American History in 25 Words/Decades

Decade  Description
1770s -  Revolution
1780s -  Try-outs
1790s -  Foundation
1800s -  Expansion
1810s -  Rebranding
1820s -  Compromise
1830s -  Abolitionists
1840s -  Annexation
1850s -  Percolation
1860s -  Explosion
1870s -  Reconstruction
1880s -  Urbanization
1890s -  Immigration
1900s -  Assimilation
1910s -  Aggrandisement
1920s -  Electrifying
1930s -  Challenges
1940s -  Explosive
1950s -  Divisive
1960s -  Tumultuous
1970s -  Digitalization
1980s -  Reflection
1990s -  Exuberance
2000s -  Recovery
2010s -  Reconsiderations

My Father’s Book Hobby

Sometimes the obvious is overlooked…. In my previous post on Books and Libraries, I neglected to mention that when I was a youngster, in the 50s, my father took up the twin hobbies of printing and bookbinding. He purchased a small hand press and began accumulating dozens of lead fonts to use with it. He probably had way more than a hundred fonts when he ceased doing this. 

He enjoyed every aspect of printing, from the font selection and the ink mixing to the layout of the book to the painstaking setting of each page, proofreading, correcting, and then producing X copies (usually less than 100 for him) of each page, and there could be multiple “spreads” in a book. He would then hand sew the bindings on most, or use a printers (big-jawed) stapler for some.

On larger books, he would glue on the “end tapes” that are almost totally absent from books nowadays (look it up). He also had gold leaf to emboss the titles and authors on book covers, and would sometimes meticulously apply gold dust to the book page tops, sides, and bottoms (gold was cheaper in the 1950s - 1970s). His bookbinding experiments and achievements were awe-inspiring. It was intriguing to me to see all that went into the binding of a book (the cardboard base, the back webbing, the glues, the coverings, ranging from so many shades of cloth to leathers to whatever). He had them all on large cardboard tube rolls! And all this was in a half of a basement, which shared the washer/dryer AND his metal lathe, plus his workbench, PLUS his warren of an office/study. But it was “very heaven.” 

My father (Roger Edmund Schell) also printed annual Calendars, which were masterpieces of invention. They stood on a heavy black “tent” (about 4” x 7”)  with metal rings on top that were open at the back. Every year, the dozen or two or five dozen (all his work mates when he was still working as an electrical engineer at RCA, at the Sarnoff Labs when he retired in 1977) who had the tents would get a new set of calendar pages to replace the old ones. In addition to the days of the month and phases of the moon, I think each day had sunrise and sunset times for his meridian and latitude (Woodbury, NJ), plus a few other things represented by abbrevs. or symbols. 

We treasured these calendars. Sadly, about ten years before he died in the late 90s when he was in his mid-80s, he became too senile to carry on. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Books and Libraries

Over a period of 40 years I have amassed a personal library of about 5,000 volumes: mostly non-fiction, but some fiction of all kinds, and a wide variety of scholarly and non-scholarly monographs. Having recently downsized my accommodations, I had to weed out about 1,500 of these books, which was a very difficult project. Basically, many of the books I kept to “read in my retirement” I could now safely jettison, since the heart of the collection will occupy my remaining years (hopefully 20 more good ones…). Yes, some of them did not “age” well, so books from the ’70s that were clearly outdated were the easiest to let go.

But the reason for writing this is that I called the local branch of the Atlantic County New Jersey Library System and asked if they would take the books. To my delight, they agreed. But when I delivered them (including a like-new set of Mark Sullivan’s Our Times — a reprint of the six volumes from the 1930s, and a real treasure), the librarian refused to accept any of them, saying that the person who answered the phone was a new employee who was misinformed. How? The library DOES NOT TAKE ANY BOOKS MORE THAN FIVE YEARS OLD!!!!

I was aghast! What a travesty! One of the most formative experiences of my life was spending most of the month of July in the Princeton University Library between my junior and senior years in High School back in the mid-’60s. It was all open stack then, and I was researching a paper on mapmakers (in the Western World during the 16th — 19th centuries). Obviously, I allowed myself to be distracted by many other books in the stacks every day (a kind of antique Twitter experience). And yes, some of the books that were there had never been opened in the 50 years since they had been acquired (I had to carefully cut some of the page edges to leaf through them). But in every case I thought about the work and research and thought and effort that had gone into producing these books. The smells (glue, leather, old paper) and the atmosphere in those stacks made for an obviously memorable experience.

I now purchase most of my books for my Kindle, and even then, I keep a “Kindle List” on Amazon, because I would soon clog up the damn thing if I didn’t. And why spend however much on books I might not actually read when I can keep track of the reading list on Amazon’s site and purchase and download them as needed? That works fine for me. But only because of all that preceded it: my parent’s library that I grew up with (about a thousand volumes on all subjects), the Princeton Library, working as a volunteer in my hometown library when I was in high school, the research libraries at colleges I attended (Antioch and Temple), plus the Univ. of Pennsylvania stacks where I did research in the ’70s for a Masters Degree, and enjoying acquiring my own collection (often remainders and overstocks at a deep discount).

I don’t buy from university press sale catalogs anymore — a lot of the books I ended up dumping had been purchased that way for my “first” library. And I hardly purchase from general book catalog sellers anymore, either. Most of my purchases are from Amazon, when I do purchase hard copies, and from a couple of book clubs. But I still very much enjoy perusing the shelves of book stores, and will occasionally pick up something from their discount shelf. When I’m travelling and have a bit of extra time, I’ll visit used book stores, and sometimes buy a volume or two that leaps out at me. I even visited such a shop at the Minneapolis airport recently, and added a few extra pounds to my luggage while waiting for my plane. 

Do I read all these books? Of course not, but I peruse most of them, and have dipped into almost all of them from time to time. And when online searches don’t yield enough information about a subject, I can often get the info I want from my own bookshelves. 

Book Meccas
I can’t finish this topic without a nod to the “book meccas” I still love, even though I have to curtail my purchases severely.

First in line (though not the best) are the Bouquinistes in Paris on the banks of the Seine. They are stalls consisting of four wooden boxes that serve as de facto book shelves for the booksellers who ply their wares from this most picturesque of locales. Each spot is assigned by seniority, the stalls are required to be open at least four days a week, and all the boxes are painted a regulation green in vert wagon paint (the color of old train cars). The waiting time to become one of the city’s 250 bouquinistes is currently about eight years. Many of the books are in French, quite a few in English, and a smattering in other languages. You probably won’t find anything truly spectacular here, but the browsing is wonderful.

The second book mecca I have visited (too many times) is Charing Cross Road in London, between Leicester Square tube station on the north end and Cambridge Circus on the south end. There are both used/second-hand shops here (“Any Amount of Books,” for instance) and antiquarian book stores such as Quinto and Henry Pordes (a dozen or so smaller second-hand and specialist antiquarian bookshops can be found on the adjoining Cecil Court, as well). There are also a few stores selling new books there now such as Foyles and Blackwell’s, since it’s a logical location for selling books of all kinds.

It is also a “manageable” shopping experience. If you have two or three hours you can probably make it into every shop, with no more than four or five likely to draw you in for a lengthy perusal. Many of the stores also have tables out front to give you some idea of what’s inside. 

The book “84 Charing Cross Road”, written in 1970 was based on a correspondence between an author and the staff of a shop on the street. It was made into a 1986 film with Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins.

I have saved the best for last (or at least it used to be the best… the last time I was there in the early ’00s, it seemed a bit down-at-the-heals and shabbier than I had remembered). It is the town of Hay-on-Wye (that’s the river Wye) in Wales. It is a three-and-a-half hour drive from central London, which means with a round-trip it’s a long day out. There are, of course, many accommodations in this delightful part of Britain, so you might make a two-day trip out of it (or longer, if you visit Oxford on the way back, for example, or linger in the Cotswolds). 

Anyway, there are two dozen very large booksellers in the town (it’s smallish, so you can walk everywhere). While there are some specialty stores (like Murder and Mayhem), or Arden (books on gardening and beekeeping), most are generalists carrying a little of everything. But “a little” here could be hundreds of books, and almost all of the stores have the stock sorted by category. A few are just a jumble, which you will either shy away from as not worth the trouble, or will be drawn into like quicksand. You’ll see.

Prices in all three of these meccas are extremely varied. I have found some real steals, but typically, a worthwhile book will be the in $5 to $10 range (converting to US currency), although there are plenty in the $2.50 to $5 range, many are even cheaper (and not in fine condition, for sure) while some are sold by lots (five for $10, for example). Occasionally a special book will be over $10, but I would say the average overall is about $3.75. So ten books for $37.50 isn’t too bad. And I have found that almost all of the shops (except the new booksellers on Charing Cross Rd., of course) are willing to negotiate. If I have nine books that ring up at $37.95 (three at $1.00, two at $2.50, and four at $5.00 plus a fine volume at $9.95), they might take $35 for all of them, which means the three at $1.00 are “free.” I could also try to get a full five dollars off, but I’ve had better luck getting a lower price if I don’t try to use the “pendulum” method of asking for a bigger discount and accepting something in between. I’m not sure why, but it just seems like the book folks are more willing to make a quick slice without thinking more about it than to “haggle” over the discount. 

Of course, there are two ways of looking at any of these prices. They are all insanely cheap, or they are ridiculously high, because any given book is going to be of any value at all to only a very tiny group of people. 

Two final notes — in the June 23, 2014, issue of The New Yorker, there is a wonderful article about the Argosy Bookstore in New York, which is essentially an “antiquarian” bookstore, which means that although it deals in some “used books,” because they buy entire libraries from estates, they specialize in valuable old and rare books such as first editions, signed first editions, specially bound volumes, and maps, prints, and paintings. The maps and prints are a specialty unto themselves. This is NOT what I call a book mecca, because aside from a table full of what is, to them, “junk,” I am not interested in everything else they are actually selling. When I say not interested, I mean in purchasing. In general? I’m sure I could spend a delightful week just browsing!

Incidentally, Patti Smith, whom I talk about in another post, is mentioned in The New Yorker article as a devotee of The Argosy. She also said she worked there briefly in 1967. [Related to Patti, as I note in that other post, she grew up in the next town over from me in South Jersey. Every year in Woodbury, my hometown, a rug store on Cooper Street held a very substantial used book sale to raise money for charity. They had plenty of space to do this. I bought a few sets of 19th classics there among other quite a few things. Patti undoubtedly knew about this annual sale, and it is not inconceivable that we might have both been browsing there in the early 1960s.]

Second, New York City has The Strand, which was one of 48 bookstores on Book Row in New York, which started in the 1890’s and ran from Union Square to Astor Place. Today, the Strand is the sole survivor. Located at the corner of 12th Street and Broadway, it claims to have “18 miles” of new, used, and rare books. It truly does have a little of everything. And I have been there many times. But I did not separate it as a fourth “mecca” because it is only a single store. You could say, “Yes, but what a store!” And you’d be quite justified. 

Three Final Notes
Most of these stores (especially The Strand) accept mail orders or online orders. So you don’t have to be there in person, although of course you are never completely certain of the condition of the book (they are usually very honest in their ratings/rankings; if they say it is a “clean” copy, there are no markings, at least in the text, although there may be a handwritten inscription on the flyleaf if it were given as a gift). 

Finally, a note on “remainders.” While the majority of books found in used book stores have been purchased at least once, and are now being resold (hence the term “used”), there is a huge category of books referred to as “remainders,” which are books that the book stores or publishers have never managed to sell in the first place. I won’t go into a lengthy explanation about this (other than to say that recent articles related in general to this subject referred to the publishers’ “depression era” protocols with booksellers with regard to returns). These are basically “overstocked” items, where more books were printed than there was a market for. The key issue is this: when the publisher gives up on trying to sell the book, and it becomes a “remainder,” they “mark”  the book so that it cannot be considered new, usually by taking a heavy black magic marker and running a line across the bottom of the closed book’s pages. This tell-tale stripe is the “scarlet letter” of bookselling. And it turns up on most highly discounted books for sale in “regular” bookstores outside of the “meccas” I’ve described above. As you can well imagine, my library contains more than its fair share of these remainder stripes. Forget QR Codes - these black marks of infamy tell big stories all on their own, of frustrated authors, reckless publishers, and the antics of what is, when you come right down to it, a very fickle market. I can’t think of any other item that can go from “red hot” to next to worthless and lose its value so quickly. Even cell phones typically have a good two-year useful life. But a book can become landfill in about six months, and alas, so many do!

A Final Word
There are three catalogs of remaindered and overstock books that I can’t ignore in this post. The first is Daedalus Books and Music, located in Columbia, MD. I have ordered numerous books from Daedalus over the years, and know a number of their managers personally. It is a wonderful outfit. You can visit their Website and save yourself the trouble of travelling to a book mecca (of course, many of the book mecca shops and dealers have their own sites, as well). 

The second is Hamilton Books in Fall Village, Connecticut. I suspect it is a lot like The Strand, except to the best of my knowledge only sells by catalog and eCommerce. Most of Hamilton’s books are remainders, so they come with the black stripe, but they are, by definition, not used books, and therefore in essentially new condition (unless otherwise indicated). I seem to recall a dozen years ago or more some extravagant story about the capricious behavior of the proprietor (who may or may not be called “Edward R. Hamilton”). But that’s just gossip (and could be entirely apocryphal). What matters is that Hamilton Books may indeed be the best book mecca of all, since I would be willing to bet that they can outdo The Strand in terms of scope, breadth, and price, and they have 14 separate catalogs (with current and “close-out” book versions of each to choose from)! All shipments are returnable, if not satisfied, but they ship only within the U.S.

And the third is Powell’s in Portland, Oregon. It could be called The Strand of the West, because it is so similar in size, scope, and ambience. But its catalogs and Website resemble Hamilton Books even more. I have, of course, visited Powell’s, and spent the entire afternoon there. Having bought so many books from them it seemed more like a “homecoming” than a visit to mecca. The place has more of the ambiance of a rabbit warren than The Strand, but like any used book store, it has its own personality, it’s “highways and byways.” Just exploring these places is half the fun!

There are two major bookselling Websites that I also buy from (a lot!) that aggregate their offerings from multiple sources. The first and best is AbeBooks.com, which lists what it offers in any order you choose: by price, by condition, by edition, by binding, by bookseller location, etc. The book condition is always as good or better than described. I love this site! it doesn’t deserve to be so close to the P.S. category! The other one (which sometimes cross-lists on Abe) is Alibris, which also sells some new books. Despite some bad reviews online, I have never had any trouble with them over the years.

P.S. To anyone who might be inspired by this post to start purchasing such books online, beware the possibility that a book may have a U.S. version with one title and a British version with a significantly different title, or that it might be one title in the first edition, and a different title in subsequent editions. I won’t go into all the ins-and-outs of it. Just be careful!

Antidisestablishmentarianism and the Quiz Show Scandals

This is a tale of skulduggery, scandal on television, cheating, and mass deception of the American public. Pretty good stuff. But it starts with a very arcane religious topic: “antidisetablishimentarianism, which is one of the longest words in the English language. It refers to a political controversy in 19th-century Britain with those for and against proposals for the disestablishment of the Church of England, i.e., removing the Anglican Church’s status as the state church of England, Ireland, and Wales. The “establishment” was maintained in England, but in Ireland the Church of Ireland (Anglican) was disestablished in 1871. In Wales, four Church of England dioceses were disestablished in 1920 and became the Church of Wales. 

While the religious situation is fairly well known, the word to describe it is not. And because of that, it was used on a quiz show in the 1950s, Not just any quiz show. It was the answer to a question on “Twenty One,” which became embroiled in what has gone down in the history of popular culture as The Quiz Show Scandals. Elfrida Von Nardroff, who won $220,500 on the show, was the contestant who correctly identified and spelled this word, the question for which I believe was posed somewhat as follows: “What is one of the longest words in the English language, which refers to those who are against the separation of church and state? And please spell it.”  

The problem is, the show was rigged. It was one of the shows involved in “the American quiz show scandals” of the 1950s in which a series of revelations proved that contestants were secretly given assistance by the show’s producers to stage the outcome of a supposedly fair competition. Some said it was based on greed, others the desire for fame, or the willingness of contestants to “play along” with the assistance, all let loose by the lack of regulations prohibiting the rigging of game shows.

The scandal started with “Twenty One,” the first big-money television quiz show. In 1956, the show, hosted by Jack Barry, featured a contestant, Herb Stempel, coached by producer Dan Enright to allow his opponent to win the game. In 1958 Enright was accused of rigging the show, leading the networks to cancel their entire lineups of quiz shows. The rigging was based on audience reaction to the contestants: popular contestants were fed answers to keep them going week and after week, while the unpopular ones were allowed to fall by the wayside.

Charles Van Doren, son of the famous American Mark Van Doren, but himself a well-known “public intellectual,” was another contestant on Twenty One who eventually admitted that he was “persuaded” to accept specific answers during his time on the show. These elements of the scandal were portrayed in the 1994 movie Quiz Show.

Many of the coached contestants, who had become instant celebrities and household names, were so traumatized by the revelations and accusations that they refused to confess to having cheated, even to the point of perjuring themselves before a grand jury to avoid backlash. As was said of the Watergate Scandal fifteen years later, the cover-up was worse than the crime.

Van Doren had not only racked up winnings of $129,000, he had become a national sensation, and was the first game show contestant to make the cover of Time magazine, After the scandal he went on to write popular children’s books and rarely appeared in public again.

Rod Serling, Arthur Morgan, and Me: The Legacy of Horace Mann

Rod Serling — mastermind of The Twilight Zone on TV, author of Requiem for a Heavyweight, co-author of Planet of the Apes, inventor of the TV rerun, and an all-around media genius — got his BA from Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, in the early 1950s (after serving in World War II as a paratrooper in the Pacific). I was a big fan of The Twilight Zone in the ’50s, and when I found out he was an alumnus of the college I planned to attend in the ’60s, I was even more enthusiastic about the choice. 

While attending Antioch, I heard about a visit Serling was planning to make (I think it was in 1968) related to some alumni event. I also heard he was going to host a luncheon in the dining room of the dormitory-style hotel reserved for visiting alumni or parents of students. I wish I could remember how the arrangements were made (I could make something up, but why bother?). In any case, I was one of about five students and alumni who ended up having lunch with him during his visit (he may have hosted several lunches over several days). 

First of all, what you see is what you get. If you’ve ever watched The Twilight Zone (in those reruns he invented!), you’ve notice he has a very “clipped” manner of speaking, as if he is trying to suppress a smile while speaking with the “proverbial” stones in the mouth. Well that is exactly how he speaks. Nothing on TV is done merely for effect. It’s all Rod Serling through and through.

Second, the lunch guests asked him a bunch of questions about how Antioch had changed since he was a student, how he forged such a successful career, and what advice he had to offer those of us who were just starting out. I remember his answers were all straightforward, nothing earth-shaking, and nothing really remarkable. In other words, he was a very interesting person, but in many ways, “just a guy.” He was not full of himself. And he even asked us questions about what we were up to and wanted to accomplish. 

I can’t say I was disappointed or underwhelmed, because I did cherish the opportunity to have lunch with him. But if I was expecting to be carried away by his charm and charisma, that’s not what happened. And I suppose that’s the point. In his professional life he was a powerhouse, a perfectionist, and a genius of inventive drama. But in “real life,” he was an affable, broadminded gentleman. Take note!

Arthur Morgan
Another Antioch alumnus (of sorts, which I’ll explain…), now largely forgotten but as famous as Rod Serling in his heyday, was Arthur Morgan, who was the first head of the Tennessee Valley Authority, or TVA. That massive engineering milestone is taken for granted these days, and it is hard to appreciate just how big a deal it was. He was chosen by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to be chief engineer for the TVA because, like Roosevelt, he saw the project as a humanitarian gesture as much as it was an engineering challenge. 

Back in 1913 (the year my father was born) the Miami River (in Ohio, NOT in Florida!), overflowed in a massive flood that killed more than 300 people. I think it was the biggest flood in the country up to that point. Ohio hired Morgan to come up with a plan to make sure this would never happen again. Morgan had been a surveyor and an engineer who was interested in drainage issues, and by the time he was 30 had made a name for himself in that field. 

Based on his visionary approach to the challenge at hand, Morgan decided that what was needed was a comprehensive plan to establish a “conservancy district,” which went far beyond any previous ideas about flood-control. 

Antioch College is located within the flood plain of the Miami River, and the trustees of the college were so impressed with Morgan’s visionary approach that they offered him the position of president of the College. Under his leadership, the struggling school thrived, and it was Morgan who initiated its famous work-study program (alternating classroom study with “co-op” jobs every three months). The co-op jobs were specially arranged, and of course every three months a new student would come in to take over where the other one had left off, so there is continuity for the employer. These are not usually high-level positions, but they are way above “part-time jobs” most college students get (if they’re lucky). Many Antioch students end up working for one of their co-op employers (I did for my first job!). 

As President of Antioch, Morgan had a high profile, and when President Roosevelt was looking for someone to direct the new Tennessee Valley Authority in the 1930s, Morgan was the obvious choice. “I like your vision,” FDR told him. I won’t go into all the details of the TVA’s story, but it was a massive undertaking involving not only flood control and dam building but managing an enormous number of workers, providing education for their children, and starting conservation efforts in forestry and soil erosion management. Morgan oversaw not only the engineering work but also all the regional planning and social and economic organization to build viable communities where none had existed before. 

Last but not least, all the dams generated vast amounts of electricity, which made the TVA one of the biggest “rural electrification” projects in U.S. history. 

Morgan lived to a ripe old age (dying in 1974 at age 97), publishing a string of books on everything from dam building to Sir Thomas Moore. He was still alive and well in the ’60s when I attended Antioch, and just as I was able to meet Rod Serling, I had a chance to meet Arthur Morgan, as well, on one of his visits. It was the first time I had ever met anyone in his 90s, and I remember how much he appeared to be “from another era.” He also used a cane, and was somewhat precarious in his physical movements. But his mind was sharp as a tack, and he was a keen observer of current events as well as a crisp raconteur about Antioch’s past — and champion of its future. 

I felt privileged to be in his presence with a small group of students and alumni (just like with Serling). It wasn’t over a meal, and the meeting didn’t last more than fifteen minutes, but it was certainly a high point of my college life. Morgan was a legend at the school, and to sit and talk with him was a unique opportunity to engage in a collegial exchange of the highest order. 

The Legacy of Horace Mann
Reading over the above, it occurs to me that I have ignored the obvious, which was staring me right in the face. Both Rod Serling and Arthur Morgan, each in their own way, embodied the legacy of Antioch’s first president, Horace Mann, and worked tirelessly to further Mann’s ideals of education and citizenship.

Horace Mann was born in Massachusetts in 1796, when George Washington was still president and finishing his second term in Philadelphia, the nation’s first capital (and it remained so until Washington, D.C. was completed at the end of John Adam’s term in May 1800). Mann was the son of a poor Yankee farmer who taught him the virtues of independence and self-reliance, but his mother taught him a sense of purpose and a determination to do things that mattered to the world. At age 20 he enrolled in Brown University and graduated after three years as valedictorian of his class in 1819. The theme of his oration was “The Progressive Character of the Human Race.”

Mann also studied at Litchfield Law School and in 1823 was admitted to the bar in Norfolk, Massachusetts.He was elected to the Massachusetts legislature in 1827 and became active in furthering the interests of education, public charities, and laws for the suppression of intemperance and lotteries. Later elected to the Senate, he spent time as the majority leader, focusing his efforts on improving infrastructure by funding the construction of railroads and canals.

In 1843 he married Mary Tyler Peabody, a fervent abolitionist. The couple accompanied Samuel Gridley Howe and Julia Ward Howe (who wrote “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”), two leaders of the movement to abolish slavery, on a dual honeymoon in Europe.

In 1837 Mann was appointed secretary of the newly created board of education of Massachusetts (the first such position in the United States), which launched him on a career that would place him in the forefront of American educationists. He threw himself headlong into educational reform, holding teachers’ conventions, delivering numerous lectures, giving public addresses, carrying on an extensive correspondence, and introducing many reforms. In 1838, he founded and edited The Common School Journal. which promoted six main principles: (1) in a free society, the public should not be ignorant; (2) that education should be open to all and paid for by the public; (3) that this education will be best provided in schools that include children from a variety of backgrounds; (4) that this education must be non-sectarian and non-denominational; (5) that this education must be taught by the spirit, methods, and discipline of a free society; and (6) that education should be provided by well-trained, professional teachers. He wanted education to build strong minds and even stronger character, rather than focusing on instilling morals by punishment and learning by rote. Such a philosophy earned him the title of "the father of American public education."

Mann was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1848 to fill the vacancy caused by the death of John Quincy Adams. His first speech in that body was in advocacy of excluding slavery from the American territories. In the next election he was an independent anti-slavery candidate and was re-elected, serving from April 1848 until March 1853.

In September 1852, Mann was nominated for governor of Massachusetts by the Free Soil Party, and the same day was chosen to be president of the then-newly-established Antioch College, where he taught economics, philosophy, and theology. His lectures were so popular they attracted audiences across the Midwest. He also employed the first woman faculty member to be paid on an equal basis with her male colleagues,

At its founding, Antioch had become tangled in sectarian controversies. It was almost still-born, but those who wanted to disengage from sectarianism altogether were in control when Mann, now a Unitarian, was selected as its first President. Through his efforts it was soon known as “the Harvard of the West.” 

Mann died in 1859 at age 63. At Antioch there is a monument that carries a popular quote of his, which ever after became the college motto: “Be Ashamed to Die Until You Have Won Some Victory for Humanity.”

It was that mandate that informed Rod Serling, who was a fervent pacifist, and Arthur Morgan, whose entire career was devoted to the betterment of humanity. That was his vision, and it is shared by many graduates of the school that has contributed so much to American Society. Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King, Jr., is an alumna. She described the college as a laboratory of democracy. “Pioneering is never easy,” she said, “and all of us who followed my sister at Antioch [as the first black woman student] owe her a great debt of gratitude.” And all Antioch alumni owe the school a similar debt of gratitude, as well, for all that it has provided us in our own quest to win some victory for humanity.

The Id in Kid: Building a “SuperEgo”

According to Freudian psychoanalytic theory, the “Id” is the part of each personality that is entirely unconscious, controlling our instinctive and primitive behavior. It operates on “the pleasure principle,” seeking pleasant interactions and avoiding unpleasant ones.

The Ego is our conscious self, dealing with “reality.” And the SuperEgo addresses our internalized moral standards and ideals which we acquire from parents and society, giving us our sense of right and wrong. 

Obviously, Freudian theory is not universally accepted, and there are many competing schools of thought. But this triad paradigm is nevertheless a useful description of basic aspects of human life. 

My “Permanent Record”

Many kids (and grown-ups!) these days are fond of posting all kinds of personal information and other possibly embarrassing things online. They are told, or warned, however, that whatever they post online should be considered an indelible imprint accessible by family, friends, their school, their religious affiliates, their current and future employers — the entire world!

But it would be a mistake to think this is merely a contemporary situation. Far from it. When I was a growing up, in the ’50s and ’60s, as part of the “Baby Boom” generation, parents were extremely aware that because of the population explosion, there would be a significant increase in the competition for college acceptance at desirable institutions of higher learning when their precious children were ready for that stage of their lives. 

And they were just as aware as parents are today that it wasn’t merely a matter of getting good grades in the classroom that was going to make a difference. It was also keeping one’s record “clean” from blemishes such as “detentions” for bad classroom behavior, or — heaven forbid — being suspended (or even expelled!) from school for fighting, excessive bullying, or other unruly actions. 

Plus, extracurricular activities and clubs were also encouraged, as were classes taken outside the school environment that would look good on a college application.

My mother had a shorthand for all of this. Whenever she wanted to keep me on the straight and narrow, she would simply remind me that such and such would either be on, or should NOT become, part of my “Permanent Record.” The way she intoned this warning made it clear without a shadow of a doubt that the world would have ample opportunity to judge how well I measured up, and how idiotic it would be to give anyone any reason to gainsay my qualifications for whatever I needed to qualify for. 

This was a “super” SuperEgo trip. It was always the elephant in the room, and probably one of the reasons I was eager to become an adult, because then, I assumed, the pressure would be off, the college education achieved, and the cursed “permanent record” would be a relic of a past that would be gladly behind me!

And to a large extent, that rite of passage did turn out just that way, thank goodness. What a relief!

Shoot The Piano Player

David Geddis was born in Philadelphia, PA, in 1917. A prolific novelist, he wrote a novel called Down There in 1956 about Charlie, a piano player in a dive bar in southern New Jersey, not far from where I grew up in the 1950s, the same time and place as the novel’s setting.

Charlie was a virtuoso concert pianist whose wife committed suicide, which unhinged him to the point where he was reduced to playing piano in penny-ante places like the bar in south Jersey. When Charlie’s criminal brother takes refuge in the bar and is kidnapped for ransom, Charlie gets dragged into the consequences and is forced to confront his wife’s family in ways he was desperate to avoid. 

In 1960 the world-renowned movie director Francois Truffaut turned this engaging novel into an excellent “film noir,” but he changed the setting to Paris, and renamed it “Shoot the Piano Player,” starring the hot actor Charles Aznavour. The film has remained a cult classic ever since. 

But here’s the obvious catch. South Jersey is the Rodney Dangerfield of geography. We don’t get no respect! If Truffaut had left well enough alone, the area where I grew up (which is where the book is set) would have become world-renowned, along with the movie. But no! As if Paris needed any more publicity….

Like Sylvester Stallone, also a Philadelphia native, said in Rocky, which was set in Philadelphia, as well, we “coulda been a contenda!” You tell him! Make them understand! We got what it takes! You think David Geddis would’ve set his book in south Jersey if we didn’t? Huh? Do ya? Huh!?

A Lesson in Technology Innovation

As I have mentioned before [if you click on the title of the blog it displays ALL of the entries] my father worked for RCA from 1949 until he retired in 1978, first in Camden, NJ, then in Cherry Hill, and finally at the prestigious Sarnoff Labs in Princeton. It was during his stint in Cherry Hill that RCA began work on a “microprocessing” computer chip, which Intel first debuted in 1971. They beat RCA to the punch, not because RCA was second-rate (they were neck-and-neck with the best of them), but because of a fateful decision to try to “shrink” the existing computer technology down to an acceptable size. Intel took a “grow it from scratch/slice-and-dice” option, using a silicon ingot that gets “sliced” into disks and then “diced” into chips with pre-printed circuits on them (hence the term “printed circuits”) that were programmed using etching by ultraviolet light, followed by ion etching, electropolating, and copper plating. See http://ilnk.me/hcpum

Both methods required that all of the fabrication take place in clean rooms, with all of the engineers dressed in white plastic suits with hoods, gloves, booties, and all contact with the environment prevented by safety adhesive seals. 

The project my father worked on (there may have been other teams at RCA taking other approaches) tried to use a glass plate about 2 inches square and about an eighth of an inch thick to build a prototype. The same copper circuit that Intel ends up with was imprinted on the glass (including embedded transistors, etc. to make it work). Their 2-inch square prototype worked as hoped. They then tried to go smaller and smaller, but unfortunately, they weren’t able to achieve the ultra-small size they were aiming for before Intel released their silicon grown-from-scratch version, and that was the end of the RCA glass-based project. Ironically, of course, glass is made of silicon, but this wasn’t horseshoes, so ironically close didn’t count. 

The increasingly smaller glass plates got their circuits imprinted on them by some method that resembled a highly controlled aerosol. I don’t remember the details, but I know for certain it was not by any organic growth method. It was all “honey, I shrunk the kids,” but never being able to shrink them enough….

But it does add an interesting dimension to the lesson here. Technology innovation can have great minds, all the right ingredients, and a bullet-proof theoretical basis — all the “right stuff.” But the engineering has to be done at the right level and with the right road map and game plan. Anybody who does a lot of cooking from scratch can tell you, if you miss something minor but critical (like the lemon juice!) or you don’t sift the flour, or do something else slightly wrong, the outcome can be a flop. 

And the most important lesson, I think, is that the overall strategy has to be sound. Fabricating from the bottom up was the way to go here. Shrinking everything down simply wasn’t ever going to do it. 

Live and learn, with the emphasis on LEARN!

P.S. Just saw this — A project at IBM aims to have transistors built using carbon nanotubes, ready to take over from silicon transistors in the coming years http://ilnk.me/cntf

Flying Before 9/11

I suspect that many of today’s younger airline passengers in the United States have a mistaken notion that before 9/11, air travel was so much easier. It was, after all, in the wake of September 11, 2001, that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was created, which now handles all luggage and passenger screening before you are even allowed into the airline terminal. 

But passenger and baggage screening has been around since the 1970s.  From 1968 to 1972 there were dozens of airline hijackings, or attempted hijackings, by people intent on commandeering the plane for their own demented purposes. Hijackings were common in the Middle East at the time, while hijackings to Cuba had become almost routine. The infamous D.B. Cooper was involved in one of the more dramatic domestic hijackings, parachuting from a plane in 1971 with $200,000 ransom (he was never found). Since 1972 the Federal Aviation Administration has required commercial airlines to screen virtually all passengers and carry-on baggage for weapons or explosives with X-ray machines, metal detectors and personal searches. Screening was tightened somewhat after Lockerbie in 1988, and further tightened in 1996 after the ill-fated TWA flight exploded off Long Island (two close friends were on that flight…). Photo ID wasn’t necessary until 1995. 

I have a couple of innocent stories to relate about flying in the ’80s and ’90s. In the ’80s, I often carried a flask of “Southern Comfort” in my luggage when I traveled in order to help conquer insomnia (this was before I discovered the wonders of Benadryl). Liquids were not forbidden in quantities greater than 3 oz. in those days, but the security inspectors obviously wanted to be sure they weren’t dangerous. It was always the smaller airports that had the most curious inspectors, and at one of these in the Midwest I was asked what the flask contained, and when I told the inspector what it was, he asked me to please take a taste (to prove it wasn’t poison or some flammable liquid). I obliged, and he waived me on.

The second incident took place in the early ’90s at a very small commuter airport in Trenton, NJ. I was checking in for a flight to an equally small commuter airport near Boston. I had decided at the last minute to use a piece of luggage I hadn’t used in years, and when I inspected it at home I found a loose razor blade in one of the inner zipper pockets. I don’t think there were X-ray machines then, but it doesn’t matter. I knew baggage was inspected, so I was glad I had spotted the blade before packing. But when I got to the airport, I asked the security inspector what would have happened if I had NOT spotted it. 

His explanation was something I have never forgotten, and have noticed in related circumstances on crime shows on TV. He said, “I would obviously have discarded it, but as to suspecting you of any foul play, I would have had to assess your ‘intent.’ And I doubt, all in all, I would have attributed criminal motives to that item.” 

Intent - that was my “ah ha” moment, and I suddenly realized that these inspectors, though they might have asked me to take a swig of my Southern Comfort, were actually involved in a much more complex set of activities than I was aware of. “Just doing their job” requires a high degree of alertness, probably some intensive training, and most of all, a keen sense of judgment. Which is what policeman the world over need, as well. I am sure this is exhausting, day in and day out, and I wonder what the “burn out” rate is for such occupations. 

P.S. The O.J. Simpson Hertz commercial where he is running through the airport aired in 1978. He might have made it to the gate that way, because the pre-9/11 screenings took place at the gate (if I recall correctly). But he wouldn’t have dashed onto the plane without first submitting to inspection…

Not proud, but lucky!

I don’t know why I’m telling you this…but as Cole Porter said, “Anything goes!”

I was raised in a very pro-union household. Very! So it surprised even me when I turned out to be a “scab” or “strike buster.” Here’s how it happened.

Back in 1969, when I had just turned 21, I was by myself in Montreal on one of my many visits to my relatives there (my mother was a native of Montreal, but a naturalized American after she married my father, a U.S. citizen, just after World War II). I had a girl friend in the U.S. whom I was away from for a month, and at that age, that seemed like a very long time.

We had just started exchanging daily (or more frequent) letters, when Whammo! Canada Post went on strike! I’m never one to let fate get the better of me if I can help it, and in this case, I reckoned I could. Somehow I heard that the Canadian post office was seeking volunteer [?] workers who would come in to sort the mail at the central post office (I’m not sure how it was supposed to get to the addressee — they might have been seeking volunteers as mail carriers, too).

Anyway, I swallowed my pride, compartmentalized my principles, and signed up to be a temporary mail sorter at the Central Post Office. What I was looking for was a letter from my girl friend. I had two minor things in my favor: she always wrote to me on stationary folded into a 4x5” envelope, and it was usually a pastel color (yellow, blue, green). Plus, she had very distinctive handwriting.

I was assigned to the night shift. To do the work we had to scoop up mail from a moving conveyor and sort it by city (this was prior to the adoption of the modern Canadian Postal Code in 1971), with each city assigned a separate chute that we would send the mail down. Or maybe it was by province plus abroad - I can’t remember

Not the first night, and not the second, but on the third night of my working there, lo and behold, I found the Holy Grail — a letter from my girl friend. To the best of my recollection, since I was in the post office I could also send outgoing mail to the U.S. (whether I could have sent it to Canada I don’t recall, but it didn’t matter). Anyway, we were able to conduct a correspondence in fits and starts. [Thinking about it now, taking mail out of the stream even if it’s addressed to you is probably illegal….] And of course, there was the occasional phone call (though international calls in those days were exorbitant!). 

At the time and many times since I reflected on my incredible luck finding a few of those letters (I think I found about one every four days). There were dozens of scabs working with me, and I didn’t ask any of them to look out for those envelopes. There was too much work to do, and they probably would have thought I was crazier than I actually was. To rationalize my strike-breaking, I imagined that there were many others who were benefiting from our labor, but I was also aware that the strikers most definitely were NOT. Ah, youth! 

P.S. That romance only lasted about another six months….

P.P.S. My relatives were even MORE pro-union than my mother. How I explained my night-time absences to them I do not recall. And now that I think about it, I’m mystified. I was 21, but to be gone all night, night after night…. that’s a mystery…

P.P.P.S. If we were volunteers (I don’t recall being paid), were we truly scabs? I guess so, since we were undercutting the strike effort….