News Quiz

No. 476: “Call Me Unacceptable”

“I still believe we had to give him one last chance,” said Myles Brand. “He failed to live up to that. … His unacceptable behavior not only continued since then but increased.” Who engaged in what bad behavior? What did Mr. Brand do then?

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Friday’s Question—(No. 475) “Eurekaaaaaahhhhhhhhh….”:

When Dr. Arthur Demarest of Vanderbilt University fell into a hole in the jungles of Guatemala, he made an astonishing discovery. “No one has found anything like this since the turn of the last century!” he enthused. “I have a book in press that I’ll have to revise.” What’s the now outdated title of that book?

The Life and Times of a Tenured Hack Who Discovered Diddly.”—BrookeSaucier

The Permanently Lost Cultural History of Guatemala: Permanently Lost Forever, Never To Be Found. Never Ever. Never.”—Charles Star

Money Down a Rat Hole: My Summer on a Government Grant.”—Will Vehrs

Why Outspoken Feminists Can’t Possibly Get Married After Age 60.”—Andrew Milner

Everything I Ever Needed To Know I Learned Without Falling Down a Hole in Guatemala.”—L.K. Peterson

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Randy’s Wrap-Up

Without Cornelius Vanderbilt, there would be no Vanderbilt University, no research funds for Dr. Arthur Demarest, and no Guatemala, if you follow things to their logical conclusion, which I don’t recommend.

Born in Staten Island in 1794, Vanderbilt left school at 11 and found work on the waterfront. In 1810, he bought his first boat and used it to ferry passengers between Staten Island and New York City. (And presumably back again.) By the 1830s, he’d gained control of the traffic on the Hudson River. In those days, the idea of traveling to Albany was more appealing than it is now. Once he’d achieved his riverine dominance, Vanderbilt’s desperate competitors paid him to cease his operations and move on, a business practice we might well revive. I for one would contribute to a fund that paid Kevin Costner to leave the movie business.

Vanderbilt, however, did not quit the movie business, the movie camera having not yet been invented. Instead, he opened a shipping line from New York City to San Francisco via Nicaragua without benefit of the sort of canal today’s soft-living travelers demand. Instead, as I understand it—and I don’t—you waited for a stiff Atlantic breeze, and the boat would kind of scrape across the land all the way to the Pacific. Or perhaps you’d go overland and pick up a boat on the other side. With the gold rush of 1849, there was great demand for passage West; Vanderbilt had another hit on his hands, and once again his rivals paid him to move on and to pledge that Kevin Costner would never enter the shipping business, an easy task, as Costner wouldn’t be born for another hundred years.

In the 1850s, Vanderbilt turned to railroads, the dot-coms of his day. Or perhaps the wireless communications. Or the cloned sheep. Soon he controlled the New York and Harlem, the Hudson River, and the New York Central. In 1873, he offered the first rail service from New York City to Chicago, and you didn’t have to go by way of Nicaragua, I’ll tell you that. Late in his life, Vanderbilt built Grand Central Terminal (albeit without today’s modern Michael Jordan’s Steak House). Travelers found that departing from a station was more pleasant than loitering around a stretch of track hoping to flag down a train.

Only late in life did he turn to philanthropy, donating $1 million to Central University in Nashville, Tenn. (later, in a happy coincidence, renamed Vanderbilt University), thus making Arthur Demarest possible. Vanderbilt amassed a fortune of $100 million. After his death, he became even less interested in philanthropy and left $90 million to his son William Henry, $7.5 million to William’s four sons, and—consistent with his lifelong contempt for women—the small remainder to his second wife and his eight daughters.

Throughout his life, Vanderbilt was called “The Commodore,” except by his wife, who had every reason to call him something else.

Inadequate but Not Uninteresting Answer

I don’t actually know, but it does have something to do with the Mayans, and it turns out they didn’t fly around in cool little unicopters, an idea Demarest never held.

What Demarest found when he fell (“up to his armpits into vegetation” writes John Noble Wilford in the New York Times), was one of the largest and most splendid Mayan palaces ever discovered. Dating from the eighth century, its 170 rooms are built around 11 courtyards over an area bigger than two football fields.

Some cool facts about the hidden city’s customs:

  • They engaged in no wars.
  • They built no pyramid temples.
  • They were dedicated to commerce.
  • They were nuts about jade. (A skull of a middle-class woman had 10 jade teeth.)

It will take 10 years to excavate the place. While Dr. Demarest’s team makes arrangements, they’ve trained the people of the nearest village, El Zapote, to stand guard.

Common Denominator

Guatemala: Land Without Holes. (I devised too narrow a question. Next time, more ambiguity.)