U.S.S. Reuben James sunk October 31, 1941

October 31, 2008

October 31 hosts several famous anniversaries.  It is the anniversary of Nevada’s statehood (an October surprise by Lincoln for the 1864 campaign?).  It is the anniversary of the cleaving of western, catholic Christianity, as the anniversary of Martin Luther’s tacking his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenburg, Germany in 1517, the formal start of the Reformation.  Maybe the original Christian trick or treat.

U.S.S. Reuben James sinking, October 31, 1941 - National Archives photo

U.S.S. Reuben James sinking, October 31, 1941 - National Archives photo

October 31 is also the anniversary of the sinking of the World War I era Clemson-class, four-stack destroyer, U.S.S. Reuben James, by a German U-boat. Woody Guthrie memorialized the sad event in the song, Reuben James, recorded by the Almanac Singers with Pete Seeger (see also here, and here), and later a hit for the Kingston Trio.  The Reuben James was sunk on October 31, 1941 — over a month before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Details via Wikipedia (just to make you school librarians nervous):

USS Reuben James (DD-245), a post-World War I four-stack Clemson-class destroyer, was the first United States Navy ship sunk by hostile action in World War II and the first named for Boatswain’s Mate Reuben James (c.1776–1838), who distinguished himself fighting in the Barbary Wars.

This history figures into the current presidential campaign in a small way:  One of the internet hoax letters complaining about Barack Obama claims that the U.S. entered World War II against Germany although the Germans had not fired a single round against the U.S.  The 115 dead from the crew of 160 aboard the James testify to the inaccuracy of that claim, wholly apart from the treaty of mutual defense Germany and Japan were parties to, which required encouraged Germany to declare war upon any nation that went to war with Japan (see comments from Rocky, below).  After the U.S. declaration of war on Japan, Germany declared war on the U.S., creating a state of war with Germany.

This history also reminds us that many Americans were loathe to enter World War II at all.  By October 1941, Japan had been occupying parts of China for ten years, and the Rape of Nanking was four years old.  The Battle of the Atlantic was in full swing, and the Battle of Britain was a year in the past, after a year of almost-nightly bombardment of England by Germany.  Despite these assaults on friends and allies of the U.S., and the losses of U.S. ships and merchant marines, the U.S. had remained officially neutral.

Many Americans on the left thought the sinking of the Reuben James to be the sort of wake-up call that would push Germany-favoring Americans to reconsider, and people undecided to side with Britain.  The political use of the incident didn’t have much time to work.  Five weeks later Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, and by the end of 1941, the U.S. was at war with the Axis Powers.

Letter to the U.S. Navy asking the fate of friends aboard the U.S.S. Reuben James, November, 1941

Letter to the U.S. Navy asking the fate of friends aboard the U.S.S. Reuben James, November, 1941

Telegram informing his family of the death of Gene Guy Evans, of Norfolk, Virginia, lost in the torpedoing of the U.S.S. Reuben James

Telegram informing his family of the death of Gene Guy Evans, of Norfolk, Virginia, lost in the torpedoing of the U.S.S. Reuben James

The Kingston Trio sings, as the names of the dead scroll:


Why we liked Obama then

October 31, 2008

On July 27, 2004, candidate for the U.S. Senate from Illinois, Barack Obama, delivered the keynote address to the National Democratic Convention.

It was a turning point speech.  Obama went on to win the Illinois senate race.  His candidate for president, John Kerry, lost.  But the power of his speech and its ready reception earned Obama consideration as a candidate for the presidency in 2008.

As the 2008 campaign winds down to election day next Tuesday, it’s interesting to revisit Obama’s debut on a national stage.  What was it that made his speech so well received?  What was it about the biographical portions that made Obama look like a potential president?

PBS’s Online Newshour described the speech:

Illinois Senate candidate Barack Obama introduced himself to Democrats and a national television audience Tuesday, giving the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. Obama told the story of his working class family and urged the nation to elect Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, saying he would ensure more educational and economic opportunities for all.

Here is the full text (borrowed from PBS), so you can see for yourself.

A YouTube capture of the CSPAN broadcast:

BARACK OBAMA: On behalf of the great state of Illinois, crossroads of a nation, land of Lincoln, let me express my deep gratitude for the privilege of addressing this convention. Tonight is a particular honor for me because, let’s face it, my presence on this stage is pretty unlikely. My father was a foreign student, born and raised in a small village in Kenya. He grew up herding goats, went to school in a tin-roof shack. His father, my grandfather, was a cook, a domestic servant.

But my grandfather had larger dreams for his son. Through hard work and perseverance my father got a scholarship to study in a magical place; America which stood as a beacon of freedom and opportunity to so many who had come before. While studying here, my father met my mother. She was born in a town on the other side of the world, in Kansas. Her father worked on oil rigs and farms through most of the Depression. The day after Pearl Harbor he signed up for duty, joined Patton’s army and marched across Europe. Back home, my grandmother raised their baby and went to work on a bomber assembly line. After the war, they studied on the G.I. Bill, bought a house through FHA, and moved west in search of opportunity.

And they, too, had big dreams for their daughter, a common dream, born of two continents. My parents shared not only an improbable love; they shared an abiding faith in the possibilities of this nation. They would give me an African name, Barack, or “blessed,” believing that in a tolerant America your name is no barrier to success. They imagined me going to the best schools in the land, even though they weren’t rich, because in a generous America you don’t have to be rich to achieve your potential. They are both passed away now. Yet, I know that, on this night, they look down on me with pride.

I stand here today, grateful for the diversity of my heritage, aware that my parents’ dreams live on in my precious daughters. I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story, that I owe a debt to all of those who came before me, and that, in no other country on earth, is my story even possible. Tonight, we gather to affirm the greatness of our nation, not because of the height of our skyscrapers, or the power of our military, or the size of our economy. Our pride is based on a very simple premise, summed up in a declaration made over two hundred years ago, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

That is the true genius of America, a faith in the simple dreams of its people, the insistence on small miracles. That we can tuck in our children at night and know they are fed and clothed and safe from harm. That we can say what we think, write what we think, without hearing a sudden knock on the door. That we can have an idea and start our own business without paying a bribe or hiring somebody’s son. That we can participate in the political process without fear of retribution, and that our votes will be counted — or at least, most of the time.

This year, in this election, we are called to reaffirm our values and commitments, to hold them against a hard reality and see how we are measuring up, to the legacy of our forbearers, and the promise of future generations. And fellow Americans — Democrats, Republicans, Independents — I say to you tonight: we have more work to do. More to do for the workers I met in Galesburg, Illinois, who are losing their union jobs at the Maytag plant that’s moving to Mexico, and now are having to compete with their own children for jobs that pay seven bucks an hour. More to do for the father I met who was losing his job and choking back tears, wondering how he would pay $4,500 a month for the drugs his son needs without the health benefits he counted on. More to do for the young woman in East St. Louis, and thousands more like her, who has the grades, has the drive, has the will, but doesn’t have the money to go to college.

Don’t get me wrong. The people I meet in small towns and big cities, in diners and office parks, they don’t expect government to solve all their problems. They know they have to work hard to get ahead and they want to. Go into the collar counties around Chicago, and people will tell you they don’t want their tax money wasted by a welfare agency or the Pentagon. Go into any inner city neighborhood, and folks will tell you that government alone can’t teach kids to learn. They know that parents have to parent, that children can’t achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white. No, people don’t expect government to solve all their problems. But they sense, deep in their bones, that with just a change in priorities, we can make sure that every child in America has a decent shot at life, and that the doors of opportunity remain open to all. They know we can do better. And they want that choice.

In this election, we offer that choice. Our party has chosen a man to lead us who embodies the best this country has to offer. That man is John Kerry. John Kerry understands the ideals of community, faith, and sacrifice, because they’ve defined his life. From his heroic service in Vietnam to his years as prosecutor and lieutenant governor, through two decades in the United States Senate, he has devoted himself to this country. Again and again, we’ve seen him make tough choices when easier ones were available. His values and his record affirm what is best in us.

John Kerry believes in an America where hard work is rewarded. So instead of offering tax breaks to companies shipping jobs overseas, he’ll offer them to companies creating jobs here at home. John Kerry believes in an America where all Americans can afford the same health coverage our politicians in Washington have for themselves. John Kerry believes in energy independence, so we aren’t held hostage to the profits of oil companies or the sabotage of foreign oil fields. John Kerry believes in the constitutional freedoms that have made our country the envy of the world, and he will never sacrifice our basic liberties nor use faith as a wedge to divide us. And John Kerry believes that in a dangerous world, war must be an option, but it should never be the first option.

A while back, I met a young man named Shamus at the VFW Hall in East Moline, Illinois. He was a good-looking kid, 6’2” or 6’3”, clear eyed, with an easy smile. He told me he’d joined the Marines and was heading to Iraq the following week. As I listened to him explain why he’d enlisted, his absolute faith in our country and its leaders, his devotion to duty and service, I thought this young man was all any of us might hope for in a child. But then I asked myself: Are we serving Shamus as well as he was serving us? I thought of more than 900 service men and women, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, friends and neighbors, who will not be returning to their hometowns. I thought of families I had met who were struggling to get by without a loved one’s full income, or whose loved ones had returned with a limb missing or with nerves shattered, but who still lacked long-term health benefits because they were reservists. When we send our young men and women into harm’s way, we have a solemn obligation not to fudge the numbers or shade the truth about why they’re going, to care for their families while they’re gone, to tend to the soldiers upon their return, and to never ever go to war without enough troops to win the war, secure the peace, and earn the respect of the world.

Now let me be clear. We have real enemies in the world. These enemies must be found. They must be pursued and they must be defeated. John Kerry knows this. And just as Lieutenant Kerry did not hesitate to risk his life to protect the men who served with him in Vietnam, President Kerry will not hesitate one moment to use our military might to keep America safe and secure. John Kerry believes in America. And he knows it’s not enough for just some of us to prosper. For alongside our famous individualism, there’s another ingredient in the American saga.

A belief that we are connected as one people. If there’s a child on the south side of Chicago who can’t read, that matters to me, even if it’s not my child. If there’s a senior citizen somewhere who can’t pay for her prescription and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it’s not my grandmother. If there’s an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties. It’s that fundamental belief — I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sisters’ keeper — that makes this country work. It’s what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family. “E pluribus unum.” Out of many, one.

Yet even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America — there’s the United States of America. There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America. The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.

In the end, that’s what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or a politics of hope? John Kerry calls on us to hope. John Edwards calls on us to hope. I’m not talking about blind optimism here — the almost willful ignorance that thinks unemployment will go away if we just don’t talk about it, or the health care crisis will solve itself if we just ignore it. No, I’m talking about something more substantial. It’s the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs; the hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores; the hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta; the hope of a mill worker’s son who dares to defy the odds; the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too. The audacity of hope!

In the end, that is God’s greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation; the belief in things not seen; the belief that there are better days ahead. I believe we can give our middle class relief and provide working families with a road to opportunity. I believe we can provide jobs to the jobless, homes to the homeless, and reclaim young people in cities across America from violence and despair. I believe that as we stand on the crossroads of history, we can make the right choices, and meet the challenges that face us. America!

Tonight, if you feel the same energy I do, the same urgency I do, the same passion I do, the same hopefulness I do — if we do what we must do, then I have no doubt that all across the country, from Florida to Oregon, from Washington to Maine, the people will rise up in November, and John Kerry will be sworn in as president, and John Edwards will be sworn in as vice president, and this country will reclaim its promise, and out of this long political darkness a brighter day will come. Thank you and God bless you.


Fishy education software bill out of Utah

October 28, 2008

Remember about a year ago when Utah was all atwitter over a voucher proposal that was on a ballot?  Remember all the talk about saving money in education?

Utah Education Issues explains odd features in an omnibus funding bill recently passed by the Utah Legislature (The Economist praised Utah’s efficiency*).  Among other things, it gives away $1 million to an educational software company that will provide families with reading software — at a fantastic pricetag of $3,400 per installation (computer included, but still . . .).

Describing the smell of this bill doesn’t come close to the total repugnance — go read the report.  Fewer than 300 families can be served at that price, statewide.  One might suspect the true beneficiaries of this bill are not Utah voters, not Utah educators, nor even the Utah families who get the freebies.  Did I mention this involves a major publisher of public school textbooks?

It’s a commendable job of reporting for a blog, no?

Footnote:

*   The “cultural thing”, as businessmen from out of state delicately refer to Mormonism, helps in other ways. Utah’s almost universal conservatism makes for stable, consensual politics. It took the state legislature just two days last month to plug a $272m hole in the budget. By contrast, California’s budget was 85 days late. Nevada’s politicians are preparing for a nasty fiscal fight next year.


Another creationist joke, in Boulder, Colorado

October 28, 2008

The Constructive Curmudgeon headlined his post on the matter “Atheist for Intelligent Design in Boulder. This is not a Joke.”

But of course, it is a joke. The punchline is bad, which suggests it’s a bad joke, but the science is worse, which makes it a joke.

It only means there are atheists with bad ideas, too. Atheism is a big tent, apparently.

It’s our old buddy Bradley Monton, the darling of Telic Thoughts.

You’ll note Monton’s science background is not front and center: He’s a philosopher.

No matter how often the philosophers tell us that somebody should be watching out for all the damage flying pigs could do to aircraft and parked cars, we are obligated to point out that pigs don’t fly.

Monton will argue for federal regulation of flying pigs intelligent design at Old Main Chapel in Boulder, Tuesday, October 28, at 7:30 p.m. Douglas Groothuis, the Constructive Curmudgeon and philosopher at a Denver seminary, may be there to lead the standing ovation, and to distribute newspapers to protect the audience from flying pigs as they go back to their cars.

(The lecture series is hosted by Alistair Norcross, a philosophy prof at Colorado University who usually argues for scalar utilitarianism. I guess he’s not bothered to check out the usefulness of intelligent design — or, more accurately, its uselessness.)


Federal judge dismissed the challenge to Obama’s birth certificate

October 26, 2008

As expected, a federal judge in Philadelphia late Friday dismissed a challenge to the campaign of Barack Obama to produce yet another copy of his birth certificate. District Judge R. Barclay Surrick ruled that the plaintiff, screwball attorney Philip J. Berg, lacked standing to sue.

Appearing to take his inspiration from the Monty Python character, the Black Knight, Berg promised to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of the U.S.

Among reputable media, only the Philadelphia Daily News took note of the dismissal early on:

Obama and the Democratic National Committee had asked Surrick to dismiss Berg’s complaint in a court filing on Sept. 24.

They said that Berg’s claims were “ridiculous” and “patently false,” that Berg had “no standing” to challenge the qualifications of a candidate for president because he had not shown the requisite harm to himself.

Surrick agreed.

In a 34-page memorandum and opinion, the judge said Berg’s allegations of harm were “too vague and too attenuated” to confer standing on him or any other voters.

Surrick ruled that Berg’s attempts to use certain laws to gain standing to pursue his claim that Obama was not a natural-born citizen were “frivolous and not worthy of discussion.”

The judge also said the harm Berg alleged did “not constitute an injury in fact” and Berg’s arguments to the contrary “ventured into the unreasonable.”

For example, Berg had claimed that Obama’s nomination deprived citizens of voting for Sen. Hillary Clinton in November. (Berg backed Clinton in the primaries.)

Berg could not be reached for comment last night.

Obama was born in Honolulu on Aug. 4, 1961, and the campaign posted a document issued by Hawaii on its Web site, fight thesmears.com, confirming his birth there.

Berg said in court papers that the image was a forgery.

The nonpartisan Web site FactCheck.org examined the original document and said it was legitimate.

Further, a birth announcement in the Aug. 13, 1961, Honolulu Advertiser listed Obama’s birth there on Aug. 4.

Dozens of bloggers bought new rolls of aluminum foil to make protective hats, and questioned the dismissal, or jumped to other equally unwarranted conclusions. Near total insanity.

Resources:

________

Update, 10-27-2008:  Here’s an example of how lunatic this issue is, and how bizarre are the arguments.  This blog argues that Judge Surrick had the decision dictated to him from someone else in the Obama camp — the same lunatic argument creationists made against the decision of Judge Jones in the Dover, Pennsylvania, “intelligent design” trial.  Could it be that all lunatics are creationists?  Or is it just that lunatics all stumble into the same lunatic arguments?


History, naked again

October 26, 2008

Happy to have noticed that Uncovered History is back in operation. 

Recent Gems:

  • “360th Anniversary of the Peace of Westphalia” - never heard of it?  You’d better read this, then, yes?
  • “Warsaw 1920, a quality read” – What?  Your world history text didn’t mention Poland’s abortive attempt to liberate the Ukraine from the USSR in 1920, nor Lenin’s invasion of Poland and march on Berlin, nor the heroic stand at the Vistula described here as one of the most important military victories in history?  You’e better read this post, too, and maybe buy the book.
  • “The coming anarchy – Kaplan’s piece and the blog” — Robert Kaplan’s article in the 1994 The Atlantic described the woes of Africa.  14 years later, it’s still a good read and full of insight.  I wasn’t thinking of using that in world history in 1994 . . . I wasn’t thinking of teaching in 2008 in 1994.  Eoin Purcell’s reminders and pointers prove useful and informative once again.

Dating carbon, for the shy and inexperienced

October 26, 2008

A sure sign of scientific naiveté, especially among those of the creationist religion, is the raft of pseudo complaints about dating the ages of objects, especially fossils, through the use of radioisotopes.

First, creationists will complain that dating things with radiocarbon is impossible.  They aren’t sure why they think that, but it just makes sense to them that radioactivity in stones can’t be used to tell time, and don’t confuse them with any information about how their watches on their wrists are driven by electric currents sent through quartz crystals, and for God’s sake do not confuse them with any references to quantum theory and the workings of the cell phones most of them use to tell time since they evolved to lose the ability to read analog watches anyway (evolution always is to the detriment of the creature they believe, and try to demonstrate).

Then, without any hint that they understand or even see the irony, creationists complain that scientists lie when they say isotope dating puts the age of the Earth and the Moon at about 4.5 billion years, because, they observer, carbon dating is only good to about 50,000 years in most circumstances, and certainly no more than 100,000 years.  Don’t confuse them by telling them that dating of rocks almost always involves an isotope of an element other than carbon, like uranium.

As if to prove their science untrainability, from time to time a creationist will send a sample of something to a lab, asking that it be dated.  When the lab returns a date of several million years for the stuff dated, the creationists crow that they had crushed a brick, or in some other way provided a tainted sample, and they’ve “proven” that carbon dating doesn’t work.

Aardvarchaeology offers a quick primer on carbon dating, “Think before you carbon date.” Bookmark the site.  It’s a good rebuttal for whatever pseudo science claims creationists make about carbon dating.

Real scientists have to do real work.  Radiocarbon dating, or any isotope dating, is usually pretty expensive as a general rule.  It’s not something to be done lightly.  In addition to the expense, to get the dating done correctly, there is a lot of preparation to be done.  Martin Rundkvist details the process, from a live project of his. If you read his piece carefully, you note that he’s giving a primer in dendrochronology, too, the science of dating by tree rings.  

Real science is always more interesting than creationists can imagine.  Go see how it works.  Great stuff


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