Sunday, August 30, 2015

When safety tests were more interesting....

In 1912, testing the ruggedness and protective features of a football helmet was a fairly straightforward process:

1912 product safety test

Find someone who knew how to simulate diving through the defensive line, strap the helmet on him and do the test.

William "Pudge" Heffelfinger
Football already was starting to hit the big time in 1912. You might say that professional football got started on November 12, 1892, when the Allegheny Athletic Association paid William “Pudge” Heffelfinger $500 under the table to help the AAA team beat the Pittsburgh Athletic Club, 4-0 (touchdowns were worth 4 points at that time). Nobody worried too much about head or brain injuries back then.

The thing that bothers me most about the safety test picture is that the three safety consultants appear to be enjoying themselves a bit overmuch. Of course, they didn’t have TV back then.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Guacamole is an Aztec word

Long before Jamestown, long before the Roanoke Colony (“Lost Colony”), long before the first English attempts to gain a foothold in the Americas, Spanish explorers and adventurers were hard at work trying to plant the royal flag of Spain in Central America and South America.

On August 13, 1521, Hernán Cortés and his small force captured Tenochtitlán, the capital of the Aztec empire, on the site of present-day Mexico City. This conquest marked the downfall of the Aztecs’ far-flung domain, as Cortés became the de facto ruler.

Before the fall of their capital, the Aztecs’ empire embraced almost 500 small “states” with a population of 5-6 million people. At the pinnacle of Aztec power, the capital city had more than 140,000 inhabitants and was the most densely urban city that ever existed in Mesoamerica.

Disease played a role in the transition of power, as it did later in the conflict of European settlers and Native Americans in North America. An outbreak of smallpox among the Aztecs in 1520 substantially weakened their ability to resist the Spanish conquistadors. Almost 250,000 Aztecs died in the fighting for Tenochtitlán.

By 1530, the Spanish conquerors had renamed the Aztecs’ domain and called it “New Spain.”

The Aztecs had an advanced culture, including sophisticated science and highly developed commerce and arts. Familiar words in our modern conversations can be traced to Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs: these include avocado, chocolate, coyote and guacamole.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

No surprise here

Making profits and the foibles of human nature don’t seem to have any trouble co-existing, and they have done so for a long time.

I came across this somewhat incidental observation in a book on the history of clocks and timekeeping:

“This maritime struggle was linked to commercial rivalry. For both countries the eighteenth century was a period of rapid growth of trade and competition in what were known as colonial wares: sugar, coffee, tea, tobacco—what I like to call Europe’s ‘big fix.’ “  

The author, David Landes, was referring to the long-running naval policy and tactical conflicts between England and France.

The thing that struck me is: all four of those “colonial wares” are addictive commodities. There wasn’t any difficulty about selling the stuff. The rivalry was all about who would transport it from the colonies to Europe, and who would cash in when it was finally sold to the end users.

Eighteenth century mercantilism had many dimensions, and this was one of them.

David Landes, Revolution in Time: Clocks and the Making of the Modern World (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1983), 159.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Woodstock: that was a music thing, right?

The pleasure palace at Woodstock opened 46 years ago on August 15, 1969.

Wasn’t there. Didn’t do that. Maybe you did. So, you can have my share of the memories.

As it happened, I was at Fort Benning near Columbus, GA, doing officers’ infantry basic training.
Not saying that was a better way to spend some summer days in August. One thing: seems like we probably had better weather in Georgia, the Woodstockers got rain several times.

Of course, no one is surprised whenever I mention (at least four times in the last 46 years) that I didn’t go to Woodstock. Even if I hadn’t been on active duty, I wouldn’t have gone.

Wasn’t my thing.

But it was a big thing.

Woo hoo.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Science ruins everything

The world and universe we live in is what it is, although some folks insist on their right to believe otherwise.

Let’s be straight here: for example, believing that the earth was made in six days doesn’t make it so.

The reference to 1543 calls to mind the work of Nicolaus Copernicus, a Polish mathematician and astronomer of the Renaissance who startled the Western world by publishing his evidence (De revolutionibus orbium coelestium) of a heliocentric solar system—sun at the center, planets revolving around it. It took a while for that to sink in.

Full disclosure: Copernicus had nothing to say about Santa Claus.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Same old, same old

Politicians and representative government have been around for a long time in the United States.

The first legislative assembly in the North American colonies was called to order on July 30, 1619 in Jamestown in the Colony of Virginia, with the professed intention of providing “just laws for the happy guiding and governing of the people there inhabiting.”

The Virginia House of Burgesses had 22 members elected initially by the free adult English males in the colony’s 11 boroughs. Soon after the first election Polish and Slovak artisans in the colony were given the franchise.

The first law set the official minimum price of tobacco at three shillings per pound. In the burgesses’ first six-day session, they passed laws prohibiting gambling, drunkenness and “idleness,” and also approved a bill that established mandatory observance of the Sabbath.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Legislation that arbitrarily regulated the price of an important commodity (think “milk”).

Bills aimed at preventing some people from doing some things that are obviously suited to our human nature but don’t measure up to the moral/religious standards of some other people (think “medical or recreational marijuana”).

A law to require everyone to conform with the religious scruples of the dominant group in the community (think “abortion restrictions”).

The Burgesses didn’t have to be concerned with raising gas taxes to fund transportation infrastructure repairs, or the ravages of global climate change, or squabbling about the national debt and “shutting down the government.”

That first legislative assembly got the job done in six days.

Arbitrary, short-sighted, ideologically constrained government was an easier gig in 1619.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Miep Gies saved Anne Frank's diary

Annelies Marie "Anne" Frank

On August 4, 1944, Anne Frank and her family were arrested by the Gestapo in Amsterdam and sent to their deaths in German concentration camps. Only her father, Otto, survived.

No one knows the name of the Dutch informer who revealed the Franks’ hiding place.

Few people know the name of the brave woman who helped hide and shelter the family before they were captured, and who saved Anne’s heartbreaking diary.

Miep Gies before WWII
Miep Gies (1909-2010)) was one of many stalwart Dutch resisters who hid Jews during World War II in the Netherlands. She was born Hermine Santruschitz in Austria. As a child, she adopted the surname of her foster family in Amsterdam. With her husband and three others who protected Anne and her family, Miep worked for Otto’s father in the building where the Franks hid from July 1942 to August 1944. After the Gestapo raid, she found the 15-year-old girl’s diary in the ransacked rooms where the family had desperately survived.

Miep kept the diary—but never read it—and gave it to Otto when he made his way back to Amsterdam after the war ended.

Here’s a chilling note: Anne had innocently written in her diary the names of all the resisters who concealed and fed her family for so many months. After it was published, Miep told Otto that if she had read the diary after Anne disappeared, she would have destroyed it to protect herself and the other Samaritans of No. 263 Prinsengracht in Amsterdam.

Miep Gies was a brave and wonderful woman. If she had been a curious lady, Anne Frank’s name would have died with her at Bergen-Belsen in early 1945.

The only known video of Anne Frank, as a young girl looking out a second-floor window at the wedding of a neighbor in 1941see it here

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Masters of war, revisited

World War I got started in earnest 101 years ago, when Russia and Germany declared a mutual state of war on August 1, 1914. France piled on a couple days later, and Britain did the same within hours.

The textbooks say that WWI was provoked a month earlier by the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, on June 28. The shots fired by a Bosnian Serb nationalist led to 20 million military and civilian deaths.

A more accurate understanding of the origins of the war—and any war—must include a recognition that the effective causes of war are the many, sometime independent and sometimes overlapping, incremental acts and plans of individuals and governments that finally make conflict seem “inevitable.”

The European powers, including Russia, had been jockeying for years for economic power and political hegemony or dominance on the continent. Britain and Germany had been openly competing for naval superiority on the seas and coastal waterways. The 19th century monarchical and dynastic powers were struggling to retain power in an increasingly hostile international environment.

The brutal fact is that the European powers had been preparing for war for a long time. It really wasn’t a great big surprise in the summer of 1914 when it started.

The bitter truth is that many leaders, and many of the men and women who would become cannon fodder, welcomed the advent of World War I.

The frightening reality is that human nature hasn’t changed in the last 100 years.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.