Tuesday, December 19, 2000
The oldest Christmas tree and other local traditions
This is an unusual year, with Christmas and Chanukkah overlapping. The final eight day of Chanukkah falls on December 25, Christmas Day. A sign of good things to come, of unity and good tidings.
If you're wondering how a 30-foot Christmas tree magically appears in the Madison Square Park every year, it is sponsored by the 23rd Street Association, a 66-year old civic group of 300 member companies that tries to make life better for people in our neighborhood.
As to the Christmas Tree tradition in the park, it is older than the Association, by 17 years. In fact it is the oldest community Christmas Tree in the entire United States. The idea spread like wildfire, and now Gramercy Park, Stuyvesant Park and Union Square Park have followed the example.
This year's tree was lit, on December 6, by Henry Stern, Parks Commissioner (Assemblyman Steven Sanders was last year's honoree), with the McBurney after-school class singing and the Gramercy Brass playing carols. McDonald's 23rd Street provided cookies and coffee for everyone, and the homeless from Peter's Place (St.Francis de Paul RC Church, between 6th and 7th Avenues) applauded the ceremony. A crowd of 70 came, a far cry from 1912, when 25,000 viewers gathered for the first tree-lighting.
The community Christmas Tree idea was conceived by Emilie D.Lee Herreshoff of Virginia, descendant of the signer of the Declaration of Independence, and a member of a NY shipbuilding family, in 1912. Her idea was taken up by Orlando Rouland, an artist who lived at 130 West 57th Street. Mrs Herreshoff asked the then Mayor William J. Gaynor for an appropriate location. He suggested Washington Square, but the organizers rejected it - the wealthy people there did not need it, and Madison Square Park would serve a better cross section of New Yorkers. A 60-foot tree was found, N.Y. Edison donated a $2,000 gift of 1,200 incandescent lights, and John.D. Hegeman, President of Metropolitan Life, offered to ring the chimes in the adjacent Tower, to the accompaniment of neighborhood church bells. The lighting attracted huge crowds, four trumpeters blew the "Parsifal's Call," singers from the MacDowell School Cantorum and the Ghent Welsh Male Choir sang carols, and there was a band. The Welsh singers had been imported and subsequently abandoned by their impresario (reminds me of a contractor I once had), and through this performance they found another backer who gave them a successful concert tour through the US. And a little abandoned baby was found under the tree, during the intermission, when his cries could be heard. He was adopted by a wealthy family. When the band concert broke up at midnight, 7,000 of the 25,000 attenders were still there, loath to leave this meeting of souls.
The event was such a joy that within three years more than a thousand cities were decorating their public Christmas trees. The park event continued year after year, and when Mrs Rouland in 1937 was too feeble to cary on, a Mrs Louise Carnegie stepped in to help. Widow of the great Andrew, she organized an endowment of $30,000, with a committee consisting of the conductor Walter Damrosch, Harry Harkness Flagler, son of the developer of Miami, the wife of President Benjamin Harrison, Elihu Root, Jr.(son of the Secretary of State and an area resident), Paul D. Cravath (lawyer, President of the Met Opera Association), some Carnegie associates and the hard-working Roulands. The endowment was success and the tree lightings continued, with the event broadcast live on WNYC since 1940. The Met Glee Club performed valiantly and the event was rebroadcast to the servicemen during WWII.
After the War the tree was no longer a rallying point, and the trustees gave all the remaining funds to the Union Theological Seminary, on 120th Street, in 1953. The Parks Department supplied the trees after 1948. There were years when none were lighted, until the Met and New York Life decided to organize the event in alternate years. A break in the tree-lighting occurred, until two years ago the 23rd Street Association decided to revive the tradition.
Homeless Shelters Need Volunteers
Regardless of one's faith, a brightly lit Christmas tree is a reminder of the season. To many it is a reminder of the time to take care of the homeless, when the weather turns cold.
The area homeless shelters need volunteers. Brotherhood Synagogue opens its shelter after the New Year. If you want the heartening experience of spending a evening with people who can tell you what street life is like, sign on. I have picked up many a useful tip about collecting scrap metal, and relative prices paid by dealers in New York and the Bronx, and getting on the subway with a shopping cart full of aluminum window frames. If it ever gets down to that, I know how to make it, gang. Eat your hearts out. Actually, spending an evening and night with the homeless as a shelter volunteer is a wonderful stimulant, and it is addictive. People want to experience that feeling of having been good, of fulfillment that comes so rarely into our lives from working or studying. You get to feel virtuous, for once you have done something that is a real, hands-on, good! It's like making something, a chair that really works, or a toolbox. You feel like somebody, you have accomplished, you have done the Marathon. And it's easier than the Marathon. So call Brotherhood (Judy Golden, 674-5750), or St. George's Church (William Grant, 780-0052), the Friends Meeting House (Sylvia Freedman, 673-8316), or the Madison Avenue Baptist Church (Jeri Easterling, 685-1377). The homeless programs all of these shelters essentially draw their guests from the 10 drop-in centers run by the Partnership for the Homeless, which takes care of 1,500 men and women, through 150 shelter facilities in all five boroughs. The guests are people who are tuberculosis-free, participate in rehabilitation programs and stay clean. And a respectable number of them make it out of the shelter environment and manage to jane the mainstream of humanity. Helping people can be the best Christmas or Chanukkah gift you can give yourself. Happy Holidays!
Wally Dobelis thanks Jane Crotty, Executive Director of the 23rd Street Association, for digging out the story about the community Christmas Tree from a 1962 Met Life publication. For those of us who'd like to know more about the Association, its territory is between 28th and 17th Streets (where it borders with the 14th Street BID), river to river. "Improvement and development of the area" is the official mission, an that includes legislative action. Unlike the BIDs, this is a voluntary association with scaled dues. It also does not provide policing and sanitary services, though they have a Public Safety Committee. Besides businesses, large and small, there are not-for-profit members, such as Baruch, SVA, FIT, National Arts Club, T.Roosevelt House and the Partnership for the Homeless. Its President is Paul Custer, the Executive Director of the McBurney WMCA, while the Chairman is the Director of Operations for Edison Parking, Douglas Sarini.
If you want some Christmas tree savvy, go chat with Cowboy Bob Mitchell, the man in the Western hat who's come back from Boynton Beach to sell Douglas fir and blue spruce from Canada, Oregon and North Carolina on 3rd Avenue, West side, between 19th and 20th Streets, for his 32nd season in the neighborhood.
Thursday, December 14, 2000
The world of Bill Gates
If your livelihood is in the world of computers, you may well share my feelings. I'm bothered by Bill Gates. I'm worried about his impact on my life. He is an innovative marketing genius who is shaping our society's cultural destiny, from a Microsoft-oriented profit-making vision. And now he has written a book, The Road Ahead (with Nathan Myhrvold and Peter Rinearson, Viking, N.Y., $29.95), a history, a forecast and a description of his electronic house. The San Simeon that a technocrat would build.
Gates, who is 40 and whose company is 20, did not create MS-DOS, the operating system that made him rich when it became the standard "traffic cop" software of the Personal Computer environment. He bought it, for $50,000, from Seattle Computers. When IBM decided to give him the operating systems contract for the IBM PC in 1981, he managed to retain the rights to sell MS-DOS, as a pre-installed package, on all the IBM PC clones, a much larger market than IBM alone. That was the key to his immense success. He made DOS the standard, on 140 of the 170 million PCs, and created a virtual monopoly over all PCs but the Apples. When he decided to match the competing Apple's user-friendly Macintosh icon-oriented operating system, prevalent in the school market, in the years between 1986 and 1990 he created the successful Windows operating system, nice to the eye but slow and heavily memory-oriented. Nevertheless, it was gladly accepted by computer manufacturers, because Intel was developing the faster 386, 486 and Pentium memory chips, equal to the task. Pre-installed on all the new computers, Windows forced the entire user community to spend billions on new hardware, software, or to upgrade existing equipment. Was Microsoft overtaken by competitors who could supply better software? No, quite the contrary, Windows beat out the superior IBM OS/2.2. Then, in 1993, Microsoft decided to combine communications and networks with its operating system, and came up with another heavyweight, known in the development community as Chicago and sold as Windows 95 in 1995, after many a delay. It should have had another year's delay, to make it less memory-requiring and faster, but who cares! The manufacturers love it as much as they loved Windows, because it sells more hardware. It has built-in network, which helps Microsoft beat out Novell and other competitors in the environment where many computers must be strung together to talk to each other. It also accesses Internet, and there is a question as to the manner in which it impedes other network-access methods. There have been anti-trust complaints against Microsoft for prematurely announcing products and thereby stifling competitors who may be well ahead technologically but are unable to sell their product because the buyers will wait for Microsoft's software, in the expectation that it will integrate with all of their other Microsoft systems. It's an unfair ploy, devised by IBM in their heyday and adopted by Microsoft with great success.
Did we, the user community, need all this continuous accelerated multi-billion dollar upgrading? The corporate market seems to accept it and thrive with the changes. As an individual, I had no need for them, and neither did many other individuals who use the PC for word processing and spread sheets, the main accounting function. I work in MS-DOS, with a 386 PC, sneered at by the kids who want leading edge products, because... When you ask why, the answer becomes vague, hostile and eventually settles on the access speed and memory needed for Intenet, the great deceiver. I stay out of the fascinating but time-wasting and non-productive Internet browsing.
As you can see, Bill Gates is a mixed blessing on the national resources. He forces the US and, actually, the entire world to accept his process of deliberate accelerated, non-beneficial technological obsolescence. But that is the industry, and he cannot afford to slow down, else the $6 billion a year income flow stops and many of the 17,000 techies in Belleville, WA, many of them millionaires in company stock, lose their jobs and their investment portfolios.
Where I really blow the gasket is when Gates starts setting standards for culture and civilization. This marketing genius of limited horizons - he decided to drop out of a card-playing Harvard existence in the 2nd year to start a computer buiness - is building a house with 40 screens for TV, for the information highway and for music. He does not need the theatre, or concerts, and he does not need books. All of the above can be piped in. And he wants a wallet-PC society that eliminates retail banking and tellers, bill-payment, credit cards, 1st class mail for bills, and letters (he has fax and e-mail for us). Retail store operations may be obsolete; individual intruction in schools ditto, since he can eliminate individual teaching with multi-media presentations. Gates is essentially building towards an anti-social form of society, with no need for personal interaction. Only books that are read front-to-back will remain in print (hard-copy) format for now, whereas all reference works should be multi-media, with print, pictures and sound on a color screen. Research, such as pulling together all the material about Katharine Hepburn's movies, will be so much easier on-line (some research!). He feels bad for himself, for having had to use hard-copy encyclopedias in his youth. I don't think he has cracked many books after dropping out, though he claims to like The Bridges of Madison County, an indicator of his taste.
The fact that advanced technology has a negative impact on employment cannot be fought, if it is not Gates it will be someone else who will think of ways to use the information highway to cut jobs. But becoming an arbiter in determining the form and content to the nation's culture? Corporate culture, while powerful, normally remains internal to the organization. Bill Gates brings it to the outside, as a role model, an icon, and not just for the young. I wish he would buzz off. Make money, not culture, Bill Gates. The old ways of society are okay.
Wally Dobelis and T&V wish a Happy Holiday Season for all of our readers.
And especially for old friends from ST/PCV, some not seen for years - Gertrude Barber, Bertha Dotz, Mary Hanclosky, Mae Kehoe, Mary Rapp, Lil Riback, Hilda Strassheim, Ellen Torchin, Jean Vallely, and Ann Hanus.
Gate was`a 2nd yr man in the Currrier residence, an outer house in Harvard when the MITSComputers' Altair PC 8989 , a kit for $800, was announced. He and childhood friend and felleow programmer 3 years his senior Paul Allem moved to albuquerque and formed Microsoft, to sell their version of BASIC adapted for the Altair. They expanded to FORTRAN PC version, Radio Shack 100 in 1983???; sold well in Japan, Paul Ballmer came, and MS moved to Belleville WA in 1979, the year when VisiCalc, the predecessor of Lotus 123, and the wordprocesors WordStar and WordPerfect were first marketed.A year later Gates bought 86-DOS (hired Tim Patterson), and in 1981 the IBM PC came out with DOS 1.0. DOS 2.0 came for the IBM XT (a 286 machine) in 1983, and a year later DOS 3.0 for the IBM AT.
That was also the first year for the Aple Macintosh, successor of Lisa.
In 1985 MS collab with IBM on OS/2, but also came out with the Win 1.03. In 1986 COMPAQ, afounded by 3 TI engineers came out with the first 386, beating IBM, who was holding back to protet their line of minicomputers. That was the year for improved IBM OS2 1.0, and Win 2. Win 3 was in 1990, MS-DOS 5.0 in 91, Win 3.1 in 92, and Win 95 in 95. Public in 19xx, 17k empl, $6B ann sales, college campus, 1MS Way, crisis atmosphere, go-go
ARPANET 1960s-89, thereafter Internet, w/ leased lines from 5 cos.
Gates: Encarta (F&Wag); Virt Real; tactels vs pixels; Email, videoconf;shopping;teachers-monitor, eval guide;games gambl;budgets;ebooks