An unintended consequence of minimum-wage laws

Borderlands Exterior

Borderlands Books is a privately owned San Francisco bookstore that has been in operation for nearly 20 years.

Concentrating on science fiction, fantasy, mystery and horror works, Borderlands has overcome a number of challenges since opening in 1997: a 100 percent bump in rent in 2000; the trend toward online sales; the increasing popularity of ebooks; and the impact of the Great Recession.

Still, according to store officials, Borderlands managed to overcome each of the trials. In fact, last year was the best the store had enjoyed.

“At the beginning of 2014, the future of the business looked, if not rosy, at least stable and very positive,” Borderlands officials wrote on the store’s website. “We were not in debt, sales were meeting expenses and even allowing a small profit, and, perhaps most importantly, the staff and procedures at both the bookstore and the cafe were well established and working smoothly.”

Despite that, Borderlands recently announced it would be closing, by March 31 at the latest.

The reason? Last November San Francisco voters, out of touch with the realities of running a business, overwhelmingly passed a measure that will increase the minimum wage within the city to $15 an hour by 2018.

Borderlands Books as it exists cannot remain financially viable in light of increased minimum wages, according to the store website.

Unlike some businesses, bookstores are hindered in their ability to adjust for rising costs.

There’s a limit to how much a bookstore can increase book prices because publishers set prices. In addition, companies such as Amazon.com have siphoned off consumers from brick-and-mortar bookstores and made it more difficult to get them to pay retail.

In other words, adjusting prices upward to cover increased wage costs isn’t an option for Borderlands.

The change in the minimum wage will see Borderlands’ payroll jump nearly 40 percent. That will result in total operating expenses being bumped up by 18 percent. For Borderlands to offset that expense, it would need to increase sales by a minimum of 20 percent, which it doesn’t see as realistic.

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‘Coming a cropper’ on a cranky camel along the River Nile

camel corps

While there’s no question that European colonization of Africa in the second half of the 19th century left permanent scars, it’s easy to forget that many of those who planted flags of various imperialist regimes had a variety of reasons for doing so, and not all were self-serving.

The so-called three “Cs” of colonialism – civilization, commerce, and Christianity – were the driving force, along with grabbing strategic lands to enable various European powers to be positioned in case they came into conflict with one another.

Thomas Pakenham’s sprawling work, The Scramble for Africa: The White Man’s Conquest of the Dark Continent from 1876 to 1912, details how Great Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Italy and Portugal carved up Africa with little regard for its inhabitants.

The 738-page book has been out for more than 20 years, yet it remains one of the definitive descriptions of the colonization of Africa.

While Pakenham’s book is full of somber topics such as diplomatic squabbles, political maneuvering and bloody clashes between natives and Europeans, it also has its light moments, delivered in Pakenham’s Anglo-Irish style.

Among the best is his description of Gen. Garnet Wolseley’s effort to relieve Gen. Charles George Gordon, besieged beginning in March 1884 at Khartoum by forces led by a self-proclaimed messianic redeemer of the Islamic faith, Muhammad Ahmad.

Wolseley’s relief expedition consisted of 10,000 men, led by a picked force of 1,600 officers with 2,500 camels, the former described as “the flower of the British army led by the flower of London society – including eleven peers or peers’ sons.”

By mid-November 1884, the camel-borne soldiers were plodding along the banks of the Nile, strung out in groups of 150, stretching 240 miles from Aswan to Wadi Halfa.

Unfortunately, the “flower of the British army” and their beasts of burden weren’t particularly well suited for one another, according to Pakenham:

What confirmed the air of a charade was the outlandish uniform of the new Camel Corps, a hybrid of the seventeenth century and a circus: red jumpers, breeches and bandoliers, sun goggles and white helmets. ‘Fancy a Life Guardsman clothed like a scarecrow with blue goggles on, mounted on a camel, over which he has little control. What a picture!’ was Wolseley’s comment. The camels, too, were a strange collection, raked up at the last minute from as far away as Aden, beasts of all colours and sizes, from the great brown baggagers, each as large as a rhinoceros, to the elegant fawn-coloured racing camels from Arabia. The men found that mounting a frisky camel was exciting work, and they often came a cropper. Wolseley himself fell off, painfully hard, on a piece of gravelly sand, in front of his army. He hated camels. ‘They are so stupid; they begin to howl the moment you put a saddle on them and they smell abominably … ‘

Perhaps not surprisingly, Wolseley’s force arrived too late to save Gordon, who was killed and beheaded by Ahmad’s men in January 1885 amid a general massacre of Khartoum.

(Top: Photograph of two Sikh members of Camel Corps, taken during Nile Expedition to relieve Khartoum in either 1884 or 1885. Source: National Archives, United Kingdom.)

Why the Sand Creek Massacre needs to be remembered

At_the_Sand_Creek_Massacre,_1874-1875

This past weekend marked the 150th anniversaries of two bloody events in US history: The Battle of Franklin, a Union victory over Confederate forces at Franklin, Tenn., in the waning months of the Civil War; and the Sand Creek Massacre, in which US cavalry forces attacked an Indian camp of mostly women, children and old men more than 1,000 miles away in the Colorado Territory.

Both were routs, although only in the first were the odds anywhere near being even.

At Franklin, Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood’s Army of the Tennessee was annihilated by Union Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield’s Army of Ohio, while at Sand Creek a force of 700 Union cavalrymen destroyed a village of Cheyenne and Arapahoe in an unprovoked attack that claimed as many as 200 lives.

The anniversary of the former, which effectively destroyed the Army of Tennessee as a fighting force, was noted by history aficionados, particularly Civil War buffs, and through media accounts, while the latter, among the most brutal of many assaults on Native Americans by US forces during the War Between the States, went relatively unnoticed outside Colorado.

My first brush with the Sand Creek Massacre, albeit tenuous, came earlier this year, when I visited a historic graveyard in the West Coast town where I attended high school, in Santa Cruz, Calif. Evergreen Cemetery features the final resting place for dozens of Civil War veterans, including Lanader Prindle, who served in the 3rd Colorado Cavalry Regiment.

Living in the South for the past 15 years, and away from California for nearly all of the past 30 years, I had little knowledge of units that served in the west during the War Between the States. In addition, the 3rd Colorado piqued my interest because it came from a territory, as Colorado was still a dozen years away from statehood.

It was after a bit of research that I learned that the 3rd Colorado, along with the 1st Colorado Cavalry and a company of the 1st New Mexico Cavalry Regiment, took part in the Sand Creek Massacre, another aspect of US history I knew little about.

The stage was set for the Sand Creek Massacre when Black Kettle, a chief of the Southern Cheyenne, led his band to Fort Lyon in southeastern Colorado, according to provisions of a peace parlay held in Denver in September 1864.

Colorado’s leaders, including Col. John Chivington, a former Methodist pastor, and Colorado territorial governor John Evans, had adopted a hard-line against Indians, whom white settlers accused of stealing livestock.

Chivington made no qualms about his view toward Native Americans: “Damn any man who sympathizes with Indians! … I have come to kill Indians, and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God’s heaven to kill Indians. … Kill and scalp all, big and little; nits make lice.”

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Winter’s cold hand enables us to appreciate spring’s warm touch

south carolina snow

With the calendar year winding down, the approach of winter’s cold harsh hand is evident across the northern hemisphere.

Already the grass has turned brown, the leaves are nearly all dead and fallen from the trees and the mornings temperatures have suddenly slipped into the low 40s, or well below in some parts of the country.

In South Carolina, the earliest snow of the season on record occurred last weekend. It was little more than a dusting for the most part, but when an area can go 3-5 years without snow, seeing flurries on Nov. 1 is certainly an occasion for notice.

As someone who has the constitution of a reptile and thrives in the sun and heat, this is not a welcome change. The days of sunning myself on a log in the river are at an end for the year, I’m afraid.

Unfortunately, my employer frowns on hibernation, so I will plod through the coming months.

Cities, too, take on a different tone with the onset of winter, as metal, marble and glass get colder and even more impersonal with the change in climate. I recall excursions to Boston, Montreal and Quebec City in late fall, and the dark, gloomy atmosphere exhibited by each as winter neared.

The bleakness of the end of the year in the city is captured magnificently in Theodore Dreiser’s classic novel Sister Carrie, set in late 19th century Chicago:

“Once the bright days of summer pass by, a city takes on that somber garb of grey, wrapt in which it goes about its labours during the long winter. Its endless buildings look grey, its sky and its streets assume a somber hue; the scattered, leafless trees and wind-blown dust and paper but add to the general solemnity of colour. There seems to be something in the chill breezes which scurry through the long, narrow thoroughfares productive of rueful thoughts. Not poets alone, nor artists, nor that superior order of mind which arrogates to itself all refinement, feel this, but dogs and all men. These feel as much as the poet, though they have not the same power of expression. The sparrow upon the wire, the cat in the doorway, the dray horse tugging his heavy load, feel the long, keen breaths of winter. It strikes to the heart of all life, animate and inanimate. If it were not for the artificial fires of merriment, the rush of profit-making trade, and pleasuring-selling amusements; if the various merchants failed to make the customary display within and without their establishments; if our streets were not strung with signs of gorgeous hues and thronged with hurrying purchasers, we would quickly discover how firmly the chill hand of winter lays upon the heart; how dispiriting are the days during which the sun withholds a portion of our allowance of light and warmth. We are more dependent upon these things than is often thought. We are insects produced by heat, and pass without it.”

The benefit of winter’s long, cold breath is that it allows us to cherish all that much more the beauty of spring and warmth of summer. After all, one can’t truly appreciate the light without knowing the dark.

Glory of SF’s past captured by Bay Area photographer

streetcar

San Francisco has long cast a lingering eye to its past, toward a halcyon age that was equal parts legend and reality, but remains embedded in the city’s DNA.

San Francisco’s glory days, which began with the California Gold Rush, lasted until after World War II, when the social upheaval of the 1960s brought tens of thousands of counter culturalists to the West Coast.

At the same time, manufacturing jobs left the city, housing prices began a steep rise that have continued almost unabated over the past few decades and, in connection partly to the latter, families began departing in droves for the suburbs.

In addition, thousands of social outcasts flooded in over the next couple decades as prisoners were released from overcrowded jails and the mentally ill were de-institutionalized.

Yet, the splendor of San Francisco’s earlier days can still be glimpsed in its architecture, particularly its early 20th century office buildings and even earlier Victorian homes, and along its waterfront.

Among individuals who have helped keep the memory of old San Francisco alive is photographer Fred Lyon, a fourth-generation San Franciscan who began shooting images of the cities after World War II.

Now in his 90s, Lyon apprenticed at as a photographer at age 14 before enrolling in a Los Angeles art school. He served as a Navy photography in the Second World War, based in Washington, DC, and moved to New York at the conflict’s conclusion.

san francisco 2He returned to California in 1946, and has since spent nearly 70 years documenting life in the Bay Area, with his work appearing in such notable publications as Vogue, Glamour and Mademoiselle. In addition, his work can be found in dozens of books.

Lyon most recently released “San Francisco, Portrait of a City: 1940-1960.”

San Francisco television station KTVU has compiled nearly four dozen of Lyon’s images from the city’s immediate post-war years, which can be seen here.

As someone who has spent a bit of time in “The City” over the years, but never saw it in its prime, I can say that it certainly appears to have been a different era.

In today’s society, where one sometimes sees individuals at funeral wakes in shorts and flip-flops, it seems difficult to believe there was a time when men regularly wore fedoras and women nice dresses.

(Photo credits: Fred Lyon, courtesy of KTVU-TV.)

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Persian literature exhibition winding down in Washington

If you’re in Washington, D.C., over the next couple of weeks you can catch the tail-end of an exhibition exploring the literary tradition of the Persian language during the past millennium.

A Thousand Years of the Persian Book,” at the Library of Congress, includes an array of works, from illuminated manuscripts to modern-day publications. The exhibition focuses on the literary achievements of not just Iran, which is recognized as the birthplace of Persian, but also the Persian-speaking regions of Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Central and South Asia, and the Caucasus.

The exhibition, which runs through Sept. 20, features 75 items drawn primarily from the Library of Congress’s Persian collection, part of its African and Middle Eastern Division.

“The Persian language gained prominence as a literary and common cultural language about a thousand years ago,” according to information from the Library of Congress. “Since then, a rich and varied written and spoken heritage has developed in the Persian language, elevating the visibility of the Persian civilization among world intellectual traditions.

“That tradition is particularly strong in the fields of storytelling, poetry, folklore, and literature, with important contributions in historiography, science, religion, and philosophy,” it adds.

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College 200 years ago was for the few, the erudite

South_Carolina_College_Horseshoe_1850

Few will question that college has changed dramatically over the past two centuries. Today, post-secondary education is often geared toward preparing an individual for employment, where 200 years ago the goal was to provide a classical education.

In the early 19th century, very few people went to college, but it would appear that those who did were extremely well educated.

Consider this description, taken from The Life and Times of C.G. Memminger (1893), a biography of the Confederacy’s Secretary of the Treasury, of the knowledge necessary to gain admittance to South Carolina College (today’s University of South Carolina) in 1819:

“A candidate must be able to sustain a satisfactory examination upon Arithmetic and Elementary Algebra and English Grammar; upon Cornelius Nepos, Caesar, Sallust, and the whole of Virgil’s Aeneid in Latin; and in Greek upon the Gospels of Sts. John and Luke, the Acts of the Apostles, and the Greek Grammar.”

And that was just to get into the school!

The description goes on to add that “The studies to be pursued in the Freshman year are Cicero’s Orations and Odes of Horace in Latin, Xenophon’s Cyropaedia and Memorabilia in Greek, Adam’s Roman Antiquities, Vulgar and Decimal Fractions, the Equations and Extractions of Roots, English Grammar and Rhetoric.”

My first thought is one would be hard pressed to find a college student today proficient in the above in their mother tongue, never mind in Latin and Greek.

Some of the names listed above are familiar, others not so much.

Cornelius Nepos was a Roman biographer whose simple writing style made his passages a standard choice for translation on Latin exams.

Gaius Sallustius Crispus, often known simply as Sullust, was a Roman historian and politician whose works include The Conspiracy of Catiline.

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