Typewriters of the moment: Mitford and Carson, two environmental journalists

September 24, 2013

The great editorial cartoonist Bill Mauldin of the Chicago Sun-Times illustrates the gender dimension of the controversy over Carson and Silent Spring. In this 27 October 1963 cartoon he pairs her with Jessica Mitford, author of The American Way of Death, a scathing indictment of the funeral home industry. Men from both industries have been flattened under the platens of the women’s typewriters.  All rights reserved © 1963 by Bill Mauldin. Courtesy of Bill Mauldin Estate LLC

The great editorial cartoonist Bill Mauldin of the Chicago Sun-Times illustrates the gender dimension of the controversy over Carson and Silent Spring. In this 27 October 1963 cartoon he pairs her with Jessica Mitford, author of The American Way of Death, a scathing indictment of the funeral home industry. Men from both industries have been flattened under the platens of the women’s typewriters. All rights reserved © 1963 by Bill Mauldin. Courtesy of Bill Mauldin Estate LLC

Captured from Mark Stoll’s “Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, a book that changed the world,” at the Environment and Society Portal.

A well-fitting image in the few days before the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) opens its 2013 convention in Chattanooga, Tennessee (October 2-4).  It was the power of the typewriter in 1963; the power of the word processor in 2013, more likely.  In either case, it’s the hard work of environmental journalists, who are out to make the world a better place by showing us what it is, what shape it’s in, and how we might conserve it.

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2013 RFK book and journalism awards

July 18, 2013

Press release from the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, July 15, 2013:

Announcing the 2013 RFK Book & Journalism Award Honorees

Author Joseph E. Stiglitz will receive the 2013 Book Award for The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future

(July 15, 2013 | Washington, D.C.) The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights announced the winners of its annual RFK Book and Journalism Awards.

Joseph E. Stiglitz will receive the 2013 Robert F. Kennedy Book Award for The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future.  Stiglitz presents a forceful argument against America’s vicious circle of growing inequality, examining the impact it has on our economy, our democracy, and our system of justice. Stiglitz explains how inequality affects and is affected by every aspect of national policy, and with characteristic insight he offers a vision and a plan for a more just and prosperous future.

“Joseph Stiglitz in The Price of Inequality explains in graphic detail the most compelling crisis of our time – the punishing impact that has resulted from the growing chasm of financial inequality in our society,” said John Seigenthaler, Chair of the 2013 Judges Panel. “The judges for the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award unanimously agreed that this book by a Nobel Prize-winning economist is most deserving of this year’s prize.

The 33rd annual RFK Book Award will be presented by Mrs. Robert F. Kennedy at a ceremony at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., on September 26.

The ceremony will also feature the presentation of the 2013 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards, which include student and professional categories. All honorees will receive a cash gift and a bust of Robert F. Kennedy by Robert Berks in recognition of their award.

This year’s winning journalists, in eight professional and three student categories, are:

  • International TV: Lobster Trap; Catherine Olian/Natalie Morales; NBC News/Rock Center with Brian Williams
  • Domestic TV: Poor Kids; Jezza Neumann; PBS/Frontline
  • International Print: The iEconomy; Charles Duhigg; The New York Times
  • Domestic Print: Prognosis: Profits; Ames Alexander, Karen Garloch, Joseph Neff, David Raynor, Jim Walser, and Steve Riley; The Charlotte Observer and The News & Observer
  • New Media: Beyond 7 Billion; Kenneth Weiss and Rick Loomis; Los Angeles Times
  • Radio: An “Occupational Hazard”: Rape in the Military; Bob Edwards; The Bob Edwards Show, SiriusXM Radio
  • Cartoon: Cartoons by Jen Sorensen; Kaiser Health News, Austin Chronicle, NPR.org, Ms. Magazine, The Progressive
  • Photography: Embracing Uncle Charlie; Marc Asnin; CNN Photos
  • College Journalism: M-Powered: University of Mississippi students learn through service in Belize; Patricia Thompson, Director of Student Media; University of Mississippi
  • High School Print: Special Needs Cheer Squad Volunteer; Alexis Christo; North Star

The distinguished panel of judges for the Book Award included chair John Seigenthaler, acclaimed journalist, editor, publisher, and former aide to Robert Kennedy, as well as Michael Beschloss, American Historian and Author; Donna Brazile, Political Strategist, Commentator, Author; and Randall Kennedy, Harvard Law Professor, Civil Rights Expert, and Author. For the Journalism Awards, the expert judges panel included chair Margaret Engel, Director, Alicia Patterson Foundation, as well as Jennifer 8 Lee, Journalist and Advisor to Upworthy; Roberta Baskin, Investigative Reporter and Advisor, HHS Office of Inspector General; Kevin Merida, Managing Editor, The Washington Post; Delia Rios, Producer, CSPAN; Alicia Shepard, Freelance Journalist; and Karen Tumulty, Political Reporter, The Washington Post.

About The Robert F. Kennedy Book Award

The RFK Center presents an annual award to the book that, in the words of award founder Arthur Schlesinger, faithfully and forcefully reflects Robert Kennedy, his concern for the poor and powerless, his struggle for honest and even-handed justice, his conviction that a decent society must assure all young people a fair chance, and his faith that a free democracy can act to remedy disparities of power and opportunity. Past winners of the RFK Book Award include Vice President Al Gore, Congressman John Lewis, Taylor Branch, Toni Morrison, Jonathon Kozol, and Michael Lewis.

About The Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards

The RFK Journalism Awards recognize outstanding reporting on issues that reflect Robert Kennedy’s dedication to human rights and social justice, and his belief in the power of individual action. Winning entries provide insights into the causes, conditions, and remedies of human rights violations and injustice, and critical analyses of the movements that foster positive global change.

Impressive bunch — good to see Bob Edwards still pulling down awards.  I hope the Foundation will make the cartoons available online, and any other material they can.  Several tough environmental issues in the mix; Stiglitz adds to his list of awards (now, if only we could get any GOP Member of Congress to read the book . . .).

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What news organizations need to know about “no-fly” zones over disaster areas

April 4, 2013

Lots of chatter around the internet today on the discovery that the Federal Aviation Agency posted a notice making the area over the oil spill in Arkansas off limits to aircraft.

Some people claimed they were certain that it was because Exxon-Mobil paid to get a special favor; others wondered why the government would be complicit in such a deal. Several of the comments linked to aerial photos of the spill, and said ‘obviously’ Exxon Mobil doesn’t want photos of the severity  of the spill to get out.  Bill McKibben’s tweet alerted me to the controversy (take a look at that video, too).

Actually, it’s common procedure to make sport flying and other unnecessary flying over disasters, off limits — FAA has a special set of regulations for that.  Rescuers and disaster fighters, and relief workers,  don’t want sight-seers on visual flight rules posing hazards to flights necessary to work on disaster relief or clean up of a spill of a toxic or hazardous substance.

But this doesn’t mean that news organizations cannot fly — in fact, there is a special regulation to ALLOW news aircraft over the zone, for photography and other reports.

Here’s the notice at FAA’s website (I’m sure that link will be unworkable in a few weeks):

FAA notification, NOTAMs notice of Mayflower, Arkansas, temporary flight restrictions; screen grab April 3, 2013.

FAA notification, NOTAMs notice of Mayflower, Arkansas, temporary flight restrictions; screen grab April 3, 2013.

Most announcements of restrictions of any public activity by a federal agency contain a notice of from where the agency draws that authority; I didn’t include it in the screen grab, but FAA notes the authority flows from Title 14 CFR section 91.137(a)(2).  That’s the Code of Federal Regulations, the set of volumes that list all the regulations the federal government has.  This was also published in the Federal Register — and I suspect the NOTAMs is also published there — but CFR is the more permanent set of books for finding government rules.

In the interests of open government, of course the FAA makes these rules available online.  They are available at several sites.  Here’s the meat of the regulation:

Section 2. Temporary Flight Restrictions in the Vicinity of Disaster/Hazard Areas (14 CFR Section 91.137)

19-2-1. PURPOSE

This section prescribes guidelines and procedures regarding the management of aircraft operations in the vicinity of disaster/hazard areas in accordance with 14 CFR Section 91.137. TFRs issued under this section are for disaster/hazard situations that warrant regulatory measures to restrict flight operations for a specified amount of airspace, on a temporary basis, in order to provide protection of persons or property in the air or on the ground.

19-2-2. RATIONALE

TFRs in accordance with 14 CFR Section 91.137 are issued when necessary to:

a. 14 CFR 91.137(a)(1) – Protect persons and property on the surface or in the air from an existing or imminent hazard associated with an incident on the surface when the presence of low flying aircraft would magnify, alter, spread, or compound that hazard.

b. 14 CFR 91.137(a)(2) – Provide a safe environment for the operation of disaster relief aircraft.

c. 14 CFR 91.137(a)(3) – Prevent an unsafe congestion of sightseeing and other aircraft above an incident or event that may generate a high degree of public interest.

NOTE-
This provision applies only to disaster/hazard incidents of limited duration that would attract an unsafe congestion of sightseeing aircraft.

Specific  rules of restrictions, who in the FAA declares them, who can grant waivers, and to who the restrictions apply, get spelled out following that  part.

Notice that, generally, these restrictions apply only to flights below 1,000 feet.  A good camera in a television station’s helicopter can get a lot of great shots from 1,000 feet out (three football fields) — this is a distance often seen in the videos of police car chases.  So it’s not a complete ban.

Savvy news organizations will know how to get news photos using the specific exemption for news aircraft, with procedures spelled out so the FAA knows it’s a news gathering operation; I’ve put the critical clauses in red:

c. Section 91.137(a)(3). Restrictions issued in accordance with this section prohibit all aircraft from operating in the designated area unless at least one of the following conditions is met:

1. The operation is conducted directly to or from an airport within the area, or is necessitated by the impracticability of VFR flight above or around the area due to weather or terrain, and the operation is not conducted for the purpose of observing the incident or event. Notification must be given to the ATC facility that was specified in the NOTAM for coordination with the official in charge of the activity.

2. The aircraft is operating under an ATC approved IFR flight plan.

3. The aircraft is carrying incident or event personnel, or law enforcement officials.

4. The aircraft is carrying properly accredited news representatives and, prior to entering that area, a flight plan is filed with FSS or the ATC facility specified in the NOTAM. Flight plans must include aircraft identification, type, and color; radio frequencies to be used; proposed times of entry to and exit from the TFR area; the name of news media or organization and purpose of flight.

Well-run news organizations already know this; in an age when more and more news rooms operate on a shoe string, it may be that this information about how to cover disasters is not passed along in the newsroom, though.  So I’m reposting it here, so you’ll know, so news organizations now, so environmental reporters can get a copy of the regulations  to carry with them when they head out to cover spills, fires, floods, and other disasters.

I’m waiting, too.  It’s only a matter of time until somebody figures out a local kid has a good radio control helicopter, and it can carry a GoPro camera; or until a local news station invests in a news-gathering drone.  Here in Texas, we’ve already had one environmental disaster uncovered by a drone operated by a guy just checking on real estate.

If you see some footage of the disaster filmed on or after April 3, would you let us know, in comments?

And spread the word to any reporters you know.

More:

Amateur video of the spill:


Obama H8rs complain, “Obama’s not emperor!”

February 18, 2013

President Obama at 2nd Google+ Fireside Hangout, February 14, 2013

Obama’s got good answers and is willing to discuss policy with American citizens; critics keep making stuff up to complain about. Caption from the White House: President Barack Obama participates in a “Fireside Hangout” on Google+ with Americans from around the country to discuss his State of the Union Address, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. February 14, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Can’t make this stuff up as fast as the unthinking anti-Obama folks can dish it out.

Their criticisms often vaporize at the slightest investigation, though.  Why not talk serious policy?  They won’t do it.

Wednesday night, President Obama participated in a Google+ ” Fireside Hangout.”  These sessions take their cue in part from FDR’s Fireside Chats.  In the modern, Google+ version, it’s not just the president talking.  He takes questions from a panel of interrogators, and from people who send in questions by Tweet or e-mail.  Obama took questions from citizens.

One woman, Jackie Guerrero (sp?) complained that the Obama administration enforces our immigration laws with much more toughness than any previous administration, ever.  She said too many people who shouldn’t be deported, are being deported.  She asked President Obama to explain why his administration has done that.

Obama said he’s the executive, and he’s required to carry out the laws.  He urged the woman to support changes in the laws, but he pointed out that must come from Congress.  His answer took two-and-a-half minutes, and he outlined the need for immigration reform.  In a few seconds, he started his answer with this:

“This is something I’ve struggled with throughout my presidency,” said Obama. “The problem is that I’m the president of the United States, I’m not the emperor of the United States. My job is to execute laws that are passed.”

You as a reasonably intelligent and perceptive Dear Reader recognize that Obama is asking for citizen pressure on Congress to pass reform of our immigration laws.

You as a reasonably intelligent and perceptive Dear Reader are also well aware there is a group of people loose in America who say that, whatever Obama says, Obama is wrong.

So, what do those Obama H8rs say?  Do they complain about immigration reform, saying we don’t need it?

No, they don’t even give their listeners and viewers the dignity of talking about the issues. Here’s how Michael Savage butchered the video of the Google session:

Savage posted this wan explanation:

Published on Feb 15, 2013

In a Google hangout last evening February 14, 2013, President Barack Obama explained that his problem is that he’s “not the emperor of the United States”: “This is something I’ve struggled with throughout my presidency,” said Obama. “The problem is that I’m the president of the United States, I’m not the emperor of the United States. My job is to execute laws that are passed.”

In a very technical sense, that’s accurate reporting of part of Obama’s statement.

But it’s not the whole truth, as you can see.  There is no mention whatsoever of the issue at hand, immigration reform, for example.  How can they report it correctly, if they don’t even report what happened?

How have others reacted?  Our old friend Joe Leavell leapt at the opening Michael Savage provided, with a Facebook post linking to the video:

“The problem is, I’m the President of the United States. I’m not the emperor of the United States.” – President Obama.
This is a problem? Yikes!

Can you tell Joe’s views on immigration reform?  On enforcing laws?  On not enforcing laws?  Just try to pin him down.

Leavell on Obama as emperor

On Facebook, a complaint leaving the impression that Obama said he wants to be emperor, though of course, that’s not at all what Obama said.

One more demonstration we don’t need that people who truly hate Obama with no good reason will make up crap to claim against him, regardless what he says.

Some wag said, “I hope President Obama comes out tomorrow with a warning against eating yellow snow, just so I can see these guys explain the benefits of eating yellow snow.”

I wish they’d just wake up, read the old Boy Scout Citizenship Merit Badge booklet, and be good citizens without all the hoax complaints.

No, Obama did not say he wants to be emperor.  No, he did not.

No, he didn’t.

Alas, Joe Leavell on Facebook is not the only one who had what should be embarrassing conniptions over the mined quote.

Wall of shame, commenters who fuzzed up the news and ran with the political smear; count ‘em:

  1. Weekly Standard (apparently all their fact checkers died; I didn’t realize they really have no regard for the accuracy of stuff they report, before).
  2. Obama: ‘The Problem is … I’m not the Emperor of the United States’ (radio.foxnews.com)
  3. Obama Says the “The Problem Is…I’m Not Emperor of the United States” (gunmartblog.com)
  4. Obama: “The Problem Is I’m President of the United States, I’m Not the Emperor” (Video) (thegatewaypundit.com)
  5. Obama: ‘The Problem Is … I’m Not the Emperor of the United States’ (givemeliberty01.com)
  6. Obama Says ‘The Problem Is That I’m Not The Emperor Of The United States’ (vineoflife.net)
  7. ‘The Problem Is … I’m Not the Emperor of the United States’ (ConservativeActionAlerts.com)
  8. I’m Not The Emperor of the USA (tarpon.wordpress.com)
  9. “The Problem is I’m not Emperor:” Obama’s Freudian Slip (rjblack.wordpress.com)
  10. Barack Obama: ‘The Problem Is … I’m Not the Emperor of the United States’ (ijreview.com)
  11. Obama: ‘The Problem Is I’m Not The Emperor Of The United States’ (conservativebyte.com)
  12. Barack Obama: I’m not emperor of the United States (Twitchy)
  13. Obama made a Freudian slip, The Rio Norte Line
  14. Of course The Blaze misreported it, too
  15. Washington Times blog screwed it up
  16. Victor Medina, a Dallas Republican operative, in the Examiner
  17. TeaParty.org copied the Weekly Standard, a weakly slandering practice of theirs
  18. WeaselZippers honestly stated they got the report “scouring the bowels of the internet” and came up with the same old offal; this is the quality of reporting we’re talking about here
  19. Before It’s News reported it, though it wasn’t news at all
  20. Nothing but the Truth misses its named target, copying the false report at Gateway Pundit

Some of you may remember Spike Jones’s send-up of that classic show tune, “I’m in the Mood for Love.”  One verse of the lyric is, “Funny, but when I’m near you, I’m in the mood for love.”  In Spike’s version, an indignant voice interrupts with, “Funny butt!  Who’se got a funny butt?”

That’s rather what Savage and others have done with Obama’s answer here.

How many of those sites do you think would like it if Obama had said, “Okay, we’ll stop deportations of all but criminal and dangerous undocumented aliens tomorrow?”  How many of those sites will favor action on immigration reform?  How many of them will want their children to know they wrote these things, in ten years?

This cheap and misleading criticism ignored the two-and-a-half-minute response Obama gave to the immigration and deportation question, in which he concisely explained the problems and the urgent need for immigration reform to benefit the U.S. economy.  See the complete answer in the video of the entire session, at the bottom of this post.

Obama’s critics don’t dare allow him a fair chance to state his position.  They have no answers for his clearly thought-out plans.

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See for yourself how Obama’s views were covered up and his meanings distorted.  Here’s the entire Google Fireside Hangout, all 47 minutes of it (in HD and stereo); the question on immigration comes about 19 minutes in, and Obama’s answer took about two and a half minutes, all ignored completely by Obama’s H8rs:

Update, post script:  CBS’s guy who keeps all the records, Mark Knoller, accurately reported Obama’s words in a Tweet, with just 140 characters; why can’t conservative wackoes get it right with 1,000 words and video?  They probably don’t intend to get it right, like Knoller works to get it right every day, day in, and day out.


Typewriter of the moment: Abigail van Buren’s IBM

January 17, 2013

Abigail van Buren,

“Dear Abby,” Abigail van Buren, sorts through letters asking advice. Newseum photograph.

News flash, on Facebook, from the Newseum:

Abigail Van Buren, author of the “Dear Abby” advice column, died Jan. 16, 2013. She was 94.

NPR’s e-mail added a couple of details:

NPR BREAKING NEWS:

‘Dear Abby’ Dies; Pauline Phillips Was Adviser To Millions

Writing under the pen name Abigail Van Buren, she wrote the world’s most widely syndicated column. The daily readership grew to more than 100 million. The column is now written by her daughter, Jeanne.

More at NPR.org:

http://n.npr.org/NPRI/jN375186981_1570913_1570912_Z.htm

What an incredible melange of history in that photo!  You can read about Mrs. Phillips at the NPR site, but consider just this photograph:

  1. “Dear Abby” which used to be regular reading in most households in the morning — literally millions of American households.  She and her chief competition, “Ann Landers,” could each by herself move the nation, to change habits, to question manners, to change behaviors with vaccinations or new medical procedures, and in a few cases, move legislation through Congress.  No one in newspapering or broadcast today has the clout this woman had, but rarely used.  Not even Rupert Murdoch with his empire, had so much clout as Dear Abby.  (Many of us were surprised to learn later that the women who wrote Dear Abby and Ask Ann Landers were twin sisters — another one of those twists in real history that no one would believe in fiction.)
  2. Isn’t that an early IBM electric typewriter? Our local Fry’s doesn’t stock even electric typewriters anymore, nor could I find one in my last run through Staples and Office Depot (catalog sales, perhaps). IBM probably hasn’t made one 20 years, and not one like that one in at least 40 years — that is not a Selectric.
  3. Dial telephone.  Not just a land-line, but an actual, analog, dial telephone.  Without seeing any identifying characteristics, we can assume that her telephone provider was the AT&T regional company — unlikely that it was Continental, the only other major provider in the U.S. at the time.
  4. The Yellow Pages telephone book under the phone.  I think even Yellow Pages stopped printing those things; we haven’t had a good update on our white pages in years.
  5. Newspaper syndication meant EVERYONE had access to her columns — no internet.  A dime for the local paper, and you had Dear Abby.
  6. The fountain pen in her hand, perhaps for more than just signing letters (what do you say, Office Supply Geek?).
  7. No computer, which in addition to replacing the typewriter, would probably also replace the four-drawer file cabinet in back of her (a locking cabinet, perhaps a HON?)
  8. Is that flowered pattern the wallpaper in the place? They don’t make orchid wallpaper like that any more.
  9. Look at that stack of mail.  Each came in an envelope, stamped, for less than 8¢ (1st class rates topped a dime for the first time in 1974).  No e-mail; no electronic version to cut and paste from.  Each letter to appear in the column had to be retyped on that IBM typewriter.  Most high school students today have probably never sent a letter through the mail, and many have never received one, either.

The Newseum didn’t credit the photo, nor say when or where it was taken; I’ve not found more details yet. At the Newseum site, the photo is credited to Phillips-Van Buren, Inc., the company that runs the column.  I’m guessing 1970 at the latest, and this may be in the 1960s or even 1950s.

Some of us old timers get future shock just looking at that photo.  Can your students date that photo with the clues in it, history teachers?  Journalism teachers?  (Photos at OzTypewriters suggest this photo could have been made in the 1960s.)

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Heck, it may be a 1950s typewriter (do you read German?):

Deutsch: Elektrische IBM-Schreibmaschine aus d...

Deutsch: Elektrische IBM-Schreibmaschine aus den 1950er Jahren Lizenz (Photo credit: Wikipedia)  (Translated roughly, “IBM electric typewriter from the 1950 license.”)


A neglected 95th anniversary of Mencken and Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub – National Bathtub and Presidential Obscurity Day

December 28, 2012

A Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub December 28 tradition; mostly encore post, but worthy of note on National Bathtub and Presidential Obscurity Day

95 years ago today, on December 28, 1917, this column by H. L. Mencken was published in The New York Evening Mail:

Portrait of H. L. Mencken

1927 Portrait of H. L. Mencken by Nikol Schattenstein; Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore

A Neglected Anniversary

On December 20 there flitted past us, absolutely without public notice, one of the most important profane anniversaries in American history, to wit, the seventy-fifth anniversary of the introduction of the bathtub into These States. Not a plumber fired a salute or hung out a flag. Not a governor proclaimed a day of prayer. Not a newspaper called attention to the day.

True enough, it was not entirely forgotten. Eight or nine months ago one of the younger surgeons connected with the Public Health Service in Washington happened upon the facts while looking into the early history of public hygiene, and at his suggestion a committee was formed to celebrate the anniversary with a banquet. But before the plan was perfected Washington went dry (This was war-time Prohibition, preliminary to the main catastrophe. — HLM), and so the banquet had to be abandoned. As it was, the day passed wholly unmarked, even in the capital of the nation.

Bathtubs are so common today that it is almost impossible to imagine a world without them. They are familiar to nearly everyone in all incorporated towns; in most of the large cities it is unlawful to build a dwelling house without putting them in; even on the farm they have begun to come into use. And yet the first American bathtub was installed and dedicated so recently as December 20, 1842, and, for all I know to the contrary, it may still be in existence and in use.

Curiously enough, the scene of its setting up was Cincinnati, then a squalid frontier town, and even today surely no leader in culture. But Cincinnati, in those days as in these, contained many enterprising merchants, and one of them was a man named Adam Thompson, a dealer in cotton and grain. Thompson shipped his grain by steamboat down the Ohio and Mississippi to New Orleans, and from there sent it to England in sailing vessels. This trade frequently took him to England, and in that country, during the ’30s, he acquired the habit of bathing.

The bathtub was then still a novelty in England. It had been introduced in 1828 by Lord John Russell and its use was yet confined to a small class of enthusiasts. Moreover, the English bathtub, then as now, was a puny and inconvenient contrivance — little more, in fact, than a glorified dishpan — and filling and emptying it required the attendance of a servant. Taking a bath, indeed, was a rather heavy ceremony, and Lord John in 1835 was said to be the only man in England who had yet come to doing it every day.

Thompson, who was of inventive fancy — he later devised the machine that is still used for bagging hams and bacon — conceived the notion that the English bathtub would be much improved if it were made large enough to admit the whole body of an adult man, and if its supply of water, instead of being hauled to the scene by a maid, were admitted by pipes from a central reservoir and run off by the same means. Accordingly, early in 1842 he set about building the first modern bathroom in his Cincinnati home — a large house with Doric pillars, standing near what is now the corner of Monastery and Orleans streets.

There was then, of course, no city water supply, at least in that part of the city, but Thompson had a large well in his garden, and he installed a pump to lift its water to the house. This pump, which was operated by six Negroes, much like an old-time fire engine, was connected by a pipe with a cypress tank in the garret of the house, and here the water was stored until needed. From the tank two other pipes ran to the bathroom. One, carrying cold water, was a direct line. The other, designed to provide warm water, ran down the great chimney of the kitchen, and was coiled inside it like a giant spring.

The tub itself was of new design, and became the grandfather of all the bathtubs of today. Thompson had it made by James Cullness, the leading Cincinnati cabinetmaker of those days, and its material was Nicaragua mahogany. It was nearly seven feet long and fully four feet wide. To make it water-tight, the interior was lined with sheet lead, carefully soldered at the joints. The whole contraption weighed about 1,750 pounds, and the floor of the room in which it was placed had to be reinforced to support it. The exterior was elaborately polished.

In this luxurious tub Thompson took two baths on December 20, 1842 — a cold one at 8 a.m. and a warm one some time during the afternoon. The warm water, heated by the kitchen fire, reached a temperature of 105 degrees. On Christmas day, having a party of gentlemen to dinner, he exhibited the new marvel to them and gave an exhibition of its use, and four of them, including a French visitor, Col. Duchanel, risked plunges into it. The next day all Cincinnati — then a town of about 100,000 people — had heard of it, and the local newspapers described it at length and opened their columns to violent discussions of it.

The thing, in fact, became a public matter, and before long there was bitter and double- headed opposition to the new invention, which had been promptly imitated by several other wealthy Cincinnatians. On the one hand it was denounced as an epicurean and obnoxious toy from England, designed to corrupt the democratic simplicity of the Republic, and on the other hand it was attacked by the medical faculty as dangerous to health and a certain inviter of “phthisic, rheumatic fevers, inflammation of the lungs and the whole category of zymotic diseases.” (I quote from the Western Medical Repository of April 23, 1843.)

The noise of the controversy soon reached other cities, and in more than one place medical opposition reached such strength that it was reflected in legislation. Late in 1843, for example, the Philadelphia Common Council considered an ordinance prohibiting bathing between November 1 and March 15, and it failed of passage by but two votes. During the same year the legislature of Virginia laid a tax of $30 a year on all bathtubs that might be set up, and in Hartford, Providence, Charleston and Wilmington (Del.) special and very heavy water rates were levied upon those who had them. Boston, very early in 1845, made bathing unlawful except upon medical advice, but the ordinance was never enforced and in 1862 it was repealed.

This legislation, I suspect, had some class feeling in it, for the Thompson bathtub was plainly too expensive to be owned by any save the wealthy; indeed, the common price for installing one in New York in 1845 was $500. Thus the low caste politicians of the time made capital by fulminating against it, and there is even some suspicion of political bias in many of the early medical denunciations. But the invention of the common pine bathtub, lined with zinc, in 1847, cut off this line of attack, and thereafter the bathtub made steady progress.

The zinc tub was devised by John F. Simpson, a Brooklyn plumber, and his efforts to protect it by a patent occupied the courts until 1855. But the decisions were steadily against him, and after 1848 all the plumbers of New York were equipped for putting in bathtubs. According to a writer in the Christian Register for July 17, 1857, the first one in New York was opened for traffic on September 12, 1847, and by the beginning of 1850 there were already nearly 1,000 in use in the big town.

After this medical opposition began to collapse, and among other eminent physicians Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes declared for the bathtub, and vigorously opposed the lingering movement against it in Boston. The American Medical Association held its annual meeting in Boston in 1849, and a poll of the members in attendance showed that nearly 55 per cent of them now regarded bathing as harmless, and that more than 20 per cent advocated it as beneficial. At its meeting in 1850 a resolution was formally passed giving the imprimatur of the faculty to the bathtub. The homeopaths followed with a like resolution in 1853.

But it was the example of President Millard Fillmore that, even more than the grudging medical approval, gave the bathtub recognition and respectability in the United States. While he was still Vice-President, in March, 1850, he visited Cincinnati on a stumping tour, and inspected the original Thompson tub. Thompson himself was now dead, but his bathroom was preserved by the gentlemen who had bought his house from the estate. Fillmore was entertained in this house and, according to Chamberlain, his biographer, took a bath in the tub. Experiencing no ill effects, he became an ardent advocate of the new invention, and on succeeding to the Presidency at Taylor’s death, July 9, 1850, he instructed his secretary of war, Gen. Charles M. Conrad, to invite tenders for the construction of a bathtub in the White House.

This action, for a moment, revived the old controversy, and its opponents made much of the fact that there was no bathtub at Mount Vernon, or at Monticello, and that all the Presidents and other magnificoes of the past had got along without any such monarchical luxuries. The elder Bennett, in the New York Herald, charged that Fillmore really aspired to buy and install in the White House a porphyry and alabaster bath that had been used by Louis Philippe at Versailles. But Conrad, disregarding all this clamor, duly called for bids, and the contract was presently awarded to Harper & Gillespie, a firm of Philadelphia engineers, who proposed to furnish a tub of thin cast iron, capable of floating the largest man.

This was installed early in 1851, and remained in service in the White House until the first Cleveland administration, when the present enameled tub was substituted. The example of the President soon broke down all that remained of the old opposition, and by 1860, according to the newspaper advertisements of the time, every hotel in New York had a bathtub, and some had two and even three. In 1862 bathing was introduced into the Army by Gen. McClellan, and in 1870 the first prison bathtub was set up at Moyamensing Prison, in Philadelphia.

So much for the history of the bathtub in America. One is astonished, on looking into it, to find that so little of it has been recorded. The literature, in fact, is almost nil. But perhaps this brief sketch will encourage other inquirers and so lay the foundation for an adequate celebration of the centennial in 1942.

(Text courtesy of Poor Mojo’s Almanac(k))

The entire history was a hoax composed by Mencken.

Even conservative wackoes appreciate the column.

Content with his private joke, Mencken remained silent about the hoax until a follow-up article, “Melancholy Reflections,” appeared in the Chicago Tribune on May 23, 1926, some eight years later. This was Mencken’s confession. It was also an appeal for reason to the American public.

His hoax was a joke gone bad. “A Neglected Anniversary” had been printed and reprinted hundreds of times in the intervening years. Mencken had been receiving letters of corroboration from some readers and requests for more details from others. His history of the bathtub had been cited repeatedly by other writers and was starting to find its way into reference works. As Mencken noted in “Melancholy Reflections,” his “facts” “began to be used by chiropractors and other such quacks as evidence of the stupidity of medical men. They began to be cited by medical men as proof of the progress of public hygiene.” And, because Fillmore’s presidency had been so uneventful, on the date of his birthday calendars often included the only interesting tidbit of information they could find: Fillmore had introduced the bathtub into the White House. (Even the later scholarly disclosure that Andrew Jackson had a bathtub installed there in 1834—years before Mencken claimed it was even invented—did not diminish America’s conviction that Fillmore was responsible.)

(No, dear reader, probably not correct; surely John Adams brought a bathtub with him when he moved into the White House, then called the President’s Mansion.  Plumbing, hot water, and finally hot water to a bathtub in the president’s residence, were installed between 1830 and 1853, as best I can determine.)

Mencken wrote an introduction to the piece in a later bookA Mencken Chrestomathy (Alfred A. Knopf, 1949):

The success of this idle hoax, done in time of war, when more serious writing was impossible, vastly astonished me. It was taken gravely by a great many other newspapers, and presently made its way into medical literature and into standard reference books. It had, of course, no truth in it whatsoever, and I more than once confessed publicly that it was only a jocosity… Scarcely a month goes by that I do not find the substance of it reprinted, not as foolishness but as fact, and not only in newspapers but in official documents and other works of the highest pretensions.

There’s a moral to the story:  Strive for accuracy!

So, Dear Reader, check for accuracy, and question authority.

Fact checks — what else might need to be corrected in this story?

Resources:

Finally, Dear Readers — have you noticed someone falling victim to the hoax of Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub recently?  Give us details in comments, please.


Fox News, still geographically challenged (Arkansas? What’s that?)

September 15, 2012

Bret Corum calls our attention to another Fox News remaking of the map of the world:

Fox News lost Arkansas, moved Missouri

Misreporting the news is bad enough — but changing the map? Nations go to war over such things . . .

It appears that, in the Fox News view of the world, Missouri conquered Arkansas, and Alabama and Mississippi either swapped spouses and houses, or are in the middle of some geographic square dance, and the satellite caught them in the middle of a do-si-do into each other’s old territory.

Look on the bright side — so far they only screwed up 8% of the United States with their mapping errors.  On the other hand, they named nine states, and made four errors — 55% correct.  That’s probably not a passing score even under No Child Left Behind rules.

One gets the sinking feeling that such sloppiness with the facts infects everything Fox does, though.

I wonder what kinds of errors and screw-ups one could find, if one seriously paid attention to what Fox claims.

More:

  • Why Fox News – yet again – needs a copy editor (apple.copydesk.org)  (Charles Apple’s column on news design is always a good read — but this piece lists several, maybe a hundred, other instances of copy editor-less screw-ups on the news and other places.  God bless copy editors, and let’s hope these errors were all caused by a lack of one.)

Tip of the old scrub brush to the ever-vigilant, accuracy stickler Bret Corum.


Myanmar freedom of the press? Progress, but not there yet

August 26, 2012

English: Burma (Myanmar) (dark green) / ASEAN ...

Burma (Myanmar) (dark green) / ASEAN (dark grey) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Economist carries the good news, with the sober warning that press freedom remains beyond the grasp of Myanmar journalists:

But as part of a wider reform programme introduced by President Thein Sein, the old media rules have gradually been relaxed. For several months many editors have no longer been required to submit articles for prepublication censorship on such subjects as the economy. The latest announcement removes the need to submit articles on more sensitive topics, such as politics or Myanmar’s ethnic conflicts.

The country’s journalists welcome the news, but they also give warning that this by no means ends restrictions on press freedom. These remain numerous and burdensome. In particular, two bits of repressive legislation remain: the Printers and Publishers Registration Act, dating from the start of military rule in 1962, and the 2004 Electronic Transactions Law. Under the first, publications can lose their licences if they supposedly harm the reputation of a government department, threaten peace and security, and much else. Under the second, a person can be imprisoned for up to 15 years for distributing via the internet information that the courts deem harmful to the state. Meanwhile, the censor board itself seems likely to remain in business, ready to punish reporters or editors who overstep the mark.

But, good news is good news, yes?  See the entire article at The Economist.


Walter Cronkite – gone three years

July 17, 2012

Walter Cronkite died on July 17, 2009.

I miss his broadcasts, still, and they were gone a good 20 years earlier.

Here’s an earlier post on Cronkite:

Walter Cronkite at his office typewriter:

Walter Cronkite at his typewriter, in his office

Walter Cronkite at his typewriter, in his office – from The Typewriter blog

Pipe rack to his left, on the shelf above; full set of the Encyclopedia Britannica to his right (probably a 1960s set); A lot of books, some dealing with space exploration, among his favorite topics; models of the X-15 and early versions of the Space Shuttle; award from the Boy Scouts to his right, where he can see it easily.

When was this photo taken? 1970s? Earlier? Maybe someone who follows Dixie Cups could date the cup to Cronkite’s left.

This is probably the same office, redecorated, and stripped down to move – and with a different typewriter (a Smith-Corona electric?):

Cronkite in his office minutes before his final broadcast.  SF Chronicle photo

Caption from the San Francisco Chronicle website: “In this March 6, 1981 file photo, Walter Cronkite talks on the phone at his office, prior to his final newscast as CBS anchorman in New York City. Behind him is a framed Mickey Mouse cartoon and his Emmy award. Famed CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite, known as the ‘most trusted man in America’ has died, Friday, July 17, 2009. He was 92.”

More:


Arab Spring spreads to Europe?

January 16, 2012

English: Emil Boc speaking.

Romanian Prime Minister Emil Boc - Image via Wikipedia

Eric Koenig wondered, and wrote:

On December 17, 1989, Romanian security forces fired into a crowd in the city of Timişoara. Scarcely a week later, the Romanian revolution was over and Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife had been toppled and tried and summarily executed. Now thousands of people are protesting in Romania and calling for the ouster of their President (who has been in some political hot water himself, being “suspended” briefly and narrowly escaping impeachment in 2007, during his first term) and many of the protests started in the same city.

Is history repeating itself?  Stay tuned …

http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/International/2012/Jan-15/159949-romania-protests-spread-despite-health-bill-withdrawal.ashx#axzz1je7ndQhJ

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-16570860

The story isn’t being followed by many US newspapers. Yet.

I think it’s not quite so simple, nor a repeat of 22 years ago.  Romanians protest austerity cuts to their government-paid health plans, according to BBC:

Romanian Prime Minister Emil Boc has called for dialogue and an end to violence after four days of protests against austerity cuts.

Dozens of people were hurt on Sunday, as demonstrators and riot police clashed for a second day running in the capital Bucharest.

The rallies began in support of an official who quit in protest against health care reforms.

But they have grown into a broader hostility towards government policies.

The alliance of opposition parties has called for early elections.

I think the economic grievances are not of the same kind as those in Africa and Arabia, nor are they so deep as the extreme discontent with Ceaușescu’s communist government 22 years ago.

But, who can tell what’s really going on?  We have to depend on reports from Lebanese newspapers, and rewrites of those stories from the Associated Press?

Government change poses astonishing opportunities in the past year, especially these home-grown, nationalist liberation movements.  New resources, cut back from a century ago, leave us without eyes and ears on the ground in too many foreign capitals.

English: Grave of the former dictator Nicolae ...

Bucharest grave of former Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu - Image via Wikipedia

Why aren’t we hearing more about the Romanian crisis in U.S. news media?  Well, there’s the war in Afghanistan, the ending war in Iraq, and trouble in Nigeria.  Then there is the South Carolina circus.   For all I know, American Idol is in the news today, too.

It’s not like either you are, or I am, Marie, the Queen of Roumania, right?  What could go wrong that might affect us?

Watch.  U.S. papers will pick up the story in small snippets over the next week or so.

Could you find Romania on an unlabeled map?

Map of Romania, from GreenwichMeanTime.com

Map of Romania, from GreenwichMeanTime.com

Location map of Romania, GreenwhichMeanTime.com

Location map of Romania, GreenwhichMeanTime.com


Bill Moyers: Democracy and plutocracy don’t mix

December 4, 2011

The really good news is that Bill Moyers will be back in January, with “Bill Moyers and Company.”

Details at Bill Moyers.com, where you can see this vintage critique of current politics (even though it’s a year and a half old).

Bill Moyers Essay: Plutocracy and Democracy Don’t Mix from BillMoyers.com on Vimeo.

Moyers broadcast this in his farewell performance on Bill Moyer’s Journal, April 30, 2010

Text of his remarks below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »


Typewriter of the moment: Walter Cronkite

October 9, 2011

Walter Cronkite at his office typewriter:

Walter Cronkite at his typewriter, in his office

Walter Cronkite at his typewriter, in his office - from The Typewriter blog

Pipe rack to his left, on the shelf above; full set of the Encyclopedia Britannica to his right (probably a 1960s set); A lot of books, some dealing with space exploration, among his favorite topics; models of the X-15 and early versions of the Space Shuttle; award from the Boy Scouts to his right, where he can see it easily.

When was this photo taken?  1970s?  Earlier?  Maybe someone who follows Dixie Cups could date the cup to Cronkite’s left.

This is probably the same office, redecorated, and stripped down to move – and with a different typewriter (a Smith-Corona electric?):

Walter Cronkite in his office just before his final newscast, 1981; SF Chronicle "file photo"

Caption from the San Francisco Chronicle website: "In this March 6, 1981 file photo, Walter Cronkite talks on the phone at his office, prior to his final newscast as CBS anchorman in New York City. Behind him is a framed Mickey Mouse cartoon and his Emmy award. Famed CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite, known as the 'most trusted man in America' has died, Friday, July 17, 2009. He was 92."


Troops who fought in two wars now protect public against Missouri River flood and nuclear accident

July 10, 2011

Hoax claims died down a bit across the blogosphere, but the Missouri River still floods, and the two Nebraska nuclear power plants on the Missouri still face threats from the flood.

Comes news via the Omaha World-Herald that members of Nebraska’s and Iowa’s Air National Guard — many of them veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan — patrol the levees, helping protect against floods.  Among points of special concern are the nuclear power plants at Fort Calhoun and Cooper.

The military helicopter’s black shadow dances on an engorged Missouri River as the aircraft slowly loops the flood-encircled Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station — the same left-leaning turns the pilot navigated two days prior.

Warrant Officer Boe Searight, 32, with the Nebraska Air National Guard wants the infrared camera mounted under the chopper to record similar flood scenes for levee experts on the ground to compare.

He and his colleague Chief Warrant Officer 2 Eric Schriner also are looking for new signs of trouble for the flooded plant.

“Keep daily eyes on it and see if anything changes,” says Schriner, 31.

Far below, on mosquito-infested riverbanks, two-person crews with the Nebraska National Guard and Iowa National Guard patrol the Omaha and Council Bluffs levees in mud-caked boots.

Members of the Guard are the front-line levee watchers in an operation that clearly has high stakes: Levees protect about 40,000 people from homelessness in the neighboring river cities — as well as the region’s key airport.

The levee watchers are out there right now — three shifts a day, all week, searching for gopher holes, chasing away sightseers who could fall from the levees, and checking for signs of water seepage.

More than 130 men and women with the Nebraska Army and Air National Guard work each day for flood duty, along with 120 from the Iowa Army and Air National Guard.

The idea is to spot trouble early. Levees don’t always give notice before they rupture, but more often than not they do.

If trouble is spotted, steps can be taken to shore up or boost a weakened levee.

Good to know.  Still no nuclear incident along the lines of the hoax report from the Pakistani outlet alleged to be based on a report from a Russian agency — which is also good news — but no cause for abatement of overall concern.

Sometimes safety preparations work.  Kudos to the Air National Guards, to the Nuclear Regulatory Agency, and to the companies who own  the power plants.  May their work continue to pay off in no nuclear incidents.

Idaho Samizdat noted earlier that the bizarre conspiracy theories haven’t borne out as accurate or true in the least:

The flooding situation in Nebraska has been the subject of bizarre conspiracy theories originating in Russia and Pakistan alleging that a meltdown has occurred at Ft. Calhoun and that the government is covering it up.

One U.S. web site, Business Insider, ran with the story as legitimate and set off a huge round of copy cat reports on the Internet.

Reports of a U.S. news blackout are also part of the conspiracy theory even though Nebraska papers such as the Omaha World-Herald and the New York Times have run major stories on measures by the two reactor sites to prevent the flood waters from reaching important infrastructure such as switch yards


Ben Stein in a nutshell (appropriately)

July 8, 2011

Ben Stein is too easy to kick around anymore.  His views on politics, science, and general public policy have inflated so much above the troposphere that he really cannot speak about life on the ground at all.  The movie mockumentary “Expelled!” provided the early signs of pundit dementia.

Graphic for Ben Stein's American Spectator column

Graphic for Ben Stein's American Spectator column: Even in the art, Stein's out of it; his column is titled, "Nation's Pulse," but the graphic shows Uncle Sam hooked up to a machine measuring everything but his pulse. Even Sam's genitals get wired, but the nurse isn't counting heartbeats, nor does it appear any other monitor is.

At the same time, he’s a friend of dogs.  One of his tributes to his old dog literally brought tears to my eyes, and reminded me much of the old saying that heaven has no room for those who don’t like dogs.  That also raised the horrible vision of spending eternity in a heaven with dog-lovers who also happen to be political idiots.

Stein won’t kick dogs, but he’ll kick scientists, and poor people, and anyone in the middle class.  Maybe heavens don’t take people solely on the basis of their affection for dogs.

I digress.

At the remains of the American Spectator — a once-great, nearly revolutionary and smart journal of conservatism slipped on the slime to twitchy, bumper-sticker politics — Stein’s every-issue column turned to his vacation in an exclusive and expensive home in Sandpoint, Idaho, his distaste for undeveloped land and and outright fear of wilderness, friends, and the birth of his granddaughter, nicknamed Coco:

I feel so worried about Coco, She is only a tiny infant with eyes barely open. What do I want Coco to know? To do her best. To love her parents. To forgive. To be a lot more prudent about money than I am. To be grateful for this, our America, the best place in the universe. To turn her will and her life over to God and turn to Him for help in every situation.

But I wish my parents and Alex’s parents were here to help. And I wish my sister lived closer so she could help. And that Mr Nixon were still alive to give the leaders of this nation some clue about how to lead a nation. I am excited about Coco, but I am scared.

Right emotions, wrong thoughts.  We need Lyndon Johnson, with a concern for eliminating poverty among the aged (something he did!), not Richard Nixon.  With the possible exception of his trip to China, nothing Nixon did couldn’t have been done better by Johnson with another four years, or Humphrey, had we had the sense.

But that’s Stein.  He’s human on the family front, full of emotion, loving dogs, getting a cold treat for his ill wife, worrying about the future his granddaughter faces, especially from his privileged palace in Sandpoint, a nice nearly-wild area unfortunately become home of right-wing militias, Aryan-loving neo-Nazis and Keystone Kops-style militias — then switching to his brain-driven mode from emotion-driven, and doing everything he can to make sure anyone who lacks a few million dollars in the bank courtesy of the Old Man will be unable to rise above the fears.  Stein luckily led a charmed life, dependent on the kindness of family, friends and strangers, and he cannot understand why others don’t do the same.  Stein’s solutions stand magnificently out of reason:  Out of work?  Take a tax cut.  Need money to go to college?  Your father needs a tax cut, if he’s rich.  Health care tough to find because you can’t pay for it?  Tax cuts for the owner of the company you wish to work for.  And stop your arguing for more practical or workable solutions whining.

Stein stands in such sharp contrast to the Nepali prince Siddhartha, whose views of real life led him to forsake his princely heritage and seek spiritual enlightenment.  One hopes for a Stein-like character with the conscience of Siddhartha, but the practicality of Ross Perot who once noted that what America really needs is a political leader who will fill some potholes, and then, instead of holding a press conference about it, fill some more potholes.

Ben Stein’s road of life has been stripped of most potholes.  It’s so smooth, he can’t understand why everyone doesn’t drive that way, going to fancy school’s on Dad’s big money, hobnobbing with Republicans at the country club and occasionally taking the opportunities they toss your way.  Wouldn’t such a life be divine?


Hoaxed Nebraska nuclear plant crisis update

June 24, 2011

Help me out, Dear Reader:  Here is the English language site of the Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency (FAEE), the press site.  Can you find any statement at this site relating to the power plants in Nebraska along the flooding Missouri River?

Fires in Japan after tsunami -- not a nuclear power station

What some reports appear to paint as the Nebraska nuclear generating stations (However, please note: In this photo, no nuclear power plants appear)

Cooper nuclear generation station in 1993 floods

What you really see: Cooper Nuclear Generating Station in Nebraska -- still there (from a 1993 photo)

I have found no mention of any U.S. incident.   This suggests the Pakistani news report of a Russian agency report of disaster is hoax, too.

Claims of a crisis in Nebraska are hoaxes,  I think.  The Russian agency from which the report is claimed to have come, does not show such a report.

This is more evidence that the whole flap is a hoax.

True to form, several birther and other conspiracy paranoiac sites claim that these plants in Nebraska are gone, in flames, or leaking water that nearly glows.

Can’t Sarah Palin point her bus to Nebraska and let her press entourage get the real story?


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