Odd juxtaposition of images — but it gives me some hope

January 29, 2013

A great photo from Pete Souza, the current White House photographer.  I’m hoping to track down I’ve tracked down even more details on this, because not all sources like to post all the credit information or other stuff a newspaper or blog should have . . .

Pete Souza photo, lunch in the White House, Obama, Boehner, Pelosi, Reid, McConnell

Photo of a lunch in an anteroom of the President’s office, with President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Consolidated News published the photo for its clients with this information:

United States President Barack Obama has lunch with members of the Congressional Leadership in the Oval Office Private Dining Room, May 16, 2012. The President served hoagies from Taylor Gourmet, which he purchased after a small business roundtable earlier in the day. Seated, clockwise from the President, are: U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Democrat of Nevada), U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Republican of Kentucky), U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Democrat of California), and U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (Republican of Ohio)..Mandatory Credit: Pete Souza – White House via CNP

At least we know where to get sandwiches like that, now. (Here’s the photo in the White House Flickr set.)

Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield

Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield; oil on canvas by Aaron Shikler, 1978;  photo of painting from Wikipedia

Way back in the Early Holocene, when I first interned with the U.S. Senate, Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, D-Montana, held a close friendship with Sen. George Aiken, R-Vermont.  Many mornings they breakfasted together in the staff carry-out in the basement of the Capitol; their wives were friends, too.  One morning we got a question on some hot political issue at the Democratic Policy Committee (where I shared the best office I ever had in the third floor of the Capitol); I was dispatched to find Mansfield at breakfast and get an answer.  I found him dining with Aiken.

I forget the issue, but it was highly politically charged, something about policy on Vietnam.  Republicans and Democrats were much at war on the issue.  Mansfield read the note, and showed it to Aiken.  They discussed the issue while Mansfield penned an answer and handed it to me.  No big deal — two senators dealing with an important issue, talking it over.

When I joined Senate staff in a permanent position, life was much different among the senators.  The easy camradery between Mansfield and Aiken couldn’t be found anywhere.  That was in the late 1970s.  Partisanship was much sharper and nastier than I had seen earlier.  Vietnam was over, and that was probably a good thing.  The divisiveness I found would not have lent itself to any resolution of Vietnam.

At the RARE II conference at the University of Montana, in 1978, I heard a presentation from a staffer to Montana’s Sen. Paul Hatfield, if I recall correctly, a guy who had staffed for Sen. Lee Metcalf before.  He described the difficulties in getting serious legislation done on public lands issues.  As he described it, especially before the installation of air conditioning in the Capitol, the Senate would recess for the insufferable summer heat.  Senators, who had developed working relationships, if not friendships, would visit each other in their home states, for hunting and sight-seeing, among other things.  A Montana senator might show his colleague from Vermont how different the Rocky Mountains are from the Appalachians.  A Louisana senator might show his colleagues from western states how different is flood control on the Mississippi than on the Colorado or Sacramento, or Columbia.  By the time the Senate got back to business in the fall, legislation had been worked out, key alliances formed to get things done for various states, and though opposition was expressed to many projects, it was genuine difference of opinion expressed to friends.

That’s gone.  In 2013, it’s rare a Member of Congress can develop those kinds of relationships with other Members, especially with the fund-raising requirements for re-election.  Members travel back to their states and districts as many weekends as they can; they get to know their staff on each end, but they don’t know the other senators, or members of Congress.

President Warren G. Harding doesn’t have a reputation as a great president; but his poker parties were famous.  Lyndon Johnson didn’t play poker a lot (though I understand he did on occasion), but his presidency’s record in photographs show that he invited Members of Congress individually for afternoon meetings, often punctuated with a drink, always slathered in business and the potential for favors or arm-twisting.  Those sessions are legendary for the legislation they greased into law.

When I saw that photo at the top, I was put in mind of another famous image.

Norman Rockwell's Freedom from Want

Norman Rockwell’s painting, “Freedom from Want,” part of a quartet based on the Four Freedoms State of the Union Speech of Franklin Roosevelt, in January 1941.

Did Souza have that Rockwell painting in mind when he framed that shot?

Rockwell’s work was more than just iconic, really.  In the simple history, from Wikipedia:

The Four Freedoms or Four Essential Human Freedoms is a series of oil paintings produced in 1943 by the American artist Norman Rockwell. The paintings are approximately equal in dimension with measurements of 45.75 inches (116.2 cm) × 35.5 inches (90 cm).[1] The series, now in the Norman Rockwell Museum, was made for reproduction in The Saturday Evening Post over the course of four consecutive weeks in 1943 alongside essays by prominent thinkers of the day. Later they were the highlight of a touring exhibition sponsored by the Saturday Evening Post and the United States Department of the Treasury. The touring exhibition and accompanying sales drives raised over US$132 million in the sale of war bonds.[2]

The Four Freedoms theme was derived from the 1941 State of the Union Address by United States President Franklin Roosevelt delivered to the 77th United States Congress on January 6, 1941.[3] During the speech he identified four essential human rights (Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom From Want and Freedom From Fear) that should be universally protected and should serve as a reminder of the American motivation for fighting in World War II.[4]

The theme was incorporated into the Atlantic Charter,[5] and it became part of the charter of the United Nations.[6] Roosevelt’s message was as follows: “In the future days which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.”[3][7]

Torpedo sandwiches from Taylor’s don’t exactly make a Thanksgiving dinner, but that’s not the point.  Rockwell portrayed an American family — at Thanksgiving, perhaps — sitting down to enjoy dinner together, breaking bread together as a Christian preacher might put it in a sermon.  President Johnson famously invited, “Come, let us reason together.”  Around Obama’s smaller-than-Rockwell’s table, the smiles are not so evident.  But I still see hope.

I see some hope for friendship, for the relationships that might move legislation, for the legislation that might move the nation.  God and Norman Rockwell know we could use it.

We can hope, can’t we?

More, perhaps related:


GOP “no-budget” hoax

January 28, 2013

If you repeat some hoary old falsehood often enough, people will begin to assume it’s got some accuracy to it, right?

Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor are at it again, complaining that the Senate hasn’t passed a budget.

But that’s false.  In fact, no only did the Senate pass a budget, but so did the House — and then (perhaps stupidly), they made it a law instead of the budget resolution the Congressional Budgeting process calls for.

Then-Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-North Dakota, explained last April how this worked:

We’ve got a budget, by law — and it’s a disaster.

We don’t need a budget resolution nearly so badly as we need some Congressional leadership who understand supply and demand, and who are committed to good government and not the destruction of America (even if unintentional).

Oliphant cartoon on GOP leading nation over fiscal cliff

Cartoon by Pulitzer Prize winner Pat Oliphant, syndicated by Go Comics

More:

Text of Sen. Conrad’s remarks, below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »


Mount Ranier by Milky Way light

January 28, 2013

Stunning photograph posted by National Park Service people in Mount Ranier National Park:

Mount Ranier by Milky Way light -- Dave Morrow photo, October 2012

Photographer Dave Morrow photograph of Mount Ranier and the Milky Way, from October 2012

Information from the Mount Ranier NPS site at Instagram:

Some images are just plain extraordinary — and often, the photographer has invested a great deal of time and effort to make that image happen. Photographer Dave Morrow describes the process of among this image from Mount Rainier National Park in October 2012. “I went up to Sunrise Point at Mt. Rainier last weekend with my buddy Keith. After a lame sunset, we waited for the Milky Way to come out. The placement was just perfect and the sky was pitch black!  Time to jack up the ISO and shoot some stars . . . this was one of many from the night.”

See more of Mr. Morrow’s work, here:  DaveMorrowPhotography.com

Difficult to know whether the streaks are airplanes or meteoroids.  No doubt it was a long exposure.

(Links added here.)

More:


Eagles! We reduced DDT, and the eagles recovered

January 28, 2013

Love this photo, from the great folks at Yellowstone National Park:

Chris Daniel photo of a bald eagle in Yellowstone National Park, in the snow

From the Yellowstone NP Facebook site: An adult bald eagle perched along the Firehole River on New Year’s Day, near a trumpeter swan that it had either killed or was scavenging. Adult bald eagles usually remain in or near their nest territory throughout winter provided they have access to sufficient prey. Photo courtesy of Chris Daniel. (kd)

It’s a reminder of progress we’ve made in environmental protection.

While bald eagles may not have been the most endangered animal protected under the Endangered Species Act, or any other law, they became the most famous.  In the late 18th century Congress voted to designate the bald eagle as our national symbol.  At the time, the continent was still lousy with the creatures.  But from the arrival of Europeans after 1492, eagles had been hunted mercilessly.  By the early 20th century it was clear the animal was bound for extinction, like the great auk and other species (see here for technical information on the auk).

Ben Franklin complained the eagle was a dirty carrion eater, in a smart and funny polemic favoring the American turkey as the national bird.  Franklin couldn’t know how hunting and in-breeding would suck the nobility out of even wild turkeys over the next 200 years, until species protection laws and hunters pushed governments to invigorate stocks of wild turkeys again.  Compared to the eagle’s troubles, though, the turkey’s genetic torpor and limited habitat was almost nothing.

Americans tried to save the eagle.  After 1890, and during the run on great bird feathers that excited the fashion world and led to the senseless slaughter of millions of America’s most spectacular birds, we passed a federal law against hunting and shooting eagles for sport or no reason.  It was a toothless law, and the decline of eagle populations begun in the early 16th century continued unabated. Migratory bird treaties, providing more legal heft to bird protection, didn’t help the eagles either — not enough of them crossed borders, at least not that hunters and law enforcement could see.  The Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940, kicking into action in 1941, provided teeth to eagle hunting restrictions, and hunters stopped shooting them so much.  Between 1940 and 1950, eagle populations stabilized, with a good bunch in Alaska, and a few nesting pairs spread from Oregon to Maine, Lake of the Woods to Florida Everglades.  There were so few eagles, and they were spread so far apart, that most Americans could not see one without major effort and travel.

Bird watchers noticed trouble in the 1950s.  Young eagles stopped showing up for the Audubon Christmas bird count, and at the Hawk Mountain migration counts.  Adults went through the motions, migrating, hunting, building nests, laying eggs for all anyone knew, and hatching young that had been seen, sometimes, to fledge — but then the young birds died.  Between leaving the nest, and returning to mate up and breed, the young birds simply disappeared.

Research showed deeper trouble.  On careful observation the birds were seen to be frustrated in hatching and raising chicks.  Sometimes the eggs wouldn’t hatch.  If they did hatch, the chicks died.  The few who lived to fly out, died soon after.

Rachel Carson called attention to the trouble in her 1962 claxon call on pesticide and chemical pollution, Silent Spring (50 years ago in 2012).

Doctor Science at Obsidian Wings wrote a paean to seeing bald eagles in the wild, with a brief and kind mention of this blog. You should go read it there.

Protecting birds?  The Steve Milloys, CEIs, AEIs, Heritage Foundations, CATO Institutes and other dens of smug cynicism and bad citizenship have it all wrong.  It’s not about power for environmentalists.  It’s nothing so cheap or mean.  Heck.  Often it’s not even about protecting the birds so much.

It’s about protecting our own dreams, and places we have to inspire those dreams.  Frederick Jackson Turner postulated that there is something mystical and magical in a frontier that helped form the American character and make us hard-working, smart, and noble.  He was right, of course.  Those frontiers are not simply frontiers of settlement in the wilderness anymore.  We have to work to find them, to declare Alaska the “Last Frontier,” or government reform and Cold War enterprise as the “New Frontier.”  But we still need frontiers.

Eagles still soar there.  Wherever eagles soar, in fact, we find those frontiers, those places to dream and inspire.  The Endangered Species Act isn’t about saving animals and plants.  It’s about saving our own souls.

More:


In 90 seconds, National Parks stuff you should see in Washington, D.C.

January 27, 2013

National Park Service video, and of course, featuring some stunning time-lapse photography.

696

 


Darrell’s corollaries of education + technology: No good work goes unpunished, most opportunities missed

January 27, 2013

Aristotle, and his pupil Alexander

Does this 19th century engraving show the perfect learning situation? Alexander had no iPhone, no laptop; Aristotle used no PowerPoint, no grading machines, not even a chalkboard. Have we come a long way, or is this a measure of how far we’ve fallen? “Aristotle and his pupil, Alexander (c. 340 BCE)” (original source?)

David Warlick‘s blog serves up a lot of stuff to make teachers think (cynically, I wonder whether education administrators can be shoved into thinking at all . . . but I digress).

David Warlick

David Warlick, in a taxi in Shanghai, probably off at some education conference or other.

Recently he pondered his own son’s use of several different kinds of media at once.  In a longer discussion that would be worth your while, someone asked, “Has the nature of information influenced the emerging ‘appropriate technologies’ like the digital learning object called an iBook?”  David responded:

My knee-jerk response is, “Not nearly enough.” This current push toward digital textbooks, urged on by our Secretary of Education, concerns me. I worry that we’re engaged in a race to modernize schooling, rather than a sober and thoughtful imagining and designing of learning materials and practices that are more relevant to today’s learners (ourselves include), today’s information landscape and a future that has lost the comforts of certainty, but become rich with wondrous opportunities.

What I enjoyed, though, about my experience in publishing an iBook was learning to hack some features into the book that were not part of Apples general instructions for using their publishing tool. This is the ultimate opportunity of digital learning objects and environments, that they can be hacked into new and better learning experiences by information artisans who see what’s there and what it can become.

In a cynical mood, I commented on an earlier statement Warlick made, about how technology has changed the education landscape:

“… we live in a time of no unanswered questions.”

BUT:

1.  The internet and especially portable devices have exponentially increased the probability that difficult questions will be answered incorrectly.

2.  For teachers, no longer is it possible to ask a simple, factual question as a teaser to get students to search for the answer, and thereby learn something deeper along the way.  Portable computer devices present one more non-print medium in which education appears to be abdicating its duties, and the war.  (We missed radio, film, television, recorded television, and desk-top computing; now we’re missing portable devices.)

English: Cropped picture of Jaime Escalante

Legendary AP calculus teacher Jaime Escalante; pencil, paper, chalkboard and chalk, maybe a slide rule, made up his technology kit. Photo: Wikipedia

3.  No question goes unanswered, but what is really rare is a question that is worth answering; even more rare, that good question that can be answered well from free internet sources.

Darrell’s Education Technology Corollary:  When administrators and policy makers tell educators (especially teachers) they wish to utilize “new technology,” they mean they want new ways to figure out ways to fire teachers, because they don’t have a clue how technology can be used in education, nor have they thought broadly enough about what education is.

Darrell’s Education Technology Corollary Corollary: When a teacher effectively uses technology in a classroom, it will be at the teacher’s instigation, the teacher’s expense, and administrators will get revenge on the teacher for having done so.

I’ve wondered whether I wasn’t too cynical; David offered a solid response.

A couple of weeks later, my cynicism is growing.  I’m warning you, teachers, you adopt new technologies at your risk, often — especially in some school districts like Dallas ISD.

It’s a caution only.  Teachers, being teachers, will continue to push the envelopes, as Fionna Larcom related at Warlick’s blog.  Good on ‘em.  One out of 500,000 will get accolades outside the education system, like Jaime Escalante did.  Many others will face reprimand.

But if education is to improve, this experimentation by teachers must continue.  So teachers slog on, under-appreciated and often opposed in their attempts to fix things.

Someday a school system will figure out how to unlock teachers’ creativity, knowledge and skills.  Not soon enough.

Teacher in primary school in northern Laos

Teacher in primary school in northern Laos.  Photo: Wikipedia

(Can someone explain to me how Warlick’s blog, with much better stuff than I do here, gets fewer hits?  Teachers, not enough of you are reading broadly enough.)

More, not necessarily the opinion of this blog:


Swearing-in stew: Inauguration week olla podrida – Where are the dung beetles when you need them?

January 25, 2013

In no particular order, nor in any particular ardor, stuff of interest and consequence we should be talking about instead of soaking in Millard Fillmore’s bathtub and admiring the plumbing:

More:


Lyndon Johnson as visionary: Great Society, speech at University of Michigan

January 25, 2013

President Lyndon B. Johnson during commencemen...

President Lyndon B. Johnson during commencement exercises at the University of Michigan on May 22, 1964 (Photo via Wikipedia, or LBJ Museum and Library in Austin, Texas)

May 22, 1964 — Lyndon Johnson laid out his vision of a much better America. At the University of Michigan Johnson discussed what a great nation in the 20th and 21st centuries should be, the Great Society speech.

This is the Lyndon Johnson speech Republicans wish had never been given, and which they hope to ignore as much as possible, laying out dreams for a better American they hope to frustrate.

More information from the LBJ Library in Austin:

Audio from President Johnson’s speech at the University of Michigan May 22, 1964, also called “the Great Society speech.” Audio is WHCA_83_2, photo is c387-8-wh64. Both are in the public domain. For more images of this speech, please see http://youtu.be/WqP037Pe5i0, which is B Roll of the same speech.

Full text of this speech at the University of Michigan is available at The American Presidency Project, at the site of the University of California – Santa Barbara (UCSB).

January 4, 1965 — Lyndon Johnson laid out the legislative plan for the Great Society.  Back then, even after crushing defeats in the 1964 elections, Republicans shared Johnson’s and the Democrats’ dreams for a better America.

Full text of this 1965 State of the Union speech can be found at The American Presidency Project at the UCSB.

From calls for international peace to a call for great expansion of federal support of education, to calls for aid for the sick and aged, is there a single area where the GOP agrees today?

How can we get the GOP to dream again?

More:


GPO Bookstore clearance sale! (Underground Railroad for kids)

January 24, 2013

One of my great joys in working in a Congressional office was the delivery of a lot of the publications that were available through the GPO, the General Printing Office. Not just Congressional hearings and dull reports, but some excellent volumes on a wide variety of topics — back when America was exceptional (before the Republicans started claiming God made America exceptional, and not hard work by Americans), most Congressional offices kept a list of people who wanted the annual Department of Agriculture farming bulletin.  It was a sort of compendium of state-of-the-art practices, predictions on soils conditions and weather, and an encyclopedia of what the government could do to help farmers out (mostly a list of county agriculture extension agents).

A lot of this activity reflected the Roosevelt-Truman-Eisenhower-Kennedy-Johnson view that government should serve the people, and good information was like diamonds.

Those days are gone

GPO still publishes some great stuff, though.

Got a note in e-mail that GPO is having a clearance/overstock sale.  As an example, this Junior Ranger workbook on the Underground Railroad — reduced to $3.00 from $6.00.  Ages 5 to 12, or kindergarten to 7th grade.

Need some supplements for your elementary or middle school classrooms?  Want just one to steal ideas from?

Discovering the Underground Railroad: Junior Ranger Activity Book

Publisher: Interior Dept., National Park Service, Southeast Region

Description: Provides activities for children ages 5-12 to learn about the history of the underground railroad and the Emancipation Proclamation. Children who finish the age-appropriate activities can send in to the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program to receive a free Junior Ranger badge from the National Park Service. Gently covers topics including: the meaning of freedom and slavery; the hardships and daily life of slaves; the importance and travel routes of the “Underground Railroad;” safe refuge choices; key dates and laws relating to slavery and emancipation; and key figures including Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and abolitionists Levi and Catharine Coffin, among others.

Year/Pages: 2011: 20 p.; ill.

Price: $6.00 $3.00

Of course there are a lot of other books on sale; go see.

(Oh, and a nasty little secret? The material on the Underground Railroad is in the public domain, and the booklet is available in a .pdf version, online, for free.)

Among books on sale you might find of interest:

More:


“Penetration however slight”: Remembering a good and noble hoax – the U.S.S. Pueblo

January 23, 2013

January 23 is the anniversary of the North Koreans‘ capture of the spy boat, U.S.S. Pueblo, in 1968 — a beginning of a momentous year for bad events.  The saga of the Pueblo and its crew, including especially Cmdr. Lloyd Bucher, is of special interest to me because it features a series of some of the grandest, best and most humorously American hoaxes ever perpetrated by imprisoned people against their captors and wardens.  This is one of the great Kilroy stories of American history.  It should not be forgotten.  Especially with the role North Korea plays in contemporary angst, the Pueblo episode should not be forgotten. This is an encore post, with new links added.

1968 brought one chunk of bad news after another to Americans. The year seemed to be one long, increasingly bad disaster. In several ways it was the mark of the times between the feel-good, post-war Eisenhower administration and the feel-good-despite-the-Cold-War Reagan administration. 1968 was depressing.

Lloyd M. Bucher

USN Cmdr. Lloyd M. Bucher (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What was so bad? Vietnam manifested itself as a quagmire. Just when Washington politicians predicted an end in sight, Vietcong militia launched a nationwide attack in South Vietnam on the Vietnamese New Year holiday, Tet, at the end of January. Civil rights gains stalled, and civil rights leaders came out in opposition to the Vietnam war. President Johnson fared poorly in the New Hampshire primary election, and eventually dropped out of the race for the presidency (claiming he needed to devote time to making peace in Vietnam). Labor troubles roiled throughout the U.S., including a nasty strike by garbage collectors in Memphis. It didn’t help to settle the strike that the sanitation workers were almost 100% African American, the leadership of Memphis was almost 100% white, and race relations in the city were not so good as they might have been – the strike attracted the efforts of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Martin Luther King, Jr. – who was assassinated there in early April. In response, riots broke out in 150 American cities.

More below the fold, including the key confession to “penetration.” Read the rest of this entry »


Carl Sagan explains how science works: Eratosthenes and the size of the planet

January 23, 2013

It’s not exactly a hoax.  It started out as just bad reporting of history.

In his search for an easier route from Spain to China, in which he stumbled into the Americas, Christopher Columbus knew with  certainty the Earth is a round ball.  The story that he proved the Earth round, or rather than he laid the foundations for Magellan to prove the Earth round, is only a story, mostly devoid of fact.  Sailors knew something was up just from their having watched things while sailing on the ocean.  One can deduce the ball shape of the planet by watching other ships as they sail away, and sink below the horizon.  Were sailors of a more scientific bent, they could have made much of the fact that the guy in the crow’s nest could see a ship moving away — or an island or a continent — for a time longer than those a few dozen feet below, on the deck of the ship.

Long before that a Greek librarian and polymath, Eratosthenes, figured out that the surface of the Earth is curved, deduced that the planet is basically a ball, and calculated very closely how big the ball is, merely by noting the different shadows cast by the sun at the Spring/Vernal Equinox.  Carl Sagan used this story way back in his famous PBS series, Cosmos.  It’s still interesting, informative and instructive today (surely Texas 9th grade geography teachers use this example all the time, no?  9th grade math teachers?  Say, what?).

You can find this and more Sagan videos at the Carl Sagan Portal on YouTube.

How did he do it?  Wikipedia — as usual — has a good, relatively lay explanation:

Visual representation of Eratosthenes's calculations of the size of the spherical Earth.

Bathtub Art Figure 1:  Eratosthenes’ measurement of the Earth’s circumference.

Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of the Earth without leaving Egypt. Eratosthenes knew that, on the summer solstice, at local noon in the Ancient Egyptian city of Swenet (known in Greek as Syene, and in the modern day as Aswan) on the Tropic of Cancer, the sun would appear at the zenith, directly overhead (he had been told that the shadow of someone looking down a deep well would block the reflection of the Sun at noon). Using a gnomon, he measured the sun’s angle of elevation at noon on the solstice in his hometown of Alexandria, and found it to be 1/50th of a circle (7°12′) south of the zenith. Assuming that the Earth was spherical (360°), and that Alexandria was due north of Syene, he concluded that the meridian arc distance from Alexandria to Syene must therefore be 1/50 = 7°12’/360°, and was therefore 1/50 of the total circumference of the Earth. His knowledge of the size of Egypt after many generations of surveying trips for the Pharaonic bookkeepers gave a distance between the cities of 5,000 stadia (about 500 geographical miles or 927.7 km). This distance was corroborated by inquiring about the time that it takes to travel from Syene to Alexandria by camel. He rounded the result to a final value of 700 stadia per degree, which implies a circumference of 252,000 stadia. The exact size of the stadion he used is frequently argued. The common Attic stadion was about 185 m,[9] which would imply a circumference of 46,620 km, which is off the actual circumference by 16.3%; too large an error to be considered as ‘accurate’. However, if we assume that Eratosthenes used the “Egyptian stadion”[10] of about 157.5 m, his measurement turns out to be 39,690 km, an error of less than 2%.[11]

Description of Bathtub Art Figure 1:

Syene (S) is located on the Tropic of Cancer, so that at summer solstice the sun appears at the zenith, directly overhead. In Alexandria (A) the sun is \varphi south of the zenith at the same time. So the circumference of earth can be calculated being \frac{360^\circ}{\varphi} times the distance \delta between A and S.

Erastothenes measured the angle \varphi to be 1/50 of a circle and his access to knowledge of the size of Egypt gave a north/south distance \delta between Alexandria and Syene of 5000 stadia. His circumference of the Earth was therefore 250 000 stadia. Certain accepted values of the length of the stadia in use at the time give an error of less than 6% for the true value for the polar circumference.

Tropic of Cancer sign in Western Sahara

Tropic of Cancer sign in Western Sahara, placed by trans-Sahara racers, in English and Hungarian Photo: Wikipedia

A fun little exercise, but a remarkable achievement for anyone about 240 years before the birth of of the Biblical Jesus.  Syene, now known as Aswan, is on what we now call the Tropic of Cancer (the “tropics” were named by the Greeks, but I am uncertain whether the line had that name in Eratosthenes’s time).  The date is probably not important, so much as the observation that the sun was vertical at noon on a given date — and then Eratosthenes’s experiment to see whether that were true in Alexandria, and then his understanding of what that might mean and his work to assemble the data to make the calculations.   High school students — heck, junior high school students — should be able to figure all that out today, if they had the basics down.  I suspect that knowing this story would be a spur to students to learn the elements of the mystery and how it was solved, and what it might mean for later navigators of the oceans, land and air, for astronomers, for farmers and for mathematics.

I also like this story because it presents a strange conundrum, a paradox about what people know, and what they may reason from the foundation of what they know.  Our friend and frequent commenter Morgan, whose blog he calls the House of Eratosthenes.  I suspect he thinks himself some latter-day Eratosthenian (“Latter-day Erats?”).  He says as much in his blog FAQ:

I’m just like Eratosthenes peeking into a well here, and I don’t know what it means yet.

It’s an entertaining read and more enlightening that one might think from his forays here, so you probably ought to go read the FAQ and the reasons Morgan misbelieves liberals miss out on Eratosthenes’s wisdom.  Morgan has an explanation of Eratosthenes and his discoveries which I find too brief to be accurate (and I’m not sure why Morgan finds the name “Beta” to be dubious; being a polymath was not a small thing then, or now; second best in everything means one is first in the All-Around, first in the academic centathlon or millathlon — no mean set of feats at all).  I find that funny because, while he makes a pretense and some effort to following Eratosthenes and scientific methods, to me he seems to find science and logic things to run away from, as in our recent discussion where he ends up defending Anthony Watts’s erroneous views because Watts’s critics didn’t link to Watts (see comments in “It’s raining crazy,” and see also Morgan’s own post, which defies explanation).  Eratosthenes would find that funny, too, I hope, but not a demonstration of Eratosthenian logic and calculation.

Does anyone doubt where Carl Sagan would be in the debate between the dozen serious scientists and hundreds of political wankers who deny climate change, and the thousands of scientists and good citizens who recognize that it occurs and think we should get on with saving the future?

(Did James Burke cover Eratosthenes in his brilliant series Connections?  Which episode?)

Tip of the old scrub brush to Fred Clark at Slacktivist, whose compilation posts often overflow with stuff you ought to know or see, and whose post today sent me to Joe at It’s Okay to Be Smart and “Top 10 Reasons We Know The Earth Is Round.”

More:


Occasional Tuesday tweet: Wren on the rose, Bewick’s or Carolina?

January 22, 2013

I’ve been calling these guys Bewick’s wrens (Thryomanes bewickii) for a couple of years, based on an identification I made a couple of years ago — but checking today to be sure, I’m thinking this is a Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) instead.

In any case, a couple of days ago it paused for a few minutes in our backyard rose arbor, long enough I could try to get a good shot with just a 200mm telephoto, and with colors dulled by the window.

Carolina wren, perhaps, in Dalls

Wren in the rose arbor — ruddy color suggests it’s a Carolina wren, but I’ve been calling it a Bewick’s wren; pausing for its photo on Inauguration Day – Photo by Ed Darrell

Bewick’s wrens probably have more grey on their bellies; this one looks ruddy enough to be a Carolina wren.  (I just learned “Bewick’s” is pronounced like “Buicks.”)

Wrens stick around all winter now; they didn’t just over a decade ago.  This family has been with us for at least three years — two young this year successfully fledged.  By now it’s almost impossible to tell which are the young, which the parents.

Gulf fritillary on blue porterweed, Dallas, Texas - Ed Darrell photo

Gulf fritillary butterfly on blue porterweed — a few feet from the rose arbor where the wren posed, but months apart. Photo: Ed Darrell

On our patio we have a saga continuing with Gulf fritillary butterflies (Agraulis vanillae), their larva, and passion vine.  It seems our neighbors eradicated passion vine, so when the frits start moving north in the spring, they find our passion vines as the only ones in town.  The females go nuts laying eggs, and at some point we have a surplus of larva who denude the vines in a week.  Late hatching larva probably die off.

The butterfly books suggest that we cull the larva, but we don’t have the heart.  At some point in the spring the wrens wake up to the issue, and they cull the larva for us.  The vines recover, a new wave of frits hatch out, and the cycle begins again.  From June through September, the passion vine loses any leaves it puts out within 48 hours, usually.  But the wrens probably eat well.

The wrens seem never to perch where we can see them when they sing.  I suspect these little guys of having a much better voice than most wrens, but the great arpeggios I hear may be another bird, perhaps a warbler, that I just don’t know (good reason to go spend time at the local Dogwood Canyon Audubon Center, yes?).

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Fly your flag today: Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday (and President Obama’s 2nd Inauguration)

January 21, 2013

I hope your flag is already flying today — sun’s up in almost all the U.S.

Newseum photo, U.S. Capitol at dawn in inauguration day, 2013

U.S. Capitol before dawn, January 21, 2013 — flags for the Senate and House not up yet, but the historic five flags of the nation hang ready for the 2nd Inauguration of the 44th President, Barack Obama. Photo from the roof of the Newseum.

Fly the U.S. flag today for the holiday for the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.  The holiday is celebrated on the third Monday in January.

Many Americans will celebrate with a day of service.

Today also celebrates the 2nd inauguration of President Barack Hussein Obama, the 57th inauguration of a president.

What a breathtaking intersection of history!

Miami Herald front page, January 21, 2013

Courtesy of the Newseum, the front page of the Miami Herald, today — featuring the Martin Luther King, Jr., monument, and the official inauguration of President Barack Obama.  40 years ago, who would have dared guess this front page in a southern newspaper?

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View from the National Capital Mall, 2nd Inauguration of Barack Obama

Photo by John Rudy, from the National Capital Mall, about 11:00 a.m., January 21, 2013. Flags a-flying there!


Writing down the history: NAACP wants your story about Dr. King

January 20, 2013

I get earnest, interesting e-mail, too.  Ben Jealous from the NAACP wrote today:

NAACP

Ed,

Tomorrow, we pay homage to one of America’s most righteous defenders and promoters of civil and human rights: the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. King was an incredible man who changed the course of American history. He inspired millions to stand up in peaceful protest against discriminatory laws and fought for the greater good of all humanity.

Dr. King’s spirit lives on. After his assassination, millions of people picked up the torch and continued to fight for a better future, carrying our shared movement for social justice into the present day.

To celebrate his life and legacy, we’d like to hear from you. Tell us how Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. impacted your life and your work.

Did you take part in marches, rallies, and activist work in the 1950s and 1960s? Tell us about it. Have you heard stories about friends or family members who marched with or met Dr. King? We want to hear them.

And if, like me, you weren’t yet born in the 1960s, we want to hear from you, too. Tell us how Dr. King’s work and message has inspired you to fight for civil and human rights today.

Together, we can build a portrait of the impact Dr. King has had on NAACP supporters and America at large. I hope you’ll help us by sharing your story today:

http://action.naacp.org/Impact-of-MLK

Thank you,

Benjamin Todd Jealous
President and CEO
NAACP

Crowd-sourcing history.  Great idea.  I hope they get a great product.  Why don’t you contribute?

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English: Photograph of Rosa Parks with Dr. Mar...

Rosa Parks with Dr. Martin Luther King jr. (ca. 1955) Mrs. Rosa Parks altered the negro progress in Montgomery, Alabama, 1955, by the bus boycott she unwillingly began. Photo from the U.S. National Archives record ID: 306-PSD-65-1882 (Box 93). Source: Ebony Magazine, via Wikipedia


Obamacare: Still the better way, still saving money, still a good deal

January 20, 2013

A guy named William Duncan at a blog called Sensible Thoughts posted something I found inherently unsensible a while back.  He listed six reasons why he thought the Affordable Care Act should be repealed. (“A while?” “Yeah, July 2012 is ‘a while.'”)

His sixth point was the old canard about Congress and the President being exempt.  Of course they are not exempt, and so I told him.

Your sixth reason is in error. There is no provision to exempt either the president or Congress from the act. There is no language in the bill such as you describe. Language from page 114 can be found here:

http://timpanogos.wordpress.com/2012/04/17/obamacare-making-stuff-up-to-complain-about/

At some length, Mr. Duncan removed that point, but said he still thinks the law should be repealed on the other five points I hadn’t dealt with.

Ed:
Thank you for the correction on point #6. I have gone back and looked at this, and you are absolutely right. Although the Wall Street Journal and folks like Sean Hannity reported that the President and members of Congress are exempt from participation in the Affordable Care Act, in the end that did NOT make it into the language of the legislation. I have deleted point #6 from the post as a result. Thank you for the correction. Now, if you copuld only prove me wrong on the rest of the points listed…. Unfortunately, this remains a bill the the American public did not want, and was purchased by shenanigans that the Administration should be ashamed of.

A quick and dirty response; we may need to put more meat on these response bones in the next couple of months, because the opposition to ObamaCare relies on severely distorted claims about the law and what it actually does.  Much if not most of the good stuff in the law is completely ignored by these critics, and we should point that out, too.

I responded (images added here):

Disproof?

What makes you think Americans didn’t want it? There was a whale of an anti-health care campaign after the act passed, but when it passed, it enjoyed a majority of support. And, when we take each provision of the bill and ask people about that provision, they approve overwhelmingly.

English: Depiction of the House vote on H.R. 3...

Depiction of the House vote on H.R. 3590 (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) on March 21, 2010, by congressional district. Democratic yea, dark blue; Democratic nay, light blue; Republican nay, red; No representative seated, white. Image from Wikipedia

For example, not even you are opposed to continuing the Reagan-era program that encourages medical schools to train more general practitioners. No one seriously objects to the provisions that pay physicians to practice in under-served areas, like West Texas, Iowa, and West Virginia. No one objects to the provisions that train more nurses. Only the most rabid racists complain about continuing and expanding the health care clinics on Indian reservations.

The law has dozens of provisions like those, and no one in their right mind objects to them.

Your other five points?

  1. The Supreme Court killed that one for you. They said that, even if you call it a fine, it’s a tax. And at that, it’s a helluva bargain. For those who do not purchase health insurance because they can’t afford to, they must pay $695 additional tax, per year. That’s about what I’d pay monthly on the open market.In any case, there are no fines, according to the Supreme Court.
    English: Depiction of the Senate vote on H.R. ...

    Depiction of the Senate vote on H.R. 3590 (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) on December 24, 2009, by state. Color code is difficult to decipher; let it suffice that if there are two Democratic yea votes, the state is colored deep blue; if two Republican nay votes, very red. Image from Wikipedia

    But I can’t imagine why you oppose bargains in health care, especially when they lower the costs of health care to the insured, who will no longer pay the 15% to 25% premium to cover indigent care.

  2. With all the “new taxes,” CBO, the non-partisan group that scores these issues for Congress, projects the bill will decrease federal spending and cut the deficits annually, when fully enacted in 2014 and all out years.Do you oppose deficits or not?All the other taxes are fair, strike only the tippy-top income tiers, and are cheap at that.These taxes make the system more fair. It’s stacked against anyone making less than $150,000 a year, now. That’s most of us. I don’t like it when government helps the rich, at the expense of the poor — that’s contrary to moral standards my church holds, for example, and it tends to damage the economy.So I think more fair taxes, and lower costs, will be quite popular, once we see them.So, new taxes aren’t a good justification to oppose the law.
  3. Speaking of fallacious accounting — CBO, the group you cite, says the bill will reduce the deficits. You assume the Law won’t work, while small portions of it have already slashed inflation in health care costs, from 20% in 2009 to 4% in 2011 and 2012.But, what about repeal? CBO looked at that, too — repeal of the law will increase deficits, not decrease them. It’s only $109 billion increase in deficits, but these number directly refute all claims that repeal would be cheaper. See the analysis gateway here: http://www.cbo.gov/publication/43471
  4. This Medicare issue was hashed out, accurately and well I thought, in the campaign. Medicare costs will be reduced by holding costs down — benefits will not be reduced. Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan ran into some difficulty with this, because their budget plans assumed the savings from the Affordable Care Act, while eliminating the law that produced the savings.I’m sure there will be some adjustments required. Medicare seems a little ham-fisted when it comes to dealing with local and regional cost differences, but nationwide, over the past 40 years, enormous savings have been realized by reducing some reimbursements for procedures that once were uncommon and expensive, to a less expensive rate, now that they are more common. On the whole, over 40 years, over thousands of procedures, physicians have changed their expectations, and things have worked fine. Oh, there have been grumblings, I know. But the cuts in costs, without cuts in benefits, have stuck.Under the Affordable Care Act, we hope a lot more people will move to company plans from Medicare, or at least to the exchange plans offered in each state.One of the changes already introduced is working [link added here]. Rather than pay providers for each procedure, Medicare now reimburses hospitals for effective hospitalization — that is, when a patient is discharged and then re-enters a hospital for the same complaint, the hospital will lose money. Hospitals are keeping patients a few days longer on many procedures, to insure that one hospitalization is all that is required. Savings are already being made in costs, while improvements have resulted in the health care – better health in the patients!In all, CBO says costs will come down with the Affordable Care Act, as advertised, and costs will rise and deficits will rise if the Act is repealed.
  5. Your abortion argument is too metaphysical, and not enough real-world. Do you want to reduce the number of abortions? Then provide health care, make sure contraception is freely available (not for free, but freely), and stand back. Those two things reduce abortions, as they did during the Clinton administration.Restrictions on abortion, on the other hand, make it more likely a woman will choose to terminate a pregnancy under a number of circumstances: She doesn’t have health care coverage, her coverage does not cover pre-natal care, her coverage won’t cover a new infant, the pregnancy is unplanned due to lack of good information on family planning or lack of access to affordable contraception.You can choose: Restrict abortions and increase the number of abortions, or provide health care, and reduce the number of abortions.It may be a bit counter-intuitive, but you’d better study the issue. The Affordable Care Act’s provisions, Obamacare, have over the years reduced abortions where applied; cutting off that care has increased the number of abortions.My advice would be, don’t kill the babies to make a political point.

I am concerned that you don’t appear much familiar with what the bill actually does. Here are a few reasons to keep the law.

  1. We need more physicians, and the bill provides them.
  2. We need more physicians in underserved areas, and the bill provides them.
  3. We need more nurses, and the bill provides them.
  4. We need more community clinics in underserved urban areas [link added here], where illnesses and injuries frequently go untreated until extreme trauma results, and the victim must get extremely expensive care in an emergency room. This will be one of the biggest cost savers — and the law provides those clinics.
  5. The law will cut the private bureaucracy, and completely dismantle the private death panels set up by insurance companies, saving at least 10% of every health care dollar, applying that money to care instead of bureaucracy. This is already occurring.
  6. Preventive care under the Act is greatly encouraged — if we can boost flu vaccines by another 10%, it will save thousands of lives annually, and millions of dollars in hospitalization costs. Flu shots came with no co-pay this year — did you notice? — so that anyone with any insurance at all could drop by any pharmacy offering flu shots and get one with no out-of-pocket expenses.
    This is huge. Everyone agrees the cheapest health care is for healthy people. The Affordable Care Act changes the way health care is delivered, to emphasize prevention of disease and injury, instead of triage. Prevention usually costs about 10% what the triage would cost.
  7. Removing the lifetime cap on insurance payments, per patient, will save a few thousands of lives, annually. It should kill the phenomenon where many families, hit with a costly disease or accident, had to declare bankruptcy as a result. A significant portion of all bankruptcies have been “not adequately-insured” cases. Those should almost disappear.
  8. Allowing children to stay insured, on a parent’s plan, for those critical years after high school and college and into the second job, with benefits has already benefited millions of Americans, saving millions of dollars and probably a few lives.

I cannot imagine why anyone would want to go back to 20% annual health care cost inflation, the highest per capita health care costs in the world by a factor of two, while leaving one out of every seven people uninsured even though we were paying amounts more than the insurance would have cost.

Obamacare reduces the deficits, and puts our health system on the path to catch up to the rest of the industrialized world, with better care for less cost.

I’ll keep it, thank you.

(See this, too: “More good news about Obamacare: CBO says it will save money”

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