Friday, June 26, 2015

Seven kids?!?

Today’s mini-history lesson:

It was a whole lot harder to cut the pie after dinner 150 years ago.
In the mid-1800s, the average American family had seven children. I guess the youngest never got any new clothes until he or she decided to marry.

About 100 years ago, at the start of the 20th century, the average number of kids per family had dropped to a bit over three—by that time, folks had been moving off the farms and shifting to urban life for quite a few years.(1)

Right now the average family has less than two children. In fact, the fertility rate of American women overall has dropped below the biological “replacement rate” of about 2.1 kids.

Immigration is responsible for net population growth in the United States.
(1) Atul Gawande, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End (New York: Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, 2014), 21.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015  All rights reserved.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The old gray Magna Charta, she ain’t what she used to be….

It’s 800 years old. It’s one of those famously revered things that really never did mean what lots of folks like to think it meant.

Many folks will admit that they’ve heard of the Magna Charta, the Great Charter “granted” by England’s King John to his barons in June 1215.

Nearly everyone doesn’t know diddly about what the document actually says, or what it actually meant in the hurly burly of English and European political power-plays in the latter stage of the Middle Ages.

There is ill-informed understanding that Magna Charta was the first written guarantee of the rights and privileges of people who were members of the royal family, like barons, churchmen and the yeomanry and peasantry of England.

For starters, the original version of Magna Charta was a non-starter. The English barons pooled their grievances and brought the king to bay at Runnymede, on the Thames River near London. King John (died October 1216) never honored it, and the barons who forced him to sign it notoriously didn’t do much to honor their commitments, either. It didn’t take very long for Pope Innocent III to annul the charter, and the First Barons’ War ensued. Subsequent English kings revived and revised Magna Charta—it was a work in progress for about 80 years, and was finally reissued in more or less final form by King Edward I in 1297.

Magna Charta doesn’t declare many of the noble precepts that have been attributed to it. It most certainly is not the foundation of modern concepts of democratic liberties for all the people.
Magna Charta was a grudging compromise among powerful men who could be called rich thugs without too much exaggeration. The barons intended that it would secure their “rights and privileges.” It may well be true that the average English peasant or working guy didn’t hear about it for generations after it was signed.

By the way, here's a link to an English translation of the original Latin text. Give it a try. You’ll see that it’s not a clarion call for democracy.,

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Only 40 hours!

Almost 90 years ago, the Ford Motor Co. became the first high-profile company to offer its assembly workers a five-day, 40-hour workweek in May 1926. A few months later, the unprecedented work schedule was extended to Ford’s white collar workers.

Henry Ford previously had shocked his big business peers by nearly doubling his assembly workers’ pay to $5 for an eight-hour day in 1914.

Before 1926, a six-day work week had been common throughout America. In the middle of the 19th century, American manufacturing workers put in about 65 hours a week, and the average workweek had dropped a bit to 60 hours by the end of that century. The number of hours on the clock dropped significantly in the first several decades of the 20th century.

The five-day workweek didn’t become standard until 1940, when provisions of the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act were implemented.

Let’s note for the record that cellphones did not exist in the early 20th century, so those workers more or less actually did have two weekend days off from their labors.

Edsel Ford, the son of Henry Ford and president of Ford Motor Co. in the 1920s, explained the rationale for the five-day workweek: “Every man needs more than one day a week for rest and recreation….The Ford Company always has sought to promote [an] ideal home life for its employees. We believe that in order to live properly every man should have more time to spend with his family.”

Amen to that.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Change is hard

A lot of folks didn’t know what to do with the new “rock and roll” music in the mid-1950s.

Some folks in Santa Cruz, California, thought they darn sure did know what to do about it.

On June 3, 1956, city officials decreed a complete ban on “rock-and-roll and other forms of frenzied music” at all public gatherings, and justified it because the music was “detrimental to both the health and morals of our youth and community.”

Seems that a couple hundred teens in the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium had been swingin’ and swayin’ to the music of Chuck Higgins and His Orchestra. Santa Cruz police arrived about midnight to check things out, and Lt. Richard Overton reported the crowd was “engaged in suggestive, stimulating and tantalizing motions induced by the provocative rhythms of an all-negro band.” Of course, the cops shut the gig down and sent everyone home.

What starts out here as a great reason to get snarky—about the older generation that just didn’t get it—quickly turns into an ugly example of completely transparent racism.

The cops and the city fathers must have been choking on their Cheerios 10 years later when Santa Cruz was a high-profile nexus of the West Coast counterculture scene. For goodness sakes, Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters hung out there.

The Merry Pranksters
And I guess a few more all-negro bands showed up, too.

Like, drug-infused hootenanny, y’know?

I’m guessing that Lt. Overton figured out that change is hard.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Friday, June 5, 2015

The Great War....not

“FLASH: More than 6,000 American soldiers killed yesterday in Afghanistan.”

Of course it’s not true. It’s not even remotely imaginable, either.

100 years ago, that kind of body count was completely imaginable, In fact, it was so routine it wasn’t even reported in large headlines.

Niall Ferguson’s The Pity of War: Explaining World War I makes plain what we can’t understand today: in almost 4½ years of desperately bloody fighting, the good guys (Entente) and the bad guys (German-dominated Central Powers) killed about 9 million men, more than 6,000 per day, every day, for roughly 1,500 days.

Here’s a specific: on July 1, 1916, British and French troops went over the top at the Somme River. At day's end, the British had almost 60,000 casualties, including about 20,000 dead. Almost 2 out of 3 British officers who led the assault were killed.

They would have had trouble keeping up with the burials during WWI if massive artillery barrages hadn’t literally blown to bits so many of the dead.

A survivor recalled that the repeatedly churned earth around the trenches and in No Man’s Land was almost impossibly fetid because it was actually saturated with bits of decomposing human flesh.

What kept the men in those deadly trenches? Ferguson says ”…men stuck by their pals or mates…But the crucial point is that men fought because they did not mind fighting…murder and death were not the things soldiers disliked about the war…revenge was a motivation…Others undoubtedly relished killing for its own sake…men underrated their own chances of being killed…most men assumed the bells of hell would not ring for them…”

Of course now we can say it was not “a lovely war.” It should have been unendurable, but it wasn’t….

Niall Ferguson, The Pity of War: Explaining World War I (New York: Basic Books, Perseus Books Group, 1998, repr. 1999), 436, 446-47.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.