Sunday, January 19, 2014

Doin’ the dishes …………

When my wife was growing up, she and her two sisters were in charge of cleaning and putting away the dishes after their meals. Sharon was in charge of washing, Donna dried the dishes, and Vickie put them away.

As soon as Sharon was old enough to make a little pin money, she started to pay her sisters to do her portion of the process, since she always hated doing dishes. The new arrangement worked beautifully, until her taskmaster mother learned about it, and Sharon once again resumed her role as the washer of the dishes.

Dishwashing machines are so common today that it’s easy to forget that there WAS a time, not that long ago, when they were very rare in modern homes.

It’s logical to assume that the dishwasher was invented by some poor housewife who, like my wife, hated to do dishes. As you might suspect, though, that simply is not the case.

The first patent for a mechanical dishwashing machine was issued in 1850 to a man named Joel Houghton. His device was made of wood, and cranked by hand. Due to the fact that it was unreliable and slow, it never really caught on.

The first reliable (hand-powered) dishwasher was invented in 1887 by Josephine Cochrane and unveiled at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. Cochrane was quite wealthy and never washed dishes herself. She reportedly invented the dishwasher because her servants were chipping her fine china.

She eventually patented her invention, and started a company to manufacture the new product. Her company, the Garis-Cochrane company, eventually became a part of KitchenAid, which itself was eventually absorbed by Whirlpool. There are currently a number of companies that manufacture automatic dishwashers, but Whirlpool appears to be the largest manufacturer. In addition to Whirlpool dishwashers, the company also makes dishwashers for Sears Kenmore, KitchenAid, and Maytag.

Even during the postwar boom of the 1950’s, only wealthy individuals could afford to buy dishwashers, which were generally portable units that needed to be wheeled to a sink and connected to a faucet in order to operate.

By the 1970’s, the evolution in kitchen designs led to longer countertops and standardized height cabinets, and facilitated a boom in the installation of automatic dishwashers. Today, over 75% of the homes in America have an automatic dishwasher.

Although the dishwashers made by Whirlpool do a marvelous job of cleaning dishes, some of their models have had an unfortunate tendency to catch on fire, which led to the filing of class action lawsuits in the United States on November 3, 2011, and in Canada on September 9, 2013.

Our home, incidentally, has a Whirlpool dishwasher. Due to the fact that it is less than a year old, I’m confident that the safety devices that Whirlpool has recently installed to prevent fires will greatly reduce the possibility that we’ll have any nasty surprises in our kitchen.

Although dishwashers are suitable for the most common household dishes and silverware, they aren’t suitable for fine china, lead crystal, saucepans, and cast iron cookware. I also wouldn’t advice washing bicycle parts in dishwashers either, but I know a few bicycle aficionados in Chicago who have done exactly that.

I also wouldn’t recommend cooking in them, but many recipe websites now include instructions on how to cook food in a dishwasher. Salmon, in particular, seems to be a popular item for dishwasher cooking, but I’m not convinced that it’s a good idea.

If for some reason you think that cooking food in a dishwasher is a good idea, you may be interested to know that there are also recipes that will help you to cook turkeys in them as well.

I’ve heard a number of people state that the automatic dishwasher is the most indispensable modern appliance, so it’s not surprising that LOTS of people have written poems about them.

Yes, really.

If you Googled “ode to a dishwasher”, you’ll find a number of entries with that title. The link below (written by an Irish freelance writer named Margaret Hawkins) is just one example:

ode to my dishwasher.

(Her book, Restless Spirit: The Story of Rose Quinn, can be purchased from Amazon.)

Now that you know “the rest of the story” about your dishwasher, you’ll have a new appreciation for that mundane little machine that makes your life a whole lot easier.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Sycamore Row

As of this morning, John Grisham’s “Sycamore Row” is on the top of the New York Times best seller list, and it’s been on the list for 9 weeks in a row. Our household acquired a copy recently, and both of us read the book in record time.

Like all of Grisham’s books, it’s a compelling story that will have you turning the pages rapidly. Like most of his novels, it’s set in Mississippi, the state where he grew up, and where he graduated from both college and law school.

Grisham’s father was a construction worker and a cotton farmer, and his mother was a homemaker. Despite the fact that Grisham’s parents lacked a formal education, his mother encouraged him to go to college, He eventually practiced law for about a decade, and he also served in the Mississippi House of Representatives (as a Democrat) from 1983 to 1990. About a year after he was elected, he witnessed a court case that inspired him to write his first novel, A Time To Kill, which was published in 1989.

Ironically, his most successful court case as a lawyer occurred after he had officially retired from being a lawyer to being a writer. A jury award in 1996 earned him $683,500, the biggest verdict of his career as a lawyer.

Since embarking on a writing career, his books have sold over 275 million copies, and 9 of his novels have been made into movies. As a result, his net worth is approximately $200,000,000, so his career change was unquestionably a very smart move.

“Sycamore Row” is actually a sequel to his very first novel, and contains numerous references to the first book. Like many of his books, the Ku Klux Klan plays a prominent role, which leads to some interesting modern conclusions.

The Klan first came into existence during the Reconstruction period of American history, but faded away by the early 1870’s.

The “second coming” of the Klan was from 1915-1944, and membership peaked in the 1920’s, when as many as 6,000,000 people became members. Included in the membership roles of “the second coming” were Presidents Warren G. Harding, Woodrow Wilson, William McKinley, Calvin Coolidge, and Harry S. Truman.

Roughly coinciding with the “second coming” of the Klan is the fact that there were 1595 lynching of African Americans in the United States between 1900 to 1931. Georgia had the most (302) but Mississippi was close behind, with 285. Incidentally, a pair of hangings figure prominently in the telling of “Sycamore Row”, but that’s all that I’ll tell you at this point.

The desegregation of the Armed Services during WWII eventually led to the Civil Rights movement, and it also led to the third (and current) version of the Klan, which reappeared in 1946. Current membership is estimated to be only about 6000 people, but the philosophy of the Klan is embraced by a much larger group in American society, one that is known as The Tea Party.

Like the Klan, the Tea Party is homophobic and racist, and is opposed to civil unions, gay marriage, illegal immigration, and restrictions on gun ownership. In the words of Pastor Thomas Robb, “fear the government that fears your gun”. (The shirt logo shown below can be purchased directly from the KKK website).

Like the Klan, the Tea Party wraps its message of hate in religion. It’s no accident that the National Director of the Knights is a Baptist minister from Arkansas named Pastor Thomas Robb, and it's also not surprising that Tennessee Representative Stephen Fincher, whose family farm received $8.9 million in subsidies from the government in the last decade, justified cuts in food stamps by quoting 2 Thessalonians 3-10.

Pastor Robb’s parents shared political views with Senator Joseph McCarthy. At a ge 13, Pastor Robb was awakened to the “myth of the holocaust”, and he became an active member of the John Birch Society, as well as an outspoken supporter of segregationist ideals. Like a number of southern politicians, he feels that the theory of evolution “is an attack upon our faith”.

At its core, the Tea Party embraces the values held by the John Birch Society, and there’s a good reason for that. Fred Koch was one of the founders of the John Birch Society in 1958. His sons, David and Charles, have provided financial and organizational assistance to the Tea Party, and their political arm, Americans for Prosperity, has provided significant assistance to conservative politicians throughout the country. The brothers have also provided significant financial support to the American Legislative Exchange Council the originator of scores of restrictive laws since its founding in 1973.

The Klan, the John Birch Society, and the Tea Party all operate on the assumption that America has become a socialist society, and that the United Nations is pushing all of us into a “new world order”, and all of them draw their strength from the part of our country that is the most religious - the Bible Belt of the South.

In addition to the comments made by conservative southern politicians, the concept of “hate wrapped in religion” occasionally makes its way into popular culture, as exemplified by the picture below:

Phil Robertson, who was recently reinstated by the A & E network, is only one example of this mindset. The bigger issue, unfortunately, is FOX "news", the preferred network of staunch conservatives, and frequently the only network they watch. Since FOX is the #1 cable network (it has more viewers than CNN and MSNBC combined) our polarization as a society is a little easier to understand.

I’m not much of a believer in making New Year’s Resolutions, but one recommendation that I would make for just about anyone is to read Grisham’s latest book. Once you’ve done that, do your own independent research on who’s really behind the political organizations that run our country. After all, social activism has helped make some dramatic changes in America in the last year alone, and 2014 is an election year.

YOU can make a difference.