Monday, March 07, 2011

Thoughts on Telephones, Unions, and Poetry

Yesterday, you will recall, was the birthday both of Michelangelo and of poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. As it happens, there were interesting things that happened in history today, as well.

It was on this date in 1876 that the telephone was invented by Alexander Graham Bell, whose patent submission beat that of rival inventor Elisha Gray by a mere two hours. Over the following years, numerous lawsuits ensued (as you might suspect), but Mr Bell prevailed and his "Bell Company" survived and prospered to be the foundation of the vast telecommunications network of landlines, cell phones, Blackberries, computers, iPads, and other arcane devices we know today. Had things been different by only two hours, we might have spoken of "Ma Gray" and never known the iconic Bell Telephone symbols ...


What on earth logo would we have used for "Gray Telephone?" I'm sure an old telephone hand like Mike can speak more about this.

And at a time when there is such rancor and divisiveness over the role of unions in the ongoing economic crisis, we might remember that it was on March 7, 2003, that Broadway went dark as 325 theater musicians went on strike to protest the planned reduction in size of theater orchestras from 24 members to six or seven. The musicians worried about their welfare, and that concern was reinforced when it became known that the producers of the popular musical Cats were experimenting with a computer-generated orchestra. The strike lasted four days and ended with a ten-year agreement that the standard size of a Broadway theater orchestra would be 18 musicians. See your plays now - the agreement runs out in two years.

On a larger scale, unions are, for better or worse, a fixture of the American workplace. Their role in improving wages and working conditions for American workers is unquestionable, but they've also managed to sour their image over the years by demanding unsustainable benefits and insisting on the maintenance of positions for which there was no longer any need as a result of advancing technology. The benefits of collective bargaining for workers are undeniable, but these are coming under fierce assault at a time of economic crisis. One hopes that union leadership and members, the business community, and loudly-shouting political opportunists will choose not to throw the rights of the labor baby out with the economic bathwater (wow, is that a twist on a cliche or what?)

And finally, today is the anniversary of the day in 1923 that another of the most famous poems in American literary history was published - Robert Frost's "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" ...

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

And I have a day of work to go before I sleep. Outside my study window the wind is howling and it's still very cold, although the fierce rains we had last night have stopped. At least I won't have to swim to the bus stop.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow, when we celebrate my fifth "Blogoversary."



Mike said...

Had Gray won the patent I may still be working. Graybar Electric is still located in St. Louis.

Plus they have a cool song.

The Mistress of the Dark said...

5 years! Woot to you!!

KathyA said...

And yet another similarity -- Robert Frost is probably my favorite American poet. This poem, in particular, has great meaning to me.

It poured here yesterday and when I got up in the middle of the night, noticed whiteout conditions! The snow was really coming down. Beautifully sunny, albeit chilly, today.

PS Richard to your advice. He's on FB! He said to say thanks.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

Congratsd on reaching five years!