News of the Week: The Emmys, Email, and Ernest Hemingway

Emmy Nominations

Joe Seer /
Joe Seer /

The Emmy nominations were announced yesterday. Here’s a list of the major categories and who’s up for trophies this year.

Some highlights: Jon Hamm was nominated for Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series for his role in Mad Men, which was also nominated for Outstanding Drama. His costar Elisabeth Moss (Peggy Olson) got a nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, as did Christina Hendricks for her supporting role as Joan Harris. That’s fantastic to see. Two Friends alumni got acting nominations: Lisa Kudrow for The Comeback and Matt LeBlanc for Episodes. Netflix got 34 nominations, which would have been an odd sentence to write just a few years ago.

Snubs and surprises? Empire wasn’t nominated for Outstanding Drama (though Taraji P. Henson got a nom for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama). Justified wasn’t nominated in the Outstanding Drama or Acting categories. Also, it irritates me that The Middle is always overlooked. It’s the best comedy on TV right now — a beautiful blend of heart and humor — and someone from that cast should get nominated. Honestly, if Modern Family wins again …

And Hamm? If he doesn’t win in this, his last year of eligibility as Don Draper, the Emmys are officially a joke. He should have already won, probably more than once. The 67th Emmy Awards, hosted by Andy Samberg, will be broadcast on Fox on September 20 at 8 p.m.

Is Email Going Away?


No. Next topic!

It seems that every week we hear of something going away, something that isn’t used anymore, even if at one time everyone used it. Facebook? Teens are fleeing and the site is going to be just another MySpace! (Not true.) Television? People watch everything online now! (Plenty of people still watch television.) Voicemail? People hate voicemail and just text/use social media now! Okay, that last one happens to be true, in my experience anyway. I have people who call me on my landline and instead of leaving a voice mail message will just hang up. What, I’m supposed to magically guess that someone called?

Teddy Wayne at The New York Times says that people aren’t writing long emails anymore, and I’m not sure if I agree or not. I mean, the people who like email and use it to write long correspondence with friends and family (or use it as their main online communication mechanism) will continue to do that, right? I know I will. Besides, there’s no way that email can go away, whether it’s long, intimate emails or quick replies to someone. Email is part of our identity now, like phone numbers or social security numbers. It’s how we sign up for things online, and it’s even how we conduct business online. If people really want a paperless world, try signing contracts or paying bills online by just a text or a Twitter status update.

As for longer emails specifically, I think that will continue for the people who are going to do that anyway. I do find it funny that email, which once stoked fears that it would cause all of us to become ADD-afflicted and destroy phone and face-to-face communication, is now seen as “old school,” like handwritten letters, something I suggest everyone return to. It’s not as quick, but you’re more likely to save a letter you get via snail mail. What are you going to do, print out an email or Facebook “Like” and save it?

Pluto on Pluto!


Lots of exciting news for space geeks … um, enthusiasts (and I include myself in that group) this week. After almost a decade in space, NASA’s New Horizons probe finally reached the planet-that-isn’t-really-a-planet-anymore, Pluto, and sent back some stunning photographs.

But for my money, this is the most incredible discovery regarding Pluto on this mission. It’s Pluto … on Pluto!

The Air Conditioner Was Invented Today

The 1963 General Electric Porta-cart air conditioner. (Shutterstock)
The 1963 General Electric Porta-cart air conditioner.

I’m sitting here typing this in a pool of sweat.

I’ve lived in this second-floor apartment for over 20 years, and I’ve never had air conditioning (long story). July and August are often brutal. I have to get by with open windows and doors, praying for a cross-breeze, and maybe a fan. Popsicles help a lot too (I’m partial to orange, grape, and root beer).

But let’s celebrate the first electrical air conditioning unit, which was invented by Willis Carrier in Buffalo, New York, and made it’s debut this day in 1902. Of course, it wasn’t in many homes until years later. God, what did people do when you lived on the fifth floor of a New York City apartment building before air conditioning came along?

The history of air conditioning is actually quite fascinating, with tales of inventions and ideas stolen and even a plot by one man in the mid-1800s to get rid of air conditioning because it might interfere with his ice business. There was a backlash against the invention, and it pretty much went away for 50 years.

So if you do have air conditioning, either at home or at work or maybe even both places if you’re lucky, I hope you’re comfortable and happy. But this summer think of me stewing in my own juices, delirious and tired, hallucinating that there is such a thing as magical elves and, oh, I don’t know, National Caviar Day.

Hey, Tomorrow Is National Caviar Day


I can’t think of a food holiday that I would be less likely to celebrate than National Caviar Day (and I bet a lot of you feel the same way). Maybe National Haggis Appreciation Day? Caviar just doesn’t appeal to me, and I certainly wouldn’t want to spend the money on it. But if you do like caviar, there’s an official site for the holiday, so you and your friends can celebrate to your heart’s content.

I’m more interested in National Junk Food Day, which is Tuesday. You can bet your fish eggs I’ll be celebrating that.

As if I don’t already celebrate that every week.

Upcoming Events and Anniversaries

Neil Armstrong walks on the moon (July 20, 1969)
Earlier this year, the widow of the first man to walk on the moon found some moon artifacts in a closet in their home.

Ernest Hemingway born (July 21, 1899)
Did you know that the famed writer modeled his writing after fiction he read in The Saturday Evening Post (even if we did reject him three times)?

John Dillinger killed (July 22, 1934)
SEP contributor Lewis Beale on how mobsters such as Dillinger and Al Capone became sort of folk heroes because of the Depression and through films.

Raymond Chandler born (July 23, 1888)
The acclaimed writer will get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame later this year, along with Will Ferrell, Juliana Margulies, and Daniel Radcliffe.

First “test-tube baby” born (July 25, 1978)
Louise Brown, the first baby born through in vitro fertilization, turns 37.

Air Conditioning: From Luxury to Necessity

For those of us born in the post-war years, the 1950s don’t seem so distant.  We have a wealth of childhood memories, which are perennially refreshed by the sight of the old houses, schools, and churches we grew up with. We can remember how the ‘50s looked easily enough. It’s far more difficult to remember how they felt.

To do that, to recapture the sense of living in the “jet age,” we must recall life before a flood of new technologies. We must recall how we lived when television was limited to three channels on a small, grainy, black-and-white screen. But we should also recollect how it felt to live before air conditioning, when we longed to get outside to catch any tiny breeze, when we slept on fire escapes, or hammocks, or down at the beach — anywhere but in the oven that was our bedroom.

The Post was there at the start, as air conditioning grew from a luxury to a necessity for every American house, store, and office building. In “They’re Trying To Make Summer Extinct” [June 6, 1953, PDF download], Rufus Harman predicts the coming summer will mark the beginning of The Great Era of Air Conditioning, which could mean

anything from room coolers becoming as common in homes as refrigerators are now, to a fantastic future when practically all indoor spaces and limited parts of the great outdoors, including streets of cities, will be given year-round “perfect climate” by artificial means.

Financiers of the day predicted air conditioning was about to become “America’s next great industry.”

When the Carrier Corporation, largest in the field, announced last fall, gross business totaling $107,700,702 for twelve months, not only was Wall Street impressed but old-timers in the industry could scarcely believe it. Four years before, when President Cloud Wampler, of Carrier, had predicted a $100,000,000 gross by 1955, some company officials said such wild talk might cause him to lose the employees’ confidence.

Up to now, less than 1 per cent of United States homes have air conditioning in any form. No large New York hotel is fully air conditioned; few apartment buildings are, and only lately have office-building owners decided they must have it to keep tenants.

Two years earlier, Americans had purchased 237,000 single-room air conditioners. In 1951, sales reached 400,000 coolers, and would have sold more if the supply hadn’t run out. The success of these window-mounted, single-room coolers led the industry to think on a larger scale.

Some thinkers believe the important field in residential air conditioning is not room coolers, but central units providing year-long perfect climate for the whole house. A St. Louis builder has scheduled this year 400 such houses to sell at $12,000.

A recent poll, by the National Association of Home Builders, of 255 representative firms indicated that about 40 per cent of home-building companies will offer air conditioning in new houses this year. Last year almost none of the 104 companies in the poll that said they now plan to air-condition new homes were considering the matter seriously.

Many home-owners were early adopters of the new cooling technology, and paid to have central air conditioning installed. But most Americans were reluctant to go beyond one window-mounted, single-room cooler.

The industry expects that more than a quarter millions new car buyers will go for cooling this year [1956]. One hundred and eighty-four thousand did in 1955. By contrast, only 65,000 new homes equipped with central air conditioning were sold last year. An equal numbers of installations were made in old houses. This relatively meager acceptance of complete cooling homes puzzles a great many people. The builders, who turned out 1,330,000 houses last year, are particularly concerned.

“The air-condition equipment in an automobile,” they point out, “has more than enough capacity to cool a small house. The car needs this excess capacity because it soaks up heat through metal and glass. What we’d like to unravel, they say, is why the public will buy air-conditioned cars, patronize air-cooled theaters, restaurants and motels, invest in room air conditioners every time there’s a heat wave, but stay away in droves when a builder tries to sell a house with summer cooling to match winter warmth.” [“They Lock Hot Weather Out,” Arnold Nicolson, June 16, 1956]

One reason they hesitated  was the cost. As long as whole-house air conditioning was viewed as a luxury, it would remain beyond the budget of most households. But in time, Americans began to regard the idea of being comfortable in summer as a justifiable necessity. By 1957, over half a million homes in America had central air conditioning.

Secretary of Commerce Frederick H. Mueller has said: “It’s hard to explain the wide acceptance of air conditioning on its money values alone, I think people have just decided that it’s part of the American standard of living, something we’re all entitled to, just as we’re entitled to heat in the winter and food on the table.”

Business owners realized that air conditioning might make their offices and factories more profitable. According to a 1960 article, researchers had been studying the effect of air conditioning on worker productivity.

In every case, output goes up—from 22 to 28 per cent for factory labor, and from 20 to 50 per cent for office help… An across-the-board rise of 10 per cent in productivity would be something of an industrial revolution, so it’s obvious that air conditioning is going to produce some amazing changes in our efficiency and work habits.

Sociologists are just beginning to appraise the effects that air conditioning may have on our civilization, but the omens are highly visible. Ten years from now [i.e., 1970], when all major office buildings and department stores, half of all factories, and around 30,000,000 dwelling units have “controlled summer environment” as the air-conditioning salesmen new call it, the American way of life may be quite different from what it is today.

Some rather remarkable modifications will be wrought in our home life, too, according to Professor Watt. He studied a community of twenty-two air-conditioned homes near Austin, Texas, comparing them with a similar but non-air-conditioned neighborhood of about the same size. In the air-conditioned homes the wives spent less time at housework because, with doors and windows closed, less dust and dirt got into the house. Colds decreased among the air-conditioned families. Family life — the total hours the family spent together at home — increased. And so, in a way, did family productivity. The rate of pregnancy in the air-conditioned homes showed a significant increase above that in the non air-conditioned. The professor can’t say whether this particular result was due to better health, more relaxed home atmosphere or what. “But it happened,” he declared.

There would be other effects, which would only become apparent over time. Some would be subtle, like the disappearance of distinctive smells inside stores. With their air continually filtered and re-filtered, grocery stores became as scentless as department stores. The unique aroma of the old-fashioned drug store — a rich bouquet of oils and ointments, lunch counter, soaps, and candy — was replaced with odorless, sanitized, empty air.

The Post observed another change: Air conditioning was eroding the sense of community. With Americans remaining close to their air vents, the streets of their neighborhood emptied. The only sound in the summer night was the hum of air conditioning compressors, crickets, and passing cars. Few people strolled the sidewalks at night to cool off before bed, and the front porch was disappearing from the American home.

A technician installing a new air conditioner for a small family.
Jack Toon shows Mrs. Jim Faulkner, of North Hollywood, how to adjust her new air conditioner.

This homely American institution—often more elegantly called “veranda” or “piazza”—belonged to a more expansive generation and had qualities that today’s “patios,” “breezeways,” “terraces” or back-yard “fireplace areas” can’t approach. For one thing, it was “out front” instead of “out back,” far enough removed from the social current that flowed along the sidewalk for privacy, but available for informal neighborhood sociability… There was a largeness and easiness around the old front porch. Times and tastes — and costs, of course — are bound to change, but older generations have a right to keep a warm spot in their hearts for this old-time summer haven. [“What Has Happened To The Front Porch?” Oct. 22, 1955]

Yes, television certainly changed our lives. But when your power fails on a hot summer night, what technology do you miss the most? It’s probably not your television.

Read “They’re Trying To Make Summer Extinct” [June 6, 1953, PDF download].