Labor Day marks the end of the summer


Labor day, for many people, marks the end of summer just as Memorial Day marks its start.

Each day is now getting three minutes shorter, compared to a few seconds shorter in July, thanks to the unique geometry of the tilt of the earth and the angle of its rotation around the sun.

This will soon translate into significantly cooler days, starting around the middle of September. The big bake is coming to an end.

It’s been a rainy summer and quite cool. These two things are related. Clouds and thunderstorms bring the temperature down. Lately the weather has been like a tropical rain forest with afternoon showers striking like clockwork.

Global warming may be a reality, but the maps show that Mississippi and the southeastern United States has actually experienced temperature declines over the recent decades. That’s an anomaly.

Back in the days when Mississippi businessmen were expected to wear dark suits, white shirts and ties, I dreaded summer. Those days are long since past, thanks to all the casually clothed internet millionaires of the early 1990s.

Now I dress for maximum cooling, within reason. I am on a constant search for super lightweight cotton clothing.

You won’t see me in shorts and I don’t even like short sleeve shirts. Sun and bug protection are critical in the Mississippi subtropical jungle. No way am I going to let my unprotected skin be bug food, and I hate the smell of insecticides.

Being a seventh generation Mississippian 10 times over, my body is well adapted to its environment. Just when I start getting tired of the heat, it turns cooler. Then, just when I start getting tired of the cold, it warms up.

Any day now, we’ll get the first wistful hint of fall. That’s a profound feeling, bringing back memories and longings that are deeply embedded in our brains and souls. Remember as a child that first day of school?

Ever since Katrina in 2005, it’s hard to get through Labor Day without a slight sense of fear and dread. It’s hurricane season. I’ll never forget seeing that ominous pre-Katrina sky and feeling an uneasy premonition of impending disaster. Who would have thought the whole state of Mississippi would experience a hurricane?

No doubt, the best Mississippi temperatures are during the spring and fall. But these are the seasons of change and the variation makes those mild days unpredictable.

Even so, I can’t wait for that week of perfectly clear, calm weather in October when the highs are 76 and the lows at night are in the lower 60s. Too bad it’s so fleeting.

I prefer spring to fall. Life is renewing in spring and that makes me joyful. In fall, life is dying in preparation for the winter and that makes me wistful and contemplative. Thank God we have the holiday season as an antidote!

Labor Day is one of the youngest national holidays. It sprang from the American Labor Movement at its peak during the turn of the last century. It was orignally called the International Workers’ Day. Many disliked the socialist overtones. It was formally adopted as a federal holiday in 1894.

One website describes working conditions at the turn of the century: “The machines that made mass manufacturing possible were often very dangerous. Kept in small spaces without proper enclosure or ventilation, manufacturing machines emitted noxious fumes and contributed to excessive heat inside factories filled with workers. The exposed machinery routinely claimed lives and maimed laborers. In 1900, 35,000 workers were killed in industrial accidents and 500,000 were maimed in factory accidents that ranged from severed limbs to burns.”

In 2018, by contrast, there were only 4,674 industrial fatalities in the U.S. The lifetime risk of dying from work is one in a thousand compare to one in 20 100 years ago. That’s a huge improvement.

Today, the average hourly wage in the United States is $23.46. That’s $47,000 a year.

What a difference a century makes! A hundred years ago communism and labor unions were on the rise. Many intellectuals believed free enterprise was incapable of anything but raw exploitation of labor.

Today communism is practically dead. Labor union membership is at an all-time low and declining rapidly. Wages and working conditions have never been better. Most Americans are free to pick and choose from dozens of jobs at hundreds of different companies. This is true progress.

And it’s not just America. Global poverty, as defined as living on a dollar a day, is down from 40 percent of the world population 40 years ago to 10 percent today. This is the greatest progress in the history of the world.

And this is before the smartphone, the greatest advance in the history of human civilization, which today gives 67 percent of the world population access to almost infinite information. Just imagine the progress of the next 40 years!

Today, in America, if you are willing to work hard and learn a skill, you can live better than the kings of yesteryear.

This great progress of the world workforce can be summed up in one of my favorite jokes: A brain surgeon calls a local plumber over the weekend with an emergency stopped toilet. The plumber arrives, surveys the situation and announces it will take five hours and $3,000 to complete the repairs. “That’s outrageous,” the brain surgeon exclaims. “That’s more than I make as a brain surgeon!” To which the plumber replies: “I know, it’s more than I made when I was a brain surgeon too.”

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