you will introduce into the group. And soon after that, it will be your turn to run the show — a much bigger show than the one you're running now, which is composed of merely a single choice: to stay in the comfort you feel now, or to take a bold step into the world.
I hope you'll choose the second. We'll see you soon.
The city of Savannah has a downtown that is, I believe, unique among American downtowns. It is certainly not the only planned city in the country, and it may not even have been the first — some of those New England factory towns were drawn out from the beginning — but it may be the most beautiful.
The original city was built in 1733 and included 24 squares, designated as public parks and meeting places, sprinkled every couple of blocks. At the northern end of downtown is the Savannah River, which provides a natural border between Georgia and South Carolina, and at the southern point is Forsyth Park with its signature fountain. In roughly the center of downtown is Colonial Cemetery, which has been shrinking over the centuries as the need for wider roads came about and some of the ground was paved over (the headstones have been moved to a wall of the cemetery).
My wife and I undertook to walk all the squares one lovely morning recently. Here you'll find photos from all 22 squares, Forsyth Park, Colonial Cemetery and Emmet Park, which lies above the river. We started at Forsyth and then moved on to Chatham Square, working our way west through the squares to Whitefield Square, then up to Troup Square and east through the squares to Pulaski; you'll get the idea if you follow the map from our starting point to our ending point.
We did stop to look around the Scottish Rite building, which, at six stories, is among the tallest buildings in town, and we stopped at a couple of shops along the way, as well. All told, we walked a bit over five miles from Forsyth to Emmet; we then walked to lunch at the Pirates House, took a tour there, and took a more direct route to our car back near Forsyth; probably closer to a mile, maybe a little more.
You can see the squared version of the photos on Instagram, or continue reading for the full versions.
As I mentioned, we started at Forsyth Park. The decision to start at a southern point and walk north instead of going the other way was based entirely on the abundance of free parking near Forsyth. Here's the park's famous fountain:
Next up was Chatham Square, a shady spot with several large live oaks.
Then over to Monterrey Square, home of a monument to Casimir Pulaski. Monterrey is, I think, my favorite of the squares. It is close in proximity to two of my most common destinations downtown (Congregation Mickve Israel and the Scottish Rite building), and some of its benches are outside the flow of most of the foot traffic.
Then to Calhoun Square.
I'm not sure I'd ever made it out to Whitefield Square, but there were about a dozen people there, though none sat in the gazebo.
Lafayette Square, named for the Marquis de Lafayette, who was famously a visiting orator in Savannah, is one of many squares with a fountain in it.
Sgt. William Jasper stands guard over Madison Square.
Pulaski Square has some of the gnarliest oaks downtown (some of the midtown parks compete well, though).
Orleans Square is another one of my favorites. It tends to stay quiet, but there is often a child balancing along the fountain wall. The low-hanging oak branches provide plenty of shade.
James Edward Oglethorpe, the man who founded the colony of Georgia (named for King George) and the city of Savannah, watches over Chippewa Square, which is what you see in the background during the bus stop scenes in the movie "Forrest Gump." Trivia: In the film, the bus goes the wrong way around the square. Also: The bench is in a museum; don't visit the square looking for it.
This arch is the entrance to the Colonial Cemetery, which sits at the intersection of Oglethorpe and Abercorn.
This little gazebo sits next to a basketball court in Crawford Square. Thanks to the kind gentlemen who didn't mind us taking photos that included them.
Oh, look, there's a tour going on in Greene Square.
Another fountain, this time in Columbia Square.
More shade, in Oglethorpe Square — where, apparently, it's autumn.
Wright Square has a really, really tall monument.
I don't have a lot to say about Telfair Square, other than it's fun to see the view at the rear of the Jepson change every now and then. But you can't see it in this photo, so I guess you'll just have to come visit.
This monument in Franklin Square is dedicated to the chasseurs voluntaires, who came to help fight the British in the Battle for Savannah in 1779.
Ellis Square is known for its fountain (which a lot of people and animals cool off in), but I love this sculpture of Johnny Mercer reading a newspaper while leaning on a fire hydrant. I've said, "good morning," more than once.
Johnson Square has two of these fountains.
John Wesley, who founded the Methodist Church, preaches in Reynolds Square.
Despite the fact that it sits next to a parking garage and boasts some of downtown's only 10-hour parking meters, Warren Square is really quiet. And green.
Washington Square is named for the volunteer fire company that was once at that site.
And finally, anchoring our walk, is Emmet Park, overlooking River Street and the Savannah River.
If you live in the Savannah area or have visited, what's your favorite square? Why?
He died seeking the cause, seeking A cause. He was already dead, he never really lived — uptown, downtown, crosstown — his body was found all over town.
Every now and again I wander back toward the edge. I rewatch "Piñero" (watch) and "Exit Through the Gift Shop" and remember to be open my eyes a little — maybe not wider, but differently, both outside and inside (myself and the house).
In a world in which we're focused on Baltimore and Ferguson and train wrecks and royal babies and underinflated footballs, we need to take time to remember that while the world might be bigger than us, we are not. And further, we are us. I am me. You are you.
I often look to others for inspiration, but those I feel most inspired by are people who do things outside my field(s). I understand the Miguel Piñero portrayed by Benjamin Bratt. That got me started doing some spoken word about 11 years ago, and I've since had some of those poems published in juried journals and compiled chapbooks.
But street artists like Shepard Fairey (known for the Andre the Giant "Obey" posters and the Barack Obama "Hope" posters), Banksy, Invader and even Mr. Brainwash make me want to dabble in something different; not what they do, since that's not my thing. But they open my eyes in different directions.
David Byrne, of Talking Heads fame, mentions something along these lines when he talks to Marc Maron. Byrne grew up in suburban Baltimore, and it wasn't until he went off to college at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) that he started meeting black people and Jews and rich kids and people from California — California! — who all helped broaden his horizons and help formulate what became his style: something of a fusion of a variety of influences. Did you know he couldn't actually speak any French when he wrote "Psycho Killer"?
These artists and poets and athletes don't do it for the money (though Piñero eventually made a living writing for TV and Fairey and Banksy have become well-known artists), they did it, and continue to do it, for themselves.
The important thing, though, is to remember something Rick Rubin tells Tim Ferriss: Compete only with yourself, and don't think too much. Write a better song tomorrow than you did yesterday; don't try to write a better song than The Beatles wrote. Lead with your heart, then let the brain look at what the heart has presented.
He died yesterday, he’s dyin’ today, he’s dead tomorrow. Died seekin’ a Cause, died seekin’ the Cause, & the Cause was in front of him, & the Cause was in his skin & the Cause was in his speech & the cause was in his blood but he died, he died seekin the cause. Seekin A cause. He died deaf, dumb and blind and he died and never found his cause because he never, you see, he never never knew — HE was THE CAUSE.“