Thursday, November 19, 2009

Prairie Wedding

In the novel, Sarah Plain and Tall, Sarah moves to the Great Plains in answer to a newspaper advertisement for a bride. In the mid-1800's when the plains were being settled, this was not nearly as unusual as it would seem today. When a man on the prairie lost his wife, he had to find a new one. The work that women did on the prairie was so essential, that a family could hardly manage without her. So, when a woman died or was killed, her husband needed to search for a new wife quickly. If no one was available where he lived, he may have advertised for a bride from farther away. Sometimes these wives were called mail order brides.

In the days of the westward movement, women, just like men and children, played an essential role in the survival of the family. Women took care of the children and took care of the house. They took part in the heavy farm labor too. Women also provided many of the services that would later on be provided by professionals, such as education and medical care.

In addition to “Sarah Plain and Tall”, another book that describes what life must have been like for mail order brides on The Great Plains is Hearts West: True Stories of Mail-Order Brides on the Frontier.

If you’d like to learn more about mail order brides, but find it difficult to find time to read, the most succinct way to get a feel of the mail order bride experience is to listen to Mark Knopfler’s “Prairie Wedding”, which was one of the songs on his 2000 album, Sailing To Philadelphia:

Prairie Wedding

We only knew each other by letter
I went to meet her off the train
When the smoke had cleared and the dust was still
She was standing there and speaking my name

I guarantee she looked like an angel
I couldn't think of what I should say
But when Adam saw Eve in the garden
I believe he felt the selfsame way

I handed her up on the wagon
And I loaded up her trunk behind
She was sitting up there with the gold in her hair
And I tried to get hold of my mind

Do you think that you could love me Mary
Do you think we got a chance of a life
Do you think that you could love me Mary
Now you are to be my wife

We finally headed out of the station
And we drove up to the home trail
And when we came to the farm she laid a hand on my arm
I thought my resolution would fail

And I froze as she stepped in the doorway
Stood there as still as could be
I said I know it ain't much, it needs a woman's touch
Lord she turned around and looked at me

Do you think that you could love me Mary
You think we got a chance of a life
Do you think that you could love me Mary
Now you are to be my wife

We had a prairie wedding
There was a preacher and a neighbour or two
I gave my golden thing a gold wedding ring
And the both of us said I do

And when the sun's going down on the prairie
And the gold in her hair is aflame
I say do you really love me Mary
And I hold her and I whisper her name

Do you think that you could love me Mary
You think we got a chance of a life
Do you think that you could love me Mary
Now you are to be my wife

Although social networking is considered to be a recent phenomenon by some people, the truth is that it’s really as old as the first society in the world. In America, the first Chamber of Commerce was the State of New York, which was founded in 1768, eight years before the United States became a country. By 1870 there were 40 throughout the United States.

Today, there are 7800 Chambers of Commerce in America. When I lived in the western suburbs, I belonged to the Naperville Chamber of Commerce, and I now attend the meetings of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce on a fairly regular basis.

By definition, one of the purposes of social networking has always been the promotion of one’s business.

In the America of the mid-1800’s, the business of the country was farming. Even as late as 1900, nearly half of the labor force in America worked on family farms. In a very real sense, mail order brides are a good early example of social networking, since they allowed the growth of the family business, which was farming.

100 + years later, both agriculture and social networking have changed dramatically in this country.

Agriculture’s contribution to America’s GDP continues to decline, but it’s still a HUGE business. Agriculture remains a very important sector in California's economy, which is the 8th largest economy in the entire world.

Farming-related sales have more than quadrupled over the past three decades, from $7.3 billion in 1974 to nearly $31 billion in 2004. This increase has occurred despite a 15 percent decline in acreage devoted to farming during the period, and water supply suffering from chronic instability. Factors contributing to the growth in sales-per-acre include more intensive use of active farmlands and technological improvements in crop production

Believe it or not, “mail order brides” still exist today. If you Googled “mail order brides”, you’d discover that the vast majority are from the former Soviet Union.

When I watched the 1963 James Bond film, “From Russia with Love” in 1963, and “The Russians are Coming” in 1966, I had no idea how aptly those terms would apply to today’s mail order brides.

As I mentioned in my November 14 post, the internet is actually a very recent addition to our lives, but it’s made a huge change in how social networking works.

MySpace and LinkedIn were both founded in 2003. Facebook was started by Mark Zuckerberg while he was a student at Harvard in 2004, which enabled him to become a billionaire before he was 25 years old.Twitter was started in 2006. Although I haven’t “tweeted” yet, I know people who get all the news they need on Twitter.

My friend (and customer) Brad Will participates in the Underground Social Media Society Networking group in order to promote his business, and he also uses Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

My friends the Kowalskis use the internet to promote their businesses, as well as their entrepreneurial leads group.

My employer, The Autobarn, has shipped vehicles to dozens of countries around the world because of internet ads.. I personally have arranged for three vehicles to be shipped to Africa, and I also arranged for a Nismo “Z” to be shipped to Poland.

Prairie weddings?

They still exist, but one recent one (in particular) was a lot different than most of them. Lee Klawans and Gry Haukland got married on the ledge of the Willis Tower Skydeck in August of 2009. The couple met over Neil Steinberg's page on Facebook and Lee proposed only days after meeting Gry in person. (Neil is a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times.)

Apart from the fact that the wedding arrangements were made in record time (literally, in just a few days), the other amazing part of the tale is that Lee lives in Chicago, and Gry lives in Norway. The other little detail that you may find interesting is that they got married in a glass box that is suspended 1353 feet about the street below:

Lee and Gry’s wedding.

Prairie weddings definitely do still exist, but for Lee and Gry, the view from the “altar” was a lot different.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Vodka and the internet

Although it may seem like we’ve had the internet forever, the truth is that the advent of the World Wide Web is a fairly recent event.

Nineteen years ago this week, Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau published a formal proposal for the World Wide Web.

Although Mr. Berners-Lee deserves a lot of credit for creating the internet, the real driving force behind the internet is a beverage that first came into being in 1405:


The word vodka is derived from the Russian word voda (water) and the Polish word woda. Vodka is by far the most popular alcoholic beverage consumed in Russia. Close to 90% of the alcohol consumed in Russia is vodka, and it’s generally consumed in shots, not in mixed drinks.

In the mid 1950’s, a group of Russian scientists, lead by Sergei Korolev, created the world’s first satellite, which they called Sputnik. It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that Mr. Korolev and his associates probably came up with the idea for Sputnik some evening after work as they were enjoying a few shots of vodka.

When Russia launched Sputnik in 1957, the United States and Russia were smack dab in the middle of “the cold war”. Although we were only eight years into the reality of a “red China”, four years away from the erection of the Berlin wall, and five years away from the Cuban missile crisis, there was a genuine fear of communism in America, as evidenced be “the McCarthy years.”

When the Russians launched Sputnik, American scientists became panic stricken.

In response to Sputnik, the U.S formed the Advanced Research Projects Agency in 1958. At approximately the same time, they also created NASA, which allowed us to put a man on the moon before our Russian adversaries were able to do so.

One of the main benefits of ARPA is that it provided a way for various government computers to talk to each other.

Preliminary work on linking computers together started as early as 1961, and by 1969, ARPANET came into being, which allowed computer interfacing at various locations:

what is ARPANET?.

Although Al Gore actually stated on CNN that he “created the internet” there’s a little more to the story than that:

The former Vice President was an early advocate of ARPANET, and would probably be considered to be the person most responsible for keeping the funding for the program intact.

And that’s the inconvenient truth.

After the Russians launched the first satellite, and got the first man into space (Yuri Gagarin) their technological edge started to slip, and it’s possible that vodka might have been the problem.

In 1950, per capita consumption of alcohol in Russia was .8 gallon per person per year. In recent years, it has soared to 4 gallons per person per year:

can you walk a straight line, Yuri?

In the good old U.S.A, the trend has been exactly the opposite, and per capita consumption is now down to about 2 gallons a year:

how dry I am

If you’d like to toast the Internet, or any of your special friends, the link below will make it easier:

Grey Goose

As for me, I’m about to dip into the first vodka martini that I’ve had for several decades.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Have a good day!

When Pastor Dan was attending seminary in Minneapolis, he and his young bride lived in an area that was also populated by a large number of homeless people. Like many people, he was ambivalent about how to deal with them, especially when they asked for money. On one occasion, he decided to give the person on the street a couple of dollars, and he and his wife continued on their way.

A block or so later, they decided that since it made THEM feel good to give the person some money, why not simply give the person their remaining $5?

So they did.

Throughout history, every society has always had a class of people that were considered “beggars”, and they were invariably looked down upon.

In America today, the group that comprises “the homeless” is a lot more complex than you might imagine. For starters, it is estimated that one out of four homeless people is a veteran of the Armed Services. By serving their country with honor, they did terrible damage to themselves:

is that any way to treat a vet?

Due to the skid in the economy, many people who previously had been living a “typical middle class lifestyle” were finding themselves unemployed, foreclosed, and scrounging for a place to live:

over 45 and out of luck

More often than you might think, the homeless person on the street may have talents that wouldn’t expect a “skid row bum” to have, as evidenced by the 2009 film, The Soloist.

Being out of work doesn’t necessarily mean that you are going to be homeless. Canadian author Charles Long published a book titled “How to Survive Without a Salary” in 1988, and it’s had two subsequent releases.

Evanston, Illinois is one of the most educated cities in America, with 62% of the population holding bachelors or advanced degrees, considerably higher than the national average of 14%. 92% of the work force would be considered to be white collar workers.

Evanston is also home to at least two large group homes where a large number of mentally ill people reside. Seeing them shuffle down the street every morning as I walk to work, I invariably think of the classic 1968 film, “Night of the Living Dead”. Although none of them would be considered to be dangerous people, their mere presence on the streets of Evanston, and in the parks of Evanston, sometimes make people nervous:

who’s park is it, anyway?

By definition, a homeless person is someone who does not have a permanent mailing address of their own, which doesn’t necessarily mean that they sleep outdoors at night or in one of the homeless shelters that are scattered throughout the city.

I usually go to the local Jewel store 4 or 5 times a week to pick up a few items, and I often encounter one of the most cheerful people that I’ve ever met. Both entering and coming, he greets everyone with a big, genuine smile, and a wish “to have a good day”.

After hearing Pastor Dan’s sermon a few weeks ago, I decided that it would be interesting to interview “the man on the street”, and finally was able to do so on November 5.

His name is Terry, and he has lived in Evanston most of his life (after a brief stay in Detroit). If you’ve been to Jewel lately, this is what he looks like:

Although he was a licensed driver in his early years, he no longer likes to drive, and gets around town on a small bicycle that he borrows from a friend:

He was born on March 1, 1958, which means that he is 51 years old, but he looks to be far younger.

He attended Park Elementary school and Nichols middle school, and he graduated from Evanston Township High School.

After graduation, he attended both Barbizon Modeling School and Columbia college, but did not graduate from either.

He has had a variety of jobs in his lifetime:

restaurant worker, nursing home attendant, bank teller, case worker for the City of Evanston, mail room worker at Loyola University, telemarketing, and “Infrared Research”

The job at Infrared Research ended in 1993, and he has not held a permanent job since then.

He sold “Streetwise” for a couple of years, but the only publication that he sells now is “Chicago Jazz”

Some of his ancestors are full blooded Cherokees, but his ethnic makeup is only a small percentage “native American”

He lives with a friend, so doesn’t have to worry about sleeping in the elements. Believe it or not, he’s a hard working guy.

On the morning that I interviewed him, he had been at his station at Jewel since 7:30 that morning, and he often works until past 11 at night. He estimates that he spends about 25 hours a week greeting people as they come in to Jewel.

He was quick to point out that he is actually a “greeter”, not a panhandler, and there truly is a large difference between the two.

Years ago, he tried to get in to the military, but his poor vision kept him out.

I asked him why he was always so cheerful, and his response was there was enough sadness in the world, and he didn’t want to add to it.

I have no idea if he gets any money from the government, nor do I care, nor am I concerned with his familial relationships.

Just as Pastor Dan gained something by his encounter with the “homeless person” years ago in Minneapolis, I truly look forward to my frequent encounters with Terry at the Jewel Store.

“Have a good day”, he always says.

And to you too, Terry.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

You'll still be ugly in the morning

Winston Churchill was known to be fond of the “oil of conversation”, and he was also known as a man who wasn’t afraid to speak his mind.

One of the people who he tangled with on a fairly regular basis was the Lady Astor, a prominent American-born English socialite, and the first female member of the British House of Commons.

One of the more famous exchanges that Lady Astor is purported to have had with Churchill is as follows: "Winston, you are drunk." To which Churchill responded, "and you, madam, are ugly. In the morning, I shall be shober,

Although people drink for a lot of reasons, Churchill’s thirst was due, in part, to his mother, Lady Randolph Churchill.

Like the Lady Astor, Lady Randolph Churchill was born in America. Her father was a wealthy American financier named Leonard Jerome, and her mother, Clara, was the daughter of a New York congressman.

Lady Randolph’s first marriage was to Lord Randolph Churchill, whom she met at her father’s racetrack in Westchester County New York. They married at the British Embassy in Paris, and moved to England shortly thereafter.

Just before she gave birth to her son Winston in 1874, she commissioned a bartender at the Manhattan Club in New York to create a special drink to commemorate the election of Samuel J. Tiilden to the governorship.

That drink became known as the Manhattan, and it is sometimes called “the king of cocktails”

I still enjoy a Manhattan on an occasional basis, but I have to admit that it’s been less than 24 hours since I had my last one, a perfect Manhattan, and it was a mighty fine drink.

At this point in the story, you’re probably expecting me to come up with a snappy and pithy ending.

Since this story is about Winston Churchill, I’ve decided it would be more appropriate to leave you with one of his famous quotations:

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

Sir Winston Churchill, 1942

Sunday, November 1, 2009

When better cars are built .....

China will build them.

Starting in 1936, the Kudner Advertising Agency of New York handled the advertising account for the Buick Motor Division of General Motors. Through the use of clever slogans, as well the creation of the most famous auto slogan of all time (when better cars are built, Buick will build them) , the agency helped lift Buick sales from fewer than 100,000 units a year to 514,497 in 1954, second only to Ford and Chevrolet.

Although Buick sales peaked at 737,879 in 1955, a series of errors on the part of the ad agency, largely tied to television, caused it to lose the ad account at the end of 1957. Those errors caused Buick sales to slide, and by 1957, Buick sales were down to 332,102, well behind Plymouth.

For many years, the bulk of Buick sales were in the United States, but General Motors has long had a presence in other markets. The first Buick sold in China was to the Emperor of China in the 1920’s

The Chinese market has expanded rapidly in recent years, and it recently became the largest auto market on the face of the planet.

In 2006, Buick sales in China surpassed Buick sales in the United States for the first time, and the gap has widened considerably since then.

For the first nine months of 2009, Buick sold 312,798 cars in China, and only 72,389 in the United States. As a result, when Buick redesigned the Lacrosse for the 2010 model year, the design studio that did the work was in Shanghai, not in America.

“Old timers” may bemoan the fact that the most popular cars in America today carry Japanese nameplates (Toyota sold 2,958,000 cars in North America in 2008), and “they just don’t build them like they used to”, but here’s a couple of things they should consider:

Toyota now has 12 manufacturing plants in the United States, and the majority of the vehicles that the company sells here are made here.

The fact that companies “don’t build them like they used to” is definitely good news, and the “proof of the pudding” can be seen in the attached video that was produced by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety:

good old Detroit Iron?

Even though Tiger Woods can walk on water (which you can see below),

where have I heard this story before?

the world’s best golfer wasn’t able to revive Buick sales enough to make a difference, and his $7 million a year contract was terminated by Buick last year after a 9 year partnership.

As far as I know, the owner’s manual for the new Lacrosse will be printed in English, and not in Chinese characters, but if you haven’t figured out by now that “the world is flat”(thank you, Thomas Friedman), you’re definitely not paying attention.

Zai jian