Thursday, September 27, 2012

Interest, Fans, and Sports

In recent days, football has been very much in the news, the product of some pretty upset fans.  Not upset with the game, but with the temporary officials. And, perhaps much more significantly, it's been in the news a lot recently because of a growing body of evidence that football is causing a lot of early traumatically induced dementia amongst its players.  I actually started this entry off awhile back after reading an article about that in The New Republic, and today, when I'm finally publishing this rather longish entry, there's a news story that's broken in which player Jim McMahon has indicated that, if he could go back, he'd play baseball instead.  He's now suffering from the early stages of dementia himself.

 Schoolyard football, 1940s

I guess that makes this as good to time as any to delve into the professional sports, or sports in general.  Indeed, we're nearly on the 120th anniversary of what's become the American Sport, professional football.  It was on this day November 12, 1892 that professional football made its debut.  Or, rather more accurately, the first professional football player made his debut.  That player was William "Pudge" Heffelfinger, who was paid $500 to play as a lineman for Pittsburgh's Allegheny Athletic Club.  Heffelfinger had been offered half that to play in a prior game, but declined so as to not jeopardize his amateur status.  But apparently the former Yale football player felt that the $500 amount was ample compensation. And, while diminutive by today's standards, $500.00 in 1892 was indeed a substantial amount to be paid for a single game, when the value of that $500.00 at that time is considered.  He must have been pretty good at the primitive game.

William "Pudge" Heffelfinger, while a student at Yale.
To know a thing like that, you'd probably assume that I must be a die hard football fan, or perhaps a die hard sports fan, but I am not.  I only know who Heffelfinger is because he was mentioned in the truly freighting article on head injuries associated with football (really scary) in the most recent issue of The New Republic, although it appears that Heffelfinger, who played in the non helmet era, when head injuries may actually have been considerably less frequent, lived until age 86.  Anyhow, sports are one of the very few areas where my father's interests diverge from my own.  My father loved football.  Indeed, he loved all sports.  I can recall him watching the Wild World Of Sports very routinely, and there were very few major sports that he would not follow, to some degree, if they were on television.  And, moreover, he knew something, often a great deal, about each one.  He was, for instance, the first person I ever recall talking knowledgeably about stock car racing, long before NASCAR achieved its current level of fame.  At the same time, however, he knew a lot about golf, even though he didn't play it.  And he knew a great deal about football, which he had played at the high school level in the 1940s.  Indeed, I know he played for the local NCHS, and I believe he played for the high school in Scottsbluff before that.

I, on the other hand, just can't seem to muster up enough interest to follow too many sports, or even follow any steadily.  I'm not sure why, but I simply lost interest in a lot of them in my early teens.  Some I never had any interest in.  I have nothing against them, I just don't seem to be able to follow them. For example, I've never been able to follow any kind of automobile racing at all.  It's not that I won't, I simply can't.  I used to like watching football when I was very young, but about the time I hit junior high school my interest was waning and indeed it simply passed away.  I did watch a few football games while in high school, and even photographed the 1980 Oil Bowl for the high school paper, but that 1980 game was the second to last one I ever personally attended.  Indeed, I think I went to the high school games more because there were high school girls there, rather than being interested in the sport itself, save for the game I photographed, which I was watching for that reason.  The last one I ever watched was a Guernsey High School game I watched while in the National Guard.  At that occasion I happened to just be at Camp Guernsey when the game was going on. The football field at that time adjoined the camp, and I didn't have anything to do, so I went and watched it.  It would stun real football fans to know that even though I lived in Laramie Wyoming for six years, I never once saw a football game while there.  I was, moreover, a student at the University of Wyoming at the time.

Indeed my record on football is so poor that I went from that last Guernsey game all the way up until I was married before watching a full game on television again.  In our household my wife is a real football fan.  She'll watch the games, and every year the Super Bowl is a minor party at our house.  So, I'll watch that game now.

My track record is no better for most other major sports either, although I really do like baseball quite a bit.  I don't watch a lot of it, but I like it, and will follow it in some years.  That's about the only major professional sports I follow at all, and I don't follow any of the university teams in any sport.

This is not to say, however, that I somehow disapprove of them (although the article on football mentioned above causes me to have real concern about it as a sport).  Not following them is not the same as disapproving of them, and I've often wished I did follow them, although I've now given up trying to.  I've liked it a great deal when my own kids played sports and watched them.  On other sports, I've tried to read the sports page so that I can pick up a knowledge of them, and hopefully be able to talk about them intelligently, but it's such a lost cause that I'm never able to do that for more than a few days.  Indeed, when both my wife and I are at the breakfast table, with the local newspaper out, she'll often just state "give me the sports page" knowing that I'm not going to read it.  If there's important news on something else on that page, I miss it.  Just today I was at a firm lunch when the topic turned to the Denver Broncos and as usual I was clueless.  One of our lawyers has a near relative on that team, and I can't even recall who he is, even though he's a starter.  And this is the second time we've had an employee with a near relative on a professional football team whom everyone else recognizes, and I'm out to sea on.

As odd of character trait as it is, however, I will watch some sports if I happen to see them, and really like those off sports.  When a student at the University of Wyoming I'd watch the ruby games if they happened to be going on while I was around, and I really liked rugby.  I used to watch Australian Rules Football if it was televised, even though I have no idea what the "rules" in Australian Rules Football are.  I really like equine sports and, when they are televised, I'll watch them. Steeple Racing is a great sport.  Polo is a super sport in my view.  What all this says about me, I have no idea.

Anyhow, mostly looking at the really popular sports from the outside, looking in, has made me notice a bit how what is popular as a sport varies by location, setting and time, even while knowing that I'm somehow missing out on the enjoyment of them today.  That's a bit worth exploring in the context of what's noted here.  Professional sports as part of the national background, and even amateur sports, have really changed enormously over the decades.

This entry stared off noticing football, but the truth of the matter is that football is a sport that did not have a great following until after World War Two.  There was a following, to be sure, but mostly of college teams.  Professional football existed after some point in the 20th Century, and beyond the bonus for a game level noted above, but it wasn't a very big deal. There's reason that that baseball figures were used for ad hoc identity tests by American solders during World War Two and football knowledge was not.  Not everyone could be expected to have it.  Football only achieved its current status in the 1950s, and only after it started to be televised.  Television made professional football what it is. Before that, it was a college sport, much like rugby is today, or to a degree like what US soccer now is.  It also had a huge high school following.  This all actually makes sense, as football is a theoretically 1.25 hour long game.  Just perfect for what was a game mostly played by students who were real students.  That also made it the perfect television game, however, as it could easily fit into a convenient and predictable television time slot, even with commercials.  That probably also made it about 2 hours long, over the original 1.25 hours.  None the less, as odd as it may seem now, it was a select group who followed any kind of professional football before World War Two.  Lots of folks followed college football, but it was actually a game more likely to be played by real students, as opposed to the "student athletes" we have today.  A scandal like the current Penn State football scandal would be almost unimaginable in that prior era, as having a full time football coach, or at least a big program like so many schools have today, would have been unthinkable.

Baseball, then, was a very early, widely followed, sport in the United States.  Indeed the first efforts to organize professional baseball date back to 1870.  Two US teams actually were part of that very early organization.  National League baseball dates back to 1876.  The American League to 1901.

The 1896 Baltimore Orioles.

It's more than a little difficult to imagine how professional sports were followed before the advent of the radio, but they were.  Commercial radio got its start in the United States in 1920, and there were really no easily accessible radio stations of any kind in the US prior to 1916.  That baseball (and as we'll see boxing) had such a major following therefore, and so early, is really fairly amazing. But it did. Baseball had a major American following by the early 20th Century and gave Americans their first annual major sporting spectacle, the World Series in 1903 when the Boston Americans took on the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Boston prevailed after taking five games in a contest designed to be a best of nine series.  The amazing thing is, however, that in an era in which the fastest transportation was the train, a series of this type had been created.

 Jim Thorpe, the legendary athlete who excelled at nearly every sport, including football and baseball, as a baseball player for the New York Giants.

Perhaps demonstrating to an even greater degree the early popularity of baseball, the game had become such a big deal by 1919 that gamblers famously conspired to "fix" the series for gambling purposes, giving the US its first major sporting scandal.  Still very prominent in the sporting popular imagination, The Black Sox scandal saw some members of that team, who still played a pretty good series, throw it, nearly devastating the sport as a result.  This before the advent of radio play by play, when the news of the game, for most people, would have come in the form of the newspaper.

The 1919 Chicago White Sox before the disastrous "Black Sox" scandal.

Americans weren't just avidly following baseball in the late 19th Century and early 20th, however. They were also following the other major American sport of the era. . . . boxing.

Boxing, in recent years, has darned near died as a popular professional sport.  I would never have guessed that would have occurred when I was a kid.  Boxing was really popular up through the 1970s, and it seems that many, many people, men and women, followed at least the heavy weight boxers.  Sonny Liston, Mohammed Ali, George Frazier, etc, were all major sporting figures and televised boxing was very popular.  It had its critics to be sure, but it wouldn't have seemed obvious to anyone in the 1970s when Mohammed Ali engaged in banter with Howard Cosell that the sport would collapse in on itself like it has.  Now Ali is a sad shadow of his former self, likely demonstrating the effects of repeated poundings in the ring and Cosell is gone.  Boxing does not appear on network sporting television anymore.  I don't ever pick up Sports Illustrated (which seems to me to also sort of be a sad shadow of it former self) but I haven't noticed a stop action photo of boxing, sweat flying off the face of a boxer getting struck, as was so often the case in the covers of the 60s and 70s.

If boxing was big in the 60s and 70s, it was simply enormous in the 1890 to 1950 era. 

Boxing is an ancient sport, even as a professional sport, with champions in the UK going back to the 18th Century.  It had a huge following in the Western World and in some ways may be regarded as the first international sport.  A certain gentlemanly glamor attached to it at some point fairly early on, in spite of its undeniably brutal nature, and it had its own super stars very early on.  In the late 19th Century bare knuckle boxing gave the world one of the very first such sports super starts, the legendary John L. Sullivan, who became the last boxer to be a heavyweight champion under the London Prize Rules.

Sullivan defended the world's last real bare knuckle championship in 1882.  He'd been champion since 1889.  He was, at that point, undefeated and didn't fight a defense of his title for fifteen years, when he went on to fight Gentlemen Jim Corbett under the Marquess de Queensbury Rules, thereby signalling the end of the bare knuckle era.  This was ironic, perhaps, because most of Sullivan's matches had in fact been fought under the Queensbury rules with gloves, with only three being bare knuckle.  At any rate, Sullivan lost and Corbett became the new champion.  Sullivan went into semi-retirement after that and died at age 59, the results of over eating, over drinking, and boxing.

Boxing was also the one of the first integrated professional sport, acquiring that status long before baseball or football (with football obtaining it before baseball).  It didn't integrate without controversy, but it did integrate.  Something about the one vs. one nature of it probably made that inevitable.

Boxing also gave Americans, and indeed sports fans worldwide, one of the, if not the, first international black super star, Jack Johnson.  Johnson is sometimes inaccurately remembered as the world's first black champion, which he was not.   He was the first black heavyweight champion, however, and in the sport of boxing the heavyweights have always captured the public imagination, even while boxing fans tend to often admire the welterweights, and even the featherweights and bantamweights more.  The lighter boxers "box" more.  The heavier ones pound more.  I'm not sure what that says about the public as fans, but there you have it.

 Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion of the world, 1908, and the second black boxing champion.

Johnson was also popular because he was controversial.  A larger than life figure in an era of strong segregation, he ignored it and lived not only contrary to the color line but in many ways he lived in a way that couldn't help but draw a lot of attention.  Some have claimed that his disregard for societal boundaries damaged the cause of black athletes, and perhaps by extension American blacks in general, but I very much doubt that.  Chances are better that his refusal to adhere to such things helped them in the long run, as it required people to confront prejudices through a person who wouldn't honor them and who was obviously the best at his sport.  Which is not to say that his personal life was universally honorable, which would not be true.  Johnson was champion from 1908 through 1915.  He lost the title to Kansas cowboy Jess Willard in the 26th round of an intended 45 round fight in Havana.  He actually continued to fight up until age 60, but engaged in at least one war bond promotion fight in 1945, at age 68.  He died in a car wreck in 1946.

Johnson is remarkable in numerous ways.  Once again, from our prospective here, he's remarkable in that he was a sports super hero, or super villan, prior to the radio age.  People weren't following his fights on the radio or television, they were reading about him in the newspaper, and yet he was widely known, widely followed, and widely vilified.  His personal life was followed, which is truly remarkable for a character so early in the modern sports era (which this really was).

And, perhaps, something about both of these widely followed, pre-broadcast sports, may say something about the pace of life.  Baseball, in the early era, was played all in the day. The phrase "day game" would have made no sense at all. They were all day games.  And boxing matches and baseball games were nearly unrestricted in terms of allotted time of play. Baseball still is, which is one of the reasons it has trouble as a televised sport.  Boxing no longer is.  The thought of a 45 round bout, like the 1915 title fight, or the even earlier no limit fights, would be unthinkable now. Of course, they'd be unthinkable not just because they'd be incapable of being broadcasted, but in the case of boxing, because a bout of that length would be unthinkably brutal.

Boxing, as noted, broke the color barrier before any other major professional sport, and that continued on into modern times.  If Johnson was a bit of a villain in the public imagination, Joe Lewis, the champion of the 1930s and 1940s, was an unqualified hero.  Some claim that Lewis repaired the damage that Johnson had done, but again, I don't think so.  I think Johnson paved the way for Lewis, but Lewis, in his own right advanced the cause of black athletes.

That cause was soon to be advanced, of course, not only by Lewis, but by the great amateur track and field athlete Jessie Owens.  We're not really looking at amateur sports here, but because this topic naturally leads to Owens, some mention of him should be made.  What's interesting here, with an athlete like Owens, is that at least by the 1930s people were following not only professional sports, but some amateur ones as well.  Owens may be the single greatest track and field athlete of all time, and he famously made a great showing in the 1936 Munich Olympics.  Coming before the era when amateur sports translated into wealth, however, he lived a fairly quiet life after the Olympics, working at fairly routine jobs in later years.  Chances are overwhelming that if he'd been born now, he would have been a wealthy man.  But, in his own era, he was mostly a man famous for his Olympic victories.  Indeed, sports greatness in general did not really equate to wealth in this time, even for professional athletes. That's a feature of the much more recent era.

It wouldn't be fair to say that boxing and baseball were the only professional sports, or sports in general, with wide followings in the early 20th Century.  Horse racing, at least compared to now, was a surprisingly widely followed sport, and the first half of the 20th Century gave us two of the most widely known race horses of all time, Seabiscuit and Phar Lap.  Both of those horse are part of remarkably similar Great Depression rags to riches stories, but the interesting thing about horse racing of that era is that it was very widespread and widely followed. Today it tends to be only really followed, by average sports fans, if a really dramatic Triple Crown event is in the offering.  

The legendary Australian race horse Phar Lap in 1930. Photo by Charles Danile Pratt

Interestingly, horse racing was also integrated early on in the sense that the human part of the racing team, the jockey, were sometimes black. African Americans had a major presence in the post Civil War history of the sport which is largely forgotten today, but which probably makes sense if we consider that the African American population was overwhelmingly rural and southern prior to the Great Depression.  Oliver Lewis, a trainer and a jockey, trained the winning horse in the very first Kentucky Derby, and black jockeys figured prominently at the Derby for years.  Isaac Murphy is still remembered as one of the greatest jockeys of all time.  Murphy was the first jockey to win three Kentucky Derbys and won a record 44% of all races he rode, a record that nobody has yet approached. 

It wasn't just conventional horses races that were followed in this early time frame.  Before World War Two there were a surprising number of long distance horse races in the United States. Several of these, for example, were held in Wyoming involving very long rides.  At least a couple of such races occurred with the starting point being Gillette Wyoming, and the finishing point being Denver Colorado.  At least one similar race went from Rock Springs Wyoming to Denver Colorado.  Endurance races still occur, but not really of a similar nature to these.

For that matter, local sports of certain types were very common prior to World War Two.  Polo, for example, was a huge deal in the United States Army.  I'd guess that most Army officers do not know this today, unless they are in the cavalry or artillery branch and attune to the mounted history of those branches, but it was simply enormous prior to World War Two.  Cavalry and artillery officers were avid participants in the sport, having picked it up from the British.  Not only did they participate, but they were encouraged to do so by the military.  This was also true of the National Guard, the only reserve of the Army up until after World War Two.  Cavalry and artillery National Guard units featured teams, some of which even played indoors. The ability for average men to be able to play the sport, otherwise an expensive endeavor, provided a major recruiting incentive for the Army and National Guard at the time.

Indeed, horses in general, and horse sports, were such a feature of Army life prior to World War Two that they provided an incentive or disincentive for some people to join, or to join various branches.  Men who hated horses, and of course there are people who do hate and fear them, shied away from military careers.  Presumably somebody who was allergic to them would have to.  Men who loved horses joined and sought assignment to the cavalry or artillery.  One famous World War Two general, with a career stretching back to prior to World War One, Terry Allen, retired immediately after World War Two, in spite of a brilliant wartime career, simply because he did not want to be an Army without horses.  His wife would claim that Gen. Allen loved horses, the Army, and her, in that order.

Rounding this out, I suppose, I should note a sport that features horses and cows, but was very regional in the period we're looking at, that being rodeo sports.  "Rodeo" itself, of course, is  not a sport, as it's a collection of sports that all are grouped into that event for presentation.  Rodeos got their start as sporting events in the late 19th Century and were big deals in the Western United States and Canada by the 1890s.  Now they've spread across the country, but well into the 20th Century they were really pretty much a Western deal, but a pretty steady feature of Western life.  The Professional Rodeo Cowboy's Association dates back to 1936, so at least by that time there were men who were making a career of it.  That a person could make a career out of being a rodeo cowboy in 1936 is notable in and of itself, as that was in the depths of the Great Depression.

Roughstock, Cheyenne Frontier Days, 1910.

I suppose, after all of that, the logical question would be, well. . . what's the point?  I don't know that I particularly have one, other than to look how the public fascination with certain sports has evolved over the years. We can easily track professional sports in the United States back well over 150 years, which is something that's amazing in and of itself, and perhaps says that the fascination with sports isn't anything new at all. ESPN may be relatively new, but what it taps into isn't.  People were avidly following certain professional sports in an era prior to automobiles, television or radio, meaning that people were following some sporting events by newspaper pretty avidly.  The sports page, apparently, isn't anything new at all.  And play that was at least somewhat cross country came in pretty early as well, as baseball teams were obviously riding the rails pretty early, and boxers going to some exotic venues. The types of sports that people routinely followed, however, have changed.  In the early 20th Century, people were following some sports  that took a very long time to reach a conclusion.  Baseball may be the classic example,  being a daytime game, with most games played during the weekday.   It takes hours to play, but that didn't stop it from being watched or followed.  Now, people follow sports that lend them selves to a compact televised segment, to some extent.  Or at least they seem to watch sports that take less time to watch and which are easy to televise.

It also seems to me to be the case that in some ways, perhaps very minor ways, people have less of a connection with the sports they follow now as opposed they did previously, although such an analysis can definitely be taken too far.  Be that as it may, professional athletes always stood apart as great athletes, but  it was somehow easier to imagine yourself as a Babe Ruth, or even a Ty Cobb, than it is to imagine yourself as a Peyton Manning. Perhaps that's in part because the professional athletes of former eras were not so separated from average people in terms of incomes, but perhaps it is also because they really were more average.  Or at least most of them were.  Most of us cannot imagine being a Jessie Owens or Jim Thorpe.  And in that earlier era a sport based on playing for hours on a grassy field, or racing a horse, was closer to what many people worked on or experienced everyday.  While professional sports have always been spectator in nature, I suspect that the spectators were a little closer to the participants at one time.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Today In Wyoming's History: September , 22, 25

I'm not really a fan of John F. Kennedy in general, or as President, but I was surprised when updating the local history podcast the other day to run across two speeches he delivered n Wyoming in 1960 and 1963.  Both were quite well written, and presumably delivered, and remain amazingly topical.

Here's the 1963 one:  Today In Wyoming's History: September 25:

1963  John F. Kennedy spoke at the University of Wyoming.  His address:

Senator McGee--my old colleague in the Senate, Gale McGee--Governor, Mr. President, Senator Mansfield, Senator Metcalf, Secretary Udall, ladies and gentlemen:

I want to express my appreciation to you for your warm welcome, to you, Governor, to the President of the University, to Senator McGee, and others. I am particularly glad to come on this conservation trip and have an opportunity to speak at this distinguished university, because what we are attempting to do is to develop the talents in our country which require, of course, education which will permit us in our time, when the conservation of our resources requires entirely different techniques than were required 50 years ago, when the great conservation movement began under Theodore Roosevelt--and these talents, scientific and social talents, must be developed at our universities.

I hope that all of you who are students here will recognize the great opportunity that lies before you in this decade, and in the decades to come, to be of service to our country. The Greeks once defined happiness as full use of your powers along lines of excellence, and I can assure you that there is no area of life where you will have an opportunity to use whatever powers you have, and to use them along more excellent lines, bringing ultimately, I think, happiness to you and those whom you serve.

What I think we must realize is that the problems which now face us and their solution are far more complex, far more difficult, far more subtle, require a far greater skill and discretion of judgment, than any of the problems that this country has faced in its comparatively short history, or any, really, that the world has faced in its long history. The fact is that almost in the last 30 years the world of knowledge has exploded. You remember that Robert Oppenheimer said that 8 or 9 out of 10 of all the scientists who ever lived, live today. This last generation has produced nearly all of the scientific breakthroughs, at least relatively, that this world of ours has ever experienced. We are alive, all of us, while this tremendous explosion of knowledge, which has expanded the horizon of our experience, so far has all taken 'place in the last 30 years.

If you realize that when Queen Victoria sent for Robert Peel to be Prime Minister-he was in Rome--the journey which he took from Rome to London took him the same amount of time, to the day, that it had taken the Emperor Hadrian to go from Rome to England nearly 1900 years before. There had been comparatively little progress made in almost 1900 years in the field of knowledge. Now, suddenly, in the last 100 years, but most particularly in the last 30 years, all that is changed, and all of this knowledge is brought to bear, and can be brought to bear, in improving our lives and making the life of our people more happy, or destroying them. And that problem is the one, of course, which this generation of Americans and the next must face: how to use that knowledge, how to make a social discipline out of it.

There is really not much use in having science and its knowledge confined to the laboratory unless it comes out into the mainstream of American and world life, and only those who are trained and educated to handle knowledge and the disciplines of knowledge can be expected to play a significant part in the life of their country. So, quite obviously, this university is not maintained by the people of Wyoming merely to help all of the graduates enjoy a prosperous life. That may come, that may be a byproduct, but the people of Wyoming contribute their taxes to the maintenance of this school in order that the graduates of this school may, themselves, return to the society which helped develop them some of the talents which that society has made available, and what is true in this State is true across the United States.

The reason why, at the height of the Civil War, when the preservation of the Union was in doubt, Abraham Lincoln signed the Land Grant College Act, which has built up the most extraordinary educational system in the world, was because he knew that a nation could not exist and be ignorant and free; and what was true 100 years ago is more true today. So what we have to decide is how we are going to manage the complicated social and economic and world problems which come across our desks-my desk, as President of the United States; the desk of the Senators, as representatives of the States; the Members of the House, as representatives of the people.

But most importantly, as the final power is held by a majority of the people, how the majority of the people are going to make their judgment on the wise use of our resources, on the correct monetary and fiscal policy, what steps we should take in space, what steps we should take to develop the resources of the ocean, what steps we should take to manage our balance of payments, what we should do in the Congo or Viet-Nam, or in Latin America, all these areas which come to rest upon the United States as the leading great power of the world, with the determination and the understanding to recognize what is at stake in the world--all these are problems far more complicated than any group of citizens ever had to deal with in the history of the world, or any group of Members of Congress had to deal with.

If you feel that the Members of Congress were more talented 100 years ago, and certainly the Senators in the years before the Civil War included the brightest figures, probably, that ever sat in the Senate--Benton, Clay, Webster, Calhoun, and all the rest-they talked, and at least three of them stayed in the Congress 40 years--they talked for 40 years about four or five things: tariffs and the development of the West, land, the rights of the States and slavery, Mexico. Now we talk about problems in one summer which dwarf in complexity all of those matters, and we must deal with them or we will perish.

So I think the chance for an educated graduate of this school to serve his State and country is bright. I can assure you that you are needed.

This trip that I have taken is now about 24 hours old, but it is a rewarding 24 hours because there is nothing more encouraging than for those of us to leave the rather artificial city of Washington and come and travel across the United States and realize what is here, the beauty, the diversity, the wealth, and the vigor of the people.

Last Friday I spoke to delegates from all over the world at the United Nations. It is an unfortunate fact that nearly every delegate comes to the United States from all around the world and they make a judgment on the United States based on an experience in New York or Washington; and rarely do they come West beyond the Mississippi, and rarely do they go to California, or to Hawaii, or to Alaska. Therefore, they do not understand the United States, and those of us who stay only in Washington sometimes lose our comprehension of the national problems which require a national solution.

This country has become rich because nature was good to us, and because the people who came from Europe, predominantly, also were among the most vigorous. The basic resources were used skillfully and economically, and because of the wise work done by Theodore Roosevelt and others, significant progress was made in conserving these resources.
The problem, of course, now is that the whole concept of conservation must change in the 1960's if we are going to pass on to the 350 million Americans who will live in this country in 40 years where 180 million Americans now live--if we are going to pass on a country which is even richer.

The fact of the matter is that the management of our natural resources instead of being primarily a problem of conserving them, of saving them, now requires the scientific application of knowledge to develop new resources. We have come to. realize to a large extent that resources are not passive. Resources are not merely something that was here, put by nature. Research tells us that previously valueless materials, which 10 years ago were useless, now can be among the most valuable natural resources of the United States. And that is the most significant fact in conservation now since the early 1900's when Theodore Roosevelt started his work. A conservationist's first reaction in those days was to preserve, to hoard, to protect every non-renewable resource. It was the fear of resource exhaustion which caused the great conservation movement of the 1900's. And this fear was reflected in the speeches and attitudes of our political leaders and their writers.

This is not surprising in the light of the technology of that time, but today that approach is out of date, and I think this is an important fact for the State of Wyoming and the Rocky Mountain States. It is both too pessimistic and too optimistic. We need no longer fear that our resources and energy supplies are a fixed quantity that can be exhausted in accordance with a particular rate of consumption. On the other hand, it is not enough to put barbed wire around a forest or a lake, or put in stockpiles of minerals, or restrictive laws and regulations on the exploitation of resources. That was the old way of doing it.

Our primary task now is to increase our understanding of our environment to a point where we can enjoy it without defacing it, use its bounty without detracting permanently from its value, and, above all, maintain a living balance between man's actions and nature's reactions, for this Nation's great resources are as elastic and productive as our ingenuity can make them. For example, soda ash is a multimillion dollar industry in this State. A few years ago there was no use for it. It was wasted. People were unaware of it. And even if it had been sought, it could not be found--not because it wasn't here, but because effective prospecting techniques had not been developed. Now soda ash is a necessary ingredient in the production of glass, steel, and other products. As a result of a series of experiments, of a harnessing of science to the use of man, this great new industry has opened up. In short, conservation is no longer protection and conserving and restricting. The balance between our needs and the availability of our resources, between our aspirations and our environment, is constantly changing.

One of the great resources which we are going to find in the next 40 years is not going to be the land; it will be the ocean. We are going to find untold wealth in the oceans of the world which will be used to make a better life for our people. Science is changing all of our natural environment. It can change it for good; it can change it for bad. We are pursuing, for example, new opportunities in coal, which have been largely neglected--examining the feasibility of transporting coal by water through pipelines, of gasification at the mines, of liquefaction of coal into gasoline, and of transmitting electric power directly from the mouth of the mine. The economic feasibility of some of these techniques has not been determined, but it will be in the next decade. At the same time, we are engaged in active research on better means of using low grade coal, to meet the tremendous increase in the demand for coal we are going to find in the rest of this century. This is, in effect, using science to increase our supply of a resource of which the people of the United States were totally unaware 50 years ago.

Another research undertaking of special concern to this Nation and this State is the continuing effort to develop practical and feasible techniques of converting oil shale into usable petroleum fuels. The higher grade deposits in Wyoming alone are equivalent to 30 billion barrels of oil, and 200 billion barrels in the case of lower grade development. This could not be used, there was nothing to conserve, and now science is going to make it possible.

Investigation is going on to assure at the same time an adequate water supply so that when we develop this great new industry we will be able to use it and have sufficient water. Resource development, therefore, requires not only the coordination of all branches of science, it requires the joint effort of scientists, government--State, national, and local--and members of other professional disciplines. For example, we are now examining in the United States today the mixed economic-technical question of whether very large-scale nuclear reactors can produce unexpected savings in the simultaneous desalinization of water and the generation of electricity. We will have, before this decade is out or sooner, a tremendous nuclear reactor which makes electricity and at the same time gets fresh water from salt water at a competitive price. What a difference this can make to the Western United States. And, indeed, not only the United States, but all around the globe where there are so many deserts on the ocean's edge.

It is in efforts, I think, such as this, where the National Government can play a significant role, where the scale of public investment or the nationwide scope of the problem, the national significance of the results are too great to ignore or which cannot always be carried out by private research. Federal funds and stimulation can help make the most imaginative and productive use of our manpower and facilities. The use of science and technology in these fields has gained understanding and support in the Congress. Senator Gale McGee has proposed an energetic study of the technology of electrometallurgy--the words are getting longer as the months go on, and more complicated-an area of considerable importance to the Rocky Mountains.

All this, I think, is going to change the life of Wyoming and going to change the life of the United States. What we regard now as relative well-being, 30 years from now will be regarded as poverty. When you realize that 30 years ago r out of 10 farms had electricity, and yet some farmers thought that they were living reasonably well, now for a farm not to have electricity, we regard them as living in the depths of poverty. That is how great a change has come in 30 years. In the short space of 18 years, really, or almost 20 years, the wealth of this country has gone up 300 percent.

In 1970, 1980, 1990, this country will be, can be, must be--if we make the proper decisions, if we manage our resources, both human and material, wisely, if we make wise decisions in the Nation, in the State, in the community, and individually, if we maintain a vigorous and hopeful 'pursuit of life and knowledge--the resources of this country are so unlimited and science is expanding them so greatly that all those people who thought 40 years ago that this country would be exhausted in the middle of the century have been proven wrong. It is going to be richer than ever, providing we make the wise decisions and we recognize that the future belongs to those who seize it.

Knowledge is power, a saying 500 years old, but knowledge is power today as never before, not only here in the United States, but the future of the free world depends in the final analysis upon the United States and upon our willingness to reach those decisions on these complicated matters which face us with courage and clarity. And the graduates of this school will, as they have in the past, play their proper role.

I express my thanks to you. This building which 15 years ago was just a matter of conversation is now a reality. So those things that we talk about today, which seem unreal, where so many people doubt that they can be done--the fact of the matter is, it has been true all through our history--they will be done, and Wyoming, in doing it, will play its proper role.

Thank you.

And this one from 1960:

 Today In Wyoming's History: September 23:

1960  Senator John F. Kennedy, Presidential candidate, spoke in Cheyenne.  His speech stated:

My friend and colleague, Senator McGee, your distinguished Governor, Governor Hickey, Secretary of State Jack Gage, your State Chairman, Teno Roncalio, your National Committeeman, Tracy McCraken and Mrs. McCraken; your next United States Senator, Ray Whitaker, your next United States Congressman, Hep Armstrong, ladies and gentlemen: I first of all want to express on behalf of my sister and myself my great gratitude to all of you for being kind enough to have this breakfast and make it almost lunch. (Laughter) I understand from Tracy that some of you have driven nearly three or four hundred miles to be here this morning. Yesterday morning we were in Iowa, and since that time we have been in five states, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Colorado, and now Wyoming. We have come, therefore, all of us, great distances, and I think we have come great distances since the Democratic Convention at Los Angeles. I know that Wyoming is a small state, relatively, but it is a fact that Wyoming, which was not talked about as a key state in the days before the convention, when they were talking about what California and what Pennsylvania and what New York, and Illinois would do at the convention, not very many people talked about what Wyoming would do, and yet, as you know Wyoming did it.
So you can expect in other days, other candidates, will all be coming here. I don't know whether it is going to be that close in November. I don't know whether Mr. Nixon and I will be three votes apart, but it is possible we will be. If so, Wyoming having gotten us this far, we would like to have you take us the rest of the way on November 8. (Applause)
My debt of gratitude, therefore, to everyone in this room and everyone at the head table, goes very deep. As Gail said, I have been to this state five times. My brother, Teddy, has been here ten times, and I think that the Kennedys have a high regard and affection for the State of Wyoming

Bobby has been here, I guess, several times. We have been here more than we have been to New York State. I don't know what the significance is, but in any case, I am delighted to be back here this morning. (Applause) I am delighted to be here because this is an important election, and because Wyoming elects not only a President of the United States this year, but it elects a United States Senator and a Congressman. The Electoral College and the organization of the states is an interesting business. New York has 15 million people, Wyoming has 300,000 people; you have one Congressman, they have many Congressmen – you have more than that? (Laughter) Odd people? Well, they have a few in New York, I guess. (Laughter) But in any case, you have two Senators and New York has two Senators. This causes a great deal of heartburn in New York but it should be a source of pride and satisfaction to you that when Wyoming votes, it votes the same number of United States Senators as the State of New York, and the State of Massachusetts, and the State of California. All states are equal, and, therefore, the responsibility on the people of Wyoming is to make sure that they send members to the United States Senate who speak not only for Wyoming, who serve not only as ambassadors from this state, but also speak for the United States and speak for the public interest, and that, I think has been the contribution which Senator O'Mahoney has made to the United States Senate and Gail McGee now makes. They speak for this state, they speak for its interests, they speak for its development, they speak for its needs, but they also speak for the country. And, therefore, our system works, and Wyoming and the United States flourish together
I think we have a chance to carry on that tradition. To send as a successor to Senator O'Mahoney, who grew up in Chelsea, Massachusetts, and who saw the wisdom and came west, I think we have a chance to carry on that tradition when you elect Ray Whitaker as United States Senator next November 8.
Actually, as you know, the Constitution of the Untied States confines and limits the power of Senators. We are given the right to approve Presidential nominations, and to ratify treaties. But the House of Representatives is given the two great powers which are the hallmark of a self-governing society: One, the power to appropriate money, and the second is the power to levy taxes. If you don't like the way your taxes are, if you don't like the way your money is being spent, write to the House of Representatives, not to the United States Senate, because our powers and responsibilities are somewhat different. Therefore in sending a man to fulfill these two functions, we want a man of responsibility and competence and energy. I therefore am sure that the people of this state will send to the House of Representatives to share in the great constitutional powers given to that body, Hep Armstrong, with whom I served in the Navy and hope to serve in the Government of the United States next November.
During this campaign, there are many efforts made to divide domestic and foreign problems and I don't hold that view. I think there is a great interrelationship between the problems which face us here in the United States and the problems which face us around the world. I think if the United States is moving ahead here at home the United States power and prestige in the world will be strong. If we are standing still here at home, then we stand still around the world. I think in other words, as Gail McGee suggested, that the 14 points of Woodrow Wilson were the logical extension of the New Freedom here in the United States. (Applause) And the Good Neighbor Policy of Franklin Roosevelt had its counterpart in his domestic policy of the New Deal. And the Marshall Plan and NATO and the Truman Doctrine carried out in foreign policy under the administration of Harry Truman and Point IV, all had their logical extension in the domestic policy of President Truman here in the United States. I say that because I think that there is a direct relationship between the efforts that we make here in the Sixties, here in the West, here in the State of Wyoming, here in the United States, and what we do around the world.
Two days ago I spent the day in Tennessee. I think that there is a direct relationship between what was done in the Tennessee Valley by Franklin Roosevelt and the Democratic Party in the Thirties, and what other countries in Africa and the Middle East and Asia are attempting to do to develop their own natural resources. I stand and you stand today in the middle of the Great Plains of the United States. There are great plains in Africa, and in my judgment Africa will be one of the keys to the future. The people of Africa want to develop their resources. They want to develop their resources of the great plains of Africa and they look to see what to do here to develop the resources, of the Great Plains of the United States.
I don't think that there can be any greater disservice to the cause of the United States and the cause of freedom than for any political party at this watershed of history to put forward a policy for developing the resources of the United States of no new starts. I don't say that we can do everything in the Sixties, but I say we can move and start and go ahead, and I think it is that spirit which separates our two parties.
I come from Massachusetts, but it is a source of satisfaction and pride that the two Americans who did more to develop the resources of the West both came from New York, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt, and they did it because they saw it not as a state problem, not as a regional problem, but as a national opportunity, and it is in that spirit that I look to the future of the Great Plains of the United States in the Sixties.
We are going to have over 300 million people living in this country in the year 2000. Many of them will live in this state. We are going to have to make sure that we pass on to our children a country which is using natural resources given to us by the Lord to the maximum; that every drop of water that flows to the ocean first serves a useful and beneficial purpose; that the resources of the land are used, whether it is agriculture or whether it is oil or minerals; that we move ahead here in the West and move ahead here in the United States. I think that there is a direct relationship between the policy of no new starts in developing our water and power resources, and irrigation and reclamation and conservation, and the fact that our agricultural income has dropped so sharply in the United States in recent years, and the fact that we are using our steel capacity 50 per cent of capacity. Pittsburgh, Wyoming, Montana, Wisconsin are all tied together. A rising tide lifts all the boats. If we are moving ahead here in the West, if we are moving ahead in agriculture, if we are moving ahead in industry, if we have an administration that looks ahead, then the country prospers. But if one section of the country is strangled, if one section of the country is standing still, then sooner or later a dropping tide drops all the boats, whether the boats are in Boston or whether they are in this community.
I can assure you that if we are successful that we plan to move ahead as a national administration, with the support of the Congress, in using and developing the resources which our country has. This is a struggle, not only for a better standard of living for our people, but it is also a showcase. As Edmund Burke said about England in his day, "We sit on a conspicuous stage", what we do here, what we fail to do, affects the cause of freedom around the world. Therefore, I can think of no more sober obligation on the next administration and the next President and the next Congress than to move ahead in this country, develop our resources, prevent the blight which is going to stain the development of the West unless we make sure that everything that we have here is used usefully for our people.
The Tennessee Valley in Tennessee, the Northwest Power Development, the resources of Wyoming, all harnessed together, the Missouri River, the Columbia River, the Mississippi River, the Tennessee River - all of them harnessed together serve as a great network of strength, a stream of strength in this country which is going to be tested to its utmost. So I come here today not saying that the future is easy, but saying that the future can be bright. I don't take the view that everything that is being done is being done to the maximum. I think the difference between the Republicans and the Democrats in 1960 is that we both think it is a great country, but we think it must be greater. We both think it is a powerful country, but we think it must be more powerful. We both think it stands as the sentinel at the gate for freedom, but we think we can do a better job. I think that has been true of our party ever since the administration of Theodore Roosevelt, and I think we can do a job in the Sixties.
I have asked Senator Magnuson, who is the Chairman of our Resources Advisory Committee, to hold a conference on resources and mineral use here in the City of Casper in the State of Wyoming during the coming weeks, because I think we should identify ourselves in the coming weeks with the kind of programs we are going to carry out in January. If there is any lesson which history has taught of the administrations of Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt, it is the essentiality of previous planning for successful action by a new administration. Unless we decide now what we are going to do in January, February, March and April, if we should be successful, we will fail to use the golden time which the next administration will have. I come here today speaking not for Wyoming or Massachusetts, but speaking for a national party which believes in the future of our country, which will devote its energies to building its strength, and by building our strength here we build the cause of freedom around the world. Thank you.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Holscher's Hub: Hidden America?

A comment I posted on the companion blog, Holscher's Hub: Hidden America?:

I won't repost this in its entirely there, but tapping into the theme of this blog, and noting my surprise on how the NPR interview focused on jobs that are very common and open here, but which tend to catch, apparently, a lot of  (urban) people off-guard, this once again taps into the topic of evolving trends in the time frame this blog focuses on.

All the jobs referenced in the NPR interview, which the author regarded as "hidden", were either rural occupations or manual ones, to some degree.  To anyone living here, in Wyoming, they'd all be quite familiar and far from hidden. But perhaps it is the case that to the author and interviewer they were.  They certainly seemed sincere.

If so, another interesting element of it, in addition to what I noted about it in the original post, is that it shows a real evolution in employment over the past century, or even the past half century.  Being a farm worker, or working with animals, like a cow hand, would hardly have been regarded as novel in the mid 20th Century, let alone shocking.  Likewise, having men engaged in heavy industry or industrial labor wouldn't be surprising either, as it apparently is to some.  It obviously isn't as unusual now as people might suppose, but at the same time, employment has moved into the cities and offices to such an extent, apparently many people no longer recognize that.

Prices - FRED - St. Louis Fed

An interesting look at prices over time:

Prices - FRED - St. Louis Fed

Middle Class

This being an election season, there's a lot of news about the "shrinking middle class".  Given the historical focus of this blog, I got to thinking about that and wondered where the "middle class" fit in historic terms in this country, and in the Western World in general.  Who were they, and what percentage of the population were they?  It turns out to be a much more complicated topic than a person might suppose.  That doesn't mean that it isn't shrinking in the US, it is, and that is indeed disturbing.  At the same time, the middle class is increasing globally, which is a good thing.  Not much noticed in the news, for example, is the fact that for the first time in Mexico's history the middle class is the largest class in that country, having replaced the poor in that category. Nonetheless, even defining what the middle class is is surprisingly tricky.  Indeed, defining the poor is tricky too, or the wealthy, with definitions varying depending upon where you are in the world.  That later fact probably explains much of the difficult Western nations have grasping the concerns of poorer ones, fwiw.

 Rich and Poor.  Harper's, 1873.

The terms seems to have been first used in the United Kingdom in 1745, appearing for the first time in print as a mere observation, but which shows that, at that point in English history, it was not possible to speak of the well off and everyone else.  This is probably not surprising as industry hit the United Kingdom very early, and while 1745 would not fit into the period of the British industrial revolution, develops that would lead to it were definitely occurring.  This was giving rise to a skilled class of "mechanics" and a merchant class in towns and cities.  Political developments in the United Kingdom in the 19th Century would also see the restoration of British yeomanry, an independent farming class.  All this gave rise to a British definition of the middle class being:
A class of society or social grouping between an upper and a lower (or working) class, usually regarded as including professional and business people and their families; (in sing. and pl.) the members of such a class
Oxford English Dictionary.

It can't be said, however, that this analysis would make very much sense in American terms.  The United States probably had a middle class, as we'd understand it, from day one.  The US had a very large yeoman class everywhere, in some regions the yeomanry did quite well, which is not to say that there were not many poor, including poor yeomen.  By definition, yeoman were independent free holding farmers.  That was something that it was nearly impossible to achieve in the European nations prior to the revolutions of 1798 and 1845, and which was very difficult to achieve in the UK prior to the political reforms of the 19th Century.  But in North America, acquiring land was easy.  Making the land into something was much more difficult, but the first thing you needed to become a freeholding landowner, land, was readily available.  And, because it was available, the fact that others might have enormous land holdings wouldn't mean that a person would necessarily be held up just because there was a wealthy landowner in the neighborhood.

 Plow boy, literally.  Child plowing.

All that diminishes the very hard work that being a freeholding farmer entailed, or that being a homesteader entailed, but nonetheless it's significant in terms of economic history.  It was simply much easier to become what we'd now regard as middle class in North America, whether that would be by farming, or by way of some other means.  As one grandchild or Russian Jewish immigrants, who became ranchers, told me about the homesteading; "It was a good deal for poor people."  It was probably easier to become rich as well, but most people did not achieve that by any means.  Also, for what its worth, it was easier to escape debt in the United States than it was in Europe, and many people did that.  If debt became too oppressive, they simply moved West, leaving their creditors behind.  That was a fairly common story.

Trying to get back to the period we typically look at here, the late 19th Century and the first half of the 20th Century, it would certainly be the case that there were many poor people (and there have, of course always been poor people) in North America.  During that period of time too, the US began to shift to an industrial economy as well.  The Frontier was regarded as officially "closed" by the Census Bureau, on a statistical basis, as early as 1890 and by the Presidential election of 1904 the concerns of farmers who were becoming increasingly unable to economically stay on the land were already a concern.  In towns and cities there were increasingly poor industrial classes, often, but not always, made up of desperately poor recent immigrants to the United States.  Of course, in the rural South an entire rural demographic at this time, blacks, were poor due to the history of that region.

 Typical 19th Century Nebraska homestead.

All of this is not to say that there were not poor people in the US from day one, but to try to attempt to define the character of poverty.  So, from early on, and stopping our consideration of the topic at about 1929 or so, there were poor in the country, but who were they?  Some were just folks down on their luck, but also there were large groups of recent immigrants who were poor due to their circumstances in other countries .  And there were, of course, American blacks, who had largely remained in poverty, and largely in the South as well at this point in time. Often, the poor were desperately poor, but they (again excluding blacks whose story is different in these regards) could look forward to escaping their poverty, or having their children escape it, relatively quickly.  In other words, as demographic groups, the immigrants weren't in a permanent condition of poverty, save for blacks, who largely were.  There was also a new poor class of industrial workers.  As we march into the 20th Century, we continued to see the escape valve of homesteading available to many, and many thousands used it (with quite a few failing).
 Rich and Poor. Two Christmas Dinners.  1873.

But in some ways, that raises the question we raised at the onset, and still haven't answered. That is what was poverty and who were the poor?  And what was the middle class?

It would seem fairly apparent that the middle class probably didn't recognize themselves as such until after World War One, although the term was clearly established by the Great Depression.  Prior to that, they probably just generally conceived of themselves as "average", or perhaps "doing well", and not "poor" or "rich".  Even now, defining these terms is difficult, except when you get to the extreme ends of the conditions.  As Jean Singleterry recently explored in her column in the Washington Post  the definition is surprisingly flexible even now.  The US government has a statistical definition of poverty as including families of four where the annual income basically falls below $25,000 per year, which undoubtedly would put a family in distress in modern times.  A common definition of middle class defines that class as falling between $24,000 and $100,000.  Probably a lot of people down at the $25,000 range, however, can legitimately consider themselves poor.  People making double the top figure of $100,000 probably don't generally regard themselves as rich.

Speaker in front of Congress urging Middle Class support for democracy, 1938.  The 1930s were the high water mark of socialist support in the US, which was never great, but which did spark fears in the Middle Class and Upper Classes that the Lower Class would find it appealing.

According to some other definitions, "middle class" isn't solely defined by income but largely by culture, but with a necessary education element, formal and informal, worked in. This view holds that the middle class are a group of people characterized by a level of education that allows them, or causes them, to have a certain outlook towards a large number of things.  In some ways, this view of the "middle class" gets back to Jefferson's view of the Yeoman, in that the view is that their well aware, interested in society and politics, generally fairly well educated, and have incomes that match the the rest.  If this view is correct it would necessarily mean that the modern poor have a different culture in some ways.

This view is, once again, the view that Singleterry takes in her recent article, in that she pointed out that both Presidential candidates are off the mark when they recollect their "poor" days.  With their respective educations at least, both were guaranteed to rise out of the bottom income level.  While NPR also recently ran a story on a Harvard Law graduate who ended up on the streets, Singleterry's point is very well taken.  With a Harvard Law degree it would be virtually impossible to be really poor unless a person worked at it or fell victim to highly odd, or perhaps self inflicted, circumstances.  Likewise, lest it seem that I'm picking just on Mr. Obama, it would also have been nearly impossible for Mitt Romney to be really poor, given his background and education.  Failure, in terms of these people, would have been remaining in the Middle Class.

 Girls employed crocheting in the days prior to labor laws.

Indeed, in an article that ran not all that long ago in the Casper Star Tribune, Mary Biliter, whose articles I generally don't really like (maudlin and self indulgent, in my view) made an interesting observation about a study she'd recently read which essentially stated, she claimed, that it was almost impossible for members of the Middle Class to fall out of it.  I meant to read that study, but have now lost the data on it.  I find that statement suspect, as I believe I've seen that actually occur in real life, and statistically it seems to be occurring to a lot of people, but there's probably something to it.  With a certain world outlook, including a long term outlook, certain shared values, and a certain education, formal and informal, they should have a general advantage.

 Young children of tenant farmer, working tobacco.

Which again gets me back, I think, to the point I started out with, or was trying to explore.   According to at least one knowledgeable person I know, "Middle Class" in earlier years lived much closer to that lower poverty line.  Indeed, the suggestion was made that most in the Middle Class lived near that line and had little in the way of surplus income, for the most part.  I suspect that's true.  Incomes were more stretched on the whole in earlier years.  Many fewer people made it up out of the Middle Class into the wealthy at all.  The economic vehicle into the Middle Class tended to be through labor of all types, and that labor was also shared in many instances by the poor, although perhaps on a less expansive or less skilled way.  And immigrant populations that made up large numbers of the poor were also those entering the Middle Class, so the cultural tie was strong.  Indeed, that strong cultural tie, where it existed, was a primary vehicle for assisting those classses out of poverty.
Skilled foundry worker, a middle class occupation, in the 1930s.

Well, this has been extraordinary rambling and probably exceedingly dull.  The point was to try to look at who we regard as poor, middle class, or rich in earlier eras, and it probably didn't work, other than to perhaps suggest that its sort of a complicated question.  I guess what we end up with, in the context of the time considered here, is that the Middle Class were poorer than they are today, the poor were as poor as they are today, or poorer, but demographic factors in that poverty were particularly predominant.  As discussed elsewhere, college education was very much less a factor in obtaining middle class status than it is now and that land provided a significant vehicle for many, which it has ceased to do today, as obtaining low cost agricultural land is an impossibility now.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Sickness and Health

A while back here I posted an item on life expectancy, noting in that the common assumption that "people are living longer" is incorrect.  People aren't living longer, as I noted, but they aren't dieing as young from disease, illnesses and accidents.  That may seem to be a distinction without a difference, but it isn't.  The big change that yields the increase in life expectancy is created by a lot of people no longer dieing as young as they once did. As life expectancy is an average, that moves the average up. The fact that its moved so far up, shows the stunning level of progress on medical matters in the 20th Century.

That's probably obvious to everyone, but it's hard to appreciate unless and until you have first hand examples.  A variety of things has really pointed this out to me recently.

One is that I came across a photo of my father's father.  My own father died rather young in my view, he was only in his early 60s. But his father was only in his late 40s.  By my understanding, the cause of his death had to due with the results of high blood pressure, that most likely being a fatal stroke.  He was otherwise healthy, but at that time this simply could not be treated.  A co-worker of mine, in his 80s, once related to me that this is what had resulted in his own father's death at a relatively young age. 

The same condition, in a more famous example, lead to the early death of Col. Charles Young, one of the first black Army officers in the U.S. Army.  It's often been noted that he was medically retired at the start of World War One, with the common assertion being that this was due to prejudice, which it may have been.  He undertook an Ohio to Washington D. C. horse ride to prove he was fit.  He was ultimately brought back into the service and posted as the military attache to Liberia, where he did indeed die of a stroke at a relatively young age.

For that matter, most heart conditions undoubtedly went wholly undiagnosed.   People lived with them until they had a heat attack, and often that was fatal.

Recently some of my cousins have been looking at family history that I've been unaware of, and I've started to run across similar things in the stories they are uncovering.  One of my maternal g-great grandfathers, for example, died at age 52.  This was byproduct of rheumatic fever, which had weakened his heart, even though he'd recovered from the disease itself.  His wife, then in her early 40s, was pregnant at the time with her 12th child.  It must have been a nightmare of epic proportions for her, facing the death of her spouse with all support suddenly removed.  She lived on in to her 90s.

And, of course, it isn't just death in those years that we'd now regard as shockingly untimely.  Early death was common too.  One of the 12 children mentioned just above died as an infant.  My grandmother on my mother's side had her last birth result in a death of the child during the birth, a not uncommon experience at that time.  Continuing on, in looking at my mother's great aunts and uncles, one of them, the one she is named for, died in her late teens or early 20s in the 1918 flu epidemic that killed so many young people around the globe.

This doesn't even begin to touch on people who lived with injuries that we'd regard as debilitating but treatable.  By some estimates, conditions of this type afflicted the majority of American males over age forty, during the late 19th Century.  Some of these conditions ultimately lead to early death.   Perhaps most of those conditions contributed to that to some degree.  Even when they did not, living with a chronic conditions was a much more common situation for people then, as opposed to now.  Cataracts, for example, simply blinded people up until some point in the 20th Century. Even when I was a kid it seemed like cataract surgery, which is now fairly common, was a terrible ordeal for people who underwent it.  Here again, I'm aware that my maternal great grandfather was blind in his later years.  He lived well into old age, so the condition is likely attributable to macular degeneration or cataracts, both of which are treatable, in varying degrees, today.

Indeed, when all of this is considered its likely that almost everyone was much more impacted by disease than today.  This does not mean that some did not live well into their advanced years.  Many did. But for those who sustained serious injuries, and for the many who just became sick or debilitated due to one of many things, there was much less that could be done.  There are still many who are so afflicted today, and we can hope and pray that medicine advances to treat the many ailments that continue to plague us.  At the same time, the degree to which life has changed in this way is truly remarkable.  God grant that this change continues.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Earthquakes - 7 days, M2.5+

Earthquakes - 7 days, M2.5+

Some friends of mine live in Costa Rica, which had an earthquake earlier today. They are all fine, but they brought my attention to this website. Quite informative, and a little dramatic, given that it details daily earthquake activity around the globe.

Glass Eyeglasses

These are my eyeglasses.

I need to get a new set of glasses.  The lenses on these are very badly scratched and, to add to it, I haven't been to the eye doctor for quite awhile.  I'm going soon.  I know that my correction has changed and, given as my lenses are so badly scratched, I need to get a new set of lenses anyhow.

The frames for these glasses are Bausch and Lomb rimless frames.  This particular set of frames probably dates from the 1950s.  They could be a bit older.  I really like this type of frame, of which I have several, as they're nice and light, and the lens is not very large.  When I started wearing eyeglasses, in junior high, it seemed that all the frames were enormous at the time, and it always bothered me.  I was afflicted with that type of lens, with periodic attempts to wear contact lenses, for many years.  It wasn't until I happened upon the idea of pressing my father's old frames into use that I finally found a type of frame I liked.  I was in law school at thee time.

These frames are also "temple frames".  I don't know the origin of the name, but temple frame glasses feature the hook type ear piece, which I also really like. Temple frames were originally designed for horsemen, as the glasses that featured them would not come accidentally, or at least were less likely too.  In my experience, this is absolutely correct.  I've come off horses wearing glasses, but I've never had the glasses come off.

Now, I'm afraid, I'm faced with a dilemma.  When I first started wearing glasses of this type, you could still get them made with real glass.  This is no longer true.  All rimless frames feature plastic lenses now due to safety concerns.  I don't know that there were really very many tragic accidents attributable to glass lenses in this type of frame, but the lenses will not pass a required test, which features dropping a steel ball on the lens from a certain height.  As glasses of this type either have a notch cut in the lens, or have a hole drilled in the lenses (two of each, actually) they have a built in weakness.  

Indeed, I had thought, some time ago, that you couldn't get real glass lenses at all, but I now believe that's not correct.  You can.  But not in rimless frames.  So my dilemma is whether or not to go with plastic again in these frames, which I really like, or to go with glass in some other frame.  If I did that, frankly, I'd look for an old pair of round wire rim glasses, which have a similar shape and profile, but which aren't quite as classy, in my view.  Or, alternatively, I could get plastic again and also try contact lenses again, thereby putting less wear and tear on the lenses.

Probably all involves a lot more pondering than most people bother with, for their eyeglasses. But then, I've been using these frames for over 20 years,  and they're over 50 years old, which is unusual in and of itself, no doubt.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Holscher's Hub: Russian Trials, Russian Protests, and Missing the ...

Holscher's Hub: Russian Trials, Russian Protests, and Missing the ...: I don't normally engage in political commentary here, but this seems to be the season for that, and by that I don't mean the U.S. President...