Quote of the Moment: John Kennedy, June 26, 1963 (51 years ago)

June 26, 2014

Rare color photograph of President John Kennedy addressing a crowd in the then-divided city of Berlin, June 26, 1963

Rare color photograph of President John Kennedy addressing a crowd in the then-divided city of Berlin, June 26, 1963

On the day the U.S. and Germany meet in Brazil in the World Cup, let us remember the ties that bind our nations together, including especially the memorable speech of  U.S. President John F. Kennedy on this day, in Berlin, in 1963.

From the Smithsonian Magazine site:

June 26, 1963: “Ich bin ein Berliner”

In West Berlin, President John F. Kennedy delivers the famous speech in which he declares, “Ich bin ein Berliner.” Meaning literally “I am a citizen of Berlin,” the statement shows U.S. solidarity with democratic West Berlin, surrounded by communist territory.

View a video of President Kennedy’s speech at American Rhetoric, Top 100 Speeches.

Kennedy’s entire speech was good. It was well drafted and well delivered, taking advantage of the dramatic setting and the dramatic moment. John Kennedy well understood how to give a speech, too.

Below is most of the speech, nearly five minutes’ worth, from a YouTube file — another indication that schools need to open up their filters to allow at least some of the best YouTube material through:

You may also want to note these posts:

German government photo and caption: The masses that greeted Kennedy in front of the West Berlin City Hall and throughout the city were jubilant. (© Press and Information Office of the Federal Government; Steiner)

German government photo and caption: The masses that greeted Kennedy in front of the West Berlin City Hall and throughout the city were jubilant. (© Press and Information Office of the Federal Government; Steiner)

This is an encore post.

This is an encore post.


“Once a soldier . . .” — Who is the artist?

May 17, 2014

Once a soldier, always a soldier; Who created this?

Who created this?

Interesting tribute to old soldiers, quite touching — and thought provoking.

As with too much other good stuff on the internet, the attribution to the creator or creators has been stripped away in a thousand repostings.

Who created this image?  Do they have other thought-provoking stuff we should know about?


Quote goof of the moment: Tom Paine didn’t say that; Edward Abbey did.

May 7, 2014

Oy.  You’d hope that the Rabid Right would learn after a few dozen of these errors that they should try to verify stuff before they claim events of history, or sayings of famous people are gospel — especially stuff involving our patriotic founders.

But, no.

Sometimes their failure to check sources can produce amusement, though, like this one which they misattribute to Tom Paine in propaganda supporting rent scofflaw Cliven Bundy and other land management issues:

Tom Paine didn't say that. Edward Abbey did.

Tom Paine didn’t say that. Edward Abbey did.

“The duty of a patriot is to protect his country from its government.”

Someone mildly familiar with Tom Paine and his life and other writings might suspect the supposed attribution from the start.  Paine was a great advocate of governments to protect the rights of citizens, especially citizens like him, who were often on the outs with popular opinion and avoided the Guillotine in France and mob violence in the U.S. only through interventions of government officials who told mobs the law did not cotton their wishes to see violence on Mr. Paine.

Wikiquote notes Paine didn’t say it.  A simple check would have found that.

But other sites claim it was written by Edward Abbey, the author of Desert Solitaire and The Monkeywrench Gang.

“A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.”

– Edward Abbey, A Voice Crying in the Wilderness (Vox Clamantis en Deserto) : Notes from a Secret Journal (1990) ISBN 0312064888

Why is that delicious?

The quote — the image above, for example — is being used by pro-militia groups who have defended Cliven Bundy’s trespassing on public lands in Nevada, and by Texans who, upset that they don’t have such a good target as massive Bureau of Land Management (BLM) holdings in Texas, have ginned up a faux controversy, claiming falsely that BLM is seeking to seize lands in Texas.

Edward Abbey?  He didn’t much like BLM, and he was particularly ticked off at the Bureau of Reclamation and the imposition of Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River with the drowning of Glen Canyon.  Abbey’s disdain of federal land managers and grand dam schemes may have been exceeded only by his contempt for developers, miners and ranchers who took advantage of the desert for profit.

Would Abbey have supported Bundy’s overgrazing on public lands, or Texas Republicans scrambling to make a false issue to mismanage lands?  Oy.  Oy.  And oy.

See this brilliant poster at Americans Who Tell The Truth:

From Americans who Tell the Truth, Edward Abbey.

From Americans who Tell the Truth, Edward Abbey. Writer, ‘Desert Anarchist’ : 1927 – 1989 “The most common form of terrorism in the U.S.A. is that carried on by bulldozers and chainsaws. It is not enough to understand the natural world; the point is to defend and preserve it. Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul.”

Wall of Fame (people and sites who got the cite right):

Wall of Shame (people and sites who got the cite wrong):


Gun nuts twisting the words of President Kennedy

May 4, 2014

Here’s the full text of President Kennedy’s statement on President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s birthday in 1961, urging Americans to join Kennedy in making things better, including enlisting in the military, from the Kennedy Library:

January 29, 1961

This year, the celebrations of Roosevelt Day has special significance for Democrats everywhere; for we celebrate not only the triumphs of the past but the opportunities of the future.

Twenty-eight years ago Franklin Roosevelt assumed the leadership of a stricken and demoralized nation. Poverty, distress and economic stagnation blanketed the land. But it was not long before the great creative energies of the New Deal had lifted American from its despair and set us on the path to new heights of prosperity, power and greatness.

Today America is the richest nation in the history of the world. Our power and influence extend around the globe. Yet the challenges and dangers which confront us are even more awesome and difficult than those that face Roosevelt. And we too will need to summon all the energies of our people and the capacities of our leaders if America is to remain a great and free nations — if we are to master the opportunities of the New Frontier.

The dimensions of out problems overwhelm the imagination. At home millions are unemployed and the growth of our economy has come to a virtual halt. Abroad, we are faced with powerful and unrelenting pressure which threaten freedom in every corner of the globe, and with military power so formidable that it menaces the physical survival of our own nation.

To meet these problems will require the efforts not only of our leaders or of the Democratic Party–but the combined efforts of all of our people.; No one has a right to feel that, having entrusted the tasks of government to new leaders in Washington, he can continue to pursue his private comforts unconcerned with American’s challenges and dangers. For, if freedom is to survive and prosper, it will require the sacrifice, the effort and the thoughtful attention of every citizen.

In my own native state of Massachusetts, the battle for American freedom was begun by the thousands of farmers and tradesmen who made up the Minute Men — citizens who were ready to defend their liberty at a moment’s notice. Today we need a nation of minute men; citizens who are not only prepared to take up arms, but citizens who regard the preservation of freedom as a basic purpose of their daily life and who are willing to consciously work and sacrifice for that freedom. The cause of liberty, the cause of American, cannot succeed with any lesser effort.

It is this effort and concern which makes up the New Frontier. And it is this effort and concern which will determine the success or failure not only with Administration, but of our nation itself. [emphasis added]

Source: White House Central Subject Files, Box 111, “FDR”.

Other Information Sources:

“Know your Lawmakers,” Guns Magazine, April 1960.
“Letter to President John F. Kennedy from the NRA,” [NRAcentral.com].
“New Minute Men Urged by Kennedy,” The New York Times, 30 January, 1961, pg. 13.
“Kennedy Says U.S. Needs Minute Men,” Los Angeles Times, 30 January, 1961, pg. 4.
“Minutemen’s Soft-Sell Leader: Robert B. DePugh,” The New York Times, 12 November 1961, pg. 76.

It seems to me that Kennedy was not asking yahoos to take up arms against the government, but was instead asking Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”  Specifically in the last paragraph, he noted his call was to join in the New Frontier efforts his administration was pushing.

If you’re not much a student of history, you may have forgotten about Kennedy’s New Frontier.  As presidents before him, with the Square Deal, the New Deal, and the Fair Deal, Kennedy sought a shorthand term to apply to much of his program of changes.  In his speech accepting the nomination of the Democratic Party to run for president, he called this a New Frontier.

For I stand tonight facing west on what was once the last frontier. From the lands that stretch three thousand miles behind me, the pioneers of old gave up their safety, their comfort and sometimes their lives to build a new world here in the West. They were not the captives of their own doubts, the prisoners of their own price tags. Their motto was not “every man for himself” –but “all for the common cause.” They were determined to make that new world strong and free, to overcome its hazards and its hardships, to conquer the enemies that threatened from without and within.

Today some would say that those struggles are all over–that all the horizons have been explored–that all the battles have been won– that there is no longer an American frontier.

But I trust that no one in this vast assemblage will agree with those sentiments. For the problems are not all solved and the battles are not all won–and we stand today on the edge of a New Frontier–the frontier of the 1960′s–a frontier of unknown opportunities and perils– a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats.
[emphasis added]

Woodrow Wilson’s New Freedom promised our nation a new political and economic framework. Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal promised security and succor to those in need. But the New Frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises–it is a set of challenges. It sums up not what I intend to offer the American people, but what I intend to ask of them. It appeals to their pride, not to their pocketbook–it holds out the promise of more sacrifice instead of more security.

But I tell you the New Frontier is here, whether we seek it or not. Beyond that frontier are the uncharted areas of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered pockets of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus. It would be easier to shrink back from that frontier, to look to the safe mediocrity of the past, to be lulled by good intentions and high rhetoric–and those who prefer that course should not cast their votes for me, regardless of party.

But I believe the times demand new invention, innovation, imagination, decision. I am asking each of you to be pioneers on that New Frontier. My call is to the young in heart, regardless of age–to all who respond to the Scriptural call: “Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed.”

For courage–not complacency–is our need today–leadership–not salesmanship. And the only valid test of leadership is the ability to lead, and lead vigorously. A tired nation, said David Lloyd George, is a Tory nation–and the United States today cannot afford to be either tired or Tory.

Kennedy famously challenged Americans to stand up for service to the nation in his inaugural speech, and when he founded the Peace Corps, asking Americans to give up two or three years to work, peacefully, in other lands to promote progress there. Kennedy called Americans to share his vision, and to work for change, for a better America.

What were specifics of the New Frontier agenda?   Kennedy pushed a broad range of programs, many turned into laws in his brief term; Kennedy aimed to change America in economics, taxation, labor, education, welfare, civil rights, housing, unemployment, health, equal rights for women, environment, agriculture, crime and defense.   In each of these areas Kennedy sought to build on the legacies of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman — in ways that conservatives today become apoplectic just thinking about.

Kennedy pushed for a higher minimum wage with built-in step increases over time not keyed to inflation.  He called for more taxcuts for the poor, coupled with targeted tax incentives to get businesses to spend their cash to create jobs.  Kennedy favored changes in law to give unions greater say in corporate expansion, tougher protection for workers from firing, and he extended collective bargaining to federal workers.  Kennedy called for expansion of federally-funded loans and scholarships for college students, and he started a program to use federal money to put technology into classrooms at the elementary and secondary levels.  Kennedy expanded unemployment and welfare benefits, and got a 20% increase in Social Security benefits.

Kennedy’s New Frontier called for sweeping changes in the way government protects the rights and welfare of all citizens.

Did Kennedy actually call for armed militias to fight government “over-reach” or expansion?

What do you think?  When a proponent of getting guns to protect himself against the U.S. government, by killing agents of the U.S. government (we must imagine), cites a part of Kennedy’s statement from 1961 as supporting arming individual citizens, is he being honest?

Poster from Americanfirearms.org; the quoate from Kennedy is accurate, but did Kennedy mean what this group wants us to think it means?

Poster from Americanfirearms.org; the quoate from Kennedy is accurate, but did Kennedy mean what this group wants us to think it means?

Kennedy appears to have been fond of the image of the Minutemen at Lexington and Concord, trained militia from citizen volunteers, who started the path to American independence from Britain.  He invoked that image earlier, as senator from Massachusetts, in a speech honoring the Polish hero Casimir Pulaski, at a Pulaski Day Dinner in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on October 17, 1959:

We pay tribute to Casimir Pulaski tonight by honoring a great American of Polish descent, Clem Zablocki.  For he has demonstrated, in Washington and Wisconsin, the same courage and conscience, the same zeal for liberty, the same tireless patience and determination to help all who call for help.  He is a great Congressman – not only from Wisconsin – but of the United States . . .

But we also think of Casimir Pulaski tonight because his beloved Poland has once again fallen victim to a foreign power.  The independence for which he fought against the Russians at Czestochowa has been once again suppressed – and once again by the Russians.  Were he alive tonight, the hero of Savannah and Charleston would weep for his homeland – and we, inwardly or outwardly according to our custom, weep with him.

But weeping is not enough.  We know it is not enough.  And yet, while we give vent to our feelings of resentment and outrage, we are also caught up in a feeling of frustration.  What can we do about the situation in the satellites?  How can we help those liberty-loving peoples regain their liberty, without subjecting them to even more cruel repression – or subjecting the world to an even more disastrous war?  How can we let them know their fate is not forgotten – that we have not abandoned them to be – like the Irish of 1647 considered themselves when Owen Roe O’Neill was poisoned – “sheep without a shepherd when the snow shuts out the sky?”

This is the dilemma we face, as both last month and next year the President and Premier Khrushchev are pictured together in the press on both sides of the Iron Curtain.  And this is the dilemma with which this Administration has been confronted, in trying to make good on its tarnished promises of a new “liberation” policy.  For this is no longer an age when minutemen with muskets can make a revolution.  Hungary, we know, is not Cuba – and neither is Poland.  Mr. Khrushchev is not to be overthrown like Mr. Batista.  Brave bands of young men and women may be able to stop a few tanks – but street barricades and home-made hand grenades cannot long stand against a modern army and an atomic air force. [emphasis added]

The facts of the matter are that – no matter how bitter some feelings may be, or how confident some are of a victorious war for liberation – freedom behind the Iron Curtain and world peace are actually inextricably linked.  For if war should ever break out, the control and occupation of Eastern Europe would certainly be even more rigid and repressive than it is today.  That is why, in the days of upheaval in 1956, when Poland could have turned to violent rebellion as Hungary did, Cardinal Wyszynski kept advising his people that the condition of Polish freedom was peace.  Many scoffed – many thought him faint-hearted.  But by following his advice, Poland has now attained at least a measure of national independence and at least a relaxation of Communist rule.  Forced collectivization of the farmers has ceased and most of the collectives were dissolved – religious freedom has been restored in considerable degree – and freedom of speech is returning.

No one says that land of ancient freedom is once more free again.  But if Poland had not accepted this half-way house to freedom, it could have been, as Prime Minister Gomulka warned, wiped off the map of Europe.  If the present emphasis on a thaw in the Cold War should end and tensions rise again, the present good relations between Poland and the United States would undoubtedly cease, the growing contacts between the Polish people and the West would be cut off, and the present degree of freedom of speech and religion in Poland would prove to be short-lived.  On the other hand, if a real thaw develops and Soviet-American relations improve, the prospects for the continuation and perhaps the expansion of this limited degree of Polish freedom are good.  So, in a real sense, the condition for Polish freedom is peace.

President Kennedy addressing a Wisconsin group during the 1960 presidential campaign.  (Do you have more details?)

President Kennedy addressing a Wisconsin group during the 1960 presidential campaign. (Do you have more details?) Photo by Robert W. Kelley//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

One does not get the sense that President Kennedy was urging citizens to establish their own arsenals, contrary to the actions of the Minutemen at Lexington and Concord, nor to take up arms against the U.S. government.

Who would suggest that’s what Kennedy meant?  Oh, yeah:  AmericanFirearms.org.

More:

Page one of a speech text then-Sen. John Kennedy delivered regarding why America arms, on March 9, 1960, in Mauston, Wisconsin. JFK Library image

Page one of a speech text then-Sen. John Kennedy delivered regarding why America arms, on March 9, 1960, in Mauston, Wisconsin. JFK Library image


Quote of the moment: Education is knowing what you know, and what you don’t

March 31, 2014

Commenter Robert Lopresti mentioned a book assembled at the Library of Congress, to assist Members of Congress in creating speeches on important issues, with accurate quotes in accurate context: Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations.

One might wonder if anyone in Congress even knows the book exists.

You can buy the book, at Amazon, or from the Library of Congress Gift Shop, and Bartleby has it online (public domain already?).

My first use of the online version, I looked for education, and found this from William Feather (1889-1981), describing  just what “an education” is:

An education isn’t how much you have committed to memory, or even how much you know. It’s being able to differentiate between what you do know and what you don’t. It’s knowing where to go to find out what you need to know; and it’s knowing how to use the information you get.

When and where did Feather say that?  Things get murky — according to the list at the Library of Congress:

Publisher and writer William Feather, photo by William Feather III

Publisher and writer William Feather, photo by William Feather III. Can we trust a bon mot attributed to such a jovial and scholarly looking fellow?

Attributed to WILLIAM FEATHER.—August Kerber, Quotable Quotes on Education, p. 17 (1968). Unverified.

An honest assessment that we don’t know for certain that Feather said exactly that. This book could be a valuable resource!

Who the heck was William Feather?

William A. Feather (August 25, 1889 – January 7, 1981) was an American publisher and author, based in Cleveland, Ohio.

Born in Jamestown, New York, Feather relocated with his family to Cleveland in 1903. After earning a degree from Western Reserve University in 1910, he began working as a reporter for the Cleveland Press. In 1916, he established the William Feather Magazine.[1] In addition to writing for and publishing that magazine, and writing for other magazines as H.L. Mencken‘s The American Mercury, he ran a successful printing business, and wrote several books.[2]

Feather’s definition appeals to me.  Educated people know where to find the facts they need, and they know when it’s important to search for those facts, rather than stand on ignorance.

Compare it with the Hubbard/Rogers advice, that it’s what we know “that ain’t so” that gets us into trouble.

How could any test, ever test for that?


Smoking out the bogus: Martin Porter’s “Four Principles of a Quotation”

March 25, 2014

Commenter SBH put me on to this interesting set of principles from a mathematician, on bogus quotes, and how to determine that they are bogus, and most important, how to avoid creating a bogus quote by stripping context or altering the text.

‘After all, a study I once read said something like 86% of all statistics cited in speeches are made up on the spot.’*

I looked up Martin Porter.  What are his principles of quotations?  Who is he, and why should we listen to him?

Mathematician Martin Porter, in the 21st century.

Mathematician Martin Porter, in the 21st century. Self portrait.

Turns out he’s a mathematician who works in algorithms to study language, and a founder of Grapeshot.  Along the way, he grew intrigued with trying to source a very famous quotation attributed to Edmund Burke (confess, you don’t really know enough about Burke to describe who he was, or why that quote might not be his, right? See Porter’s last principle).

Porter wrote an interesting essay about the experience, and about the wide abuse of the real Burke quote and what he’d learned.

At the end of the essay, he posed principles for quotations, two involving how we might hold the necessary skepticism that helps smoke out quotes that are bogus for one reason or another.

The other two, I confess, sometimes are difficult to follow.  One of my favorite statements from George Santayana, in the upper right corner of this blog, stands out of context (he wasn’t writing about history, really), nor have I read the entire book.  Porter proposes very high standards indeed: It’s not enough that the quote be accurately phrased and attributed appropriately to its creator; Porter wants the quote to be used in a similar context.  In his essay on the Burke quote, he notes Burke was talking of factions, but when Ronald Reagan used it, even getting the phrasing right, Reagan used it to talk about arming nations.  Porter suggests such a usage can lead us awry.

Edmund Burke (1729-1797), Irish statesman, author, orator, political theorist and philosopher, who, after moving to England, served for many years in the House of Commons of Great Britain as a member of the Whig party. No, not the same Whig Party that produced Millard Fillmore in America.

Edmund Burke (1729-1797), Irish statesman, author, orator, political theorist and philosopher, who, after moving to England, served for many years in the House of Commons of Great Britain as a member of the Whig party. No, not the same Whig Party that produced Millard Fillmore in America.

Porter is right, of course.

2014 is a federal election year.  Here in Texas we also have municipal elections in May — a lot of opportunities, to vote, a lot of campaigning, and a in that campaigning a stunning wealth of opportunities for people to misattribute quotes, or to invent whole new inappropriate contexts, twists, and diversions to accurate understanding.

We should heed Martin Porter better, perhaps.

Martin Porter’s four Principles for Quotations:

I therefore formulate and offer to the world the following Principles for Quotations, two for quoters and two for readers, which, if universally followed, would make an immense improvement to the reliability of the information available on the world wide web.

Principle 1 (for readers)
Whenever you see a quotation given with an author but no source assume that it is probably bogus.
Principle 2 (for readers)
Whenever you see a quotation given with a full source assume that it is probably being misused, unless you find good evidence that the quoter has read it in the source.
Principle 3 (for quoters)
Whenever you make a quotation, give the exact source.
Principle 4 (for quoters)
Only quote from works that you have read.

* You knew that one was bogus. Right?

More:


Quote of the moment: Useless men a Congress? Not John Adams, but Peter Stone who said it

October 1, 2013

It’s a great line, an almost-Mark Twain-ism that makes people of all political strips smile.  It’s attributed to John Adams:

I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called a disgrace; that two are called a law firm; and that three or more become a Congress!

There’s a problem: John Adams didn’t say it.

It’s a line from the 1969 Broadway musical comedy 1776!

The character John Adams in the play said it.  It’s art in pursuit of history, but it’s not really history.

Playwright Peter Stone, Theatrical Rights image

Playwright Peter Stone wrote the witticism attributed to John Adams.  Theatrical Rights image

We should more accurately attribute it to the play’s book’s author, Peter Stone.  What John Adams did not say about Congress, Peter Stone wrote.  Such wit deserves proper attribution.

Especially on a day when the U.S. Congress appears to be not only a collection of useless people, men and women, but useless people bent on destruction of our national institutions.  Congress has fallen down on the job, failing to play its vital, Constitutional role of appropriating money to run the government.

Stone’s mention of “law firms” gives away the quote’s origins being much later than Adams — Adams died, as you know, on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.   “Law firms” is 20th century language.

In an era of law firms so big the people in them cannot comprehend their size, such a statement might emerge.  The distaste with lawyers in the Stone quote also doesn’t ring to the times of the American Revolution.  Good lawyer jokes probably existed then, but they didn’t really rise until the lawyerly pettifogging of the 19th century — see Dickens’ Mr. Bumble in Chapter 51 of Oliver Twistor the entire text of Bleak House, for examples.  Law firms in 1776 simply did not exist as large corporations, but more often as an office of an individual lawyer, or two or three.  Mark Twain joked about Congress, but a joke about both Congress and lawyers probably was rare before 1910.  (I am willing to be disabused of this idea, if I am wrong . . . comments are open.)

Wikiquote’s rapid improvement provides us with a good check on whether Adams said it — Wikiquote points us clearly to Peter Stone instead.

Stone died in 2003, much underappreciated if you ask me.  Stone might be said to be among the greatest ghost speechwriters in history based on 1776! alone,  creating lines for John Adams, Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson — three of the greatest authors and (sometimes reluctant) speakers of their day, and of all history.  Stone’s plays include Titanic and Two by Two, his screenplays include Charade, Arabesque, Mirage, The Taking of Pelham 123, and Father Goose.  (The first two of those movies favorites of mine solely for the scores by Henry Mancini.)

1776! plays in revival in California’s Bay Area, at A.C.T. (see reviews from both the San Jose Mercury News and San Francisco Chronicle, linked below).  One might wish Congressmen today would see the play.  In 1776 the colonies in rebellion were unsure what to do next; the Declaration of Independence was not a foregone conclusion.  The amazing collection of men — unfortunately no women — who populated the Second Continental Congress were predisposed to find ways around their differences, to make wise policies, and to keep things functioning.  Rather than shut government down, they carefully instructed individual governments in the states to make preparations to operate without infusions of cash or policy direction from the Crown, even before deciding independence made sense.  In short, they were dedicated to making things work.

Ironic that so many remember Peter Stone’s slam of Congress as incompetent, when the rest of his play book demonstrates that particular congress of men took quite an opposite view of life, and created a model for leadership we marvel at today.

More:

This is an edited encore post, sadly made salient today by Congress’s inaction on required spending bills.

Photo from the San Francisco Chronicle: Jarrod Zimmerman, as Edward Rutledge, makes a passionate appeal to delegates of the Second Continental Congress in the Tony Award-winning musical

Useless men? Funny quip, but the Second Continental Congress was far from a group of useless men thrown together. Photo from the San Francisco Chronicle: Jarrod Zimmerman, as Edward Rutledge, makes a passionate appeal to delegates of the Second Continental Congress in the Tony Award-winning musical “1776,” coming to ACT. Photo: Juan Davila

 


Another hoax suckering conservatives? No, the Washington Navy yard shooter was not identified as a registered Democrat

September 30, 2013

As if it mattered.

Some poor minion, in thrall to the RWNJ Machine, Tweeted me today that all mass shooters have been Democrats. I know the family of one, who happened to be Republican.  The odds of all of them over the years (and we have about one mass shooting each week) being registered Democrats just defies statistical probability.  The Columbine shooters were not old enough to vote; the New Town shooter probably was not active politically in any way . . .

Masthead to National Report. C'mon would these guys lie to you?

Masthead to National Report. C’mon would these guys lie to you?

Oh, yeah, and the Hemingway™ Brand Solid Gold, Shock-proof Sh** Detector started clanging away.

I challenged him for a citation; he offered none, but kept tweeting badgering posts all afternoon . . . finally he named Aaron Alexis.  Well, if that were so, that would be one, not “all mass shooters.”  I suggested others who would not be Democrats . . .

Then, after I’d cooked, after I’d fed the critters, washed some dishes and sat down, I thought about.  Where’d he get the crazy idea that Aaron Alexis was politically involved at all?  Nothing in the Fort Worth or Dallas papers (he lived in Fort Worth for many months).  So I Googled it.  “Aaron Alexis Democrat.”

Here’s the story, at our increasingly least favorite site, National Report.  Out of nowhere, the National Report story claims Alexis was a Democrat.

NBC News has identified the suspect in the Washington D.C. Navy Yard shooting as Registered Democract Aaron Alexis, 34, originally of Ft. Worth, Texas (click here for report circulating on Twitter regarding the shooter). Alexis, allegedly a Muslim (possibly gay), was a civilian contractor who reportedly used the ID of a former employee to gain access into the facility. At this time, 13 people are reported dead and several others wounded.

None of the links in the story make any reference to voter registration or any other way of identifying the shooter as a Democrat.  Veering off into bizarre, tasteless parody, National Report said:

National Report has attempted to contact Darrell Issa’s office for information regarding an investigation into Obama’s involvement with this tragedy. Alex Jones has information regarding the attack that suggests this was a false flag operation to deter attention from Syria.

National Report extends its warmest wishes to the family and friends of those involved in this horrific attack.

These phrases are red flags for bad information:  “Alex Jones has information” and “false flag operation,” favorite phrases of unhinged conspiracy aficionados.  “Warmest wishes” seems a particularly inept and tasteless line.

Why would any reporter think the president was involved in any way, and unless the reporter had information California Rep. Darrell Issa was involved himself, why would he contact Issa’s Congressional office?  Congress would have no role whatsoever in any investigation at such an early phase.

“National Report” avatar for “Chase Logan.” A man running from the scene of a hoax?

The reporter is identified as “Chase Logan,” which is probably a pseudonym, a mashup  of “Chevy Chase-Logan Circle,” two neighborhoods in northern DC and Maryland.  Alleged to be a graduate of Georgetown Law, Chase Logan’s bio as a reporter looks like fiction.   This alleged reporter is also the wit who wrote the National Report story parody on a new “boobs” merit badge for Boy Scouts.

Taste, accuracy and information, are not in these people.

The claim that the Washington Navy Yard shooter was a Democrat is based in no report deeper than this horrible National Report story, and is a hoax.  Bogus claims from an established hoaxing site should not be given the respect and circulation this report got.  No other credible source makes the same claim.

When one spots “National Report” as a source, one may well bet that the information sourced there is false, aimed at the truly gullible.

More:

Twitter Wall of Shame, the Truly Gullible:

  • File these under “anatomy of the spread of a hoax infection”

This next guy was even told it was a hoax site he got the information from; he chose to dismiss the warnings.

Update:  Missed this one.

Joemel921 came back for another duping:

This guy figured it out, but his whistle-blowing was too subtle:

Original hoaxsters back for another round:

Hoaxsters push deeper into the desert sands:

I don’t see that MSNBC offered the information this guy claimed:

Real crazies start to crawl out, now:

Update January 11, 2014:  Good heavens, is this hoax still finding ill-informed, unthinking suckers?  Take a look at some of the other debunkers.


Yes, DDT is deadly to humans, as suicides demonstrate

September 16, 2013

One of the anti-environmental, anti-green false myths kicking around is that DDT is not harmful to humans, and therefore it probably shouldn’t have been banned, “and Rachel Carson was wrong.”

This poster from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service illustrates bioaccumulation, theprocess by which larger animals can be killed by acute DDT poisoning.

This poster from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service illustrates bioaccumulation, theprocess by which larger animals can be killed by acute DDT poisoning.

Reality is that DDT is a poison, but acute poisoning of large animals tends to take a lot.  Insectivorous animals or their predators can get those fatal amounts, but humans generally don’t.  DDT as a toxin kills mammals and birds and amphibians and reptiles and fish with equal alacrity, slowed only by the size of the organism and whether the organism’s diet consists of other things that consume and accumulate DDT.

Often that misperception is coupled with a claim that DDT does not cause cancer, and so should have its ban lifted.

But, the facts:

  • DDT is a neurotoxin; in accumulates in fat, and if enough of it courses through the blood of an animal at a given point, it kills off parts of the neurosystem including the brain.
  • DDT kills mammals (humans are mammals); in fact the U.S. Army argued to keep DDT on the market to use against bats that infested barracks in training camps (bats are mammals, too).  Death depends on the dose, which depends on body size.  Takes a fair amount to kill off a large mammal, quickly.  DDT is implicated in the near extinction of different species of migratory free-tail bats in the Southwest.
  • DDT is carcinogenic.  Fortunately for humans, it’s a weak carcinogen for most cancers, though research points to a troubling link to some cancers (breast, reproductive organs) that appear very late relative to exposure, especially if exposure to DDT occurs in utero, or in infancy.
  • DDT was not banned as a hazard to human health; it was banned as a hazard to wildlife.  DDT in almost all concentrations becomes an indiscriminate killer of wildlife when used outdoors.
  • DDT can kill humans with acute poisoning.

That last point isn’t easy to document in the U.S.  During the go-go DDT years there was one case of a young girl who drank from a prepared DDT solution, and died a short time later.  The incident was a tragedy, but not unique for the 1950s and 1960s.  It was written off to lax safety standards, and because it occurred long before the origin of on-line databases, essentially it has fallen out of history.  Just try to find a reference to the death today.

Partly, this lack of information on human toxicity is due to the fact that DDT use was slowing dramatically by the late 1960s (it was becoming ineffective), and after the ban in 1972, there were few cases in the U.S. where humans were exposed to the stuff, except in emissions from DDT manufacturing plants.  EPA’s order banning DDT in the U.S. applied only to agricultural use, and the chief agricultural use remaining was on cotton.  Manufacturing was not banned, however, which meant U.S. DDT makers could continue to pump the stuff out and sell it overseas, in Africa, and Asia.  This continued right up to that day in 1984 that U.S. companies became subject to damage for the poisons they make under the Superfund law — almost every DDT maker declared bankruptcy to escape liability in the weeks before the Superfund became effective, saddling taxpayers with a few dozen Superfund sites to be cleaned up on the taxpayer’s dime.

DDT has never been banned in Africa or Asia, however.  And there we find a badly-documented history of people poisoning themselves with DDT, usually in suicides.

Whatever other pathologies these cases may exhibit, they reveal that DDT does, indeed, kill humans.

Like this recent case, from Ghana; yes, that’s the illustration used in the newspaper; from the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation:

Sep 11, 2013 at 11:52am
Man commits suicide over wife’s confession

Benjamin Kwaku Owusu, a 40-year-old former Manager of Unity Oil Filling Station in Suhum, has committed suicide by drinking DDT Gamullio 20 insecticide.

A family spokesperson who spoke to the Ghana News Agency on condition of anonymity said Owusu and his wife lived at Suhum and had been married for five years but never had a child.

He said the situation often developed into misunderstanding between them but later the wife got pregnant and left for her home town.

According to the spokesperson, whiles Owusu was preparing for the wife to deliver, he had a shocking message from the wife that the pregnancy belonged to another man and not him.

He said Owusu, who had a shock, rushed into his room and drunk the DDT Insecticide and fell unconscious.

“Owusu was rushed to the hospital but died soon after he was admitted,” he said.

When the police at Suhum was contacted, they confirmed the story and said the body of the deceased had since been buried after post mortem examination at the Suhum Government Hospital.

GNA

Not sure what “Gamullio 20″ means, but it seems to be the brand name of the poison used.

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Just stay quiet: Poster hoax about the Pledge of Allegiance

September 15, 2013

Anybody send this to you on Facebook (100 times, maybe?)

Hoax claims about the Pledge of Allegiance, found on Facebook and innumerable e-mails

Hoax claims about the Pledge of Allegiance, found on Facebook and innumerable e-mails

Clever, eh?  It repeats the McCarthy-era editing of the Pledge of Allegiance, and then comes up with this whopper:

. . . My generation grew up reciting this every morning in school, with my hand on my heart.  They no longer do that for fear of offending someone!

Let’s see how many Americans will re-post and not care about offending someone!

Not quite so long-lived as the Millard Fillmore Bathtub Hoax — which started in 1917 — but a lot more common these days.

Just as false.  Maybe more perniciously so.

Consider:

  1. Actually, 45 of our 50 states require the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools.  The five exceptions:  Iowa, Hawaii, Oklahoma, Vermont and Wyoming.  See any pattern there?
  2. None of the five states previously required the Pledge, and then stopped.
  3. None of the five states claim to not require the pledge in order to avoid offending anyone.  Oklahoma would be happy to offend people on such issues, most of the time.
  4. Reposting historically inaccurate claims, without fear of offending anyone, is no virtue.  It’s just silly.

The creator of that poster is probably well under the age of 50, and may have grown up with the hand-over-heart salute used after World War II.  That was not the original salute, and I’d imagine the author is wholly ignorant of the original and why it was changed.

Students pledging to the flag, 1899, 8th Division, Washington, D.C. Part of the Frances Benjamin Johnston 1890 - 1900 Washington, D.C., school survey.

Wikipedia image and caption: Students pledging to the flag, 1899, 8th Division, Washington, D.C. Part of the Frances Benjamin Johnston 1890 – 1900 Washington, D.C., school survey.

Wikipedia gives a concise history of the salute:

Swearing of the Pledge is accompanied by a salute. An early version of the salute, adopted in 1892, was known as the Bellamy salute. It started with the hand outstretched toward the flag, palm down, and ended with the palm up. Because of the similarity between the Bellamy salute and the Nazi salute, developed later, the United States Congress instituted the hand-over-the-heart gesture as the salute to be rendered by civilians during the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem in the United States, instead of the Bellamy salute. Removal of the Bellamy salute occurred on December 22, 1942, when Congress amended the Flag Code language first passed into law on June 22, 1942.

Students in an unnamed school in 1941, offering the Bellamy Salute for the Pledge of Allegiance.

Students in an unnamed school in 1941, offering the Bellamy Salute for the Pledge of Allegiance. Wikipedia image.

One might understand why the Bellamy Salute was changed, during war with Nazi Germany.

Arrogance and ignorance combine to form many different kinds of prejudices, all of them ugly.  The arrogant assumption that only “our generation” learned patriotism and that whatever goes on in schools today is not as good as it was “in our day,” regardless how many decades it’s been since the speaker was in a public school, compounds the ignorance of the fact that since 1980, forced patriotic exercises in schools have increased, not decreased.

Like much about our nation’s troubles, assumptions based on ignorance often are incorrect assumptions.  Consequently, they give rise to what is today clinically known as the Dunning Kruger Effect (or syndrome), so elegantly summed by by Bertrand Russell in the 1930s:

The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.

Humorously summed up by “Kin” Hubbard:

It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so.

Ignorance is a terrible disease, but one easily cured, by reading.  We can hope.

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Quote of the moment: Mark Twain, “death was an exaggeration”

September 3, 2013

Words of encouragement in tough times, from Samuel Clemens, writing as Mark Twain:

” . . . the report of my death was an exaggeration.” Mark Twain

The note was published in the New York Journal, June 2, 1897.  While it’s true that Twain wrote this, most popular citations have added and rearranged words.

Text of the note:

James Ross Clemens, a cousin of mine was seriously ill two or three weeks ago in London, but is well now.  The report of my illness grew out of his illness, the report of my death was an exaggeration.

Mark Twain with kitten, in 1907 - Wikipedia image

Mark Twain with kitten, in 1907 – Wikipedia image


Quote of the moment: James Madison, education, or farce and tragedy

August 31, 2013

James Madison Building, Library of Congress -- the official Madison Memorial

James Madison Building of the Library of Congress, the official James Madison Memorial for the nation


A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it,
is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or perhaps both.
Knowledge will forever govern ignorance.

And a people who mean to be their own governours,
must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.

– James Madison in a letter to W. T. Barry, August 4, 1822

This is an encore post, partly.

Photo of inscription to the left (north) of the main entrance on Independence Ave., of the James Madison Building, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Photo of inscription to the left (north) of the main entrance on Independence Ave., of the James Madison Building, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

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Remembering Leonidas and the 300 Spartans: died August 11, 480 B.C.

August 11, 2013

300 popped up on some movie channel back in 2008 as I was preparing to teach world history again.  I did not major in history, and my high school history instruction featured no AP courses (Pleasant Grove High, in Utah, didn’t offer such things then; I assume they do now, but I don’t know).

What I knew about Sparta and the stand of the 300 at Thermopylae came from my reading encyclopedias as a child, and culture.  Never had an occasion to write a speech about the events, though had I known the history better, I might have found some opportunity.  Sen. Orrin Hatch would have loved a compare and contrast speech between the stand of the Spartans and his work against the labor law reform bill in 1977 and 1978; more likely, we could have used the simple historical facts that the stand of the 300 at the same place today would be impossible due to poor soil conservation practices of the local farmers, which has created a plain broad enough for a Persian Army to march through with impunity, never fearing drowning in the sea that no longer exists there.  Thermopylae is a grand historical metaphor for a good orator.  The simple facts of history are important, too — Churchill knew Herodotus’s stories well, and considered them when planning military actions in the area in two world wars.

The movie came up from students in the previous year; it offered, perhaps, a hook for an introduction to world history, explaining why we bother to study it at all.

I got a time delay recording to watch it, which I did, mostly.  Interesting stylization.  Cartoonish characterizations, which one should expect from a movie intended as homage to the graphic novel that directly spawned it, more than an instruction about history.  We might doubt that the Persians had trained and armored rhinoceroses in their armament.  Dialogue — well, this is Hollywood.  It would have been in some dialect of Greek, and no Hollywood scriptwriter would have been able to reproduce it.

What about the battle itself.  World history courses in U.S. high schools should pay attention to this battle, I think.

A monument to Leonidas I - Inscription, Molon Lave, which roughly translates to Come and get it!

A monument to Leonidas I – Inscription, “Molon Lave,” which roughly translates to “Come and get it!”

Several sources dated the climax of the battle as August 11, 480 B.C. — 2,493 years ago. (The battle is said to have occurred during the Olympics that year, too.)

World history classes dig through that period of history in the first semester.  Teachers, it’s time to think about how we’re going to facilitate this history this year.  As always, some bright student will wave a hand in the air and ask, “Mr. Darrell!  How do they know what happened if no one survived, and nobody had their Sony videocorder?”

At least one other student in the course of the day will be surprised to discover the movie wasn’t a filmed-on-the-spot documentary.  But apart from that, how do we know the events well enough to pin it down to one day?  And, since the Greeks surely didn’t use the Gregorian calendar, since it wasn’t invented until the 18th century — how do we know the date?

The short answer is “Herodotus.”  The longer answer may resonate better:  This is one dramatic battle in a year-long fight for the history of the world.  The Greeks were understandably and justifiably proud that they had turned back Xerxes’s armies and navy (The Battle of Salamis, a bit after Thermopylae).  So, these events were preserved in poetry, in the chronicles, in song, in sculpture, and in every other medium available to the Greeks.  Your AP English students will probably tell you the movie reminds them of The IliadThere’s an entré for discussion.

Turning points in history:  Had Xerxes succeeded in avenging his father’s, Darius’s, defeats, and subjugated the Greeks, history would be much different.  The culture the Romans built on, the trading patterns from east to west and around the Mediterranean, the technologies, the myths, and the stories of the battles, would be different. (Remember, one of Darius’s defeats was at the Battle of Marathon, from which we get the modern marathon racing event, the traditional close of the modern Olympics.)

How do we know?  How do we know?

How do you handle that question?  (Tell us in comments, please.)

I like this battle for the way it ties together many of the loose threads that vex high school sophomores.  Is history exciting?  It can be, as the Frank Miller graphic novel and and the Zack Snyder movie demonstrate.  How important is accuracy in making the story exciting?  (Do the rhinoceroses improve the story of the courage of the Spartans, or merely offer a good graphical metaphor for the overwhelming forces of the Persians?)  What happens when one nation invades another — who has the advantage?  Is knowledge of geography important — in battle, for example?  The philosopher Santayana notes that those who do not remember history are “condemned” to repeat it.  Xerxes tried to apply the lessons of the history of his father’s failed invasion; was he successful?  Remember this point:  Napoleon failed in his invasion of Russia in 1812; Adolf Hitler assigned his generals to study Napoleon’s failure, for Germany’s invasion of Russia in 1941; so convinced were the Germans that they knew the lessons, they invade Russia on the anniversary of Napoleon’s invasion.  Did it go any better?  George Washington consciously patterned his life on the great Roman warrior and leader, Cincinnatus — especially in turning over rule once the task was done, as Washington did twice.  What if Washington had, instead, patterned his life after Leonidas?  How might the American Revolution have turned out, and how might the United States have developed, had Washington sacrificed himself as Leonidas did?

The story of the Battle of Thermopylea, the bravery and cunning tactics of Leonidas and the 300, the wars between Persia and the Greek City States, form a good foundation for a study of history at any point after.  It is the stuff of great history, and the stuff of great rhetoric.  It could be the stuff of great AP essays and good writing exercises in general.   Damn the Common Core State Standards*, and damn the misguided Texas critics of CSCOPE, this is a topic I wish more world history teachers would spend some good, profitable time on

Resources and commentary on Thermopylae, Leonidas, and the 300:

More:

Livius.org map of the area where the Battle of Thermopylae was fought

Livius.org map of the area where the Battle of Thermopylae was fought. Note that, in purple, the map shows where a plain now exists, which was an ocean the Spartans could use to squeeze the Persian Army, about 25 centuries ago. What a difference 25 centuries can make.

_____________

*  Common Core State Standards in social studies actually would support what I’m asking here, if only they weren’t filtered through state school boards who do not value scholarship, but instead wish history to be a checklist of faux-patriotic bullet points to regurgitate.  Here in Texas, we are not affected by Common Core — but we are affected by meddling in history standards by people whose agenda does not include making history exciting and good.  Common Core standards — technically — do not mention Thermopylae.  However, this is the sort of material, including the original texts of Herodotus, whose study the Common Core standards encourage, especially for analysis of the sort I think Thermopylae invites.  Texas TEKS allow mention of the battle, though the Battle of Thermopylae has been purged from the actual standards; Texas lesson plans frequently suggest “watching a film on the Battle of Thermopylae,” and “Answer questions on the battle; trade and grade.”  Teachers infuse those dull words with life — we hope.  Teachers’ actual practice in the classroom is the saving grace for this important history, in Texas; Texas world history teachers face their own Xerxes.  The Texas Lege recently removed the requirement that students study world history, instead giving them a choice of either world history or world geography.  And so the dumbing down of history by (probably well-meaning, but not well-thinking) legislators continues.


Edward Tufte channels Richard Feynman

August 6, 2013

Tufte writes at great length — well, writes and demonstrates — about yellow warning signs.  (Yes, that Edward Tufte.)

In one of his demonstrations, the art comes from the ideas and sayings of Richard Feynman.

Edward Tufte makes art out of Feynman's ideas.

Edward Tufte makes art out of Feynman’s ideas. Sorta. Edward Tufte, Nature Cannot Be Fooled, print on canvas, 78″ x 27 ½”, edition of 3

This guy makes money doing that? What kind of charmed life is that?

More:

Just how fitting is it that Tufte uses the words of Feynman, probably more famous for Feynman diagrams than the work that got him a Nobel?

English: Picture of a Feynman diagram, inscrib...

“Picture of a Feynman diagram, inscribed by Richard P. Feynman to me [who MFB has not identified], in my copy of Volume 3 of his Feynman Lectures on Physics (Quantum Mechanics). Picture taken by self. if you can’t read the symbols, they are \gamma_\mu to \gamma_\mu and 1/q^2 .” Wikipedia image

English: Edward Tufte giving a class and holdi...

Edward Tufte giving a class and holding a scanned copy of a first edition book by Galileo. Wikipedia image


Annals of ObamaCare: Restaurant hiring increased since the bill passed

July 30, 2013

Watch the charts, get the facts.  Obamacare is working well.

First, let’s look at the food service industry.  Hoaxsters claim that restaurants are cutting hours of employees and refusing to hire, to avoid the law. Not so.

Growth in restaurant employment and sales since Affordable Care Act was signed into law

Growth in restaurant employment and sales since Affordable Care Act was signed into law

So food service establishments — restaurants — have experienced sales and employment growth as has the rest of the economy during the Obama administration.  What about employees?  Are restaurants cutting back their hours to avoid providing benefits to employees?  Evidence suggests the opposite:  Hours worked per employee are increasing.  Go to the chart:

Average weekly hours worked in restaurants, per employee, since the Affordable Care Act became law

Average weekly hours worked in restaurants, per employee, since the Affordable Care Act became law

These are the official figures from the White House.  More [links added here]:

During the four years since the recession ended in June 2009, 87% of the increase in employment has been due to a rise in the number of workers in full-time jobs. And looking at the period since ACA was signed in March 2010, more than 90% of the rise in employment has been due to workers in full-time jobs. Moreover, the length of the average workweek for private sector production and nonsupervisory employees has returned to its level at the start of the Great Recession.

And while the number of involuntary part-time workers has declined roughly in line with previous recoveries, it spiked up 322,000 in June. However, nearly 30 percent of the June increase was due to federal employees. This suggests that furloughs contributed to the pickup in part-time employment.

These observations strongly suggest that the Affordable Care Act has not constrained growth in hiring or work hours. So what is the ACA doing? It’s slowing the growth rate of health care costs for consumers, creating new incentives for providers to raise the quality of care, and adding new transparency and accountability in the insurance marketplace—all steps that help the economy.

ObamaCare is working — the Affordable Care Act has provided cheaper health care, much broader insurance coverage, better health — and seems to be stimulating industry, too.

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