Darwin’s death, April 19, 1882, and his legacy today

April 19, 2014

This is an encore post.

We shouldn’t pass April 19 — a day marked by significant historic events through the past couple hundred years — without remembering that it is also the anniversary of the death of Darwin.

Charles Darwin in 1881, by John Collier

Charles Darwin in 1881, portrait by John Collier; after a Collier painting hanging in the Royal Society

Immortality?  Regardless Darwin’s religious beliefs (I’ll argue he remained Christian, thank you, if you wish to argue), he achieved immortality solely on the strength of his brilliant work in science. Of course he’s best known for being the first to figure out that natural and sexual selection worked as tools to sculpt species over time, a theory whose announcement he shared with Alfred Russel Wallace, who independently arrived at almost exactly the same theory but without the deep evidentiary backup Darwin had amassed.

But had evolution turned out to be a bum theory, Darwin’s other works would have qualified him as one of the greatest scientists of all time, including:

Darwin's theory set out a sequence of coral re...

Darwin’s theory set out a sequence of coral reef formation around an extinct volcanic island, becoming an atoll as the island and ocean floor subsided. Courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

US Geological Survey graphic demonstrating how coral atolls form on the sinking remains of old volcanic sea mounts, as Darwin described. Wikimedia commons image

  • World’s greatest collector of biological samples:  During his five years’ voyage on HMS Beagle, Darwin collected the largest collection of diverse plant and animal life ever by one person (I believe the record still stands); solely on the strength of his providing actual examples to the British Museum of so much life in so many different ecosystems worldwide, before he was 30 Darwin won election to the Royal Society.  (His election was engineered partly by friends who wanted to make sure he stayed in science, and didn’t follow through on his earlier plan to become a preacher.)
  • Geology puzzle solver:  Coral atolls remained a great geological mystery.  Sampling showed coral foundations well below 50 feet deep, a usual limit for coral growth.  In some cased old, dead coral were hundreds of feet deep.  In the South Pacific, Darwin looked at a number of coral atolls, marvelous “islands” that form almost perfectly circular lagoons.  Inspired partly by Lyell’s new encyclopedic review of  world geology, Darwin realized that the atolls he saw were the peaks of volcanic mounts.  Darwin hypothesized that the volcanoes grew from the ocean floor to the surface, and then the islands were colonized by corals.  The round shape of the volcano gave the atoll its shape.  Then the volcanic mounts eroded back, or sank down, and corals continued to grow on the old foundations.  It was a perfectly workable, natural explanation for a long-standing geologic puzzle.  (See Darwin’s monograph, Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs.)
  • Patient watcher of flowers:  Another great mystery, this time in biology, concerned how vines twined themselves onto other plants, rocks and structures.  Darwin’s genius in designing experiments shone here:  He put a vine in his study, and watched it.  Over several hours, he observed vine tendrils flailing around, until they latched on to something, and then the circular flailing motion wrapped the tendril around a stick or twig. Simple observation, but no one had ever attempted it before.  (See On the Movements and Habits of Climbing Plants.)
  • Champion of earthworms, and leaf mould:  Darwin suspected the high fertilizer value of “leaf mould” might be related to the action of earthworms.  Again, through well-designed experiments and simple observation, Darwin demonstrated that worms moved and aerated soil, and converted organic matter into even richer fertilizer. (See The Formation of Vegetable Moulds Through the Action of Worms.)
  • Creation of methodological science:  In all of this work, Darwin explained his processes for designing experiments, and controls, and made almost as many notes on how to observe things, as the observations themselves.  Probably more than any other single man, Darwin invented and demonstrated the use of a series of processes we now call “the scientific method.”  He invented modern science.

Any of those accomplishments would have been a career-capping work for a scientist.  Darwin’s mountains of work still form foundations of geology and biology, and are touchstones for genetics.

Born within a few hours of Abraham Lincoln on February 12, 1809, Darwin survived 17 years longer — 17 extremely productive years.  Ill through much of his life with mystery ailments, perhaps Chaga’s Disease, or perhaps some other odd parasite or virus he picked up on his world travels, Darwin succumbed to heart disease on April 19, 1882.

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Historian David McCullough: What is the value of education?

April 17, 2014

Branch banks of the Federal Reserve work hard to provide economic education; alas, in the era of state standards requiring “teach to the test,” a lot of this stuff goes unused.

What is the value of education?  The Dallas Branch of the Fed had historian David McCullough in for consultations; they asked him on video, and here’s his response.

“We must be an educated people. We cannot be a productive, original, innovative society if we aren’t educated.”

For more information, visit the Dallas Fed’s website.

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Remembering the worst ever U.S. industrial accident, 1947: 576 dead at Texas City

April 16, 2014

April 16 marks the 67th anniversary of the Texas City Disaster.

It’s a day Texans, and all Americans should note.  It’s an event we need to remember, because every point of the disaster is something we forget at our very great peril.  Thinking such a disaster could not happen again, and failing to train for these same conditions, contributed to the disaster last year in West, Texas.

67 years ago, in the harbor at Texas City, a large cargo ship being loaded with tons of ammonium nitrate caught fire and exploded, setting fire to other nearby ships, one of which exploded, devastating much of the town. In all, 576 people died in Texas City on April 16 and 17, 1947.

View of Texas City from across the bay, in Galveston, April 16, 1947

View of Texas City from Galveston, across the bay, after the explosion of the French ship SS Grandchamp, April 16, 1947. Photo from International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1259

The incident also produced one of the most famous tort cases in U.S. history, Dalehite vs. United States, 346 U.S. 15 (1953). (Here is the Findlaw version, subscription may be required.)

The entire Texas City fire department was wiped out, 28 firefighters in all. The International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 1259 has a website dedicated to the history of the disaster, with a collection of some powerful photographs.

More below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »


Anniversary of Paul Revere’s ride, in the middle of National Poetry Month 2014

April 16, 2014

This is mostly an encore post.  Is there a good reason Paul Revere made his ride in the middle of National Poetry Month

Teachers, I’m posting this a couple of days early.  You may want to get copies of the poems for your U.S. history and literature classes. 

You may want to note that the Boston Marathon is traditionally run on Freedom Day in Massachusetts — the day that commemorates the ride of the patriots’ warning that Gen. Gage’s army was on the move, and of the battles at Lexington and Concord, the next day. 

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April 18 and 19. Do the dates have significance? Paul Revere's ride, from Paul Revere House

Among other things, April 19 is the date of the firing of the “shot heard ’round the world,” the first shots in the American Revolution. On April 19, 1775, American Minutemen stood to protect arsenals they had created at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, against seizure by the British Army then occupying Boston.

April is National Poetry Month. What have we done to celebrate poetry?

What have we done to properly acknowledge the key events of April 18 and 19, 1775? Happily, poetry helps us out in history studies. Or it can do.

In contrast to my childhood, when we as students had poems to memorize weekly throughout our curriculum, modern students too often come to my classes seeming wholly unaware that rhyming and rhythm are used for anything other than celebrating materialist, establishment values obtained sub rosa. Poetry, to them, is mostly rhythm, certainly not for polite company, and never for learning.

Poetry has  slipped from our national curriculum, dropped away from our national consciousness.  No national test adequately covers poetry, not in English, not in social studies — certainly not in math or science.

That is one small part of the reason that Aprils in the past two decades turned instead to memorials to violence, and fear that violence will break out again. We have allowed darker ideas to dominate April, and especially the days around April 19.

You and I have failed to properly commemorate the good, I fear. We have a duty to pass along these cultural icons, as touchstones to understanding America.

So, reclaim the high ground. Reclaim the high cultural ground.

Read a poem today. Plan to be sure to have the commemorative reading of “Paul Revere’s Ride” in your classes on April 18 or 19, and “The Concord Hymn” on April 19.

We must work to be sure our heritage of freedom is remembered, lest we condemn our students, our children and grandchildren to having to relearn these lessons of history, as Santayana warned.

Texts of the poems are below the fold, though you may be much better off to use the links and see those sites, the Paul Revere House, and the Minuteman National Historical Park.

Read the rest of this entry »


Boy Scouts greet Col. Theodore Roosevelt, St. Paul, Minnesota, 1932

April 13, 2014

Interesting photograph.

1932 photograph of U.S. Army Col. Theodore Roosevelt III, being greeted in St. Paul, Minnesota by a group of Boy Scouts.  Minnesota Historical Society collection.

1932 photograph of U.S. Army Col. Theodore Roosevelt III, being greeted in St. Paul, Minnesota by a group of Boy Scouts. Minnesota Historical Society collection.

Found it at the site of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Col. Roosevelt, the son of President Theodore Roosevelt, is nearly center, in civilian clothes.  He would go on to command troops at the Battle of Normandy on D-Day, winning the Medal of Honor, awarded posthumously.  His father would later be awarded the Medal of Honor.  Is this the only father-son MoH duo?

MHS records identify Col. Roosevelt and 13 other people in the photo, mostly the Scouts; alphabetically, they are:  Baker, Curtis; Baker, Robert (brothers?); Haas, Frank; Hagman, R. J.; Jungwirth, Robert A.; Kehne, Clyde; Menz, C. J.; Nyman, David; Polanick, Alexander; Robertson, Donald; Roosevelt, Theodore [III]; Sommers, Charles; Torgerson, Gordon; White, Charles.

It would be interesting to know what the event was in 1932 that brought Roosevelt to St. Paul.  It would be interesting to know what happened to those Scouts.

Update: Mr. Higginbotham found an account of Roosevelt’s trip in the April 1932 issue of Boys’ Life (see comments).  Roosevelt was on his way to the Philippines, where he served as Governor-General, a post held earlier by William Howard Taft, Leonard Wood, and Henry L. Stimson, among others.  Roosevelt was a member of the National Board of Boy Scouts of America; Scouts saw him off from New York, and greeted him at stops all the way to Seattle, where he boarded ship for the Philippines.

Account of Col. Theodore Roosevelt III's trip from New York to Seattle, in 1932 -- with Scouts meeting him at almost every stop.  Boys' Life, April 1932, page 58.

Account of Col. Theodore Roosevelt III’s trip from New York to Seattle, in 1932 — with Scouts meeting him at almost every stop. Boys’ Life, April 1932, page 58.


Feynmanmobile

April 8, 2014

Richard Feynman had a van.  It was decorated with Feynman Diagrams.

And now, it’s been restored.

Which of the diagrams would the Physics Commissioner have used to flash onto the clouds to summon Feynman, do you suppose?  Would Feynman ever have a sidekick?  What would the sidekick’s name be?

From a Tweet by Michael Shermer:  Feynman's van with quantum diagrams restored thanks to Seamus Blackley Ralph Leighton Edward Tufte. RF would approve! pic.twitter.com/L5vOPHLRw0

From a Tweet by Michael Shermer: Feynman’s van with quantum diagrams restored thanks to Seamus Blackley Ralph Leighton Edward Tufte. RF would approve! pic.twitter.com/L5vOPHLRw0

More:  

Full Tweet below the fold.

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Some things never change: “We Want Beer,” in 1932 photo

April 8, 2014

1932?  Heck, that’s every Friday in some offices I’ve worked in — and schools.


Mo Rocca’s profile of Millard Fillmore

April 7, 2014

You may view Mo Rocca’s “profile” of President Millard Fillmore for CBS Sunday Morning, on YouTube:

“CBS Sunday Morning” correspondent Mo Rocca, far left, poses with Kathy Frost, curator of the Millard Fillmore Presidential Site, and Robert Lowell Goller, town historian and director of the Aurora Historical Society, during his recent visit to East Aurora.  Photo by  Robert Lowell Goller

East Aurora Advertiser caption: CBS Visits East Aurora “CBS Sunday Morning” correspondent Mo Rocca, far left, poses with Kathy Frost, curator of the Millard Fillmore Presidential Site, and Robert Lowell Goller, town historian and director of the Aurora Historical Society, during his recent visit to East Aurora. Photo by Robert Lowell Goller

CBS broadcast this piece on February 16, 2014.

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DOI honored Rachel Carson in Women’s HIstory Month

April 6, 2014

You can use this year around.  For Women’s History Month, the Department of the Interior did a brief biographical video honoring Rachel Carson.

Interior is home to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the agency where Carson spent most of her life in research and writing.  The film is narrated by Dan Ashe, the current Director of USFWS.

Details:

Published on Mar 25, 2014

Saluting biologist, writer, and conservationist Rachel Carson.

Photos courtesy of http://www.rachelcarsoncouncil.org.
Credits:
Photo 1: Marian Carson with her three children, Marian, Rachel (about 3) and Robert (Carson family photograph)
Photo 2: Rachel Carson as a child, reading to her dog Candy (Carson family photograph)
Photo 3: Rachel Carson with Bob Hines in the Florida Keys, gathering information for “The Edge of the Sea.” (Rex Gary Schmidt)
Photo 4: Rachel Carson entrance photo for Johns Hopkins Graduate School, 1928 (Carson family photograph)
Photo 5: Rachel Carson at microscope, 1951 (Brooks Studio)
Photo 6: Rachel Carson in her “summer laboratory” at Woods Hole, MA (Unknown)
Photo 7: Rachel Carson at Woods Home, MA, 1951 (Edwin Gray)
Photo 8: “Silent Spring” cover photo (yale.edu)
Photo 9: Rachel Carson watching migrating hawks at Hawk Mountain, PA, 1945 (Shirley A. Briggs)
Photo 10: Rachel Carson’s government photograph while she was working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (USFWS)
Photo 11: Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge (DOI)
Photo 12: Rachel Carson on the dock at Woods Hole, MA 1951 (Edwin Gray)

Hang on to the bookmark for next year, or better, use it in an appropriate part of your regular curriculum.  Women’s history, and environmental history, doesn’t happen in just one month.  Teach it when the kids need it.


Annals of DDT: Rachel Carson was right, DDT hurts birds

April 6, 2014

Coming up on World Malaria Day 2014, and U.S. Congressional elections, we’ll start seeing repeated false attacks on Rachel Carson as the right’s most-favored representative of environmentalism, and those attacks will include calls to “end the ban” on DDT to roll back the “increase in malaria caused by the ban. ” Facts are that DDT was never banned in Asia nor Africa (not even under a 2001 anti-pollution treaty); Rachel Carson called for no ban on DDT, but instead urged use of “integrated pest management” (IPM)  to combat disease vectors, and IPM used broadly since 1999 has slashed malaria death totals and infections even more; and malaria deaths and infections started a downward trend in the 1960s that continues today, mostly without DDT.
This is one in an occasional series of posts to correct these hoax claims, with citations to information that readers may check for themselves. Much of this post appeared here earlier, in much longer form.

Rachel Carson was very careful in her 1962 book Silent Spring.  She offered more than 50 pages of citations to science papers and hard research to support what she wrote — a “don’t take my word for it, check it out for yourself” kind of honesty.

Still, today, there is an organized effort with broad success on the internet to smear Rachel Carson and hide the science she wrote about.  Standard from adherents to this insurgent anti-science movement include are claims that Carson’s book was wrong.  The title comes from a prologue of the book in which Carson described a spring in some future year, a spring which was unheralded by the songs and chatterings of birds.  Carson argued that, if humans do not stop to think about secondary effects of chemicals used, especially as pesticides, whole regions might be devoid of birds, dead from DDT poisoning.

Carson cited research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about just how deadly DDT could be to entire ecosystems.  She was particularly alarmed by research done at Midwestern universities, where DDT sprayed to save American elm trees from Dutch elm blight, quickly killed off most birds who came in contact with the stuff.  Dutch elm blight is spread by beetles, the targets of DDT in those sprayings.

In the 1950s, ornithologists, wildlife managers and bird watchers documented the pending demise of entire species of birds, especially raptors at the top of local food chains.  Audubon bird watchers throughout the eastern U.S. noted that migrations consisted of older birds only, with young and maturing birds appearing to have disappeared. Older birds mated, built nests, and laid eggs. Usually the eggs did not hatch, with chicks dying before the end of gestation.  In the few cases where young hatched, they generally died before they could migrate even one year.

Especially for the American bald eagle, this was a great disappointment. Eagles had been plentiful when European colonists migrated to North America, starting after Columbus’s voyages, 1492-1494.  By 1900, however, eagles had been hunted almost to extinction — well, they were extinct in some states.  Colonists, then farmers and ranchers, saw eagles as pests.  They ate fish the colonists wanted to catch for themselves.  Eagles would sometimes take a farmer’s chicken.  Cases of eagles taking larger prey are sparse to non-existent prior to the latter 20th century — but farmers claimed they did.  And so the birds were hunted mercilessly, simply to shoot them.

In 1911 the federal government tried to solve a many-states-wide problem, with a law protecting eagles from hunting.  It did little good.  In 1941 Congress passed a new law, with criminal penalties for people who poached eagles.  The decline of adult numbers slowed dramatically.  But that problem with hatching fledges stopped the recovery, at least so far as young birds who could replace those who died of old age or accidents.

Carson’s critics argue that eagles were never really in decline.  Steven Milloy and Gordon Edwards invented a fantastic tale that the Audubon Society annual Christmas Bird Count actually recorded an increase in eagle numbers, a false claim that Audubon certainly never made, based on a twisted misapplication of bird count methods.  USFWS and others noted the decline of eagles speeding up through the 1950s and 1960s.

Carson’s critics then will say that what plagued eagles was hunting and poaching, and not DDT.  While that was true prior to 1941, that was not the case after World War II when the laws were enforced well.

When studies indicated that DDT would stop birds from successfully breeding, Carson cited them. Her critics claim those studies were in error.

Double-crested cormorant chicks, dead in their nest from DDT-DDE poisoning; nest in the Columbia River estuary, in Oregon.  US Fish and Wildlife photo.

Double-crested cormorant chicks, dead in their nest from DDT-DDE poisoning; nest in the Columbia River estuary, in Oregon. US Fish and Wildlife photo.

But they were not.  In fact, not a single study cited by Carson in Silent Spring has ever been refuted by later peer-reviewed research, nor pulled back for any reason.  A decade after Carson’s death, researchers discovered that residual DDT in birds, especially eagles and other raptors, prevented the females from forming competent shells on the eggs they laid.  Even when the DDT doses were not high enough to kill the chicks outright, the shells could not survive the mother’s sitting on them.  The shells broke, and the chicks inside died.

DDT was a scourge to the American bald eagle, the brown pelican, the peregrine falcon, and osprey — and probably many other birds.

Healthy pelican egg on the left, and a DDT-affected pelican egg on the right.  Image from VCE Environmental Science.

Healthy pelican egg on the left, and a DDT-affected pelican egg on the right. Image from VCE Environmental Science.

 

Discover magazine carried an article about DDT and Carson’s book in November 2007Discover said that, since 1962 when Carson’s book was published, more than 1,000 peer-reviewed publications support Carson’s conclusions, a record remarkable in any branch of science.

In fact, Carson may have underestimated the impact of DDT on birds, says Michael Fry, an avian toxicologist and director of the American Bird Conservancy’s pesticides and birds program. She was not aware that DDT—or rather its metabolite, DDE—causes eggshell thinning because the data were not published until the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was eggshell thinning that devastated fish-eating birds and birds of prey, says Fry, and this effect is well documented in a report (pdf) on DDT published in 2002 by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). The report, which cites over 1,000 references, also describes how DDT and its breakdown products accumulate in the tissues of animals high up on terrestrial and aquatic food chains—a process that induced reproductive and neurological defects in birds and fish.

History also supports the scientists.  President John F. Kennedy tasked the President’s Science Advisory Council to check out Carson’s book, to see whether it was accurate, and whether the government should start down the path of careful study and careful regulation of pesticides as she suggested.  In May 1963 the PSAC reported back that Carson was dead right on every issue, except, maybe for one.  PSAC said Carson wasn’t alarmist enough, that immediate action against pesticides was justified, rather than waiting for later studies or delaying for any other reason. (The full text of the report may be obtained here.)

Rachel Carson was right.  DDT kills birds.  DDT threatened several species with extinction.

Carson’s science citations were verified by a select panel of the nation’s top biologists including entomologists, certified as scientifically accurate.   Since she published, more than 1,000 peer-reviewed studies have been performed that verify her findings on DDT’s harms to birds.

I have never found a contrary study published in any peer-review science journal, based on research.


Joseph Keppler’s cartoon on why we need the 17th Amendment

April 4, 2014

This is the cartoon:

“The Bosses of the Senate,” by J. Ottmann Lith. Co. after Joseph Keppler Puck Lithograph, colored, 1889-01-23 From the collection of the U.S. Senate

One of my old high school classmates, Shaun McCausland, ran for the U.S. Senate in Utah in 2012, on the Constitution Party ticket.  Nice kid, I felt an obligation to pay attention to what he was trying to do, even with his running against my old boss, Orrin Hatch.

I was surprised to find in his campaign materials he e-mailed me, a call for the repeal of the 17th Amendment.

What?  That’s the amendment that gives us direct election of U.S. senators, instead of letting the state legislatures select them.   Why repeal?

Shaun sent along an explanation, from Constitution Party materials, as I recall, claiming that the 17th Amendment was a “power grab” by industry and other oligarchist groups, to take power from the states.  It was a move towards corruption, the material explained.

Seriously?  People think that today?

History takes a different view.

Prior to the 17th Amendment, state legislatures selected the U.S. senators.  Big corporate interests — the monopolists — figured this out in spades, and proceeded to buy state legislatures, thereby getting the right to name their friends to the U.S. Senate, in the perfect picture of a corrupt bargain (the charge originally aimed at the supposed deal between John Quincy Adams and Daniel Webster, in which it was alleged Webster got the House of Representatives to name Adams president, and Webster was in turn appointed Secretary of State, the president-in-waiting post of that day).

Look at the cartoon.  You’ll see the fat “bosses” sitting around the back of the senate chamber labeled, “Copper Trust,” “Steel Trust,” “Oil Trust,” and so on.

Consider Montana, Utah and Arizona.  In each of those states, huge copper mines were among the leading businesses.  The domes of the Arizona and Utah capitol buildings are capped with copper, in honor of the leading role the ore and mineral played in early state history.

Who got elected to the state legislatures in those states?  Copper company-approved and -supported candidates won.

So, who was elected to the U.S. Senate, by the state legislatures?  Copper company-approved senators.

In 1913, when Arizona joined the union, one could make a case that copper controlled at least 6 senators out of 96.

And so it was for other trusts, in other states — or a mixture of trusts in some states. Think of the trusts of the time — the copper trust, the steel trust, the steel beam trust, the nail trust, the coal trust, and many others.

The rich guys ruled.

While this system technically violated no laws in those campaign-contribution-limit-free days, it clearly affected legislation.  The Progressive Movement arose as a grassroots movement, from farmers and laborers, from downtrodden immigrants, from the prairies, mines and mills.  When enough people got involved, they could out vote the trusts in a few things — but it still took more than a quarter century to change the election process for the U.S. Senate, to keep the corruption out.

Politics of the 1900 to 1920 were complex, and can be oversimplified easily.  Running that risk, let us note that by the time Woodrow Wilson took over the White House, reformers were maneuvering to fix problems in lots of areas, sometimes with great overreaches like the 18th Amendment and Prohibition, but also with long-needed reforms, and reforms headed in the right direction but not strongly or fast enough, like the creation of the Federal Reserve.

The 17th Amendment was intended to get corruption out of the U.S. Senate, especially the senator selection process.  Instead of leaving the selection in the hands of corporation-captive state legislatures, the 17th Amendment expanded democracy, making the selection of U.S. senators a choice of the people of the state, at the ballot box.

Keppler’s cartoon, originally published in Punch Magazine, tells the story in one panel.  It shows the U.S. Senate — very astute historians may be able to pick out and identify particular senators — with the chief door labeled “Monopolists’ Entrance.”  Coming through the door, and lining the back of the Senate, are the “Bosses of the Senate,” moneybags with legs, or in one case an oil barrel with legs, and with the name of the trust written across the front of their nattily-dressed girths.

The senators turn to their bosses, awaiting instruction.

Inscribed on the wall at the back of the chamber is a twisted rendition of Lincoln’s stirring description of the government intended by the Constitution:  “This is the Senate of the Monopolists by the Monopolists and for the Monopolists!”

There is a door to the galleries of the Senate, labeled “The Peoples’ Entrance.”  It is barred, bolted and nailed shut, keeping out the American people.

Keppler’s cartoon was published January 23, 1889.  Earlier reform attempts failed, in 1828, 1829 and 1855. Progressives including William Jennings Bryan, George Frisbie Hoar and Elihu Root pushed for reform in the 1890s.  By 1910, some 31 states had passed resolutions asking for reform; some of them initiated direct primary elections, though that didn’t generally affect the selections by the legislatures.  Partly to avoid a states-led convention to amend the Constitution, which could easily run rogue, critics feared, Congress took up the issue.  Congress passed the amendment, submitting it to the states on May 13, 1912.  By April 18, 1913, three-fourths of the states had ratified the proposal, and it was declared the 17th Amendment.  Ironically, by that time Bryan had assumed the office of Secretary of State, and it fell to him to proclaim the amendment adopted on May 31, 2013.

The fat cats lost.

Please remember that.

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Another cartoon, by Spencer, for the Omaha (Nebraska) World, poking fun at the time required to get the 17th Amendment; from the U.S. National Archives, collected by Robert C. Byrd, Senate Majority Leader:

Cartoon portraying the time needed to pass the 17th Amendment allowing the direct election of U.S. senators  By Spencer, for the Omaha World Herald, 1912  Reproduced from Robert C. Byrd, The Senate, 1789­1989

Cartoon portraying the time needed to pass the 17th Amendment allowing the direct election of U.S. senators By Spencer, for the Omaha World Herald, 1912 Reproduced from Robert C. Byrd, The Senate, 1789­1989


Berlin Wall in the U.S., the FDR Library

March 31, 2014

"Freedom from Fear," sculpture made from cutouts of sections of the Berlin Wall, photo by gwenvasil, FDR Home & Presidential Library Hyde Park, NY, October 20, 2013.

“Freedom from Fear,” sculpture made from cutouts of sections of the Berlin Wall, photo by gwenvasil, FDR Home & Presidential Library Hyde Park, NY, October 20, 2013.

Interesting, perhaps somewhat silly sculpture, found on the grounds of the Roosevelt Family estate in Hyde Park, New York, near the FDR Library and Museum.

Unless and until one knows the rest of the story.

  • These rather free form human forms, covered in what looks like graffiti, were cut from sections of the Berlin Wall, after the collapse of East Germany.
  • This is close to the bust of FDR’s ally in war for peace, Winston Churchill.  Appropriate, because,
  • Sculpture was created by Churchill’s granddaughter, Edwina Sandys.
  • Actually, these  sculptures were arranged together in a suite, in an area now known as Freedom Court
    • “In 2007, a new dimension was added to this hallowed ground by the construction of the Freedom Court. In honor of the friendship between the two legendary leaders, Edwina was instrumental in commissioning a bronze bust of Winston Churchill by sculptor Oscar Nemon, to be placed opposite one of FDR already in existence. The two sculptures flank the entrance to the court so that now and forever the two old wartime allies will be able to look at each other in a dynamic ‘outdoor room’ made of trees and shrubs.”Edwina’s ‘BreakFree’ now stands center stage in the Freedom Court, bearing witness to the ideals these great statesmen stood for, and bringing all three sculptures together in a magical web of connectedness.”
  • Segments of the Berlin Wall from which these cutouts came now stand in Fulton, Missouri, at the National Churchill Museum — the cutout figures were christened “BreakFree” by Edwina Sandys; the wall, from which they came, is called “BreakThrough.”

A few parts of the Berlin Wall are displayed across the U.S.  At Fulton, Missouri, are eight segments, made into liberating art by Edwina Sandys; at Hyde Park, New York, the cutouts from those segments form another artwork dedicated to freedom.  Other pieces of the wall and one of the guard towers, can be seen at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

Nice touch to borrow the phrase from FDR’s “Four Freedoms” speech for the pedestal.

I found this photo from a Tweet from the FDR Library earlier today, alerting people to the collection of photos at the Flickr site of gwenvasil.  Follow the links, you’ll find other photos worth serious pondering.

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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?


Celebrate Thomas Jefferson’s birthday at Monticello, April 11

March 27, 2014

Thomas Jefferson was born April 13, 1743, in Shadwell, Virginia.

The good people who operate Monticello, Jefferson’s glorious home in Virginia, will kick off a weekend of celebration on April 11, the Friday before Sunday, April 13, 2014.

Want to join in the celebration in Jefferson’s home?

U.S. Army's Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps

Come Celebrate Jefferson’s Birthday!

Friday, April 11
At Monticello

Monticello will mark the 271st anniversary of Thomas Jefferson’s birth with a celebration and ceremonies on the West Lawn. Held in conjunction with Founder’s Day at the University of Virginia, the event will feature remarks by James H. Webb, Jr., former U.S. Senator from Virginia and the 2014 recipient of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Citizen Leadership, and the presentation of wreaths honoring Jefferson by local, state, and national organizations. 10 a.m., free and open to the public. (Admission required for house tours.)

Jefferson MedalOther Events
You may also be interested in related events being held at the University of Virginia as part of Founder’s Day:

April 10

  • 12:30 p.m. Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medalist in Citizen Leadership The Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy will host a talk by James H. Webb, Jr., former U.S. Senator (D-Va.) and Secretary of the Navy, decorated Vietnam veteran and successful author, journalist and filmmaker, in Garrett Hall.

April 11

  • 10:00 a.m. Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medalist in Law: A public talk will be held in the Caplin Pavilion featuring Kenneth R. Feinberg, an attorney who has administered the compensation funds for victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech and the Boston Marathon bombings.
  • 3:30 p.m. Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medalist in Architecture
    The School of Architecture will host a public talk by Toyo Ito, a Tokyo-based architect who combines conceptual innovation with superbly executed buildings, as in his masterpiece, the Sendai Mediatheque, which reimagines what a public museum and library should be in the digital age, in Old Cabell Hall Auditorium.

Learn more about all Founder’s Day events


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