Thursday, January 28, 2016

Donkey and elephant enter politics

Ever wondered about the origin of the Democratic donkey and the Republican elephant?

Thank Thomas Nast, the 19th century political cartoonist for Harper’s Weekly.

Think back 146 years, to January 1870, when Nast drew a cartoon titled “A Live Jackass Kicking a Dead Lion.” He used the jackass/donkey to depict Democratic newspapers in the South, savaging Edwin Stanton, who had been Lincoln’s Secretary of War.

About four years later, Nast drew a bloated and berserk elephant to represent the Republican electorate during a political brouhaha about the prospect that President Ulysses Grant might run for a third term (he didn’t).

Imagine what Nast might have done with YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram….

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Your pedestrian ancestors

Imagine living the rest of your life without your car.

Hold on, breathe!  I didn’t say “without your cell phone,” I only mentioned “car.”

In 1903 most people weren’t even thinking “car,” let alone “cell phone.” Most people walked to where they wanted to go, most of the time.

Here’s a slightly blotchy video of downtown Boston more than 100 years ago, with a couple streetcars, lots of horse-drawn vehicles and stunning throngs of people on the move on the sidewalks. Look at how much clothing they’re wearing. Look at the blobs of horse hockey on the street.

The cameraman passes the Jordan Marsh store, and travels on Boylston Street to Copley Square and the Boston Public Library.

Even without cars, look at the traffic!

Notice there aren’t any parking spaces. I guess nobody ever parked really, the streetcars and carriages just stopped long enough to let passengers get on or off.

It’s estimated there were 21.5 million horses and mules in the United States in 1900, about 1 horse/mule for every three people. (Today, about 6.9 million horses for 323 million people, a horse/people ratio of about 1:47).
Boston firemen and their nags in 1900
Of course, this silent film doesn’t convey any sense of the smell on city streets. Imagine what 14,000 horses in 1903 Boston could do to the fragrance of the downtown. About 33 horses can produce a ton of horse stuff daily, so think about 425 tons of manure dropping to the streets of Boston every day. Carting the horse manure out of town was a big business.

Horses were a big business in many ways. In 1900 in Boston, there were 105 carriage dealers, 99 harness makers, 51 hay dealers, 30 wheelwrights, 238 horseshoers and 192 livery, boarding and sales stables.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Eight-year-old kids go on strike

The abuses of child labor are no longer a big issue in America. Child labor was a big deal in the latter part of the 19th century.

The Industrial Revolution came to America as early as 1813, when the first water-powered textile mill opened in Waltham, MA. Within a few decades, mills and factories were sprouting along waterways everywhere, and workers streamed off the farms to join immigrants who were employed in them at low wages.

The ongoing abuses of child laborers were condemned (by unionized adults) as early as the 1830s. In the following decades, regulation of the working conditions for kids occurred piece-meal, state by state. By the end of the 19th century, 28 states had enacted laws governing (but now outlawing) the working hours and conditions for children. Work by youngsters was finally outlawed in America when the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed in 1938.

In 1881 eight-year-old textile workers in Maine—some of them working for 8 cents a day— started a strike when they discovered that kids their age at another mill were making a penny more per day. The three-day strike was partly successful.

Mill owners and factory owners and other 19th century capitalists were forced, over time, to cease exploitation of poor kids on the shop floor.

Cabot Mill
Imagine that you work in the Cabot textile mill. Imagine that you take your eight-year-old son to work with you every day, so he can work for 12 hours for pennies in grimy conditions, with poor lighting, breathing air filled with cotton lint and climbing barefoot on the humming machinery so he can replace the empty spindles.

Imagine that you need his paltry income to keep food on the table for your family.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Amos ‘n’ Andy: good stuff

Just taking a moment here to give a nod to the legendary “Amos ‘n’ Andy” show, a perennial radio/TV show from 1926 to 1966. It was the highest-rated radio comedy in history.

Gosden and Correll

I watched the syndicated reruns on the tube in the 1960s. Listen to an early radio segment here.
Amos and Andy were two genial characters who dabbled in most of life’s experiences. Amos Jones and Andrew Hogg Brown were black characters, although the creators of the series were two white radio personalities: Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll. They started broadcasting the “Sam ‘n’ Henry” show from Chicago in January 1926, and shifted to the “Amos ‘n’ Andy” format two years later.

Ultimately the show was carried by 70 radio stations nationwide, and attracted 40 million listeners—roughly 1 out of 3 Americans.

Childress and Williams
Gosden and Correll were skilled entertainers in the established vaudevillian “blackface” tradition. By the time the show moved to television in 1951, “blackface” had lost its credibility and black actors played the roles. Alvin Childress and Spencer Williams play the two main roles.

The TV version of “Amos ‘n’ Andy” was the first television production with black actors and would remain the only opportunity for black acting talent for 20 years.

Of course, Gosden and Correll—and even Childress and Williams—gratuitously portrayed the racial stereotypes that were commonly accepted in white society at the time. The show was a spectacular comedic success.

I tried without much success to ascertain the popularity of “Amos ‘n’ Andy” among black audiences. I found one reference to a poll (no details on validity) that reported “77 percent of black New Yorkers” liked the TV show.

Think for a moment about what entertainment was like before cell phones, iTunes and social media.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Mr. Kite et al.

Our notion of the modern circus got its start in a homegrown ring in London in January 1768.
Philip Astley, a former cavalry sergeant major, invited the public to watch him ride his horse around the ring, brandishing his sword while he stood upright with one foot on the saddle and the other on his horse’s head. He was a big hit.

Astley quickly assembled more horsemen, a clown and a band to perform in Astley’s Amphitheatre. His troupe performed for French King Louis XV in 1772. In 1782 a competitor opened the “Royal Circus” in London.

In 1792 an Englishman brought the circus idea  to Philadelphia, and then New York and Boston. One-ring shows turned into two-ring shows and so on, until 1871, when P. T. Barnum and a partner created “The Greatest Show on Earth” with three rings in Brooklyn. Calliope music has been popular ever since.

A footnote to this history:

The Beatles were singing about a real guy in circus history when they sang “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” in their 1967 album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

The “celebrated Mr. K.” worked for a showman named Pablo Fanque, who owned the Circus Royal in the mid-19th century. William Kite was Pablo’s riding master, and also a tightrope walker. Lennon and McCartney speculated that “Mr. K. performs his tricks without a sound.”

With all the hoops and garters and the “Hogshead of REAL FIRE!,” Pablo Fanque’s fair must have been a rollicking good show.

Once you get there, it’s hard to hate the circus.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Social Security….not for everyone

Social Security is with us for the long haul. I think it’s a vital foundation element of a reasonably secure society. I think high-income earners should pay a lot more in Social Security taxes (we should raise the maximum for taxable earnings). I think the full-benefit retirement age should be raised.

One of the reasons for the parlous state of Social Security finances is that people are living a lot longer than any politician or policy maker could have imagined in 1935.

The average life expectancy of folks being born now is about 79 years. Thus, the average newborn can expect to collect Social Security benefits for quite a few years under current law.

In 1935, when the Social Security Act was signed into law, the average life expectancy for newborns was about 61 years.

The act provided for benefits to be paid starting at age 65. Thus, the average person born that year wouldn’t live long enough to collect anything.

Think about that.

The official assumption was that a majority of the folks who lived all their lives with an anticipation of Social Security benefits would never get a dime.

The increase in longevity in the last 80 years has been spectacularly greater than any scientist or statistician or politician imagined during much of that time.

Another footnote in Social Security history:
Ida May Fuller of Ludlow, VT, received the first monthly benefit on January 31, 1940. During her work career she paid a total of $24.75 in Social Security taxes. She died when she was 100 years old after collecting total benefits of $22,888.9s.

Think yin and yang.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.

Monday, January 4, 2016

“See the [segregated] USA, in your Chevrolet…”

Imagine that you’re traveling with your family by car, and you get held up in a town where you didn’t plan to spend the night.

Imagine whipping out your iPhone to check for local hotels that will rent a room to people like you.

Imagine that most hotels won’t give you a room, because you’re a Muslim. Or gay. Or black.

That’s whacky, you think?

Maybe you never heard of The Negro Motorist Green-Book.

In the 1930s, black travelers started carrying the Green-Book to help them find hotels and restaurants and gas stations that would serve black customers. In some areas there were plenty of hotels and restaurants and gas stations that wouldn’t do that. In some areas, it was called “Jim Crow.” In other places, it was just the way things were.

In 1936 a black New York City mailman named Victor Hugo Green thought of publishing a listing “of all first-class hotels throughout the United States that catered to Negroes.” Ultimately, he put together the first Green-Book, initially focused on the Big Apple, with listings for restaurants, service stations, hotels, tourist homes, taverns, liquor stores, beauty parlors, nightclubs, drugstores and tailors. That 10-page book sold for 25 cents. By 1949 it ran to 80 pages.

Every year Green put out about 15,000 copies of the book and continued to expand its geographic coverage. Jim Crow wasn’t confined to the South. One researcher has documented thousands of towns through the U.S. that were called "sundown towns" because they didn’t want black people to linger overnight. The typical advice to black folks was “get out before sundown.” For example, in the early 20th century a Connecticut town put up a sign that said: “Whites Only Within City Limits After Dark.”

The Green-Book was last published in 1964. The Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2016 All rights reserved.