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?


What exactly did Thomas Edison say about the theory of relativity?

March 29, 2014

Need some scholarly help here.  I worry that what I want isn’t available in print, and perhaps not at all on the internet.

Thomas Edison at 80, in 1927

Thomas Edison at 80, in 1927; from Edison After 40: Edison’s career coincided with the widespread use of photography. During his lifetime he sat several times for professional portrait photographers. In addition, most of the time there was a photographer at the laboratory, recording the historic course of events.

Remember the old “Garry Moore Show?”  In the farming and  not-quite-suburban towns where I spent my first 18 years, Garry  Moore was a popular guy.  Today he might be remembered as the variety show host who pushed to get Carol Burnett on television, and helped her early career.  In his own right, he was a television staple — MC for daytime quiz shows, night-time quiz shows, and a couple of variety programs that entertained those of us living in what was then the greater American community, but is today too often mislabeled as “fly-over land.”

Garry Moore, Carol Burnett, and Durward Kirby, in a publicity still photo from 1961's

Garry Moore, Carol Burnett, and Durward Kirby, in a publicity still photo from 1961′s “Garry Moore Show.” Wikipedia

In one of his variety programs (probably called “The Garry Moore Show”) he featured a weekly pirouette through history using old photos and old films, “That Wonderful, Wonderful Year.”  In that time before home VCRs, historical films were difficult and expensive to come by (some still are).  These vignette and skit views into history were often unique.  Hey, it was an entertainment show.

(That’s a long set-up.)

One of those history romps featured a film interview with Thomas Edison, in his 80s.  I recall it was on the event of Edison’s 86th birthday, but don’t hold me to that — especially since he didn’t live to 86 (1847-1931; this is a demonstration of the faults of memory, especially mine).

The interviewer asked Edison, the inventor and practical applicator of chemistry and physics, what he thought of new science, specifically, Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity.  Edison’s answer was direct, honest and startling — so much so that I wrote it down on a long-lost notepad.

‘I don’t think anything of Einstein’s theory of relativity,’ Edison said, ‘because I don’t understand it.’

Can you help me track down exactly what Edison said about relativity, and where and when?


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: Darwin, on confidence begotten by ignorance

February 12, 2014

Italian panel depicting Charles Darwin, created ca. 1890, on display at the Turin Museum of Human Anatomy. Wikimedia image

Italian panel depicting Charles Darwin, created ca. 1890, on display at the Turin Museum of Human Anatomy. Wikimedia image.  Darwin sits contemplating two of his works, title in Italian, Origin of Species (1859), and Descent of Man (Origin of Man), 1871

How could I have forgotten this wonderful passage from Darwin?

Maria Popova’s Literary Jukebox reminded me today.

Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.

– Charles Darwin, Descent of Man; Introduction, p. 2.

Today was the 205th anniversary of Darwin’s birth.

Faithful readers of this blog may recognize Darwin’s thought as very close to a description of the Dunning Kruger Effect, as indeed it is.  How many others, through the years, recognized the phenomenon, and commented on it, before Dunning and Kruger gave it scientific heft?

The quote attributed to Darwin is edited just a tiny bit from his actual statement, though without loss of effect.  Darwin, ever the hard science stickler, had limited his statement much more.  In the introduction to Descent of Man, Darwin wrote:

This work contains hardly any original facts in regard to man; but as the conclusions at which I arrived, after drawing up a rough draft, appeared to me interesting, I thought that they might interest others. It has often and confidently been asserted, that man’s origin can never be known: but ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science. The conclusion that man is the co-descendant with other species of some ancient, lower, and extinct form, is not in any degree new.

Any way the knowledge is sliced, creationists are cock-sure they’re right, when they are most solidly in the wrong.


Quote of the moment, encore: President asks the Senate Majority Leader for help on the debt ceiling issue, November 16, 1983

November 16, 2013

Ronald Reagan addressing the nation from the Oval Office. Image via USGovInfo.About.com

Ronald Reagan addressing the nation from the Oval Office. Image via USGovInfo.About.com

In a letter to the Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate, the President wrote:

This letter is to ask for your help and support, and that of your colleagues, in the passage of an increase in the limit on the public debt.

As [the Treasury Secretary] has told you, the Treasury’s cash balances have reached a dangerously low point.  Henceforth the Treasury Department cannot guarantee that the Federal Government will have sufficient cash on any one day to meet all of its mandated expenses, and thus the United States could be forced to default on its obligations for the first time in history.

This country now possesses the strongest credit in the world.  The full consequences of a default — or even the serious prospect of default — by the United States are impossible to predict and awesome to contemplate.  Denigration of the full faith and credit of the United States would have substantial effects on the domestic financial markets and on the value of the dollar in exchange markets.  The Nation can ill afford to allow such a result.  The risks, the costs, the disruptions, and the incalculable damage lead me to but one conclusion:  the Senate must pass this legislation before the Congress adjourns.

I want to thank you for your immediate attention to this urgent problem, and for your assistance in passing an extenstion of the debt ceiling.

Sincerely,

         Ronald Reagan

True then.  Still true now.

Letter from President Ronald Reagan to Senate Majority Leader Sen. Howard Baker, R-Tennessee, November 16, 1983.  The Treasury Secretary at the time was Donald Regan.

Tip of the old scrub brush to mainstream media pillar, The Washington Post, where a .pdf of the letter is available.

More:

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Quote of the Moment, October 29, 1941: Churchill, ‘never give in’

October 29, 2013

 Churchill speaking at the Albert Hall in London, 1944, at an American Thanksgiving Celebration.  Churchill Centre image

Churchill speaking at the Albert Hall in London, 1944, at an American Thanksgiving Celebration. Churchill Centre image

Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense!

Winston S. Churchill, address to the boys of Harrow School, October 29, 1941.

More:

This is much an encore post, from 2007, with material added.

 


Sourcing Thomas Jefferson quotes: “A country with no border . . .” Jefferson didn’t say it

October 2, 2013

Way back in 2012 I wrote this:

A group calling itself “Patriotic Moms” claims to quote Thomas Jefferson:

Thomas Jefferson 3x4

Thomas Jefferson said a lot, and kept careful records of about 15,000 letters — but did he ever say a country without a border is not a country? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“A country with no Border is not a country.”

I can’t find that in Jefferson’s writings.  Anybody know if Jefferson said or wrote anything like that?  Got a citation?

Is this another fake Jefferson quote?

More, reference:

Here we are, over a year later, and this does not appear in any form that I think we can say Jefferson said it, or wrote it.  It’s not in any Jefferson collection I can find.

Perhaps even more telling, our old friend Higginbotham finds a solid attribution to former Congressman Mike Pence (now Governor of Indiana), introducing a bill in Congress in 2005.

The judges rule Jefferson did not say “A country with no border is not a country.”  Neither did he say “A nation with no border is not a nation.”  In his bogus quote, neither did he add “secure” before the last “country” or “nation.”

It’s a misattributed quote, a bogus quote, a distortion of history, whatever epithet you wish to impale it on.  But it’s not from the canon of Thomas Jefferson wisdom.  It’s been flying around the internet this past week, and my earlier post has increased activity. Perhaps immigration is about to heat up as an issue?   Time to put this canard down.

Here’s one thing that should make you very wary of any quote in any similar circumstance:  No one seems to know what the occasion was that Jefferson made the remark, nor the date, nor the format.  Jefferson’s writings are extensively indexed, and he kept copies himself of about 15,000 letters, for the sake of history.  If you can’ t find it quickly, he probably didn’t say it.

More, in 2013:


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

 


Quote of the moment: Carl Sagan, on perspective on our own lives

September 14, 2013

You’ve heard the news by now: Voyager I has left the system.

What are we to think of that?

Earth, Moon, Mars, Jupiter -- what you see depends on where you are, in reality as well as metaphorically.

Earth, Moon, Mars, Jupiter — what you see depends on where you are, in reality as well as metaphorically.

” . . . astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience.”

- Carl Sagan on how images of Earth from space change our perspective

Sagan’s words in the full passage impart a larger message, about caring for our planet and our neighbors on it.

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

Carl SaganPale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, 1997 reprint, pp. xv–xvi

In other words, we’re on our own.  What are we going to do about that?

Tip of the old scrub brush to Hashem Al-ghaili for making this image! https://www.facebook.com/ScienceNaturePage, and to All Science, All the Time.

Hey, if I had the program and the time to fix the misspelled planet, I would. Also, it would be good to have photo credits.

More:

Voyager I photo of the Earth from outside Jupiter's orbit - the Pale Blue Dot photo

This is the photo that inspired Sagan’s reflection, as opposed to the photos in the poster mashup above. Via Wikipedia, with captions. ¶Seen from about 6 billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles), Earth appears as a tiny dot (the blueish-white speck approximately halfway down the brown band to the right) within the darkness of deep space. ¶This narrow-angle color image of the Earth, dubbed ‘Pale Blue Dot’, is a part of the first ever ‘portrait’ of the solar system taken by Voyager 1. The spacecraft acquired a total of 60 frames for a mosaic of the solar system from a distance of more than 4 billion miles from Earth and about 32 degrees above the ecliptic. From Voyager’s great distance Earth is a mere point of light, less than the size of a picture element even in the narrow-angle camera. Earth was a crescent only 0.12 pixel in size. Coincidentally, Earth lies right in the center of one of the scattered light rays resulting from taking the image so close to the sun. This blown-up image of the Earth was taken through three color filters – violet, blue and green – and recombined to produce the color image. The background features in the image are artifacts resulting from the magnification.

 


Quiz answer: Who ratted out the Republicans like this, and when?

September 3, 2013

I said earlier that you may wish to file this under o tempora, o mores; or perhaps under plus ça change.  

These words seem oddly, perhaps astonishingly appropriate to political discussion today.  They come from the past, from more than a half-century ago, but they refer to issues that have not yet been solved, and to issues that were resolved, but have come undone, or just come around again.

GOP vs. Dems. Image from Addicting Information.

GOP vs. Dems. Image from Addicting Information, “15 differences between Democrats and Republicans.”

I posed this a quiz in a post a couple of days ago.

Does history repeat itself?  George Santayana said history repeats for those who forget what happened before.

Here’s a political speech given in Minnesota.  Without hitting Google, can you tell who said this, and when?

Democracy does not work that way. Democracy is a matter of faith–a faith in the soul of man–a faith in human rights. That is the kind of faith that moves mountains–that’s the kind of faith that hurled the Iron Range at the Axis and shook the world at Hiroshima.

Faith is much more than efficiency. Faith gives value to all things. Without faith, the people perish.

Today the forces of liberalism face a crisis. The people of the United States must make a choice between two ways of living–a decision, which will affect us the rest of our lives and our children and our grandchildren after us.

On the other side, there is the Wall Street way of life and politics. Trust the leader! Let big business take care of prices and profits! Measure all things by money! That is the philosophy of the masters of the Republican Party.

Well, I have been studying the Republican Party for over 12 years at close hand in the Capital of the United States. And by this time, I have discovered where the Republicans stand on most of the major issues.

Since they won’t tell you themselves, I am going to tell you.

They approve of the American farmer-but they are willing to help him go broke.

They stand four-square for the American home–but not for housing.

They are strong for labor–but they are stronger for restricting labor’s rights.

They favor a minimum wage–the smaller the minimum the better.

They indorse educational opportunity for all–but they won’t spend money for teachers or for schools.

They think modern medical care and hospitals are fine–for people who can afford them.

They approve of social security benefits-so much so that they took them away from almost a million people.

They believe in international trade–so much so that they crippled our reciprocal trade program, and killed our International Wheat Agreement.

They favor the admission of displaced persons–but only within shameful racial and religious limitations.

They consider electric power a great blessing-but only when the private power companies get their rake-off.

They say TVA is wonderful–but we ought never to try it again.

They condemn “cruelly high prices”–but fight to the death every effort to bring them down.

They think the American standard of living is a fine thing–so long as it doesn’t spread to all the people.

And they admire the Government of the United States so much that they would like to buy it.

Now, my friends, that is the Wall Street Republican way of life. But there is another way–there is another way–the Democratic way, the way of the Democratic Party.

Of course, the Democratic Party is not perfect. Nobody ever said it was. But the Democratic Party believes in the people. It believes in freedom and progress, and it is fighting for its beliefs right now.

In the Democratic Party, you won’t find the kind of unity where everybody thinks what the boss tells him to think, and nothing else.

But you will find an overriding purpose to work for the good of mankind. And you will find a program–a concrete, realistic, and practical program that is worth believing in and fighting for.

Now, I call on all liberals and progressives to stand up and be counted for democracy in this great battle. I call on the old Farmer-Labor Party, the old Wisconsin Progressives, the Non-Partisan Leaguers, and the New Dealers to stand up and be counted in this fight.

What clues does that passage contain that it wasn’t said in the past year?  Or was it?

I’ll post the answer in a day or so — take a guess in comments.

James said it was Harry Truman, and indeed it was.

President Harry S Truman, image from UCSB American Presidency Project

President Harry S Truman, image from UCSB American Presidency Project

Truman spoke to a crowd in Minnesota, in the St. Paul Municipal Auditorium, on October 13, 1948, about three weeks before the 1948 election in which he “upset” New York Gov. Thomas Dewey.  This was part of Truman’s famous Whistle Stop speaking tour of the U.S.

If the words look like they could have been said today, perhaps we should pay attention to them today, no?

Surely someone has a photograph of Truman speaking in St. Paul — but I haven’t found it yet.

More:


Who ratted out the Republicans like this, and when?

September 2, 2013

You may wish to file this under o tempora, o mores; or perhaps under plus ça change.  

GOP vs. Dems. Image from Addicting Information.

GOP vs. Dems. Image from Addicting Information, “15 differences between Democrats and Republicans.”

 

Does history repeat itself?  George Santayana said history repeats for those who forget what happened before.

Here’s a political speech given in Minnesota.  Without hitting Google, can you tell who said this, and when?

Democracy does not work that way. Democracy is a matter of faith–a faith in the soul of man–a faith in human rights. That is the kind of faith that moves mountains–that’s the kind of faith that hurled the Iron Range at the Axis and shook the world at Hiroshima.

Faith is much more than efficiency. Faith gives value to all things. Without faith, the people perish.

Today the forces of liberalism face a crisis. The people of the United States must make a choice between two ways of living–a decision, which will affect us the rest of our lives and our children and our grandchildren after us.

On the other side, there is the Wall Street way of life and politics. Trust the leader! Let big business take care of prices and profits! Measure all things by money! That is the philosophy of the masters of the Republican Party.

Well, I have been studying the Republican Party for over 12 years at close hand in the Capital of the United States. And by this time, I have discovered where the Republicans stand on most of the major issues.

Since they won’t tell you themselves, I am going to tell you.

They approve of the American farmer-but they are willing to help him go broke.

They stand four-square for the American home–but not for housing.

They are strong for labor–but they are stronger for restricting labor’s rights.

They favor a minimum wage–the smaller the minimum the better.

They indorse educational opportunity for all–but they won’t spend money for teachers or for schools.

They think modern medical care and hospitals are fine–for people who can afford them.

They approve of social security benefits-so much so that they took them away from almost a million people.

They believe in international trade–so much so that they crippled our reciprocal trade program, and killed our International Wheat Agreement.

They favor the admission of displaced persons–but only within shameful racial and religious limitations.

They consider electric power a great blessing-but only when the private power companies get their rake-off.

They say TVA is wonderful–but we ought never to try it again.

They condemn “cruelly high prices”–but fight to the death every effort to bring them down.

They think the American standard of living is a fine thing–so long as it doesn’t spread to all the people.

And they admire the Government of the United States so much that they would like to buy it.

Now, my friends, that is the Wall Street Republican way of life. But there is another way–there is another way–the Democratic way, the way of the Democratic Party.

Of course, the Democratic Party is not perfect. Nobody ever said it was. But the Democratic Party believes in the people. It believes in freedom and progress, and it is fighting for its beliefs right now.

In the Democratic Party, you won’t find the kind of unity where everybody thinks what the boss tells him to think, and nothing else.

But you will find an overriding purpose to work for the good of mankind. And you will find a program–a concrete, realistic, and practical program that is worth believing in and fighting for.

Now, I call on all liberals and progressives to stand up and be counted for democracy in this great battle. I call on the old Farmer-Labor Party, the old Wisconsin Progressives, the Non-Partisan Leaguers, and the New Dealers to stand up and be counted in this fight.

What clues does that passage contain that it wasn’t said in the past year?  Or was it?

I’ll post the answer in a day or so — take a guess in comments.


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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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?

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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


Quote of the moment, still: John Adams, July 2 “the most memorable Epocha in the History of America”

July 2, 2013

“The Second Day of July 1776 will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. . . . It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires, and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”
John Adams to Abigail Adams, July 3, 1776

1776 filled the calendar with dates deserving of remembrance and even celebration. John Adams, delegate from Massachusetts to the Second Continental Congress, wrote home to his wife Abigail that future generations would celebrate July 2, the date the Congress voted to approve Richard Henry Lee’s resolution declaring independence from Britain for 13 of the British colonies in America.

Continental congress DSC_0607

Scene of the crime — Independence Hall in Philadelphia, where the Second Continental congress approved the resolution to declare the colonies independent from Britain – (Photo credit: diablodale)

Two days later, that same Congress approved the wording of the document Thomas Jefferson had drafted to announce Lee’s resolution to the world.

Today, we celebrate the date of the document Jefferson wrote, and Richard Henry Lee is often a reduced to a footnote, if not erased from history altogether.

Who can predict the future?

(You know, of course, that Adams and Jefferson both died 50 years to the day after the Declaration of Independence, on July 4, 1826. In the 50 intervening years, Adams and Jefferson were comrades in arms and diplomacy in Europe, officers of the new government in America, opposing candidates for the presidency, President and Vice President, ex-President and President, bitter enemies, then long-distance friends writing almost daily about how to make a great new nation. Read David McCullough‘s version of the story, if you can find it.)

(Yes, this is mostly an encore post.)

More, and Related articles:

The Lee Resolution.

The Lee Resolution, passed by the Second Continental Congress on July 2, 1776 – Wikipedia image (Wait a minute: Are those numbers added correctly? What are they?)


Quote of the moment: Reorganization creates illusion of progress, and demoralization – Charlton Ogburn

May 31, 2013

Historian and birder Charlton Ogburn, right.

Historian and birder Charlton Ogburn, right.

We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we would be reorganized. Presumably the plans for our employment were being changed. I was to learn later in life that, perhaps because we are so good at organizing, we tend as a nation to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.

This quotation is often misattributed to one Greek philosopher or another, or to the Roman Petronius.

Cover of "The Marauders"

Cover of The Marauders

Ogburn’s magazine article became the basis for his book, The Marauders. In turn, that was the basis for a movie, Merrill’s Marauders.  In the book, the quote is different:

As a result, I suppose, of high-level changes of mind about how we were to be used, we went though several reorganizations. Perhaps because Americans as a nation have a gift for organizing, we tend to meet any new situation by reorganization, and a wonderful method it is for creating the illusion of progress at the mere cost of confusion, inefficiency and demoralization.

  • The Marauders (1959), chapter 2, page 60 (attributed)

My old friend Frank Hewlett had been a correspondent in the South Pacific and Southeast Asia, including Burma, during World War II.  Frank told me that he had been the first to call the American group “Merrill’s Marauders” in a war news dispatch on the progress the group made.  He did not get any credit for the book or movie title, but he said it was great that any group of soldiers that worked that well got popular attention for their work.  I’ve never found Hewlett’s dispatches from that period, but I’ve never found anything else he told me to be inaccurate.

In serious corporate reorganizations, or in corporate culture change operations, this quote is usually trotted out in opposition to whatever the proposed change may be.  Generally reorganizers will dismiss the thing as fictional, in at least one case claiming that renegade corporate leader Bob Townsend made it up.

In our work at Committing to Leadership at American Airlines, CEO Bob Crandall actually read the full quote (misattributed at the time), and observed that it was probably true — but not a good reason to stop a needed reorganization.  Crandall pointed to the last sentence, and said that a good manager’s job is to make sure that reorganization creates real success, not just an illusion of action, and that any good manager will recognize that reorganizations offer the danger of demoralization and confusion.  Those are problems to be managed, Crandall said, not fates that cannot be avoided.

Do you find Ogburn’s snippet of wisdom to be true? So what?

More:

Merrill's Marauders (film)

Advertising poster for Merrill’s Marauders; Wikipedia image


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