28 October 2010

Pictures of the Dead:

In olden days, when the child of wealthy parents died, the family paid to have a portrait painted including the deceased. The recently departed was depicted as alive, though might be staring off into the distance while the rest of the family faced forward. Other signs of a mourning painting are a child holding dead flowers, or dead flowers in a vase near the sitter.

 The middle classes typically remembered their deceased with "hair art," which could be a wreath made from the hair of their loved one, or a piece of jewelry created from hair.

Photography was invented in Paris, though there is some argument about that (the first photograph was taken in 1827 and took 8 hours to develop).  While having one's picture taken was costly, it was not nearly so prohibitively priced as having a portrait painted.  As one might imagine, being able to keep an actual image of the family member appealed to mourners greatly, so when photography became affordable and popular, Victorians had pictures taken of family members after they died. As with the earlier paintings, the mourning photographs intended to depict a "living" person.

Most of the time, the deceased was "asleep."

Sometimes the deceased was propped up along side living family.

I should point out that it is the young girl above who is being propped.

Taken 9 DAYS after she died.

There are some people today who feel that this old practice is "creepy" or overly morbid, and are glad that we now properly respect the dead. These people forget that not everyone had a camera back then, and mortality was much higher. That postmortem picture is all that the parents have left of their little boy or girl. Think about it - there's no other way to remember what the laughing child looked like before the sickness or accident. Parents don't want to just bury their baby and forget, so they have a picture taken as if their child was napping.

Today's occidental society is far removed from death.  Aging, Sickness and Death no longer take place among family in one's home.  Today we hide them away in nursing homes and hospitals.
In a time period when Death walked more frequently among us, such images weren't foreign and disturbing.  The were loving reminders of those who passed too soon.

A Discussion:

"I think still think... the fundamentals of our economy are strong."

-Senator John McCain, mid-September 2008.

"The fundamental business of the country, that is the production and distribution of commodities, is on a sound and prosperous basis."

-President Herbert Hoover, late October 1929.

"The present administration has either forgotten or it does not want to remember the infantry of our economic army. These unhappy times call for ... plans ... that build from the bottom up and not from the top down, that put their faith once more in the forgotten man at the bottom of the pyramid."

-President Franklin D. Roosevelt, early April 1932

This is why my grandfather, who fought in WWII and earned a Silver Star, firmly believes that FDR is the greatest President. Simply, he believes he laid the groundwork that got us out of the Depression.


24 October 2010

The Hemp Car - Myth Busted

A friend of mine told me about a car by Henry Ford that was made almost entirely of hemp. It was unveiled as a prototype, and proclaimed to be the car of the future. Unfortunately, World War II and the DuPont corporation killed what would have been a lighter, safer and more cost effective car. I was asked to research the validity of this claim.

I had not heard of this car, so I googled it. Nearly every pro-hemp website mentioned it, but didn't give sources. Even YouTube has a video of this "hemp car" from 1941. It sounded like a good idea, and Henry Ford was certainly a visionary, but I really wanted the truth (I'm not anti-hemp; I'm pro-facts and anti-myth.)

So I went as close to the source as I could without calling the Henry Ford Museum: Period Newspapers.

Turns out that Henry Ford loved the farmers, and wanted to help them during the Great Depression. He knew that cars were always increasing in popularity, and if he could make plastic cars out of farm products, he could benefit Americans twofold:

  • Cars would be safer and more affordable.
  • Plastic cars would help the struggling agricultural industry (the War was already beneficial to the steel industry).

An all-plastic car 300 pounds lighter than comparable models built of steel and having ten times the impact resistance of steel is near completion in the Ford plant at Dearborn, Mich., Popular Science Monthly announced last week. In a special interview, it was said, Henry Ford predicted that his test car, made of plastic body, hood and fenders, would be lighter, safer and less expensive. He added: "It will be a car of darn sight better design in every form. And don't forget the motor car business is just one of the industries that can find new uses for plastics, made from what's grown in the land!"
-New York Times, 2 Feb 1941

...Although it [the plastic] uses the same time of binder employed in some well-established plastics, which are not a Ford development, the remaining portion, that is, the fill, comes partly from the farm, in the form of strong fibers, such as hemp or ramie, and partly from the forest...

-Iron Age Magazine, 1941, as cited by Herbert Chase, Society of Automobile Engineers in 30 March 1941 New York Times.

We see that Ford was considering hemp as an element of his bio-plastic car. But was the car almost completely made of hemp? The hemp websites claim anywhere from 70% hemp to 100% hemp.

Let's search further...

[article continues]  Mr. Ford tested the pliability of the plastic panel by swinging on it with an axe. The panel was unchanged after the blow, but a similar experiment on a steel panel cut through the metal. ...Needed materials, he said, would include 100,000 bales of cotton, 500,000 bushels of wheat, 700,000 bushels of soy beans and 500,000 bushels of corn. "Plastic raw materials may cost a little more," he said, "but we anticipate a considerable saving as the result of fewer fabricating finishing operations."

-"Ford Shows Auto Built of Plastic - Strong Material Derived from Soy Beans, Wheat, Corn is used for Body and Fenders," New York Times, 14 August 1941.

The bottom line, as I see it, is that the car was not comprised entirely of hemp; not even 50%. Nearly all of the websites are either misleading, or flat-out wrong. Does this mean hemp is not a useful material? No - there are many uses.

I just like checking the validity of claims to historical facts. Oh, and the part about DuPont probably being responsible for killing the bio-plastic industry? This is likely true.

Other sources include:
"Plastic Car in Making: Colorful, Paintless Body May Replace Steel for Defense," 2 Feb 1941.
Washington Post, Various Articles, 1941, accessed via ProQuest Historical

Disability Awareness Week: Why ADA Matters

Let's have a discussion...

Imagine a world not so long ago, a world before 1990.

"Sara" is an active grad student. One day, while driving back to her apartment from her part-time job, a drunk driver runs a stoplight and hits her. Sara is very lucky - her car is totaled, but only her left leg is broken, and her right ankle is cracked. She will eventually make a full recovery, but she needs to use a wheelchair for several weeks.

Her school loans her a wheelchair, and she's getting pretty good at navigating her way around. One night, when she's been feeling a bit better, her friends want to take her to their favorite local Italian restaurant. They know this is the distraction Sara needs. When they arrive, they remember that there are several steps to get in, and no ramp. Sara's friends aren't strong enough to pick her up and carry her in. They give up trying to find a solution, and just go to a different chain place down the street. After a half-hour, Sara needs to make a quick trip to the restroom. Unfortunately, her chair can't fit through the door. Her friends end up having to escort her to the convenience store two blocks away to attend to this 'call of nature.' Needless to say, the night has been less than fun.

Sara will eventually get better and be able to go back to hanging out with her friends. Unfortunately, many with mobility impairment will not. Should they have to stay home? Should they not be able to go do normal activities with their friends, such as attending the theatre, eating out, or having a drink at a pub?

Rand Paul says that allowing equal access to a business is infringing upon the rights of the business.* Some people (on FB) have argued that the market will correct itself; i.e., if a business isn't accessible, then handicapped people won't go there and that income will be lost. Therefore, the business will choose accessibility without the government's intervention. This argument is ludicrous.
How do I know this? Because obviously businesses WEREN'T making themselves accessible, which is why George Bush Sr. had to sign the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. His son, George W., expanded upon the ADA in 2008 to further assist disabled Iraq War veterans.

Here is the recent argument against the ADA, including Rand Paul's ridiculous one:

What if a small business in a three-story building chooses to hire a guy in a wheelchair? The government will FORCE them to pay $100,000 to put in an elevator! We can't have that undue financial burden on small businesses!

This is completely bullshit false. The ADA clearly states (ADA 4.1.3 (5) EXCEPTION 1) that a building 3-stories or fewer does NOT have to install an elevator unless it is a shopping mall or a hospital. Giving the wheelchair user an office and restroom on the first floor fulfills the business' obligation. Also, the ADA states that the "reasonable accommodation" cannot cause "undue hardship" on any business.

Undue hardship is defined as an action requiring significant difficulty or expense when considered in light of factors such as an employer’s size, financial resources, and the nature and structure of its operation. Believe it or not, many cases have been tossed out of court for proposing 'undue hardship' on a business; in 2003, ADA discrimination cases failed 94.5% of the time.

But having the government tell a business what to do, even if it is the right thing to do, is government overreach! This is a free country!

If a building is open to the public, such a Wal-mart or your local pub, then logically the public should have access. A disabled war veteran and a women injured in a car accident have the same freedom to access those businesses that an able-bodied person does. Your home doesn't have to be accessible, but the local school or church must make a "reasonable accommodation." There are tax credits to assist with this.

What about what the Founding Fathers thought? You know, in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence?

Have you read them? The part about the Interstate Commerce Clause, or the part about how all men are created equal, and have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Hey, I'm not in favor of giving someone an extra advantage; I'm in favor of giving someone an equal opportunity in life. Yes, the government overreaches in several areas - providing a ramp at the local grocery so that a disabled war veteran can shop for food isn't one of them.

Anyone of any race/religion/sexual orientation could find themselves disabled - this isn't a "big government" issue or an "anti-business" issue. These people aren't welfare bums sucking off your tax dollar. These are people in college and the workplace, making a living and paying their bills.** This is a pervasive issue that could affect any one of us at any time.

So again, why should we get rid of the act guaranteeing equal access to goods and services in our free country?

While normally I like to cite both conservative and liberal media, all the conservative media focuses on the Civil Rights Act issue, and ignores the ADA aspect. Because of this, I've tried to keep all citations neutral.

*PAUL: You know a lot of things on employment ought to be done locally. You know, people finding out right or wrong locally. You know, some of the things, for example we can come up with common sense solutions — like for example if you have a three story building and you have someone apply for a job, you get them a job on the first floor if they’re in a wheelchair as supposed to making the person who owns the business put an elevator in, you know what I mean? So things like that aren’t fair to the business owner.

**Yes, of course there are disabled welfare bums, just as there are white welfare bums and black welfare bums. Again, disability affect everyone, just like laziness. We still let the lazy shop at Wal-mart though; that shouldn't change just because they are in a wheelchair.

Also consulted for this blog was "Assisting Law Students with Disabilities in the 21st Century: A New Horizon?" American University's Journal of Gender, Social Policy and the Law, Vol 18, Num 1, pgs 1 - 162. Yes, I read every page.