Monday Dec. 1, 2014

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The first few days we have
slow mornings out on the lake,
long afternoons to walk in the woods,
evenings of leisurely innings of baseball
unwinding over the radio.

But time moves faster as the days
of the week accumulate behind us.
Friday passes in a flash of ease,
only now and again it seems the waves
washing on shore have reached an ending.

At dinner I say, tomorrow morning
it’s back to real life, you sweep your hand
through the last of the day and say
there’s nothing unreal about this.

But the scent of pine is faint on my skin,
as if I had been a wilderness once,
as we merge into traffic, as the lake
falls farther away behind us.

"Wilderness" by Kirsten Dierking from Tether. © Spout Press, 2013. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

It was on this day in 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in the front of a bus to a white passenger. She was unknown, a seamstress, the secretary of her local chapter of the NAACP. She was arrested and fined, but she appealed her case, and another relatively unknown person, a young pastor, Martin Luther King Jr., took up her cause. He founded the Montgomery Improvement Association and called for a boycott of the city-owned bus company. For 382 days, boycotters walked, biked, carpooled, or even rode horses to get to work. Across the country, black churches started campaigns to donate money or shoes to the boycotters, because they wore out their shoes by walking so much. Finally, the Supreme Court ruled that segregation of buses was unconstitutional, a major victory for the civil rights movement.

Rosa Parks died in 2005, at age 92.

It was on this day in 1860 that the first installment of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations was published (books by this author). Dickens needed money. He had recently purchased a mansion, he had separated from his wife and had to pay her separate living expenses, his children needed allowances, and he had founded a magazine called All the Year Round, and its sales were dropping. So he decided to write a new novel. He published it as a serial in All the Year Round, and by the final installment, it sold more than 100,000 copies.

The Ford Motor Company introduced the assembly line on this date in 1913. Prior to this time, Ford — just like all other carmakers — built cars one at a time. The chassis was built in one location and didn't move until it was ready to drive away. Ford's Model T, which had been introduced in 1908, was very popular, but Henry Ford wanted it to be even more so. He had intended the Model T for the middle classes — the "great multitude" as he called them — but the $850 price tag was too steep for the masses.

Ford soon realized that if he wanted to make more cars and sell them cheaply, he needed more space and a more efficient production system. He bought 60 acres of land in Highland Park, Michigan, where he built his new plant. That solved the space issue, so Henry Ford and his assistant, Charles Sorenson, began looking for ways to make the assembly process more efficient. They realized that bringing the workers to the chassis was slowing things down. They began to think about ways to bring the work to the worker and not the other way around. Ford sought advice from experts in all different manufacturing fields: meatpacking, brewing, baking, and steel making. He built machines to stamp metal parts quickly, and he hired a motion-study expert named Frederick Taylor to help with the human factors.

In April 1913, one of the production engineers decided to try a new way to put together the flywheel magneto — a generator that powered the ignition system. It took about 20 minutes for one person to complete the 29 steps required to assemble this part. But if 29 workers were each employed to complete a single step, the flywheel magneto could be assembled in 13 minutes. With some modifications, that time was trimmed down to only five minutes. Ford adapted this philosophy to the other aspects of automotive production. In October 1913, the automaker implemented a manual conveyer belt system to assemble motors and transmissions. By December, Ford was ready to expand its assembly line model to the chassis. Assemblers were arranged along the 150-foot line and, as the chassis was dragged along the line with a winch, each assembler contributed his part. Production time of a single automobile was cut from twelve and a half hours down to just under six hours. When Ford added a powered conveyor system and put workers on both sides of the chassis, that time was reduced to about two and half hours, and by mid-1914 it only took 93 minutes to completely assemble a Model T. In 1909, Ford had turned out about 11,000 cars a year. In 1913, they produced more that 170,000. And the cost of the Model T dropped drastically: Henry Ford could now sell them for $300, less than half what he had charged just a few years earlier. Finally, he could live up to his promise: "[The Model T] will be so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one — and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God's great open spaces."

It's the birthday of comedian and writer Sarah Silverman (books by this author), born in Bedford, New Hampshire (1970). Her first stint as a stand-up comedian was in Boston at age 17; she declared herself "awful" and promptly moved to New York, plying her particular brand of satire in the comedy clubs of Greenwich Village with jokes like, "I don't care if you think I'm racist; I just want you to think I'm thin." She was fired from Saturday Night Live after one year, but comedian Garry Shandling saw promise and cast her in The Larry Sanders Show. In 2007, she launched The Sarah Silverman Program, in which her character dumped God after a one-night stand. In her best-selling memoir, Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee, Silverman opened up about her adolescent bouts with depression and the sources of her scatological and satirical humor. "When I was three, my dad taught me all these swears ... and I would yell it at the supermarket, and he'd die laughing. And I got strong reactions, one way or another ... I think you get addicted to that attention."

It's the birthday of filmmaker Woody Allen (books by this author), born Allen Stewart Konigsberg in 1935. Allen was raised in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, New York, and his parents wanted him to become a doctor or a dentist, but Allen hated studying. He said, "I loathed every day and regret every day I spent in school."

He spent all his time reading, learning to play the saxophone, and teaching himself magic tricks. He also became obsessed with New York City, and especially movies about New York. He said: "I loved every single movie that was set in New York, every movie that began high above the New York skyline and moved in. Every detective story, every romantic comedy, every movie about nightclubs in New York or penthouses. To this day, I rarely latch on to ... movies that are not about the city."

He first began submitting jokes to gossip columnists as an adolescent, and by the time he was in his late teens, he'd changed his name to Heywood Allen and was writing scripts for The Ed Sullivan Show, earning $1,500 a week. He knew he wanted to make movies, but he'd never been to film school, so he bought the rights to a Japanese spy film and dubbed in all new dialogue. The result was What's Up, Tiger Lily? (1966), about a secret agent trying to track down the recipe for the world's greatest egg salad.

He kept making movies, but when he was 40, he felt like a failure. He thought all his films were too goofy. So he made a more serious film, filled with scenes from his own life. It was called Anhedonia, it was several hours long, and it had almost no plot. Allen played the main character. He cut it down, and ended up cutting out almost everything except scenes with Diane Keaton, who played the love interest. So they named the move after her character, and it became Annie Hall (1977). It went on to win the Academy Awards for best picture, best director, and best actress, and many people consider it his masterpiece.

Allen has since made, on average, one movie every year for the last 40 years, most of which he wrote, directed, and starred in. He is a lifelong jazz enthusiast and can be found most Monday nights at the Carlyle in Manhattan, playing clarinet with his band. He says his best ideas come when bathing: "In the shower, with the hot water coming down, you've left the real world behind, and very frequently things open up for you."

Woody Allen said, "Life [is] full of loneliness and misery and suffering and unhappiness, and it's all over much too quickly."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®