Sunday, January 29, 2017

10 Jobs That No Longer Exist

This is certainly far removed from a complete list of obsolete jobs, but it's an interesting cross-section. Some of these jobs were prominent centuries ago and have been gone for a long time, some are much more recent. One or two of them may have existed in your lifetime. But either way, they are jobs that no longer exist.

Pre-Radar Listener
World War II (and World War I)…during times of war in the days before radar, listeners were people assigned to detect enemy aircraft. They did this by using acoustic mirrors and listening devices to detect the sounds of engines. (above picture)

We've all seen photographs from back in the day showing the photographer taking a picture, whether a portrait in a studio or Matthew Brady engaged in his landmark history changing photographs from the Civil War. Prior to modern cameras and selfies, daguerreotypes were one of the earliest forms of photography. These images were made by daguerreotypists, who treated a silver-coated copper plate with light-sensitive chemicals. After exposing it in a camera and developing it with mercury, a detailed image appeared.

Ice Cutter
Back when today's electric refrigerators were referred to as ice boxes, there was a reason for it.  Highly insulated 'boxes' held a large block of ice and kept food cold (until the ice melted).  The ice man delivered the large blocks of ice door to door.  These blocks were provided by people known as ice cutters who would literally cut the huge blocks from frozen lakes. And in the summer? Mostly it was 'tough luck.'

Before you become shocked or start laughing, that's not what I'm talking about here. The knocker-up was literally a human alarm clock. A knocker-up would visit your house to make sure you got to work on time. They used a long, light stick to hit their client's doors or windows to wake them.

Rat Catcher
From several centuries ago to even just a couple of centuries ago, cities (both residential neighborhoods and industrial areas) were plagued by disease-carrying rodents. Rat catchers were the people employed to remove the vermin off the streets.

Back in the day when street lights were gas, before the days of electric lamps, lamplighters would use long poles to light, extinguish and refuel street lamps to illuminate the night streets.

Before refrigerators existed, and even in the day of the ice box, it was hard to keep milk from going bad, especially in summer. The milkman made regular neighborhood deliveries. With the advent of home refrigeration and the convenience of modern supermarkets, the need for the milkman disappeared.

Switchboard Operator
At one time switchboard operators were a key part of a telephone network’s operation. Initially, anyone wanting to make even a local call needed the operator to put it through. After local dial was the norm, the operator was still required for long distance. And in businesses where numerous employees were all connected to the same company phone number, the switchboard operator was needed to direct incoming calls. But now, with billions of phone calls made every day, the job of switchboard operator would be virtually impossible.

Before you wrinkle your forehead into a frown and formulate an immediate objection to the concept of computer belonging on a 'no longer exists' list, I'm not talking about the hardware/software combination that is vital to today's society. I'm talking about a person rather than a machine. Computer was an actual job title. Before computers (the machine) became commercially available, these computers (the human workers—commonly women) performed mathematical calculations, converting and crunching numbers by hand. These 'computers' were invaluable during World War II calculating firing logistics for the artillery units at the front.

Also known as 'body snatchers' as well as grave robbers. Resurrectionists were hired to dig newly buried, fresh corpses from graveyards and sell them to universities to be used as cadavers for medical research and instruction.

And as is obvious, many of today's jobs will be obsolete at some point in time. Some of them not that far away.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Those We Lost In 2016—Part 2 of 2

John Glenn
Welcome back to part 2 of this 2-part blog.  Last week I showed a cross section of those who died January through July.  Here in part 2, I'm covering August through December.

David Huddleston, 85 years old, died August 2:  character actor probably best known for his roles in The Big Lebowski and Santa Claus: The Movie.

Pete Fountain, 86 years old, died August 6:  world renowned clarinetist famous for his New Orleans Dixieland jazz.

Kenny Baker, 81 years old, died August 13:  played the lovable R2-D2 in the Star Wars films, achieving cult status without showing his face or speaking any lines.

John McLaughlin, 89 years old, died August 16:  conservative commentator and head of the long running television about Washington politics.

Steven Hill, 94 years old, died August 23:  character actor who achieved his greatest success late in life as District Attorney Adam Schiff on the long running television series Law & Order. I remember him from the very first season of the Mission Impossible television series then Peter Graves took over as head of the Impossible Mission's Force at the start of season 2 for the rest of the series run.

Gene Wilder, 83 years old, died August 28:  the actor who brought his deft comedic touch to such marvelous zany films as Mel Brooks' The Producers and also Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein as well as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. He was married to Gilda Radnor of Saturday Night Live until her death from cancer.

Jon Polito, 65 years old, died September 1:  his 200+ credits range from television series Homicide: Life on the Street and Modern Family to films Barton Fink and The Big Lebowski.

Phyllis Schlaffly, 92 years old, died September 5:  outspoken conservative activist who worked to defeat the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s.

Lady Chablis, 59 years old, died September 8:  transgender performer who became an unlikely celebrity after being included in the 1994 best-seller Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil.

Edward Albee, 88 years old, died September 16:  three time Pulitzer Prize winning playwright who gave us such masterworks as Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? and A Delicate Balance.

W.P. Kinsella, 81 years old, died September 16:  Canadian novelist who gave us Field Of Dreams.

Arnold Palmer, 87 years old, died September 25:  the golfing great who brought what had basically been a country club sport to the masses.

Shimon Peres, 93 years old, died September 28:  former Israeli president and prime minister celebrated around the world as a Nobel prize-winning visionary.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 88 years old, died October 13:  the world's longest reigning monarch who was revered in Thailand as an anchor of stability through decades of upheaval at home and abroad. When I read 'longest reigning monarch' my first thought was that honor belonged to Elizabeth II of England. So, I had to look it up…the king reigned for 70 years, 126 days. Elizabeth has been on the throne since February 6, 1952 which is 65 years next month.

Janet Reno, 78 years old, died November 7:  the first woman to serve as U.S. Attorney General.

Robert Vaughn, 83 years old, died November 11:  Oscar nominated actor with many film roles but was most famous for the television series The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Leon Russell, 74 years old, died November 13:  singer-songwriter who found his own rock'n'roll spotlight in the 1970s after playing anonymously on dozens of pop hits as an in-demand studio pianist.

Florence Henderson, 82 years old, died November 24:  Broadway star who was most famous for The Brady Bunch television series.

Fidel Castro, 90 years old, died November 25:  revolutionary who was Cuba's dictator for 5 decades.

Ron Glass, 71 years old, died November 25:  Emmy nominated for his portrayal of Detective Ron Harris, another of the Barney Miller cast who died in 2016. He also appeared in the sci-fi cult series Firefly as preacher Derrial Brook.

Grant Tinker, 90 years old, died November 28:  former NBC television network chairman who brought such shows as Hill Street Blues to the network. Also co-founded MTM Enterprises with then wife Mary Tyler Moore.

John Glenn, 95 years old, died December 8:  first American to orbit the earth in 1962 followed by a long career as the U.S. Senator from Ohio. Returned to space in 1998 for a 7 day mission, making him the oldest man to go into space.

E.R. Braithwaite, 104 years old, died December 12:  Guyanese author, educator and diplomat whose years teaching in the slums of London's East End inspired the best seller To Sir, With Love, later made into a movie.

Alan Thicke, 69 years old, died December 13:  actor best known for playing the dad on the television series Growing Pains.

Zsa Zsa Gabor, 99 years old, died December 18:  Hungarian born beauty queen, married 9 times, sister of Eva Gabor. Served 3 days in jail for slapping a Beverly Hills policeman.

George Michael, 53 years old, died December 25:  pop singer whose career started with Wham! in the 1980s before he went out on his own for a solo career.

Carrie Fisher, 60 years old, died December 27: daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, most famous as Princess Leia from the Star Wars movies.
Debbie Reynolds, 84 years old, died December 28:  to everyone's shock, she died the day after her daughter, Carrie Fisher's, surprise death. Came to fame starring with Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor in Singing In The Rain.

William Christopher, 84 years old, died December 31:  best known for his role as Father Mulcahy in the long running M*A*S*H* television series.

There were many more that we lost in 2016.  They will all be missed.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Those We Lost In 2016—Part 1 of 2

Elie Wiesel

The world lost many notable people from the entertainment industry, politics, news/media, literature, and sports during the last year. I've compiled a cross section (most certainly not all of them) listed chronologically. I've divided it into two lists with part 1 (January through July) this week and part 2 (August through December) for next week's blog posting on January 22.

Pat Harrington, Jr., 86 years old, died January 6:  actor and comedian who first garnered attention as one of Steve Allen's television comedy troop (along with Don Knotts, Tom Poston, Louie Nye, and Bill Dana). He later starred as the apartment superintendent on the hit television series One Day At A Time.

David Bowie, 69 years old, died January 10:  musician who crossed pop and rock boundaries with a career that spanned 6 decades along with his persona of Ziggy Stardust.

Alan Richman, 69 years old, died January 14:  classically trained British stage actor, remembered for his Harry Potter villain, Die Hard, and many other films.

Abe Vigoda, 94 years old, died January 26:  character actor whose sad-eyed face made him the perfect selection for the over-the-hill detective on the Barney Miller television series and the doomed Mafia soldier in The Godfather.

Antonin Scalia, 79 years old, died February 13:  influential conservative and member of the U.S. Supreme Court. As of this date, his position on the Supreme Court has not been filled and the 9 person Court has been operating 1 person short for almost a year.

Harper Lee, 89 years old, died February 19:  novelist who wrote the best selling novel To Kill A Mockingbird about racial injustice in a small southern town. Her novel was turned into an Oscar winning film starring Gregory Peck.

George Kennedy, 91 years old, died February 28:  tough guy actor who won a best supporting actor Oscar for his role in the classic Paul Newman film, Cool Hand Luke.

Pat Conroy, 70 years old, died March 4:  author of The Great Santini, The Prince of Tides, and other best selling novels many of which drew on his difficult childhood.

Nancy Reagan, 94 years old, died March 6:  an actress who became Ronald Reagan's second wife and ultimately First Lady when he became President of the United States.

Frank Sinatra, Jr., 72 years old, died March 16:  followed in his father's footsteps with his own music career. His kidnapping as a young man added a bizarre chapter to his father's legendary life.

Rob Ford, 46 years old, died March 22:  former mayor of Toronto (Canada) whose political career crashed in a drug-driven, obscenity-laced scandal.

Jim Harrison, 78 years old, died March 26:  fiction writer and poet who had mainstream success in middle age with his historical work Legends of the Fall.

Patty Duke, 69 years old, died March 29:  won an Oscar as a teenager for her portrayal of Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker and maintained a long and successful career in both films and television.

Merle Haggard, 79 years old, died April 6:  country music giant who came from poverty, did time in prison, and went on to international fame with songs about outlaws, underdogs, and an abiding sense of national pride.

Doris Roberts, 90 years old, died April 17:  character actress probably best known for her role as the endlessly meddling mother on Everybody Loves Raymond. Those of us who are 'older' remember her as the secretary on the Remington Steele series.

Prince, 57 years old, died April 21:  inventive and influential musician with hits such as When Doves Cry.

Michelle McNamara, 57 years old, died April 21:  crime writer and founder of the True Crime Diary website.

Jane Little, 87 years old, died May 15:  less than 5 ft. tall, played the double bass for 71 consecutive years which earned her the Guinness World Record as the world's longest serving symphony player.

Morley Safer, 84 years old, died May 19:  newsman and veteran 60 Minutes correspondent who exposed a military atrocity in Vietnam that played an early role in changing the American public's view of the war.

Alan Young, 96 years old, died May 19:  actor-comedian who played straight man to a talking horse in the television series Mr. Ed. Did that theme song suddenly pop into your head? "A horse is a horse, of course of course, unless that horse…"

Muhammad Ali, 74 years old, died June 3:  champion boxer and civil rights crusader whose beliefs cost him his championship, a 3 year suspension and in 1967 resulted in him being sentenced to 5 years in prison yet he never waivered from those beliefs and returned to boxing when his suspension ended.

Anton Yelchin, 27 years old, died June 19:  rising young actor best known for his role of Chekov in the new Star Trek films.

Ralph Stanley, 89 years old, died June 23:  known as the godfather of traditional bluegrass music, he found a whole new generation of fans thanks to his Grammy-winning music for the 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Alvin Toffler, 87 years old, died June 27:  a guru of the post-industrial age whose book, Future Shock, anticipated the disruptions and transformations brought about by the rise of digital technology.

Pat Summitt, 64 years old, died June 28:  winningest coach in Division I college basketball history who, during her 38 year career at Tennessee, lifted the women's game from obscurity to national prominence.

Elie Wiesel, 87 years old, died July 2:  Romanian-born Holocaust survivor whose classic book, Night, became a landmark testament to the Nazis' crimes and launched his career as one of the world's foremost witnesses and humanitarians.

Michael Cimino, 77 years old, died July 2:  Oscar winning director of The Deer Hunter, a great triumph in Hollywood's 1970s heyday, and also the director of the disastrous Heaven's Gate.

Noel Neill, 95 years old, died July 3:  first actress to play Superman's girlfriend, Lois Lane, in the 1948 movie serial Superman.

Garry Marshall, 81 years old, died July 19:  writer and producer responsible for many highly successful television series such as Happy Days and its 2 spin-off series, Laverne & Shirley and Mork & Mindy, as well as producing Neil Simon's The Odd Couple as a television series. He also directed 18 movies including Pretty Woman, Beaches, and The Princess Diaries.

Check back next week for part 2 of my blog showing a cross section of those we lost in 2016.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

It's Friday the 13th —Does it make you stop and think?

Triskaidekaphobia:  Fear of the number thirteen.
Paraskevidekatriaphobia:  Fear of Friday the 13th.

An obviously irrational concept that a mere number can bring bad luck to someone.  Or that a specific day of the week can be unlucky.  But that doesn't stop us from dwelling on the possibility.

This week gives us Friday the 13th.  January and October are the only months with a Friday the 13th for the year 2017.

The tradition of Friday being a day of bad luck dates back centuries with some of the more common theories linking it to significant events in the Bible believed to have taken place on Friday such as the Crucifixion of Christ, Eve offering Adam the apple in the Garden of Eden, the beginning of the great flood.

Many sources for the superstition surrounding the number thirteen and its association with bad luck also derive from Christianity with the Last Supper being cited as the origin.  Judas was the thirteenth person to be seated at the table.

And when you put the two bad luck symbols together you get Friday the 13th…the day associated with misfortune.

One legend of the origin of Friday the 13th as unlucky comes from the persecution of the Knights Templar. Philip IV of France borrowed enormous sums of money from the very wealthy Templars to finance a war with England. An ineffectual king and an even worse military commander, Philip was easily defeated. He saw a way of both currying favor with the Pope and eliminating his huge debt. On that fateful day of Friday, October 13, 1307 he ordered all Templars arrested and their property seized. The Grandmaster of the order, Jacques DeMolay was thrown in prison along with several other high-ranking members of the order. The Knights Templar, which had dominated medieval life for two centuries, was no more. Unfortunately for Philip, the Templars had learned of his planned treachery before hand. Many of them escaped and their vast stores of treasure were hidden from the King’s soldiers. Jacques DeMolay was burned alive after being tortured when he refused to admit to any wrongdoing. Another legend that has also persisted is that Jacques DeMolay cursed both Philip IV and Pope Clement V, as he died. Philip and Clement died within months of DeMolay’s death.

Superstition is a belief or notion not based on reason or knowledge.  An irrational belief.  Lots of superstitions came into being during the Dark Ages, a time when living conditions were so severe that people reached out to anything that might bring them help and solace with the results being explanations for what seemed unexplainable at the time.  Religious beliefs and lack of scientific knowledge helped to spawn many superstitions.

Superstitions differ from culture to culture, but we all have them even if it's only paying surface homage to the concept.  We don't believe in the good luck vs. bad luck of chain letters, yet it often comes down to saying what's the harm, then sending the letter on to avoid breaking the chain.

We often follow the tradition of the superstition without really knowing why it's the traditional thing to do.  If we blow out all the candles on our birthday cake with one breath while making a silent wish, then the wish will come true.  When expressing a desire for good luck (we'll be able to go on the picnic if it doesn't rain), we grin, then we knock on wood as we emit an embarrassed chuckle.

In Western folklore, many superstitions are associated with bad luck.  In addition to Friday the 13th there's walking under a ladder, having a black cat cross your path, spilling salt, stepping on a crack, and breaking a mirror among others.

In addition to cultural superstitions, there's also certain occupations that evoke various rituals to bring on good luck.  It seems to me that gamblers and sports figures have the most superstitions and rituals to insure good luck.

Do you have any superstitions that you hold dear?  Are they more of a traditional situation handed down through your family or are they superstitions that have come down through history?

And I'm sure there won't be any unpleasantries or bizarre accidents this Friday (knock on wood).

Sunday, January 1, 2017

History of New Year's Celebrations

New Year's Day is today (Sunday)…welcome to 2017.  This has become a traditional time of celebration.  We party on New Year's Eve and celebrate the moment the clock strikes midnight signaling the beginning of a new year.

And, of course, when the year 2000 arrived we celebrated for twenty-four hours as each time zone around the world welcomed the new millennium on live television broadcasts.

But why and how did the New Year's celebrations become part of our annual routine?  The earliest recorded account of a celebration in honor of the new year dates back four thousand years to ancient Babylon.  For the Babylonians, the first new moon following the vernal (spring) equinox announced the arrival of the new year.  They celebrated this spring time event with a massive 11 day religious festival called Akitu.  It was during this time that a new king was crowned or the current ruler's mandate renewed.

Throughout antiquity, civilizations around the world developed more sophisticated calendars with the first day of the year associated with an agricultural or astronomical event.  For example, in Egypt the year began with the annual flooding of the Nile which coincided with the rising of the star Sirius.  In China, the new year occurred with the second new moon after the winter solstice…a day they still celebrate.

The early Roman calendar had 10 months and 304 days with each new year beginning at the vernal equinox.  Tradition holds that it was created by Romulus, the founder of Rome, in the eighth century B.C.  Numa Pompilius, a later king, is credited with adding the months of Januarius and Februarius.  Over the ensuing centuries, the Roman calendar grew out of sync with the sun.  In 46 B.C., Julius Caesar introduced the Julian calendar which closely resembles the more modern Gregorian calendar used today by most countries.

As part of his reform, Julius Caesar declared January 1 as the first day of the year and Romans celebrated by exchanging gifts, decorating their homes, and attending raucous parties.  In medieval Europe, Christian leaders temporarily replaced January 1 as the first day of the year with days carrying more religious significance, such as December 25 as the anniversary of Christ's birth and March 25 as the Feast of the Annunciation.  It was Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 who re-established January 1 as New Year's Day.

In many countries, New Year's celebrations begin on New Year's Eve and continue into the early hours of January 1st.  These celebrations often include specific foods that are said to bring good luck for the coming year—grapes in Spain, round fruits in the Philippines, suckling pig in Austria, soba noodles in Japan, rice pudding in Norway, and black-eyed peas in the southern United States.  Other customs that are common worldwide include making new year resolutions (a practice started by the Babylonians) and watching fireworks displays.

In the United States, the most famous New Year's tradition is the dropping of the giant ball in New York City's Times Square.  This event, first instituted in 1906, occurs at the stroke of midnight.  The original giant ball was made of iron and wood weighing 400 pounds.  A total of 7 versions of the Ball have been designed over the more than a century since the first drop of the ball occurred.

Today's giant ball is a brightly patterned sphere 12 feet in diameter and weighing nearly 12,000 pounds.  Each year, the 2688 intricate Waterford crystals that make up the skin of the huge orb are replaced with new ones.  For this year's design, 288 of the Waterford triangles are the Gift of Wonder design inspiring our sense of wonder.  288 are the Gift of Fortitude design representing the inner attributes of resolve, courage and spirit necessary to triumph over adversity.  The remaining 1824 crystal triangles are the Gift of Imagination design with a series of intricate wedge cuts that are mirrored reflections of each other inspiring our imagination.

The 2,688 Waterford crystal triangles are bolted to 672 LED modules which are attached to the aluminum frame of the ball.  The ball is capable of displaying a palette of more than 16 million colors and billions of patterns that create a spectacular kaleidoscope effect as the ball drops down a flagpole at the stroke of midnight Eastern Standard Time.

So, however you celebrate the arrival of the new year…whether you go out to a party, have family or a few friends to your home, or simply curl up by a cozy fire and watch the festivities in Times Square…I wish everyone a happy and healthy new year.

And peace on earth.