Hello, 2016

Color drawing of a female ice-skater being pushed out onto the ice, her skirt and scarf flying..

A new year begins, bumpy with the legacy of all the months and years preceding.  On the brink of the presidential primary season, we see patches and hazards ahead that bear the marks of the candidates, their penchants, and those of previous presidential administrations.  We advance in a world filled with drones, guns, bombs, hotheads, and uncompromising minorities, some of these made more fearsome by government missteps or inactivity.

The deeds and failures of our political leaders and America’s most powerful citizens shape the society we must make our way in.  As we careen into January, it befits us to acknowledge the best and worst of 2015:

Biggest winner
Barack Obama, who achieved most of his agenda for 2015.
Biggest loser
Every state that has refused to expand Medicaid.

Worst politician
Rahm Emanuel, narrowly beating out Benjamin Netanyahu.
Best politician
It’s still Bill Clinton.

Most overrated
Scott Walker, once touted as the ideal GOP candidate.
Most underrated
John Kerry, America’s best statesman since Kissinger.

Most stagnant thinker
The US Congress.
Most original thinker
The creative team behind NASA’s Mars Rover.

Best political theater
Pope Francis addressing Congress.
Worst political theater
Paul Ryan’s beard.

Worst lie
That Carly Fiorina is qualified to be president.

Best photo-op
September’s blood moon.

Capitalist of the year
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, now owner and invigorator of the Washington Post.
Turncoat of the year
Ted Cruz, now excoriating a justice he once admired.

Worst political scandal
Chicago’s cover-up of police misconduct.

Worst idea
That the US should wage war against ISIS in the Middle East.
Best idea
That everyone living in the US should have a legal status.

Boldest political tactics
Donald Trump’s.

Best government dollars spent
Investments in NASA that brought us closer than ever to Mars and Pluto.
Biggest government waste
Most of our military involvement in the Middle East.

Honorable mention
The swansongs of John Boehner and Joe Biden.

Enough already!
Obamacare repeals.

Sorry to see you go
Good-bye to the open out-cry trading pits of Chicago!

Destined for political oblivion in 2016
Marco Rubio, who has foolishly burned his bridges to the Senate.
Destined for political stardom in 2016
South Carolina governor Nikki Haley.  She is a prime pick for VP.

Image: Ethel Rundquist’s cover illustration
for the January 1916 issue of
Vanity Fair, from this source.

An overseer and his underlings

An overseer and two small grimy boys face the camera in a textile mill.

An overseer and two grimy boy doffers face the photographer in a Birmingham, Alabama, textile factory.

The textile mill epitomized mechanized industry, which made humans servants of machines.  Textile manufacture was one of the earliest industries in the US, one often associated with ‘sweated’ labor.  Exploitative practices reached an apogee in the late nineteenth-century American South, where mills employed black and white workers with no other prospects, drawing in many poor Appalachian families.  Conditions in the mills were such that workers (many of them children) were virtually enslaved.  Despite laboring incessantly, they lived in poverty, without recourse to their employer’s authority.  The overseer in this picture boasted of having 30 doffers to do his bidding.  The doffers’ job was to run to replace full spindles with empty ones to keep the looms running smoothly.

This picture was taken in November 1910.

Library of Congress photograph by Lewis Hine.

A serious problem for patriots

Flag flying above House of Representatives, Jan 1917 (Courtesy Library of Congress)
Men holding a wind-ripped flag taken down from atop the US House of Representatives.
Photograph by Harris & Ewing, January 16, 1917.

Image from this source.

Boy-powered ice-sweepers

Boys with ice-shovels pose for their pictures while clearing snow off a pond.

For the most part, boys who wanted to skate had to clear the ice themselves.

Ice rinks, though not unheard of, were far fewer in number and far less interesting than frozen waterways, whether rivers or ponds; and, for the better part of a century, most American skaters enjoyed their sport in such natural settings.

Here, boys of various ages pose with their shovels while clearing the ice in Washington DC.  Half-pose for the camera, I should say, for, while cooperating, still they couldn’t quite stifle their pure excitement and joy, their clowning and jostling frozen forever, along with their readiness to have a good time.

Despite differences in headgear, the skaters’ dress is fairly uniform: their knee-length trousers terminating above long wool stockings and lace-up skates.  Most wear jackets rather than long overcoats, and a few wear ties!  In the vanguard, an earnest-looking boy wears a serious woolen hat, its folds covering his ears, neck, and chin in a heavy cowl.

The knee-length pants were known as knickers.  Their uniform usage in this photograph suggests that it was taken in the nineteen-teens.

Image: from this source
Click image to enlarge.

This is the fifth in an occasional series on ice-skating.  Click here to read from the beginning.

A war with an end

Massive crowds gathered around a replica of the Statue of Liberty near Philadelphia's city hall to celebrate news of the Armistice, November 11, 1918.
On this day, many nations pause to remember their war dead, the soldiers who have served and fallen, especially those who served in World War One.

What the US celebrates as Veterans Day began as a peace celebration on November 11, 1918, with the end of the pitiless conflict known as World War One.  The announcement that the war had ended with the signing of a multinational peace agreement, or Armistice, triggered massive spontaneous jubilees in many places worldwide.  In Europe, the States, Canada, even New Zealand and Australia, vast crowds gathered in the ceremonial centers of cities to cheer the end of a struggle that had cost the warring nations many millions of lives.

This marvelous photograph shows Philadelphians celebrating the word of peace that day.  Horrible as the war was, the photograph conveys a feeling of pride, even as it commemorates a sort of war unfamiliar to us today.  For World War One had a definite beginning and end.  When the United States entered the war on 4 April 1917, it was with a formal declaration of war from Congress.  President Woodrow Wilson had struggled to maintain a stance of neutrality toward the war for the previous two-and-a-half years, during which time public sentiment in favor of the war had gradually built.

Once the US had entered the war, there was a draft.  Over a million men were mobilized.  By the end of the war, 18 months later, American forces had suffered some 320,000 casualties, the majority being wounded, with tens of thousands being lost to death and disease.  Being at war demanded something from all society, taxing the economy to its limits and requiring sacrifice on the part of civilians, as the signs around the Philadelphia square suggest.

Hence the massive outpouring of joy when the war reached a definite end, and the blessed condition known as peace was attained for a time.

Image courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia.  Click on the image to go to the source.