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A few days ago media outlets reported on a Pew Research survey which indicates that the American middle class is dying.

It is a nuanced picture.

Pew’s summary of findings says, in part (emphases in bold mine):

In at least one sense, the shift represents economic progress: While the share of U.S. adults living in both upper- and lower-income households rose alongside the declining share in the middle from 1971 to 2015, the share in the upper-income tier grew more.

Over the same period, however, the nation’s aggregate household income has substantially shifted from middle-income to upper-income households, driven by the growing size of the upper-income tier and more rapid gains in income at the top. Fully 49% of U.S. aggregate income went to upper-income households in 2014, up from 29% in 1970. The share accruing to middle-income households was 43% in 2014, down substantially from 62% in 1970.2

And middle-income Americans have fallen further behind financially in the new century. In 2014, the median income of these households was 4% less than in 2000. Moreover, because of the housing market crisis and the Great Recession of 2007-09, their median wealth (assets minus debts) fell by 28% from 2001 to 2013.

It should be noted that Pew uses the term ‘middle income’ rather than ‘middle class’.

Pew’s survey has tracked income levels between 1971 and 2015. In the bar graph ‘Share of adults living in middle-income households is falling’, we see that in 1971, 61% of Americans were in the ‘middle income’ bracket, whereas this year, only 50% are.

Interestingly, the percentage of those in the ‘lower middle’ bracket is unchanged for all those years and remains at 9%.

The upper two categories of income show a small improvement for ‘upper middle’ from 10% to 12% but a more noticeable move upward for ‘highest’ from 4% to 9%.

Unfortunately, the percentage of Americans in the ‘lowest’ income category has increased from 16% to 20%.

Where demographics are concerned, three groups have most improved their economic standing since 1971: blacks, married couples with no children at home and those 65 and over.

The bottom three groups are those with only a high school diploma, those who dropped out of high school and holders of an associate’s degree or less than two years’ college.

FiveThirtyEight recapped the Pew Survey. The readers’ comments are excellent. Contributors who were alive and well in 1971 recall the good old days when:

  • One household salary sufficed, not two;
  • You could make a decent income with only a high school diploma;
  • College and university tuition was far less, even relatively speaking, than today;
  • People worked far fewer hours;
  • Being middle class was just as much a state of mind as it was income, whereas today it is merely defined by materialism — your income and the type of home you can afford.

Many readers agreed that both political parties are to blame for the decline of the middle class from 1971 to the present day.

In many ways, life was much better in 1971 than today. People mixed much more — different incomes, occupations and generations. It didn’t matter what you earned, how old you were or where you lived but the values you believed in.

One lady who grew up in the 1960s also pointed out that nearly all middle-class Americans belonged to a church and attended services regularly. I remember that, too. Back then, if you didn’t go to church you were either a free-thinker or living in a dysfunctional household. People, including children, used to ask their peers ‘What are you?’ — referring to denomination — or ‘What church do you go to?’ No one thought anything of it. Theology helped us to place people socially and psychologically.

I’m so grateful for those days in many ways. I miss them.

1979 was the last time I felt truly free in the civic sense of the word.

I must be getting old.

More resources:

Both of these are from the US Census Bureau —

Share of Aggregate Income Received by Each Fifth and Top 5 Percent of Families, 1947 to 1994

Historical Income Tables: Households (data go up to 2013)

Last week, Donald Trump got himself in a bit of hot water for proposing a:

complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.

His iron-clad polling has been somewhat wobbly since then.

What Americans think

That said, on December 8, 2015, an MSNBC poll asked if he had gone too far with his proposed plan.  Americans overwhelmingly responded no. See the second and third screens at the link.

One shows that all minorities said he hadn’t gone far enough: 87% of Hispanics, 88% of other groups and 96% of African Americans.

In fact, Caucasians objected the most to Trump’s words, but only by 31%.

Looking at the results by age, 92% of 18-24-year olds and 82% of 25-34-year olds said the Republican candidate hadn’t gone far enough.

By contrast, 65% of 35-54-year-olds and 61% of those 55 and over felt Trump had overstepped the mark.

On December 11, world human rights leader (irony alert) Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia tweeted:

You are a disgrace not only to the GOP but to all America. Withdraw from the U.S presidential race as you will never win.

That same day, a new anti-Trump campaign ad for little-known Republican candidate Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) had just the opposite effect on a focus group that Republican media consultant Frank Luntz put together. In fact, the more Air Force Col. Tom Moe denounced Trump in favour of Kasich in the advert, the more the focus group reinforced their support for the billionaire.

The Independent reported their reactions:

“It was too far over the top,” one voter said.

“They use every trick in the book to make him look like the ultimate bad guy,” said another.


“It was like his greatest hits,” said Tiffany Alm, 43, a stay-at-home mom who had moved to the D.C. area from Wisconsin. “It’s Donald Trump, and it’s entertaining.”

Meanwhile, on Saturday, December 12, The Gambia’s president Yahya Jammeh declared the country an Islamic republic to distance it from its colonial past:

As Muslims are the majority in the country, Gambia cannot afford to continue the colonial legacy.

Another example of the delusion that Christianity is the white man’s religion, when the early Church was widespread in the first few centuries in Africa until Islam conquered so many lands in the north.

But I digress.

Back to ‘the Donald’, so called because that is how his first wife referred to him.

What if he is carefully analysing the situation?

Facts emerging

A number of startling pieces of information have emerged after San Bernardino.

No doubt we will find out more. The period between Christmas and the New Year is a good time to report bad news, so keep watching, listening and reading during the holidays if you can.

Blank passports

On December 10, ABC News reported that IS might have its own printing machines to fake Syrian passports.

If you have ever seen photographs of IS literature and press releases, you will know that they have excellent graphic designers and publishing facilities. Everything looks flawless.

In this case, though, it is possible that the extremists have taken over the passport office (emphases mine):

The 17-page Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Intelligence Report, issued to law enforcement last week, says ISIS likely has been able to print legitimate-looking Syrian passports since taking over the city of Deir ez-Zour last summer, home to a passport office with “boxes of blank passports” and a passport printing machine. Another passport office was located in Raqqa, Syria, which has long been ISIS’s de facto capital.

“Since more than 17 months [have] passed since Raqqa and Deir ez-Zour fell to ISIS, it is possible that individuals from Syria with passports ‘issued’ in these ISIS controlled cities or who had passport blanks, may have traveled to the U.S.,” the report says.

Trump now looks a bit less hysterical.

Other attacks planned

A reader at Hillary is 44 (as in the 44th President) reproduced an auto-generated transcript of another ABC News report which states that the San Bernardino couple had much more in mind. Excerpts of David Muir and Brian Ross’s news story follow. I have made small edits to the transcript to correct it, e.g. changing ‘tax’ to ‘attacks’:

Good evening it’s great to have you with us here were to Wednesday night and we begin tonight with chilling new details about that young couple who turned into killers. From the very start authorities have wanted to know were there other were attacks in the works … 

The husband, Syed Farook, visited a local high school more than once. Authorities are investigating whether the school with 2,400 students was the next target. The husband worked for the local government as a hygiene inspector. He would have had good access to much of the buildings he inspected.

We’re working very very hard to understand that they had other plans either for that day. Or earlier.

As for the couple meeting and marrying:

What brought these two together? Now authorities are telling us both were committed to terrorism before they even met. And you’re about to hear what they discussed online before she was issued that visa to come to America …

Even before they started dating, they were already committed terrorists. And online as early as the end of 2013. They were talking to each other about Jihad and martyrdom before they became engaged and then married and lived together in the United States. Which also means that whatever US background checks were done from a leaked so called fiancée visa. They failed to discover that someone espousing jihadist violence was being allowed into the country. The United States government does not normally ask the intelligence community to look at the emails of somebody be just because they’ve applied for a visa. There’s just too many of them. An examination of more leaked photos shows her evolution. As she went from wearing a loose scarf and make up at the start of college to a more and more conservative dress. The leaked FaceBook account has been taken down but ABC news was able to recover post from the profile page of an account authorities believe was hers …


The FBI director said today his agents are investigating whether terrorist match makers are using fiancée visas to get their people into the USThat is a game changer … a very, very important thing to note. Brian Ross with us again here tonight and Brian you’ve been reporting on the friend here and the FBI authorities questioning him and now we’ve learned of a possible target, another attack that had planned sometime back that they didn’t go through with. Reviewing for Luke’s friend who provided in the assault rifles and Ricky Marquez. According to members of Congress who have been briefed by the FBI mark has claims he and Farooq had planned an attack in 2012. But got cold feet. The FBI busted up another terror plot in a nearby citythe FBI … is trying to verify those claims and Marquez’s mental stability but as far back as 2012 …

Trump’s words now seem a bit less out of order.

The wife — Tashfeen Malik

Roger L Simon, writing for PJ Media, tells us a bit about the situation in general and, specifically,  important facts about the couple, including one concerning Tashfeen Malik:

… to deny we have a gigantic Muslim problem in this country and in the world is to be a troglodyte of epic proportions.  Something has to be done, domestically and internationally, even if it’s not Donald’s “Full Monty.”

The source of the conundrum is not just Syrian refugees; it’s the entire Middle East. Almost all people visiting or immigrating from the area are potential jihadists, not to mention other Muslims across the world from Western Europe to Indonesia. This isn’t racial profiling — it’s reality. The husband and wife fanatics who wreaked havoc in San Bernardino did time in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, both of which masquerade as allies. Despite what might seem like red flags in their backgrounds, the couple passed blithely into this country without incident.

The wife, apparently, even gave a place of birth in Pakistan that is non-existent. Was there actually any real vetting? Our border people all should spend some time in Israel, learning how you do these things. Obviously, they don’t know. In this sense, Trump is entirely correct. At present, our border security is nearly worthless.

The FBI isn’t a whole lot better. They’re now claiming the couple was “radicalized.” What does that mean? Not much. In fact, it’s meaningless. The wife at least came from a culture where the process of Islamic anti-Western indoctrination begins essentially at birth. If you think that is an exaggeration, spend ten minutes at If Tashfeen Malik and Syed Farook were “radicalized,” then literally hundreds of millions have been.

We seem to have a couple who have criminal records in their home countries and the wife might have given false information about her birthplace in Pakistan. They were freely admitted into the United States.

Do Trump’s words seem hysterical now?

Simon suggests making Sharia illegal and making a pledge against following it a condition of admission to the US, as Communism is. That is a weak proposal. Anyone can pledge anything and do the opposite.

I was shocked to read that Simon considers Hamtramck in Detroit — which used to be a bastion of Polish auto workers — one of America’s:

Islamic ghettoes.

How times have changed.

The baby and CAIR

CAIR — Council on American-Islamic Relations — has always been presented by the media as a balanced, ‘moderate’ organisation meant to help Americans understand Muslims. It’s been around for at least 20 years, if not longer. It has chapters in major cities.

What people do not realise is that CAIR is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, as are any number of Muslim organisations and charities not only in the United States but around the world.

Andrew C McCarthy, author of The Grand Jihad, looked at CAIR’s role in the outcome of the baby Farook/Farouk/Farooq and Malik left behind.

In an article for PJ Media, McCarthy tells us that whilst mourners in San Bernardino were burying their dead, CAIR in Los Angeles pressed for the six-month old child to be placed with a Muslim family:

Fatima Dadabhoy, a CAIR-LA attorney, explained, “CAIR-LA is working to make sure that the baby is placed with a Muslim foster family while she remains in the custody of San Bernardino County Child Protective Services.” (My [McCarthy’s] italics.)

Why so insistent on a Muslim foster family and then ultimate placement of the child with her Muslim blood relatives?

Because that is what sharia requires.

McCarthy says:

As I’ve explained previously, Reliance of the Traveller (Umdat al-Salik) is a classic sharia manual compiled by a revered fourteenth century Islamic scholar, Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri.

Section m13.2 of the manual prescribes “The necessary conditions for a person to have custody of a child.” Subsection (c) relates:

If the child is a Muslim, it is a necessary condition that the person with custody be a Muslim.

Subsection (c) elaborates with commentary by Sheikh Umar Bakarat, a nineteenth century Islamic scholar. Placement of a child in the custody of a Muslim is a mandate of sharia

because [being a parent to a child] is a position of authority, and a non-Muslim has no right to authority and hence no right to raise a Muslim. If a non-Muslim were given charge of the custody and upbringing of the child, the child might acquire the character traits of unbelief (kufr).

What appears less reasonable — CAIR’s request which overrides American laws or Trump’s opinion?

Syed Farook, father, discusses Syed Farook, son

Time had a short article which gives us a few details about Syed Farook, the son. He was, in his father’s estimation:

obsessed with Israel.


He was very religious. He would go to work, come back, go to pray, come back. He’s Muslim.


Federal investigators are currently looking into whether the younger Farook’s wife, Tashfeen Malik, radicalized her husband, the Associated Press reports.

Syed Sr gave an interview to Italy’s La Stampa a few days ago. Various news outlets have been busy translating excerpts into English. La Stampa‘s journalist conducted the interview in English, translated it into Italian for the newspaper and now it is being translated back into English.

USA Today reports that Syed Sr attempted to calm down his son:

I kept telling him always: stay calm, be patient, in two years Israel will no longer exist,” the elder Farook told the newspaper. “Geopolitics is changing: Russia, China, America too, nobody wants the Jews there.”

So, there’s nothing objectionable about that, yet, Trump takes a verbal hit for his views on national security?

Syed Sr was unhappy that his son liked guns. The Week tells us:

“One time I saw him with a pistol, and that made me mad: ‘In 45 years in the United States,’ I yelled, ‘I have never had a weapon.’ He shrugged his shoulders and said: Too bad for you.” The father also said that his son, like his estranged wife, was religiously conservative, but that he himself comes from the city and is a liberal.

Raw Story excerpted La Stampa‘s interview and another, from The Times of Israel. Syed Jr’s sister said:

According to an earlier interview with the younger Farook’s sisters, the family saw no warning sign that he would go on a shooting rampage that would leave 14 people dead and 21 injured in San Bernardino.

“It’s the very opposite of what we were taught,” Eba Farook said.

Enrique Marquez, relative by marriage and neighbour

The Daily Mail has an excellent article on the complicated life and relationship of Enrique Marquez, the man who allegedly acquired guns for the San Bernardino attack and might have planned a 2012 one with Syed (the son).

Marquez was married to Syed’s sister-in-law Mariya Chernykh, a Russian. However, the two did not share an address. She was living with another man, Oscar Romero. (Don’t ask me. I’ve read this two or three times and cannot make sense of the arrangement.)

In 2011, Chernykh’s sister Tatiana married Syed’s brother — also named Syed, only the middle names are different.

Marquez and Syed Farook, the terrorist, lived next to each other in Riverside, California. Farook later moved to Redlands, his home when the San Bernardino attack took place. Nonetheless, Farook often went to Marquez’s house to work on cars.

Marquez converted to Islam and one of his friends, Michael Stone, told Good Morning America presenters:

He said something along the lines of there’s Muslims in our own backyard just ready to go haywire and attack and we didn’t think nothing of it.

On the night of the San Bernardino attack, Marquez posted on Facebook:

I’m very sorry guys. It was a pleasure.

The next day, Marquez checked himself into a mental health facility. It is thought his marital arrangements were bothering him.

The Mail reports that FBI agents have since searched Marquez’s home. The article also reveals an interesting detail:

Raheel Farook, the older brother who became the brother-in-law of Marquez, served in the U.S. Navy, joining in 2003 shortly after graduating from high school.

It is unclear whether this fact has any relevance at this time. Let’s hope it doesn’t.

As for Marquez:

Federal agents raided Marquez’ home in Riverside, California, on Saturday. Marquez was being interviewed on Tuesday, a law enforcement official said.

Evidence emerged today showing that Marquez may also have been plotting another attack with Farook back in 2011 or 2012 at a school in California.

Following his death in a gun battle with police after the massacre at Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino last Wednesday, investigators reportedly found multiple photos on Farook’s cell phone depicting Carter High School in the city of Rialto.

Working as an environmental health inspector for San Bernardino County for five years, Farook had repeatedly visited Carter and other schools in the area.

The images on Farook’s phone were exterior shots of the school, which has about 2,500 students.


We all know that Donald Trump has never been the world’s most eloquent speaker.

However, his blunt statement — like it or not — points to an intractable problem. Let us hope this is temporary. After all, Trump did not say there should be a lasting ban, merely a temporary one whilst authorities can figure out what is happening.

I do not agree with the way Trump stated the problem nor do I necessarily agree with his recommendation — although millions of Americans do.

However, one thing is true: America, like Europe, has much work to do in vetting immigrants more fully.

The situation is out of hand.

Therefore, whilst the media and the elites are whining about billionaire Presidential candidates, let’s take time to investigate the facts before taking sides.

Louis Prang.jpgLast year around this time, I featured a post exploring British attitudes towards Christmas, including a brief history of the festive greeting card in the UK.

The man who learned how to print greeting cards in England and then took his skills to the United States was Louis Prang.

Few people alive today know his name. Even fewer probably know that he was in trouble with European authorities and had to emigrate to the US!

Louis Prang was born in Breslau (Wroclaw), which was in 1824, part of Prussian Silesia.File:Provnice of Silesia, Kingdom of Prussia, 1905, Administrative Map.png This area is now part of Poland, but it had a difficult political history from the 18th century onwards. In the Wikipedia map at the right, showing the Province of Silesia in 1905, you can see Breslau in the middle. (Click on the map for an expanded view.)

Prang’s father, Jonas Louis, was a Huguenot engaged in textile manufacture. His mother Rosina (née Silverman) was of German parentage.

Prang was a sickly child, often too unwell to attend school. His father took the opportunity to take the boy on as his apprentice. From him, Prang learned engraving as well as dyeing and printing calico.

When he was in his early 20s, Prang left home to work in a neighbouring territory, Bohemia. There he honed his skills in both printing and textiles.

He also travelled elsewhere in Europe and became involved in political activities linked to the German revolutions of 1848-1849.

The Prussian authorities wanted to arrest him. He managed to evade them by moving to Switzerland.

Prang emigrated to the United States in 1850. He had hoped to make an immediate success of his skill set, but his venture into publishing architectural books and crafting leather goods did not go well.

Frank Leslie, art director for Boston’s Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion, hired Prang, enabling him to earn a decent income so that he could marry a Swiss lady, Rosa Gerber, in 1851. He had met Gerber in Paris in 1846.

In 1856, Prang co-founded Prang and Mayer in Boston. Together, the two men produced lithographs. He bought Mayer’s share of the company in 1860 and created L. Prang and Company. The new firm specialised in colour printing of advertising and business materials. It was highly successful and expanded into the printing maps relating to the American Civil War which were distributed by newspapers.

In 1864, after the war ended, Prang returned to Europe to learn more about cutting edge German lithography. This knowledge enabled him to print high-quality reproductions of famous paintings. In 1873, he travelled to England, where he worked on Christmas and other greeting cards.

In 1874, he returned to the US and began manufacturing Christmas cards for the American public. He is known as the ‘father of the American Christmas card’. He wanted to make festive greetings less expensive and more accessible. Up to that point, only the well-heeled could afford cards.

His first images included flowers, plants and children.

Prang lived and worked in Roxbury, a district of Boston. His Wikipedia entry has photos of both his home and his factory.

Prang’s company continued to print works of art, including a set of watercolours of scenes from the Civil War. He was keen to see American education extend to creating art as well as art appreciation. He published instruction books in this regard and also created a foundation to train art teachers.

In 1897, L Prang and Company merged with another firm to become the Taber-Prang Company, which was based in Springfield, in the western half of Massachusetts. (Taber-Prang filed for bankruptcy in 1938.)

In 1909, Prang was on holiday in Los Angeles and died during that time. He is buried in Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain, a neighbourhood bordering Roxbury.

During the next few years, Christmas cards took off with Americans everywhere. Some families began making their own, devising elaborate shapes and adornment, using ribbon and foil. A number of these homemade creations were so delicate they had to be given by hand to the recipient.

In 1910, Joyce C. Hall and two of his brothers created Hall Brothers, which later became Hallmark Cards, a company which needs no explanation. Hall had begun his career in postcards and, by 1906, was convinced that greeting cards were the way forward. He was not wrong!

In 1917, he and his brother Rollie invented wrapping paper.

By 1922, Hall Brothers had expanded nationwide. Having originally printed only Christmas and Valentine’s Day greetings, they diversified into greeting cards for other occasions. The firm adopted the brand name Hallmark in 1928, although the formal company name did not change until much later in 1954.

Over the years, Hallmark has made acquisitions in Canada and the UK.

The company has also sponsored the Hallmark Hall of Fame, winner of 80 Emmy Awards. In 2001, they launched their eponymous television channel.

Hallmark has 11,000 full-time employees, 3,100 of whom work at the Kansas City, Missouri, headquarters.

Amazingly, after 105 years, Hallmark is still a family-run business. Donald J Hall is the current Chairman. One of his sons, Donald J Hall, Jr, is the CEO. Another, David E Hall, is President of the North American Division.

Yesterday’s post explored the history of the Christmas tree.

Seasonal gifts have pagan origins but a Christian case can equally be made for them.

(Photo credit:

As I mentioned yesterday, at winter solstice, the Romans celebrated Saturnalia which honoured Saturnus, the god of agriculture. People in the Middle East had their own pagan festivals. Besides being a time of feasting and drinking, gifts were also exchanged. These included fruits and nuts, festive candles and pottery figurines.

As Christianity spread throughout the Mediterranean countries, Epiphany became the day on which the faithful exchanged gifts, recalling the Magi’s visit to the infant Jesus. New Year’s Day was another time for gift-giving.

In the 4th century, Church leaders supplanted this pagan holiday with Christmas. Many of the pagan traditions — feasts, gift-giving and foliage displays — remained.

When the cult of St Nicholas spread throughout Asia Minor and Europe, his feast day of December 6 was a time of exchanging gifts. As he was known for giving anonymously, people carried on this tradition in some countries. Gifts for children, also reminiscent of the saint’s charity, were also important.

In the early Middle Ages, Christmas Day was a time for people to pay a monetary tribute to their monarchs. That said, some rulers, such as King Wenceslas — in reality, a Bohemian duke — considered December 25 as a day of personal charity. They gave money to the poor and to the Church. William the Conqueror was another ruler who also gave generously at this time. In 1067, he made a substantial donation to the Pope.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, the clergy in Protestant countries began to shift the emphasis from St Nicholas to the Christ Child, Christkindl — later corrupted to ‘Kris Kringle’ in the United States. With that came a change in the primary gift-giving day from December 6 to Christmas Eve.

In Scandinavia, the Netherlands and Germany, Christmas gifts were given anonymously — as St Nicholas did — or were hidden, depending on regional customs. From this, one can see how the Secret Santa tradition developed.

Presents were exchanged within the family and with close friends. As I mentioned yesterday, gifts were sometimes hung on the Christmas tree.

During Cromwell’s Interregnum, Christmas was banned in England. Similarly, the Puritans — of the same mindset — banned the feast in New England. Once Charles II restored the monarchy in 1660 and when restrictions were lifted in the United States, Christmas gift giving resumed.

Popular homemade gifts included hand-carved toys and needlework. It would have taken months to create these, hence the notion of Santa’s Workshop where the elves are busy at work all year long.

The Industrial Revolution brought with it mechanisation of many items, among them toys and trinkets.

We speak of consumerism and last-minute purchases today, but in 1867, gifts were so popular that Macy’s in New York City stayed open until midnight on Christmas Eve!

By the turn of the century, an anti-consumerism movement began. In 1904, Margaret Deland wrote an article for Harper’s Bazaar, lamenting holiday materialism:

Twenty-five years ago, Christmas was not the burden that it is now. There was less haggling and weighing, less quid pro quo, less fatigue of body, less wearing of soul; and, most of all, there was less loading up with trash.

Doesn’t that sound familiar!

Even that long ago, a group of elitists started the Society for the Prevention of Useless Giving — SPUG. Members included former President Theodore Roosevelt and J P Morgan’s daughter Anne.

However, retailers and the general public continued to buy presents, just as they do today.

We still have our Puritans — many in the Reformed (Calvinist) churches do not celebrate Christmas. We still have our anti-materialists.

As for the rest of us, may we continue to give gifts with a happy heart!

Hope AcademyThe history of the Christmas tree dates back to the ancient world and is not as straightforward as we might believe.

(Photo credit: Hope Christmas Trees)

Pre-Christian winter foliage

The practice of decorating one’s home with greenery during the winter was widespread in the ancient world near the Mediterranean and the lands that would become Europe.

At winter solstice, Egyptians used to bring green date palm leaves into the home to symbolise life over death.

Romans celebrated the shortest day of the year by honouring Saturnus, the god of agriculture. They decorated their homes with greenery. Those who displayed laurel leaves did so in honour of their emperor.

Much further north, Druids in ancient Britain used evergreen branches in their winter solstice rituals and placed the boughs over their doors to ward off evil spirits. They also regarded holly and mistletoe as symbols of eternal life.

Other ancient peoples in Europe cut down fir trees and planted them in boxes inside their homes during this time.

Christianity’s effect

Once Christianity began to spread, some early theologians told their followers to discontinue the practice of displaying greenery in mid-winter because it was a pagan practice.

In the 2nd century, Tertullian objected equally to displaying laurel leaves in honour of the Roman emperor:

Let them over whom the fires of hell are imminent, affix to their posts, laurels doomed presently to burn: to them the testimonies of darkness and the omens of their penalties are suitable. You are a light of the world, and a tree ever green. If you have renounced temples, make not your own gate a temple.

Later, around 700, the missionary Boniface — later canonised — was spreading the Gospel message in what is now Germany, where the people worshipped Thor. In Geismar, Boniface chopped down the Oak of Thor where human sacrifices were made and worship took place. The stories differ as to what happened next. One says that a fir tree sprung up in its place, causing the missionary to think it was a providential sign that the evergreen should be a Christian symbol. Another version says that Boniface pointed the people to a fir tree which he said symbolised the Holy Trinity because of its triangular shape as well as the love and mercy of God.

Paradise trees

During the Middle Ages, Christmas Eve was the feast day of Adam and Eve.

Churches used to feature dramas as part of Christmas worship. The plays tied in biblical themes and linked the Creation story to the Nativity. Churches had as backdrops ‘paradise trees’, which were draped with fruit.

By the end of the Middle Ages, the plays were no longer performed in church but out in the open air. Not surprisingly, these outdoor performances soon turned into rowdy, drunken events.

When the Reformation took root in the 16th century, many places banned the plays from the public square and the trees from churches. People began to put up paradise trees in their homes instead. These displays were called paradises even when they were simple boughs.

People decorated their paradises with round pastry wafers to symbolise the Eucharist. This developed into the tradition of decorating trees with sweet biscuits and the near-universal use of round ornaments.

The Reformation

The use of Christmas trees was controversial from the time of the Reformation through to the mid-19th century.

Legend tells us that Martin Luther had one in his home, although Christianity Today says this has little basis in fact. My Lutheran readers are welcome to tell me more in the comments.

The story has it that, in 1500, Luther was walking through a wood on Christmas Eve. The snow shimmering on the boughs of the fir trees moved him to bring a small evergreen in to his home for his children. He decorated it with candles which he lit in honour of Christ’s birth.

The tradition of Christmas greenery continued and returned to church sanctuaries. In the 17th century, however, some Lutheran ministers made their dislike for it known. Johann von Dannhauer said these displays distracted from Jesus Christ, the true evergreen tree.

Trees displayed in church often had a wooden pyramid of candles standing next to them. The candles represented families or individuals who belonged to the church. Later these pyramids were placed on the tree itself. It sounds like quite a fire hazard, but this gave us the tradition of a tree with lights.

In the early United States, Dutch and German immigrants brought the Christmas tree tradition with them. Hessian troops who had helped to fight in the Revolution also made the festive trees popular.

That said, the Puritans in New England banned all Christmas celebrations and decorations. Schools and commerce ran as usual on December 25.

American displays of trees in churches sometimes courted controversy. In 1851, a minister in Cleveland, Ohio, had to defend placing a tree in his church. He nearly lost his job.

The 19th century

In England, the Georgian kings from the House of Hanover carried on their displays of Christmas trees. German immigrants to England did so, too. However, the public resented the German Monarchy and wanted nothing to do with such traditions.

It was only with the popularity of Queen Victoria that the Christmas tree tradition spread across the country. Her consort Prince Albert, of German descent, set up a grand tree at Windsor Castle for the family in 1841. At this time, presents were hung on the branches where possible.

Elsewhere, members of the European nobility popularised the tradition. In 1808, Countess Wilhelmine of Holsteinborg lit the first Christmas tree in Denmark. Although unaware of the Countess’s experience at that time, Hans Christian Andersen wrote The Fir Tree in 1844. Princess Henrietta of Nassau-Weilburg introduced the Christmas tree to Vienna in 1816. It wasn’t long before all Austrians had one. In France, the Duchesse d’Orléans had a tree in her home in 1840. The Russian royal family also had a Christmas tree.

In the United States, civic leaders were unhappy with the way that Christmas Day turned into revelry. Clement Moore’s 1822 poem, known today as “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”, and other similar works helped to change the nature of Christmas to a family-oriented celebration focussed on the home.

In 1851, a farmer in the Catskills (New York) named Mark Carr loaded two ox sledges with evergreen trees and took them to New York City. He sold every one of them.

20th century and later developments

By 1900, one in five American families had a Christmas tree.

By 1920, nearly all American households had one.

A decade later, during the Depression, tree growers were unable to sell fir trees to companies for landscaping. There just wasn’t enough money for that type of thing. Nurserymen decided to convert their businesses into Christmas tree farms. They soon discovered that the public preferred cultivated trees for their symmetrical shape.

Today, Christmas trees are big business. Ordering them online requires purchasing in November to avoid disappointment. For those who prefer artificial ones, aerosol pine sprays give that unforgettable scent of Yuletide cheer.

Whatever we choose to display, it seems that displaying greenery is an atavistic part of winter celebrations and the anticipation of new life. For believers, that new life is the Infant Jesus.

Recently, I had the pleasure of rediscovering one of my favourite stories from childhood thanks to Karina Sussanto and her post ‘The Golden Windows’.

‘The Golden Windows’ is online at The Baldwin Project where their content can also be used to teach children at home.

This delightful story by Laura E Richards will not take long to read to small children. The version I owned was in book form accompanied by pen and ink illustrations. It concerns a young farm boy of an earlier era who sought to find the windows of gold he saw every evening — only to find upon his return in the late afternoon that his own house also had them.

Although it is not necessarily a Thanksgiving story, it is one of appreciation for what we have. It is one of the few I’ve remembered all my life. I used to read it over and over and over!

I hope that Jeanette from Jeanette’s Ozpix will pardon my borrowing her photo to illustrate this post. In the text accompanying her golden windows, Jeanette, too, makes the connection between them and giving thanks:

Look how rich we are!! We have golden windows in the new place!

… as we look back on this past year, let us reflect on all of God’s blessings… and see how rich we truly are!

“So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son.

“He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.”

(Eph 1:6-7, NLT)

Laura Elizabeth Howe Richards, the author of ‘The Golden Windows’, was born in 1850 to Julia Ward Howe, author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, and Dr Samuel Gridley Howe, abolitionist and founder of Boston’s Perkins Institution and Massachusetts School for the Blind, now located in nearby Watertown.

LauraElizabethRichards.jpgLaura was named in honour of Dr Howe’s famous deaf-blind pupil Laura Bridgman. In 1871, she married Henry Richards. His family owned a paper mill in Gardiner, Maine, which he managed. Laura settled in Gardiner with her husband. Whilst he was at work, she raised seven children and became a prolific author. It is just as well she had plenty of paper to hand!

In 1917, Richards and her sister Maud Howe Elliott won a Pulitzer Prize for the biography of their mother, which they co-wrote. Elliott was also an author and had a great interest in fine art.

Laura Richards died in 1943 in Gardiner, Maine. Her sister Maud died five years later in Newport, Rhode Island.

thanksgiving greenlanternpressMay I take this opportunity to wish my American readers a very happy Thanksgiving!

My 2013 Thanksgiving post looked at the development of this tradition, which explains the absence of this holiday between the 17th century and the mid-19th century. It all came down to a letter from 1621 about the first Thanksgiving which surfaced in 1841. The post describes what happened at that initial celebration, including what was eaten and the sporting competition which followed.

Other posts for this day have explored the historical significance as many Americans know it: British Calvinists and American Indians together, George Washington’s First Thanksgiving Proclamation, Abraham Lincoln’s Proclamation of Thanksgiving, a biblical perspective with a call for personal priorities and, lest we forget, a USMC chaplain’s poem remembering the troops who are serving the United States at this time. May we remember them in our prayers.

Besides the iconic feast at Plymouth, other American regions (e.g. Virginia and Florida) also had feasts of Thanksgiving which took place. That said, none have captured the imagination or spirit of the holiday as vividly as that in Massachusetts in 1621.

Wherever you are in the world today, have a great time with family and friends!

I have scheduled this post, for reasons stated below, to appear before the final regular episode of Downton Abbey, which airs tonight in the UK.

This sixth and final series will be shown in the US (PBS) starting on January 3, 2016.

As most of my readers are American, I would be grateful if anyone commenting from the British Isles could avoid spoilers. Thank you in advance!

Setting expectations

Not surprisingly, before series six started, a number of newspaper articles appeared.

Michele Dockery, who plays Lady Mary, told InStyle why the series is ending in 1925:

I think, collectively, everyone felt this was the right time. And I think if we had kept going, we’d have gone into maybe, possibly the [G]eneral [S]trike and then onwards. And then you’re into the 30s. And then it becomes kind of Gosford Park territory. And then there’s a whole other kind of shift, a new era, a new decade. So then, when can you stop?

Whilst there is plenty of scope for a sequel series, or perhaps a film — possibly set in the 1950s when many estates were on their knees — Dockery said of the possibility of reprising her role:

… I think the show is an ensemble, so there has to be a collective decision in that, I think. I don’t think you could just grab two characters and create a movie. I think it has to be the show. So, we’ll see.

Executive Producer Gareth Neame told The Guardian that ITV wanted the series to continue. So did PBS, according to Masterpiece chief Rebecca Eaton. Carnival and Masterpiece had mooted the idea of seven series, however, discussions with the cast revealed that six and a final Christmas special (timed for the British) would be the limit.

Neame hinted at a satisfying conclusion, despite the new postwar era with its melancholic undertones.

The genius and writer behind the show — Sir Julian Fellowes — is now working on a series which takes place in early 20th century New York. The Gilded Age centres around the robber barons. Neame is collaborating on it with him.

Jim Carter, who plays Mr Carson, told The Telegraph that the final series and concluding special bring viewers down gently:

It’s just life changing. And none of the maids want to live in (the house), they want to live in the village, so they can see their boyfriends. They want to work in shops. Nobody wants to work in service any more. That way of life – we’re saying goodbye to it. And this series is slowly and effectively – very effectively, the Christmas special is a heartbreaker of an episode. Not because of tragedy, but because you’re saying goodbye to a way of life, and these characters that people have grown very fond of.

Just as scriptwriters and directors can build viewers up for the next episode or series, they can also prepare one for The End. Series six effectively does this, as Carter/Carson says.

Sir Julian Fellowes

In 2012, prior to the third series aired in the US, Vanity Fair featured an interview with Sir Julian Fellowes.

Fellowes, some would say, is a late bloomer. He worked for years as a character actor and novelist prior to writing scripts in the 1990s. Most screenwriters have not only a hard time breaking into the industry but also staying in it. Since film began, directors — Alfred Hitchcock, to name but one — have been notorious for chopping and changing scriptwriters.

Fortunately for Fellowes, he happened to meet Ileen Maisel over 20 years ago. Maisel had just opened the Paramount Pictures office in London. She envisaged developing John Fowles’s Daniel Martin into a movie and was impressed by Fellowes’s knowledge of the novel.

When that project did not come to fruition, Maisel introduced Fellowes to actor/director-producer Bob Balaban. (I remember when a young Balaban played character roles in 1960s US sitcoms. I’m getting old!) Balaban and Maisel wanted to involve Fellowes in another project, a film adaptation of Anthony Trollope’s The Eustace Diamonds.

That, too, foundered, but an impressed Balaban introduced Fellowes to none other than Robert Altman. The meeting took place on the cusp of the 21st century. The film was Gosford Park. Neither Balaban nor Altman knew much about country houses, hence Fellowes’s presence:

“So I got Julian in a room with Robert,” Balaban said, “and Julian starts talking, and he knows everything that happens in a British house of that kind. Both Bob and I were floored.” On the wrong side of 50, at least in industry terms, Fellowes had won his first screenwriting job, with one of the best directors in the history of the medium.

“I am that rare person who owes everything to one guy, and that guy is Bob Altman,” Fellowes said. “He fought the studio to keep me on, and he never once said, ‘This is my 18th film and I’m a world-famous director. Who the Sam Hill are you?’ It was just two overweight men talking and occasionally arguing.”

That the toking, anarchy-fostering maverick auteur worked so harmoniously and fruitfully with the necktied monarchist is a testament to the character of both men.

Fellowes knows of what he spoke then — and now. Members of his family are listed in Burke’s Landed Gentry (not to be confused with Burke’s Peerage). Julian’s birth was similarly listed. His father, Peregrine, was a civil engineer and diplomat. He worked for Shell Oil and the Foreign Office.

Peregrine had a difficult upbringing. His father died in 1915 in the Great War. His mother became interested in dating, so Peregrine was left to be cared for by maiden aunts, one of whom was the inspiration for Lady Violet:

The eldest of them, Isie, is the model for Maggie Smith’s dowager characters in both Gosford Park and Downton Abbey.

“Aunt Isie had this sort of acerbic wit, yet she was kind,” Fellowes said. “Lots of those lines Maggie has, like ‘Bought marmalade! Oh dear, I call that very feeble,’ and ‘What is a weekend?’—they came straight from her.”

Fellowes is not terribly different in some respects. When Vanity Fair‘s interviewer David Kamp took coffee with him, Kamp held the bowl of the cup rather than the handle:

Don’t think he didn’t clock this, the slightest Violet-ish wince of “Oh, dear” in his eyes.

When the two were at Ealing Studios in west London, where many of the interior scenes were filmed, Kamp saw how historically accurate Fellowes was:

“Liz,” he said, addressing Liz Trubridge, one of the show’s producers, “we’ve got to get the glasses of water off the table. They’re having tea. They wouldn’t have water there. A glass of water is a modern thing.” The water glasses were removed, and the scene, now more period-authentic, resumed shooting.

Whilst politically he is Conservative, Fellowes intelligently embraces the present and honours tradition. That blend of perspectives has helped him to propel Downton Abbey to an iconic status among television series of the early 21st century.

It is interesting that Fellowes’s favourite television programme is Coronation Street, Britain’s longest running televised soap opera which takes place in a working class area of Northern England. Four actors from Corrie, as we call it, are or were in Downton. They are Anna (Joanne Froggatt), Lady Violet’s maid Denker (Sue Johnston), Thomas (Rob James-Collier) and O’Brien (Siobhan Finneran).

My predictions

I debated whether to make my predictions public.

On the one hand, I could be wrong. However, it would not be the first time.

On the other, if I were correct, I would have been annoyed not to publish them beforehand!

So, here goes.

Please note that I have not seen the ITV1 trailer (coming attractions) for the final episode nor have I read spoilers, which are everywhere at the moment.

I predict that by the end of the concluding special (Christmas here, 2016 in the US):

1/ Lady Mary will remarry. Her husband will be someone she — and we — have known for a very long time. Her husband is someone who knows her. She can trust and confide in him. He will be a good father to young George. Mary and he also can run the estate in tandem and in full agreement with each other. In other words, Tom.

2/ Lady Edith will meet with or hear from Michael Gregson (ably played by Charles Edwards), the father of her child, Marigold. He will turn out not to have been killed by the Nazis. He will reveal — or someone else will — that he was in hiding all these years, perhaps working as a spy. We will either see them get engaged or be left with the understanding that they will be soon.

3/ We will either see or be left with the impression that Anna delivered a healthy first child, much to Bates‘s delight.

4/ We will discover that Baxter is Thomas’s mother and that Thomas knows who is father is. We will understand how and why Thomas bears a grudge against both.

The Thomas Question

What will happen to the odious Thomas? He has made many of the nicer servants’ lives a misery over the years, especially when O’Brien worked there.

Given that homosexuality was, at the time, illegal and considered as the height of moral depravity, it is no mystery that Carson, in particular, views him with disdain.

I doubt he will be made head butler at Downton.

But what is the point of the character? We can but wonder why he has not yet met with either a Damascene conversion or dramatic death.

It will be hard for him to shake his dodgy reputation.

Isolated, lonely, angry, he could commit or attempt suicide — also illegal at the time.

I don’t have an answer other than to link his future — or demise — with Baxter in some way.

Final memory

Along with countless millions of others around the world, I shall miss Downton Abbey greatly.

Even the title sequence was endearing — absolutely perfect:

Sincere thanks to Julian Fellowes, Rebecca Eaton, Masterpiece, Carnival Productions as well as all the many actors, actresses and crew members who made several Sunday nights a year sheer televisual pleasure!

Yesterday’s post had the first part of a two-part series on American soil deficiency in 1936.

The source material, at the request of a US Senator at the time — Duncan Fletcher (D – Florida) — was included in the 74th Congress 2nd Session, Senate Document #264, 1936.

The original document is on the US Senate website. (An HTML version is here.) It is an article from a family news magazine, The Cosmopolitan, which much later became the title we know today.

The article is called ‘Modern Miracle Men’ written by Rex Beach about Dr Charles Northen, a physician who went into soil replenishment to better nourish man and beast. He was based in Orlando, Florida, and could have been resident in Fletcher’s constituency. The article says that Northen was considered

the most valuable man in the State.

Yesterday’s post excerpted and summarised Northen’s findings about the poor mineral quality of America’s soil in the 1930s. It had significantly declined since the 19th century and, in many parts of the country, food and meat had little nutritional value.

Today’s excerpts and summary discuss the second half of the article. Emphases in bold are mine.

I cannot help but think we are in no better shape today with regard to the food we consume.

Why no one cared — or cares?

Northen was decried for his research.

The article points out that the medical establishment had been wrong before: in the late 19th century, the Medical Society of Boston condemned the use of bathtubs!

Similarly, physicians and other experts were — are? — wrong on ignoring soil deficiencies. In the 1930s, textbooks kept using outdated analyses from a bygone era decades before when soil was still rich in nutrients.

Although Northen was able to demonstrate that soil samples can vary greatly even in a local area, his peers scoffed: ‘So what?’

Northen’s work on various farms and orchards was exemplary. By carefully mineralising the soil, grass was better, fruit trees pest-free and abundant whilst livestock were healthier. All those fresh products then went into the human food chain, improving the lives of the lucky Americans who ate them.

Northen’s wisdom — interview

Beach, who owned a farm, ended the article by redacting part of the interview Northen gave him.

Although Northen was elderly at the time, he was a goldmine of statistics, experience and knowledge. As we’ll find out, Beach turned around his own soil with Northen’s help.

Sick soils mean sick plants, sick animals, and sick people. Physical, mental, and moral fitness depends largely upon an ample supply and a proper proportion of the minerals in our foods. Nerve function, nerve stability, nerve-cell-building likewise depend thereon. I’m really a doctor of sick soils.”

Do you mean to imply that the vegetables I’m raising on my farm are sick?” I asked.

Precisely! They’re as weak and undernourished as anemic children. They’re not much good as food. Look at the pests and the disease that plague them. Insecticides cost farmers nearly as much as fertilizers these days.

A healthy plant, however, grown in soil properly balanced, can and will resist most insect pests. That very characteristic makes it a better food product. You have tuberculosis and pneumonia germ in your system but you’re strong enough to throw them off. Similarly, a really healthy plant will pretty nearly take care of itself in the battle against insects and blights –and will also give the human system what it requires.”

“Good heavens! Do you realize what that means to agriculture?”

“Perfectly. Enormous saving. Better crops. Lowered living costs to the rest of us. But I’m not so much interested in agriculture as in health.”

“It sounds beautifully theoretical and utterly impractical to me,” I told the doctor, whereupon he gave me some of his case records.

For instance, in an orange grove infested with scale, when he restored the mineral balance to part of the soil, the trees growing in that part became clean while the rest remained diseased. By the same means he had grown healthy rosebushes between rows that were riddled by insects.

He had grown tomato and cucumber plants, both healthy and diseased, where the vines intertwined. The bugs ate up the diseased and refused to touch the healthy plants! He showed me interesting analysis of citrus fruit, the chemistry and the food value of which accurately reflected the soil treatment the trees had received.

There is no space here to go fully into Dr. Northen’s work but it is of such importance as to rank with that of Burbank, the plant wizard, and with that of our famous physiologists and nutritional experts.

Healthy plants mean healthy people“, said he. “We can’t raise a strong race on a weak soil. Why don’t you try mending the deficiencies on your farm and growing more minerals into your crops?”

I did try and I succeeded. I was planting a large acreage of celery and under Dr. Northen’s direction I fed minerals into certain blocks of the land in varying amounts. When the plants from this soil were mature I had them analyzed, along with celery from other parts of the State. It was the most careful and comprehensive study of the kind ever made, and it included over 250 separate chemical determinations. I was amazed to learn that my celery had more than twice the mineral content of the best grown elsewhere. Furthermore, it kept much better, with and without refrigeration, proving that the cell structure was sounder.

In 1927, Mr. W. W. Kincaid, a “gentleman farmer” of Niagara Falls, heard an address by Dr. Northen and was so impressed that he began extensive experiments in the mineral feeding of plants and animals. The results he has accomplished are conspicuous. He set himself the task of increasing the iodine in the milk from his dairy herd. He has succeeded in adding both iodine and iron so liberally that one glass of his milk contains all of these minerals that an adult person requires for a day.

The article goes on to say that lack of iodine causes goiters.

Goiters were a huge health problem then. My maternal grandmother, who was raising a large family in that era, was preoccupied by goiter, even though no one in her family had any, thankfully. But she always impressed upon us grandchildren that eating enough iodine-rich foods and using iodised salt was essential.

She was not wrong. As the article states, the Great Lakes Region, the Northwest and South Carolina had significant numbers of people with goiter. Milk was a good way of supplying iodine. The aforementioned Mr Kincaid raised a Swiss heifer calf, taking care to mineralise her pasture and provide her with a balanced diet. She went on to become the third all-time champion of her breed, supplying 21,924 pounds of milk and 1,037 pounds of butter in one year!

Illinois farmers then began following Kincaid’s example. Fertiliser companies were quick to promote the mineral content of their products. Minerals were also made into colloidal form for inexpensive yet efficient soil correction.

Dangers then and now

The article concludes with more ailments caused by depleted soil. Some of them, such as heart disease, can be fatal. Others, like arthritis, can be debilitating.

On a wider scale, without these essential minerals in our food, we become increasingly susceptible to infection.

Northen suggested that the American populace of the 1930s clamour for food from good soil that would naturally supply their nutritional needs. He also urged them to insist that doctors and health departments establish standards of nutritional value.

He said that farmers and growers would eagerly respond to higher soil nutrition because it would mean better quality crops, better yield and happier customers.

After all, he reasoned, it is easier and less costly to cure sick soil than sick people.

It makes sense. Yet, is that what happened?

Tomorrow: ‘Sick soil’ in North America and the UK

Last week I mentioned the late Joe Vialls and his investigations.

I don’t agree with everything Vialls wrote, but he looked at every aspect of a topic. His research into health matters was spot on.

One of his articles concerns potassium deficiency, which I’ll write about this week. At the end of that article are ‘Verbatim Unabridged extracts from the 74th Congress 2nd Session, Senate Document #264, 1936’.

The contents of this came from a popular American magazine of the day, Cosmopolitan, a very different iteration of the current title.

‘Dr Z’ of the eponymous medical reports says in ‘Senate Document #264 debunked’ what you will read below is rubbish. It was heartening to see that so many of his readers took exception to what he wrote.

Dr Z did a poor job of debunking. One of the glaring errors was not even bothering to look up Cosmopolitan in a search engine.

Dr Z says, rather irresponsibly:

these are verbatim unabridged extracts of an article from Cosmopolitan magazine in 1936 and probably have about even less scientific credibility as an article from Cosmo would have today.

Had he done a few minutes of research, he would have read that Helen Gurley Brown launched the current Cosmo in 1965. He looks old enough to have known that.

Since its inception in 1886 The Cosmopolitan was, for years, a family-friendly magazine with investigative journalism, short stories and fashion spreads. In the 1950s, it was transformed into a literary magazine and, finally, a decade later, became the single women’s publication we recognise today.

What Dr Z does provide, albeit dismissively, is useful information as to how the extracts from The Cosmopolitan‘s article came to appear in a Senate document:

It’s not research, it wasn’t commissioned by and had absolutely nothing to do with the government other than the fact that Senator Duncan Fletcher, Democrat of Florida, asked that it be put into the Congressional Record (two weeks before his death of a heart attack at the age of 77).

This is the original document, still on the US Senate website. The title page says that it was presented by Fletcher. It is a reprint of Rex Beach’s article about the work of Dr Charles Northen, a physician who went into soil replenishment to better nourish man and beast. He was based in Orlando, Florida, and could have been resident in Fletcher’s constituency. The article says that Northen was considered

the most valuable man in the State.

Poor soil = poor nutrition

The Depression produced hardship, however, as Beach revealed, Northen found it relatively inexpensive to replenish soil with missing minerals necessary for health.

Also, whilst we today wonder how our forebears of the 19th century survived without calling the doctor except in a severe emergency, food had much more nutritional value to it in those days.

Excerpts and a summary of Beach’s article follow. If you prefer a version other than the PDF, an alternative format is here. I’ve added sub-headings for easier navigation. Emphases in bold below are mine.

Food poor and more needed

Do you know that most of us today are suffering from certain dangerous diet deficiencies which cannot be remedied until the depleted soils from which our foods come are brought into proper mineral balance?

The alarming fact is that foods — fruit and vegetables and grains — now being raised on millions of acres of land no longer contain enough of certain needed minerals, are starving us — no matter how much of them we eat!

This talk about minerals is novel and quite startling. In fact, a realization of the importance of minerals in food is so new that the textbooks on nutritional dietetics contain very little about it. Nevertheless it is something that concerns all of us, and the further we delve into it the more startling it becomes.

You’d think, wouldn’t you, that a carrot is a carrot–that one is about as good as another as far as nourishment is concerned? But it isn’t; one carrot may look and taste like another and yet be lacking in the particular mineral element which our system requires and which carrots are supposed to contain. Laboratory tests prove that the fruits, the vegetables, the grains, the eggs and even the milk and the meats of today are not what they were a few generations ago. (Which doubtless explains why our forefathers [and foremothers] thrived on a selection of foods that would starve us!) No one of today can eat enough fruits and vegetables to supply their system with the mineral salts they require for perfect health, because their stomach isn’t big enough to hold them! And we are running to big stomachs.

No longer does a balanced and fully nourishing diet consist merely of so many calories or certain vitamins or a fixed proportion of starches, proteins, and carbohydrates. We now know that it must contain, in addition, something like a score of mineral salts.

It is bad news to learn from our leading authorities that 99 percent of the American people are deficient in these minerals, and that a marked deficiency in any one of the more important minerals actually results in disease. Any upset of the balance, any considerable lack of one or another element, however microscopic the body requirement may be, and we sicken, suffer, shorten our lives.

Northen ridiculed

Following a wide experience in general practice, Dr. Northen specialized in stomach diseases and nutritional disorder. Later, he moved to New York and made extensive studies along this line, in conjunction with a famous French scientist from Sorbonne. In the course of that work he convinced himself that there was little authentic, definite information on the chemistry of foods, and that no dependence could be placed on existing data.

He asked himself how foods could be used intelligently in the treatment of disease, when they differed so widely in content. The answer seemed to be that they could not be used intelligently. In establishing the fact that serious deficiencies existed and in searching out the reasons therefore, he made an extensive study of the soil. It was he who first voiced the surprising assertion that we must make soil building the basis of food building in order to accomplish human building.

“Bear in mind,” says Dr. Northen, “that minerals are vital to human metabolism and health–and that no plant or animal can appropriate to itself any mineral which is not present in the soil upon which it feeds.

When I first made this statement I was ridiculed, for up to that time people had paid little attention to food deficiencies and even less to soil deficiencies. Men eminent in medicine denied there was any such thing as vegetables and fruits that did not contain sufficient minerals for human needs. Eminent agricultural authorities insisted that all soil contained all necessary minerals. They reasoned that plants take what they need, and that it is the function of the human body to appropriate what it requires. Failure to do so, they said, was a symptom of disorder.

“Some of our respected authorities even claimed that the so-called secondary minerals played no part whatever in human health. It is only recently that such men as Dr. McCollum of Johns Hopkins, Dr. Mendel of Yale, Dr. Sherman of Columbia, Dr. Lipman of Rutgers, and Drs. H.G. Knight and Oswald Schreiner of the United States Department of Agriculture have agreed that these minerals are essential to plant, animal, and human feeding.

“We know that vitamins are complex substances which are indispensable to nutrition, and that each of them is of importance for the normal function of some special structure in the body. Disorder and disease result from any vitamin deficiency.

“It is not commonly realized, however, that vitamins control the body’s appropriation of minerals, and in the absence of minerals they have no function to perform. Lacking vitamins, the system can make some use of minerals, but lacking minerals, vitamins are useless.”

What mineral deficiency means

“The truth is that our foods vary enormously in value, and some of them aren’t worth eating, as food. For example, vegetation grown in one part of the country may assay 1,100 parts, per billion, of iodine, as against 20 in that grown elsewhere. Processed milk has run anywhere from 362 parts, per million, of iodine and 127 of iron, down to nothing.

“Some of or lands, even unhappily for us, we have been systematically robbing the poor soils and the good soils alike of the very substances most necessary to health, growth, long life, and resistance to disease. Up to the time I began experimenting, almost nothing had been done to make good the theft.

The more I studied nutritional problems and the effects of mineral deficiencies upon disease, the more plainly I saw that here lay the most direct approach to better health, and the more important it became in my mind to find a method of restoring those missing minerals to our foods.

“The subject interested me so profoundly that I retired from active medical practice and for a good many years now I have devoted myself to it. It’s a fascinating subject, for it goes to the heart of human betterment.”

The results obtained by Dr. Northen are outstanding. By putting back into foods the stuff that foods are made of, he has proved himself to be a real miracle man of medicine, for he has opened up the shortest and most rational route to better health.

He showed first that it should be done, and then that it could be done. He doubled and redoubled the natural mineral content of fruits and vegetables. He improved the quality of milk by increasing the iron and the iodine in it.He caused hens to lay eggs richer in the vital elements.

By scientific soil feeding, he raised better seed potatoes in Maine, better grapes in California, Better oranges in Florida, and better field crops in other States. (By “better” is meant not only an improvement in food value but also an increase in quantity and quality.)

Before going further into the results he has obtained, let’s see just what is involved in this matter of “mineral deficiencies”, what it may mean to our health, and how it may effect the growth and development, both mental and physical, of our children.

We know that rats, guinea pigs, and other animals can be fed into a diseased condition and out again by controlling only the minerals in their food.

A 10-year test with rats proved that by withholding calcium they can be bred down to a third the size of those fed with an adequate amount of that mineral. Their intelligence, too, can be controlled by mineral feeding as readily as can their size, their bony structure, and their general health.

Place a number of these little animals inside a maze after starving some of them in a certain mineral element. The starved ones will be unable to find their way out, whereas the others will have little or no difficulty in getting out. Their dispositions can be altered by mineral feeding. They can be made quarrelsome and belligerent; they can even be turned into cannibals and be made to devour each other.

A cage full of normal rats will live in amity. Restrict their calcium, and they will become irritable and draw apart from one another. Then they will begin to fight. Restore their calcium balance and they will grow more friendly; in time they will begin to sleep in a pile as before.

Many backward children are “stupid” merely because they are deficient in magnesia. We punish them for OUR failure to feed them properly.

Certainly our physical well-being is more directly dependent upon the minerals we take into our systems than upon the calories or vitamins or upon the precise proportions of starch, protein, or carbohydrates we consume.

It is now agreed that at least 16 mineral elements are indispensable for normal nutrition, and several more are always found in small amounts in the body, although their precise physiological role has not been determined. Of the 11 indispensable salts, calcium, phosphorous, and iron are perhaps the most important.

Regional statistics from the 1930s

The article goes on to list some of the mineral deficiencies around the United States in the 1930s, which I shall summarise below:

  • Calcium is essential for proper nerve and cell functions. Yet, a Columbia University study showed that 50% of Americans were calcium ‘starved’. A study of patients in a New York hospital showed that, out of 4,000, only 2 had adequate calcium in their bodies.
  • A city in the Midwest had calcium-poor soil. Of 300 children examined, 90% had bad teeth. Sixty-nine per cent had nose and throat problems, swollen glands and either enlarged or diseased tonsils. Over a third had poor eyesight, joint problems and anaemia.
  • Calcium and phosphorus need to be consumed together for either to work properly. Children require the same amount as adults. Adequate phosphates in the bloodstream prevent tooth decay. Livestock died when one or the other mineral was deficient in the soil they grazed on.
  • Our blood requires iron, yet our bodies cannot process it unless we have adequate amounts of copper. Florida’s cattle were dying of ‘salt sickness’. When the soil of their pastures was examined, it lacked iron and copper. As the grass they consumed lacked these elements, there was no way anyone eating the beef of the surviving cattle could obtain these necessary nutrients.
  • A lack of iodine disrupts thyroid function and can cause goiters. Humans only need a tiny amount each day — fourteen-thousandths of a milligram — yet the Great Lakes region was a ‘goiter belt’ and pockets of the Northwest showed severe iodine deficiencies.

Then, as now, medical specialists giving vitamin and mineral supplements to people seemed to be the way forward. Ironically, we need only trace amounts a day yet cannot manage to get that. However, the body best absorbs these when they are present in food rather than tablets, capsules or liquids. This is because they are colloidal — in fine suspension — when present in food and easily absorbed into the body.

Tomorrow: Why the medical establishment didn’t — doesn’t? — care

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