Liberation as Death Sentence: Health Care at the End of the Civil War

Liberation as Death Sentence

By JENNIFER SCHUESSLER    Published: June 10, 2012   New York Times

When Civil War History published a paper this spring raising the conflict’s military death toll to 750,000 from 620,000, that journal’s editors called it one of the most important pieces of scholarship ever to appear in its pages.

Richard Perry/The New York Times historian Jim Downs at Grant’s Tomb.
Timothy H. O’Sullivan/Library of Congress  Digging graves in Fredericksburg, Va.,in 1864. A million ex-slaves are said to have become sick or died after 1862.

But to Jim Downs, an assistant professor of history at Connecticut College and the author of the new book “Sick From Freedom,” issued last month by Oxford University Press, that accounting of what he calls “the largest biological crisis of the 19th century” does not go nearly far enough.

To understand the war’s scale and impact truly, Professor Downs argues, historians have to look beyond military casualties and consider the public health crisis that faced the newly liberated slaves, who sickened and died in huge numbers in the years following Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation.

“We’re getting ready to celebrate 150 years of the movement from slavery to freedom,” he said in a recent interview at a cafe near his apartment in Chelsea. “But hundreds of thousands of people did not survive that movement.”

“Sick From Freedom,” at 178 pages (not counting 56 pages of tightly argued footnotes), may seem like a bantamweight in a field crowded with doorstops. But it’s already being greeted as an important challenge to our understanding of an event that scholars and laypeople alike have preferred to see as an uplifting story of newly liberated people vigorously claiming their long-denied rights.

“The freed people we want to see are the ones with all their belongings on the wagon, heading toward freedom,” said David W. Blight, a professor of history at Yale and the director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition. “But the truth is, for every person making it there may have been one falling by the way.”

Professor Downs, 39, is part of a wave of scholars who are sketching out a new, darker history of emancipation, Professor Blight said, one that recognizes it as a moral watershed while acknowledging its often devastating immediate impact. And the statistics offered in “Sick from Freedom” are certainly sobering, if necessarily tentative.

At least one quarter of the four million former slaves got sick or died between 1862 and 1870, Professor Downs writes, including at least 60,000 (the actual number is probably two or three times higher, he argues) who perished in a smallpox epidemic that began in Washington and spread through the South as former slaves traveled in search of work — an epidemic that Professor Downs says he is the first to reconstruct as a national event.

Historians of the Civil War have long acknowledged that two-thirds of all military casualties came from disease rather than heroic battle. But they have been more reluctant to dwell on the high number of newly emancipated slaves that fell prey to disease, dismissing earlier accounts as propaganda generated by racist 19th-century doctors and early-20th-century scholars bent on arguing that blacks were biologically inferior and unsuited to full political rights.

Instead, historians who came of age during the civil rights movement emphasized ways in which the former slaves asserted their agency, playing as important a role in their own liberation as Lincoln or the Union army.

“For so long, people were afraid to talk about freed people’s health,” Professor Downs said. “They wanted to talk about agency. But if you have smallpox, you don’t have agency. You can’t even get out of bed.”

Professor Downs first became interested in the health of newly liberated slaves when he was a graduate student at Columbia University with a job as a research assistant in the papers of Harriet Jacobs, the author of the 1861 autobiography “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” and a vivid chronicler of the often abysmal conditions in the “contraband camps” where escaped slaves congregated during the war and in settlements of freed people more generally after it. The papers were full of heart-wrenching encounters with sick and dying freed people — references that he noticed were strikingly absent in recent scholarship.

As he developed the topic into his dissertation, Professor Downs recalls sparring with his adviser, Eric Foner, the author of the classic book “Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Business, 1863-1877.”

“He would joke: ‘Look in my index. You don’t even see smallpox,’ ” Professor Downs said.

But as he sorted through the little-explored records of the medical division of the Freedmen’s Bureau and other archives, he found reams of statistical and anecdotal accounts of sick and dying freed people, whose suffering was seen by even some sympathetic Northern reformers as evidence that the race was doomed to extinction.

Meanwhile tallies of the smaller number of white smallpox victims were kept only lackadaisically and eventually crossed out all together — evidence, he argues, that officials were eager to see the outbreak as a “black epidemic” not worth bothering about. (By contrast a cholera outbreak in 1866 that mainly affected whites was vigorously combated, he notes.)

Professor Downs also found a medical system that was less concerned with healing the sick than with separating out healthy workers who could be sent back to the fields, and then closing the hospitals as quickly as possible.

In an e-mail Professor Foner praised “Sick From Freedom” as offering “a highly original perspective” that “deserves wide attention.” And Professor Downs makes no bones about wanting to place health issues at the center of multiple scholarly conversations about the war and its aftermath.

“I wanted to say, ‘You’re not allowed to do the history of labor or the history of the family or the history of citizenship unless you go through my book,’ ” he said. “I wanted to be able to tell a story about these people’s lives that wouldn’t get pushed aside as melodrama.”

He is also not shy about drawing out his work’s contemporary relevance. His dissertation included an epilogue about AIDS, another epidemic, he said, that broke out shortly after a moment of liberation (in this case of gay people), was blamed on the victims and was largely ignored by the federal government. (He dropped the point from the book, which instead ends with an epilogue showing how policies developed in the post-Civil War South were exported to the Western frontier, with similarly devastating health consequences for American Indians.)

Professor Downs also sees parallels with the current health care debate. “Freed slaves,” he writes in the book, were “the first advocates of federal health care” — a statement that could be read from the left as an example of early black political activism, or from the right as an instance of newly liberated people immediately asking for a government handout.

That second reading was one he initially worried about, Professor Downs said. But he ultimately just let the historical chips fall where they may.

“I’ve been alone with these people in the archives,” he said. “I have a responsibility to tell their stories.”

Radium Girls Statue Dedicated in Ottawa, Illinois

Radium Girls Statue Dedication Is the Place to Be This Labor Day Weekend —  Friday, September 2nd, 11:00 AM, Ottawa, Illinois

radium-death-newspaper-article On Friday, September 2, at 11:00 a.m. at the corner of Clinton and Jefferson streets in Ottawa, Illinois, a statue of a young woman holding flowers in one hand and paintbrushes in the other will be unveiled. She is the symbol of the Radium Girls, the young women who worked in the clock and watch factories dotting the Illinois Valley in the first half of the 20th century. This was the era of “glow in the dark” watch and clock dials, painted with deadly radium. Many of these workers died from the effects of putting their brushes in their mouths countless times a day to sharpen the points, as the companies trained them to do.

The statue will stand on the site of the Luminous Processes factory in Ottawa at Clinton and Jefferson. The City of Ottawa, community groups and local unions worked together to raise the funds and assure the successful completion of this project. Laborers Local 393, an affiliate union of the ILHS, has donated many member volunteer hours to prep the site where the statue will be placed.

It all started when student Madeline Piller made the Radium Girls the subject of her junior high history fair project, and then never forgot their story. Her father Bill Piller is a sculptor and she enlisted his help to honor these women, many of whom were laid to rest after their untimely deaths in the Catholic cemetery just outside of Ottawa. A Geiger counter passed over these graves will still register the presence of the deadly radium poison that took their lives.

The Ottawa Radium Girls were not alone. Radium-painting factories were also operating in New Jersey and Connecticut. In her book Radium Girls, Woman and Industrial Health Reform, 1910-1935, Central Michigan University historian Claudia Clark extensively documents the suffering of these young women and the fight they and their families mounted to obtain proper compensation from their employers.

radium-girls1 On July 7, 1937, the Chicago Daily Times covered one such legal battle. Reporter John Main wrote: “Fifteen living dead women will appear before the Illinois Industrial Commission here on July 25. It will be the next-to-last act of what lawyers say is the biggest and most pitiful miscarriage of justice in the history of Illinois. The last act will be these women’s death – sure, tortured, horrible.”

These efforts for justice helped spark needed legislation concerning occupational diseases’ and workers compensation laws throughout the country. This Labor Day weekend, we commemorate the contribution made by the struggle of these young women to the health and safety protection of all working people.

The video Radium City (excerpt) movingly recounts this tragedy.  For the complete video (almost 2 hr documentary), click here.

Gauley Bridge, West Virginia 76 Years Ago

[A year ago a West Virginia mine explosion shocked the nation.  No new legislation has been passed to protect workers, no criminal sentences have been handed down to punish the corporations responsible.  It may be shocking, but it’s not surprising, as the story below shows.  There is a long and dishonorable tradition of ignoring workers health and safety.]

1500 Doomed”: People’s Press Reports on the Gauley Bridge Disaster

The deadly lung disease silicosis is caused when miners, sandblasters, and foundry and tunnel workers inhale fine particles of silica dust—a mineral found in sand, quartz, and granite. In 1935, approximately 1,500 workers—largely African Americans who had come north to find work—were killed by exposure to silica dust while building a tunnel in Gauley Bridge, West Virginia. Ordinarily, silicosis takes a several years to develop, but these West Virginia tunnel workers were falling ill in a matter of months because of exposure to unusually high concentrations of silica dust. The crisis over silicosis suddenly became a national issue, as seen in this article in the radical newspaper Peoples’ Press. In 1936 congressional hearings on the Gauley Bridge disaster, it was revealed that company officials and engineers wore masks to protect themselves when they visited the tunnel, but they failed to provide masks for the tunnelers themselves, even when the workers requested them.

476 Dead

1500 Doomed in W. Va.

Tunnel Catastrophe

From Federation News, 1936 (Chicago Federation of Labor)

Picture Caption:

Their only gravestones [are] cornstalks waving in the wind, their shrouds [are] the overalls in which they died, 169 tunnel workers killed at Gauley Bridge were tossed into trenches in this field at Summerville, W. Va., to rot. As they keeled over in the death tunnel, one at a time or several in a day, choked to death by silicosis, they were hauled 40 miles to Summerville and dumped into the grave the same day. No identification, no coffins. The company paid the undertaker $50 a piece to bury them. A wife who came tearfully to claim the remains of her loved one was quietly driven away. There was no way in which his body could be found. They were all victims of America’s worst industrial disaster. Then government officials, newspapers and others conspired to keep this story from the public knowing that soon the witnesses would all be dead. The 26 foremen are already dead. In Gauley Bridge, Town of the Living Dead, men once strong and hearty waste away while loved ones grimly await their death.

Gauley Bridge, W. Va.—America’s greatest industrial catastrophe has been hidden from the public.

There are 476 known dead.

There are nearly 1,500 doomed to die. Of these 200 are believed already dead.

Daily they cough their lives away, their lungs clog, they grow weaker. Finally they fall.

Gauley Bridge, the Town of the Living Dead, shrinks a bit and hurries on. For practically every man in the whole community is doomed to a death like that.

In one cornfield, 169 bodies have been tossed, unmarked. One doctor has treated 307 other men. They’re dead. Some 200 have written desperate letters from other cities—and then have stopped writing!

Desperately, the corporation whose tunnel job caused this holocaust has tried to keep the facts from the public until the last witness was gone. That will not be long. Already all of the 26 foremen are dead.

Mrs. S. E. Harrah sent a two-line item to the county seat paper about ambulances—and her husband was fired. He son, a lawyer, investigated, talked suits. Not any more. Last September he died suddenly. “Heart failure,” they called it.

Mrs. Charles Jones brought suits. Her son, Shirley, 18, was the first to die. Then his brother Owen, 21, died. Then their brother, Cecil, 23. Then an adopted son, Oley Jeffrey. Then Mrs. Jones’ brother. She has lived through this horror to see her husband wither before her eyes. Once he weighed 182. Now he weighs 126. He will read his story; we draw the curtain here.

All for Greed

All this because a rich and powerful corporation valued dollars above lives.

When the Rinehart & Dennis, Co., contractors for the New-Kanawha Power Co., started tunneling through two mountains a mile east of Gauley Bridge, on a power project to cost millions, it knew the tunnel would go through silicate rock.

It knew that men working in the tunnel would breathe in the dust.

It knew that without protection they would get silicosis, deadly lung disease.

Behind Rinehart & Dennis was the New-Kanawha Power Co., set to build the tunnel, dissolved as soon as the tunnel was completed late in 1934.

Union Carbide at Top

Behind the New-Kanawha Power Co. is the Electro Metallurgical Co. This is the big company that will use and sell the New Kanawha power.

Behind the Electro Metallurgical Co. is the Union Carbide & Chemical Co., gigantic company spreading into many fields.

Power to be won from the mountains and the rivers of West Virginia was behind the building of the tunnel at Hawk’s Nest, near Gauley Bridge. Dams, powerhouses, and a tunnel through the mountains to increase the drop in the New River and the force of the water power—a huge project, with huge profits to be made, from the power and the enormous silicate deposits.

A huge project, started in 1926, not yet completed, though the death tunnel is done.

Millions have been spent—$20,000,000 already.

Four years ago, preliminary work done, the tunnel was started.

Engineers of the company had made tests. The mountains were full of silicate rock. Silicate—valuable, deadly if breathed into the lungs in large amounts.

No complete protection against silicate was known, when very fine, as in this case. But there were masks that helped. Ventilation shafts would carry some of the dust away.

Lives Against Dollars

These would cost a few thousand dollars, in the $20,000,000 project.

Should Rinehart & Dennis order the masks, the shafts?

The men who own the Electro Metallurgical Co. did not go into the tunnel. They did not see the fine particles of dust, so penetrating that a 48-ton locomotive with headlights on could not be seen five feet away.

They did not see.

The men who would get the profits but never go into the tunnel decided—

Not to buy masks, not to put in air shafts or any other ventilation.

Some 2,000 men worked in the tunnel, 400 to 1,100 at a time. They got 25 to 30¢ an hour and worked 12 hours a day.

They are all dead, dying or doomed to death.

Shirley Jones was the first to die. He was 18, thrilled to get his first job, in love.

‘We’ll Be Marryin’ Soon’

“Think of it, honey,” he told his girl happily. “A job! Twenty-five cents an hour, 12 hours a day. That’s—why, that’s $3 a day! We’ll be marryin’ soon, honey.”

Three dollars a day for 12 hours of hell in an airless tunnel filled with fine dust that kept you from breathing, that you might wash off your hands but would never wash out of your lungs.

That’s what Shirley Jones found.

Within three months, he was fighting for breath, fainting, going back to work and fainting again, shaken by agonizing pain in his chest. He was losing weight so rapidly his big bones were hardly covered.

“Don’t know what’s wrong, honey,” he gasped now to his sweetheart.

Finally he had to go to bed.

The First Death

One day he called his mother, Emma Jones, mother at 47 of so many children she had to count them to tell a stranger the number.

“Mom,” Shirley gasped. “I don’t know what’s wrong but I’m a-goin’ to die. I think it’s from my work. I want you to have me cut open. If you can get anything from the company, go ahead.

“And mom, get pappy and Uncle Raymond and the boys out of that hole.”

A few days later Shirley was dead.

But pappy and the boys stayed in the tunnel. Three dollars, maybe $3.60, a day’s a lot around Gauley Bridge, and if you didn’t work for the company what could you do?

They stayed in.

The boys are dead—Owen, 21, Cecil, 23, the adopted boy, Oley Jeffrey. Owen died second; Cecil, who had a wife and two children, last. Silicosis kills the young first. Mrs. Jones’ brother Raymond Johnson is dead. Her husband still lives!

What Was Andrew Mellon Doing in Gauley Bridge in 1926?

Watch the People’s Press for answers to these questions.

An Appeal for the Dying

In the name of greed, 476 men—at least—are dead. Another 1,500 are doomed of whom 200 probably are dead in other places.

The dying are unable to get state or federal relief.

The doomed who can still work cannot get jobs. Employers know they are doomed.

The wives and children of the dead, the families of the dying and the doomed live at the edge of the starvation line.

Greed put them there.

In the name of humanity, the People’s Press asks you to help them.

Any sum, large or small, $100 or 1¢ will make life a little easier for this Town of the Living Dead.

They will not get help from the millionaires who kill 2,000 men for a few dollars. That we know.

So we urge you to help them. Everything given will go directly to these people in desperate need.

Send what you can to:

The Gauley Bridge Fund,

Care of the People’s Press, Eastern Branch,

245 Seventh Avenue, New York City.

Source: People’s Press, 7 December 1935. NARA, Record Group 174, Department of Labor, Sec. Frances Perkins, Labor Standards — Jan.-April 1936, Box 59.

Health Care: Kool Herc Is In Pain

from the New York Times


January 31, 2011, 6:23 pm

Kool Herc Is in Pain, and Using It to Put Focus on Insurance

Kool Herc at a news conference in 2008.Chris Hondros/Getty Images Kool Herc at a news conference in 2008.

Update, Feb. 2 | A medical relief fund has been set up for Kool Herc.

D.J. Kool Herc, the turntable magician known as the Father of Hip-Hop, needs help conjuring up some money to cover bills.

Although the blogosphere lighted up over the weekend with alarming but vague reports that he was facing “a very serious illness” and “broke,” he is actually at home and grappling with the aftermath of surgery for kidney stones.

His lack of medical insurance, however, is quite real, despite his status as a living legend who helped create a cultural form that became a global – and lucrative – force.

Herc, born Clive Campbell, is the latest hip-hop pioneer for whom an otherwise routine medical issue morphed into a financial crisis for lack of insurance.

“This is just a disgrace that Kool Herc has to negotiate over the details of his health care,” said Bill Adler, a former executive with Def Jam Records and a historian of the genre. “People who are not performers think that the musicians they love have a big house, lots of cars and more money than they’ll ever know. The reality is that the majority of people who choose a life in the arts make a tough economic choice. They’re almost choosing voluntary poverty.”

Herc’s sister, Cindy Campbell, said that her brother sought treatment at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx in October for kidney stones. As part of the procedure, a stent was temporarily inserted to alleviate the pressure.  She said that Herc had to reschedule several appointments to remove the stent due to bad weather and not feeling well. She said the last time he spoke with the hospital, a little over a week ago, he was told that he needed to place a deposit.

“He told me he asked them to give him a figure,” she said. “But nobody has given him any solid information.”

Steven Clark, a spokesman for the hospital, said that privacy rules prevented him from commenting on the specific case. He said that, in general,  the hospital would not refuse an uninsured patient in the emergency room, and that follow-up procedures would also be performed.

“But if a patient doesn’t show up, or repeatedly misses appointments, that changes the game,” he said. “They can’t dictate their care.”

A medical professional who often works with uninsured patients at St. Barnabas and other Bronx hospitals said that in those cases, the hospital might ask for a deposit and set up a reduced-fee schedule to ensure that the patient showed up for treatment.

Fans, promoters and D.J.’s have rallied to Herc’s side, vowing to raise funds to help him pay his bills. In the meantime, Ms. Campbell said, her brother was at home and taking painkillers to alleviate the discomfort.

The larger issue, she said, was how Herc’s generation of graying rappers and D.J.’s would cope with the medical issues bound to come their way. Just as she and her brother rallied to save the Bronx building where her brother’s famed parties gave birth to hip-hop, she saw this latest trial as a way of being of service to the larger community.

“There isn’t any type of medical program for these artists,” she said. “Maybe it takes a visible person like Herc for people to pay attention. Maybe we can help set something up. My brother and I were trailblazers. We tried to save the building. Now we’re going to advocate for plenty of other artists and have a program to assist them.”

Automation and Robotics News – Jan 30, 2011

[Along with the usual excitement about drone technology and war making, this issue of Automation and Robotics News brings insightful articles about robot job displacement including replacement of entire occupations.  There should be no wonder why Egyptian workers with diplomas cannot find jobs . .

By Larry McCormack, The (Nashville) Tennessean James Scott says the printing industry "is flooded with people looking for jobs."

.and what does that say about the future in the US?  Check out the worker replacement guide below to find out  — Lew Rosenbaum]

Automation and Robotics News–Jan 30, 2011
Tony Zaragoza



Stats Back Al-Qaida Claim of Drone Pain
Spencer Ackerman, January 27, 2011

Is the U.S. drone war in Pakistan putting the squeeze on al-Qaida’s safe havens? It’s not a question that lends itself to easy answers, given the difficulties of reporting from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas where al-Qaida’s top leaders are believed to be. But a new statistical analysis by researchers at Harvard finds that the deadly robots overhead are reaping modest “counterterrorism dividends” — something that al-Qaida itself is complaining about.

Even DHS Is Freaked Out by Spy Drones Over America

Spencer Ackerman January 26, 2011

Police departments around the country are warming up to unmanned spy planes. But don’t expect the Department of Homeland Security to catch drone fever anytime soon. It’s too controversial for an agency already getting hammered for naked scanners and junk-touching.

Return of The ‘Beast of Kandahar’ Stealth Drone
Spencer Ackerman, January 25, 2011

It returns from the skies! Back in 2009, the Air Force confirmed that it had a mysterious stealth drone, the Lockheed RQ-170, flying over Kandahar in Afghanistan — the subject of much online speculation and grainy photography. Now, after something of a lull,  the Secret Projects forum has new pics of the drone that Ares aviation ace Bill Sweetman dubbed “The Beast of Kandahar.”

Will Israel Sell Russia Its Prized Monster Drone?

Spencer Ackerman, January 18, 2011

Israel and Russia: once Cold War enemies, now partners-in-drone. Only the Russians want Israel to let the Kremlin in on its most powerful unmanned spy plane.


Fanuc Bets Future on ‘Cranes With Brains,’ Inaba Says

BusinessWeek – Jason Clenfield – Jan 17, 2011

Inaba built Fanuc into an automation empire over three decades, focusing on making the controls that run more than half of the world’s computerized tools. …

Robots Dominate Manufacturing – Take a Look Inside the Making of a Memory Card …

Singularity Hub – Aaron Saenz – Jan 20, 2011

Watching these slick industrial robots do their thing is something else. You have to check out the video below and see what I mean. …

Little Helper Robot Wants to Be Big Help on Factory Floor

POSTED BY: Samuel Bouchard  /  Wed, January 05, 2011

The manufacturing industry in many countries, facing labor shortages and pressed to become ever more efficient, can certainly use a little help. Or how about a Little Helper?


Robots: Harvest Automation, January 14th, 2011

In today’s episode we look at a new market in robotics with huge potential, agriculture. With us, <>Joe Jones, co-founder of Harvest Automation and father of the Roomba.


Digging through a high-tech recycling center

January 24, 2011, Martin LaMonica

A waste recycling center uses a series of machines to automatically sort material to enable single-stream recycling for consumers.

Teasdale Quality Foods Achieves Significant Savings by Automating Invoice…

Business Wire (press release) – Jan 25, 2011

Teasdale’s implementation of the EZCM accounts payable automation solution was so successful that, within months, order entries and accounts receivable were …

‘Go to’ clouds of the future, part 1

January 03, 2011, James Urquhart

Two companies will play major roles in the cloud computing transformation in the next decade, and who they are might surprise you–as well as how they will do it.

Robot puts ill teen back in classroom

Chicago Sun-Times – Jan 21, 2011

WICHITA FALLS, Texas — A Texas school district here has teamed up with a communications company to allow a homebound student to attend class via robot.

Restaurant robot delivers the future of food service

DVICE -Adario Strange – Jan 25, 2011

The MK Robot Project produced the robot to assist waiters with an eye towards total autonomy in the future. Although slow and still in need of human …

Robot glider to investigate Australia floodwaters – Jan 24, 2011

A gliding robot is set to cruise over a stretch of Australian coast that has been devastated by the recent flooding. The glider will be on a reconnaissance …

12 Advances In Medical Robotics

Looking to make an informed robot-buying decision? Here are some options for assisting (or replacing) your employees.

InformationWeek – Jan 29, 2011

Japan, which has a large elderly population, has developed a number of robot-based technologies that appear to help slow down the advent of dementia, …

Robots to fix parking problems in Abu Dhabi

The National – Jan 23, 2011

The “valet” is a mechanical robot, it promises to park or retrieve your car inside 50 seconds – and best of all, parking will be free.

With Home Carpeting Conquered, Robots Eye the Office

Jack Loftus, 1/16/11

The Roomba has conquered the home. No more vacuuming! Now robots must tackle mail delivery and coffee-making tasks in the office. Enter the coldly-named humanoid bot HRP-4. It doesn’t surf the net. It doesn’t gossip. It simply serves.

Sushi Restaurant Uses Sushi Robots and Control Centers to Cut Costs

Casey Chan

Kura, a sushi chain, focuses on efficiency and turning a profit. So much so that they’ve eschewed traditional sushi chefs for sushi robots, a large staff of waiters for conveyor belts and restaurant managers for a control center with video link.


Adept introduces packaging robot platform

Vision Systems Design – Jan 6, 2011

Built on the USDA-accepted Adept Quattro s650HS robot, the Adept PAC is the first robotic packaging platform designed from the ground up to address the …


Move Over, WALL-E: Puttering Along Power Lines

New York Times (blog) – Matthew L. Wald – Jan 12, 2011

Electric Power Research Institute A prototype of the robot that would monitor transmission lines for problems.


Tense time for workers, as career paths fade away

USA Today – Rick Hampson – Jan 12, 2011

•Globalization and automation may export or eliminate not only jobs, but entire occupations — ways of life, really. The Labor Department predicts that …

The Robot Economy is Here by Derek Thompson

The Atlantic (blog) – Derek Thompson – Jan 18, 2011

Entrepreneur Marshall Brain–that’s his real name–says robots will become widely available by 2030 and could eventually take nearly half of all jobs in the …


Automation Touted As Way To Help Fix Immigration System

National Journal – Aliya Sternstein – Jan 13, 2011 reports that the government can fix the immigration system without legislation, by automating visa processing and by …

Barcelona Seeks Technologies for Automation of Urban Services

TMC Net -Calvin Azuri – Jan 24, 2011

The city of Barcelona invites international solutions providers and research centers who can materialize its automation goals through sensors and other …

The Killer Robot Caucus

01/25/11 WSJ Washington Wire

Members of Congress love their drones, but they want to give all robots their due. So the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Caucus…


Robotics Industry Is Optimistic in 2011

by Bennett Brumson, Contributing Editor

Posted: 01/11/2011 As the global economy emerges from the Great Recession of 2008-2009, business activity is slowly picking up….


Japanese Robot Cargo Ship En Route to Space Station – Jan 24, 2011

An unmanned Japanese cargo spaceship is closing in on the International Space Station, on track to link up with the orbiting lab Thursday (Jan. 27).

Seoul To Spend US$89.5 Million On Robot Pilot Projects

Bernama – Jan 26, 2011

SEOUL, Jan 27 (Bernama) — The government will spend 100 billion won (US$89.5 million) on robot-related pilot projects to bolster growth of the cutting edge …

After 50 Years Robots Have New Horizons

by Bennett Brumson, Contributing Editor

Posted: 01/11/2011 Advancements in safety systems, end-effectors and sensors are rapidly bringing robotics into new applications…

Building a Super Robust Robot Hand

Erico Guizzo  /  Tue, January 25, 2011

German researchers have built an anthropomorphic robot hand that can endure collisions with hard objects and even strikes from a hammer without breaking into pieces. In designing the new hand system, researchers at the Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics, part of the German Aerospace Center (DLR), focused on robustness. They may have just built the toughest robot hand yet. The DLR hand has the shape and size of a human hand, with five articulated fingers powered by a web of 38 tendons, each connected to an individual motor on the forearm.

Cloud Robotics: Connected to the Cloud, Robots Get Smarter

Erico Guizzo  /  Mon, January 24, 2011

Connected to the Cloud, Robots Get Smarter

In the first “Matrix” movie, there’s a scene where Neo points to a helicopter on a rooftop and asks Trinity, “Can you fly that thing?” Her answer: “Not yet.” Then she gets a “pilot program” uploaded to her brain and they fly away. For us humans, with our non-upgradeable, offline meat brains, the possibility of acquiring new skills by connecting our heads to a computer network is still science fiction. Not so for robots. Several research groups are exploring the idea of robots that rely on cloud-computing infrastructure to access vast amounts of processing power and data. This approach, which some are calling “cloud robotics,” would allow robots to offload compute-intensive tasks like image processing and voice recognition and even download new skills instantly, Matrix-style. Imagine a robot that finds an object that it’s never seen or used before—say, a plastic cup. The robot could simply send an image of the cup to the cloud and receive back the object’s name, a 3-D model, and instructions on how to use it, says James Kuffner, a professor at Carnegie Mellon currently working at Google.

Top 20 Robot Videos of 2010

Erico Guizzo  /  Tue, January 11, 2011

Last year was an incredible time for robotics, and to recap the best robot moments of 2010 we decided to compile a list of our favorite videos. Check out below our selection — going from No. 20 to the No. 1 — and let us know what you think.

The Best Robots of CES 2011

One of the best robots of 2010

Erico Guizzo  /  Tue, January 11, 2011

Robots made a big appearance at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. There were home robots, robotic pets, humanoids, telepresence systems, and even a little robot to massage people’s backs. Check out the highlights

Myth Of American Primacy: How Does The US Compare With Other Countries?


Just How Exceptional is the US?

The Myth of American Primacy


The New Year season is a good time to reflect on the U.S.’s true standing in the world.

Politicians of every stripe ceaselessly repeat the well-worn clichés about America’s uniqueness and prowess at 4th of July, Memorial Day, election campaign and other patriotic celebrations.

But how exceptional are we?

The following list of some 35 categories compares our standing to other nations.

Sadly, the five categories in which America ranks #1 are Military Expenditure, Incarceration, Marriage, Cosmetic Procedures and Obesity.

Read on …

U.S. Ranked #1

Military Expenditures (2008)

#1 — U.S. = $663.2 billion (4% of GDP)
#2 — China = $98.8 billion (2% of GDP)

Source: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) Military Expenditure Database (2009)

Military Expenditure per GDP (2005)

#1 — Omar = 11.4%
#25 — U.S. = 4.2%

Source: CIA Factbook

Incarceration Rate

#1 — U.S. = 756 per 100,000 (1,613,740 in 2009)
#2 — Russia = 629 per 100,000 (86,9814 in 2006)

Source: King’s College London International Centre for Prison Studies: U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics

Marriage Rate (“crude,” 2007)

#1 — U.S. = 7.4 per 1,000
#7 — Denmark = 6.7 per 1,000

Source: National Healthy Marriage Resource Center

Cosmetic Surgical Procedures (2009)

#1 — U.S. = 1.5 mil
#2 — Brazil = 1.0 million

Source: ISAPS

Obesity Rate

#1 — U.S. = 34% (2008)
#2 — Mexico = 30% (2006)

Source: OECD


#1 — Costa Rica = 76.1
#114 — U.S. = 30.7

Source: Happy Planet Index 2.0

Satisfaction with Life Index (2006)

#1 — Denmark = 273.4
#23 — U.S. = 246.7

Source: Adrian White, “A Global Projection of Subjective Well-being: A Challenge To Positive Psychology?”

Subjective Well-Being (2007)

#1 — Denmark = 4.24
#16 — U.S. = 3.55

Source: World Values Surveys

National Economy

Gross Domestic Product (2009)

#1 — European Union = $14.4 trillion
#2 — U.S. = $14.1 trillion

Source: CIA Factbook

Per Capita GDP

#1 — Lichtenstein = $122,100 (2007)
#11 — U.S. = $46,000 (2009)

Source: CIA Factbook

Human Poverty Index (2007-2008, lowest)

#1 — Sweden = 6.3
#17 — U.S. = 15.4

Source: Human Development Index

Current Account Balance (2009)

#1 — China = $297.1 billion
#190 — U.S. = ($378.4 billion)

Source: CIA Factbook

Competitive Economy

#1 — Switzerland
#4 — U.S.

Source: World Economic Forum

Digital Economy

#1 — Sweden
#3 — U.S.

Source: Economist Intelligence Group’s “e-readiness”

Information Technology

#1 — Sweden
#4 — U.S.

Source: World Economic Forum

Environmental Impact

Renewable Electricity Production (2009)

#1 — China = 682.1
#3 — U.S. = 413.2

Source: BP Statistical Review of World Energy, June 2009

Environmental Impact (worst to best)

#1 — Brazil
#2 — U.S.

Source: University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute in Australia

CO-2 Emissions (Climate Change Performance Index, of 56 countries, 2008, best to worst)

#2 — Germany = 3.0% share
#55 — U.S. = 21.4% share

Source: Germanwatch


Life Expectancy

#1 — Japan = 82.6 years
#38 — U.S. = 78.2 years

Source: United Nations (2005-2010)

Infant mortality (to 1,000 live births, 2009)

#1 — Iceland = 2.9
#33 — U.S. = 6.3

Source: UN Population Division

National Health Systems

#1 — France
#37 — U.S.

Source: World Health Organization

Health Care Expenditures (% of GDP, 2006)

#1 — France = 11.0%
#37 — U.S. = 15.8%

Source: OECD

Overweight Rate

#1 — Mexico = 70% (2006)
#2 — U.S. = 68% (2008)

Source: OECD

Domestic Life

Divorce Rate (of marriages, 2002)

#1 — Sweden = 54.9%
#7 — U.S. = 45.7%

Source: Americans for Divorce Reform

Cohabitation Rate (20 year-old plus, 2007)

#1 — France = 14.4%
#6 — U.S. = 5.5%

Source: National Healthy Marriage Resource Center

Non-Married Childbirths (2007, US and Europe)

#1 — Sweden = 54.7%
#6 — U.S. Denmark = 38.5%

Source: National Healthy Marriage Resource Center

Motherhood Ranking (best to worst)

#1 — Norway
#28 — U.S.

Source: Save the Children “Mothers Index”

Gender Gap (narrowest to widest)

#1 — Iceland
#19 — U.S.

Source: World Economic Forum


Secondary School Graduates (2008)

#1 — S. Korea = 93%
#18 — U.S.= 73%

Source: OECD

College Graduates (25-34) (2007)

#1 — Canada = 55.8%
#12 — U.S. = 40.3%

Source: the College Board


#1 — Korea = 539
#15 — U.S. = 500

China was divided into three regions (Shanghai, Hong Kong and Macao) and Shanghai and Hong Kong out-performed the U.S).


Science Education

#1 — Finland = 554
#20 — U.S. = 502

China was divided into three regions (Shanghai, Hong Kong and Macao) and each out-performed the U.S.


Math Education

#1 — Singapore = 562
#28— U.S. = 487

China was divided into three regions (Shanghai, Hong Kong and Macao) and each out-performed the U.S.


Telecommunications Services

Internet Users (2008)

#1 — China = 298 million
#2 — U.S. = 231 million

Source: CIA Factbook

Wired Broadband (2010)

#1 — Netherlands = 37.8 per 100 (6.2 mil subscribers)
#14 — U.S. = 27.1 per 100 (183.3 mil subscribers)

Source: OCED

Wireless Broadband (2010)

#1 — Korea = 95.0 per 100 (146.3 mil subscribers)
#9 — U.S. = 44.4 per 100 (136.3 mil subscribers)

Source: OCED

Broadband Data Rate (downsteam)

#1 — Korea = 36.9 Mb/s
#31 — U.S. = 9.9 Mb/s

Source: Speedtest

Broadband Data Rate (upsteam)

#1 — Korea = 20.3 Mb/s
#33 — U.S. = 2.5 Mb/s

Source: Speedtest

Please add you own categories and circulate.

David Rosen is the author of “Sex Scandals America: Politics & the Ritual of Public Shaming” (Key, 2009). He can be reached at


Automation & Robotics News – Dec. 12, 2010, from Tony Zaragoza

[This issue includes information on a robot who could be taking your medical history soon, the wikileaks revelation that drones are on everyone’s list to Santa, and, if you thought that China might be the last haven for those pursuing low wage workers, think again:  see below to find the “waiter” who may be serving you in Chinese restaurants.]

The Northrop-built drone touched down late Tuesday night at Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California after spending more than a day aloft.

Automation and Robotics News–Dec 12, 2010



High-Flying Spy Drone, Powered By Liquid Coal

Jason Paur, November 24, 2010

No unmanned aircraft in the American arsenal flies higher or longer than the Global Hawk. On Tuesday, it soared high and long, powered by a blend of synthetic fuel. The Northrop-built drone touched down late Tuesday night at Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California after spending more than a day aloft. Both the Navy and Air Force have flown numerous other aircraft using other non-traditional jet fuels, but this is both the first for an unmanned aircraft, and the first time any type of aircraft has flown with this type of fuel. JP-8 jet fuel (the kind typically used in the Air Force) was combined with a synthetic paraffinic kerosene derived from liqufied coal, and another derived from natural gas, to make up the blend.

Air Force on Secret Space Plane: Nothing to See Here, Move Along

David Axe, December 7, 2010

The Air Force has news for anyone looking for sinister motives behind the flying branch’s latest orbital gizmo: the mysterious, high-tech X-37B space plane. The 29-foot-long robotic shuttle — vaguely labeled a “test asset” by the Pentagon — returned to earth on Friday after 224 days, nine hours and 24 minutes in space. In those eight months, observers speculated that the X-37 might be a prototype bomber, a satellite-snatching snoop or a speedy, quick-reacting sensor platform. Forget it, Richard McKinney, Deputy Undersecretary of the Air Force for Space Programs, said Monday. “I applaud the ingenuity and innovation of some reports, but really it’s as described. This is a test vehicle, pure and simple.” But a test vehicle for what? Well, for testing, McKinney said. The way he described it, the X-37 should eventually function as an orbital laboratory for new satellite components and other space gear — pricey stuff that today gets boosted into the heavens with very little realistic testing. “If we could place technology in orbit, check it out and bring back to earth, that would be significant accomplish,” he said. “The purpose of this particular mission was the vehicle. In order do the other things we talked about … we’ve got to have a vehicle to do that.”

All the same, the X-37 did carry something in its payload bay during its inaugural flight — something secret, McKinney admitted. “It’s not unusual for us to put satellites into orbit that are classified. This is no different than that.”

WikiLeaks Reveals Everybody’s Christmas List: The World Wants Drones

WikiLeaks Reveals Everybody’s Christmas List: The World Wants Drones

Adam Rawnsley, November 29, 2010

Black Friday has passed, but the holidays are upon us and shopping days are increasingly few. Having a hard time finding the perfect gift for that tiny emirate hoping to psych out Iran or the large NATO ally looking to fight terrorism in Iraq? Fortunately for you, WikiLeaks has revealed the number one item atop seemingly everybody’s wish list: drones. Only a select few close American allies have the export-restricted Predator B (a.k.a. MQ-9 Reaper) armed drones, but that hasn’t stopped countries from the United Arab Emirates to Turkey from pestering & pleading with America to sell them the shiniest new toy, the WikiLeaks document show.


Strawberry-picking robot knows when they’re ripe

Robots to put ripe strawberries on your table

December 13, 2010 Posted by Tim Hornyak

Japan prepares to unleash a strawberry-harvesting robot on the world.

Robot’s singular job: Cutting flesh from pig bone

Tuesday, December 07, 2010 Posted by Matt Hickey

Some people are scared of clowns, some of zombies. I’m scared of giant robots with knives programmed to slice meat from a pig’s thigh.

Entwistle’s of Ramsbottom sets one-year target to double sauce production – 12/13/10

While Entwistle said that Lancashire Sauce was looking into taking on another team member, he stressed that the investment in automation was intended to …


Robots wait on you in this Chinese restaurant

Robots serving food in this restaurant in . . . China!

Thursday, December 09, 2010 Posted by Juniper Foo

At China’s Dalu Rebot (sic) restaurant, patrons are greeted by robot receptionists and attended by robo-waiters. Fortunately, real-life cooks are on hand in the kitchen.

Personal Robotics Market to Top $19 Billion in 2017

Sales of telepresence and security robots are helping to drive the latest forecast.

Robotics Trends Staff – Filed Dec 13, 2010

While many consumers’ current interaction with robots is limited to those that clean their floors, pools, or gutters, ABI Research, in its market study “Personal Robotics,” forecasts that the personal robotics market will grow to more than $19 billion in 2017, driven in large part by sales of telepresence and security robots featuring high-quality cameras, microphones, and processors that allow the robots to serve as interactive substitutes for human beings.

“Hi I’m a robot. I’ll be your doctor today.”

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (blog) – Mark Johnson – Dec 8, 2010

The engineers say the technology now exists to design robot assistants competent to perform in the high-stress environment of a hospital emergency room.


Section 179: Take Advantage of Tax Deduction in 2010, December 07, 2010

Considering purchasing robots, workcells, or other robotic equipment soon? Why not make this capital investment now, before the end of the year. This way you can take

Romeo, shown here in a computer-generated rendering, is a French humanoid robot designed to assist elderly and disabled people. Image: Aldebaran Robotics

advantage of Section 179 tax incentives.


Automate Keynote Speaker Tom Ridge

November 23, 2010

First Secretary of Homeland Security and Distinguished Statesman

Two major automation and logistics shows, Automate 2011 and ProMat 2011, are collocated March 21-24 in Chicago, Illinois at McCormick Place and together bring you a special keynote speaker, Tom Ridge, on Monday, March 21. His topic is, “Fortune Favors the Brave: The Net Gain of Supply Chain Security in a Risk-based World.”


France Developing Advanced Humanoid Robot Romeo

Erico Guizzo  /  Mon, December 13, 2010

France is set to join the select club of countries that have developed advanced adult-size humanoid robots. Paris-based Aldebaran Robotics, famed for its small humanoid robot Nao, is working with major French research organizations to build a larger and more capable humanoid called Romeo, to be unveiled next March. Designed to assist elderly and disabled individuals in their daily activities, the 1.4-meter-tall robot will be able to walk through a home, fetching food from the kitchen, taking out the garbage, and acting as a loyal companion who helps entertain its owners and keep tabs on their health.

Running robot aims to take on Usain Bolt

Monday, December 13, 2010 Posted by Leslie Katz

Aptly named Athlete, bipedal robot developed in Japan takes a biomechanical approach to running in an attempt to mimic human flexibility and agility.