Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Monday, March 25, 2019


Openers:  In 1961 they erected the building.  Befitting the ivied traditions of Universities, both old and new, the structure was an architectural abomination.  The sentimentalists and the liberal arts majors, with smug, mid-Victorian complacency, called it "a bit of old Gothic".  The science majors, with hard-headed realism, called it simply "The Monster", and shuddered theatrically.

-- "Every Work Into Judgment" by Kris Neville, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Winter-Spring 1950.

Spin City:  The Mueller Report is finished and has been handed in to the attorney general and Trumpinistas are altering reality and crowing victory.  "No collusion!"  Perhaps.  Perhaps not.  What limited information we can glean from the report thus far indicates there was nothing provable about the president's actions but there was much cause for concern.  We do know that Russia interfered with our elections, and we do know that members of Trump's election campaign and certain Trump advisers were in contact with Russian operatives and those close to Vladimir Putin, but of Trump's direct involvement we know nothing.  If the full report is ever released, along with its supporting documents, we will have a much better idea of what actually happened.  In no way, however, has the report absolved Trump.  Potentially far more devastating for the president (and his family) are the other, on-going investigations centering on Trump's businesses and finances.  I doubt if Trump is sleeping comfortably at present.

There's an App for That:  For the many, many fans of Florida Man, here's a nifty trick.  Google 'Florida Man" and add your birthday (just the day and month, thank you) and can view your birthday Florida Man headlines.  An explanation of this new internet craze, along with several example,is here:

Strangely, this will not work id you substitute another state for Florida.

Nor should it.

R.I.P., Henry:  Henry Pseng died on February 27.  He was 111 (and 231 days) and was thought to be the oldest person in the United States.  He exercised at a local YMCA in Los Angeles where he had been a member for over forty years.  In his eighties he was still doing yoga handstands.  In his nineties he was an active participant in dance aerobics, a class that was held at the ungodly hour of 6:00 am.  At the end he was wheelchair-bound but still lifted himself from his chair for a half hour on an exercise bike every day, and did so until the day before he died.  Exercise, moderation, smiling, and  a lack of worrying were his secrets to a long life.

Just goes to show that in no way will I live to be 111.

Tragic Anniversary:  The time, 108 years ago today.  The place, the Asch Building at 23-29 Washington Place in Greenwich Village.  The top three floors of the building were occupied by the Triangle Waist Company, which made women's blouses, or shirtwaists.  The company employed about 500 workers who put in a 52-hour week for $7 to $12 a week. 

Shortly before closing, a fire started on the eighth floor in a scrap bin which held several month's worth of discarded cuttings.  The culprit was most likely a discarded match or cigarette butt, although heat from engines running the sewing machines could also have been the cause..  Next to the scrap bin were some highly-flammable curtains. 

There were few ways of escape for the workers.  Two freight elevators were crammed with workers, allowing some to escape; the two elevator operators were able to make three trips to rescue workers before the heat made it impossible.  Others made their way to the roof of the building and crossed over to a nearby roof.  A flimsy and most likely poorly installed fire escape  where some twenty people tried to escape collapsed and sent the working falling 100 feet to the pavement.  There were two stairways:  one was inaccessible because of the flames, the other was locked in an effort by management to prevent theft.  The supervisor who had the key to the locked stairwell had escaped by another means.

146 workers died, some by fire, some by smoke inhalation, and others by throwing themselves out of windows.  Of the 146 dead, 123 were woman, mostly immigrants age between 14 and 23.  The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire was one of the deadliest industrial disasters in American history. 

Triangle's owners were eventually arrested on first-and second-degree manslaughter but received not guilty verdicts.  Sued in civil court, they were found culpable and had to pay $75 for each victim.  their insurance company ended up paying the owners some $60,000 more than their losses, which worked out to be about $400 per victim.

The fire led to public outrage.  New York City created a Committee on Public Safety.  In Albany Tammany Hall politicians also saw the benefits of action and created a Factory Investigating Committee which led to 38 new labor laws.  In New York City, it was estimated that over 200 factories had conditions that could lead to similar fires.  Between 1911 and 1913, New York established laws requiring better building access, availability of fire extinguishers and sprinkler systems, improved toilet and eating facilities for workers, and the number of hours women and children could be made to work.  New York became to poster boy for progressive labor conditions.

The outrage also led to a greater union activity and a much strengthened International Ladies' Garment Workers union.

The last-known survivor of the tragedy, Rose Rosenfeld Freeman, died in 2001 at 107.  She had been 17 at the time of the fire and was one of the ones to have escaped via the building's roof.

Why does it always have to take a tragedy before politicians and public demand common sense change?  And, sadly, even after a tragedy change does not always come.

Today's Poem:
Anecdote of the Jar

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.

The wilderness rose up to it, 
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
and tall and of a port in air.

It took dominion everywhere.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

-- Wallace Stevens