Quote of the moment: Frankfurter, on due process

July 9, 2014

Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, The Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States (Artist: Gardener Cox).  Born Vienna, Austria, 1894. Died 1965.

Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, The Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States (Artist: Gardener Cox). Born Vienna, Austria, 1894. Died 1965. Associate Justice, 1939-1962

It is now the settled doctrine of this Court that the Due Process Clause embodies a system of rights based on moral principles so deeply imbedded in the traditions and feelings of our people as to be deemed fundamental to a civilized society as conceived by our whole history. Due Process is that which comports with the deepest notions of what is fair and right and just.

♦  Justice Felix Franfurter, dissenting in
Solesbee v. Balkcom, 339 U.S. 9, 16 (1950)


John Adams’s greatest error

July 2, 2014

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

In writing to his wife Abigail on July 3, John Adams committed one of those grand errors even he would laugh at afterward.  We’ll forgive him when the fireworks start firing.

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

Continental congress DSC_0607

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

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

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

Who can predict the future?

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

(Yes, this is mostly an encore post.)

More, and Related articles:

The Lee Resolution.

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

 

 


Photo of the moment: India brilliantly demonstrating the error of Mao Zedong

May 12, 2014

You remember the quote, don’t you?

Every Communist must grasp the truth; “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”

Mao Zedong, “Problems of War and Strategy” (November 6, 1938), Selected Works, Vol. II, p. 224.

Here is the 21st century response from India:

A man shows off his finger, marked with ink, to show he's voted in India's elections, 2014.   WSJ image

A man shows off his finger, marked with ink, to show he’s voted in India’s elections, 2014. WSJ Tweet: India’s weeks-long federal elections come to a close. Photos from the polling place: http://trib.al/SekkQd2 (EPA)

In a democratic regime, political power grows from the finger that rings the doorbell or dials the phone to invite a neighbor to vote, and to that same finger marking the ballot in the voting place.  In the 21st century, democratic revolutions are slower, cause less bloodshed, but are more deeply rooted in the will of the people, and last longer in the deep reforms they bring to a nation.

The finger is mightier than the gun.

Mao is dead.  Even his nation turns towards capitalism, and eventually, to personal political freedom.

O, Tempora! O, Mores!

To which I would add (hoping I get the grammar correct!):  Novae viae veteres malis eius conterendos.  Spes et patientia superare tyrannidis.  (New ways crush the old bad habits. Hope and determination overcome tyranny.)

Afterthought:   When Malcolm X preached “The Ballot or the Bullet,” he advocated the ballot. He knew.


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

May 7, 2014

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

But, no.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is that delicious?

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

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

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

See this brilliant poster at Americans Who Tell The Truth:

From Americans who Tell the Truth, Edward Abbey.

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

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

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


Gun nuts twisting the words of President Kennedy

May 4, 2014

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

January 29, 1961

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Information Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More:

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

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


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

March 31, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Publisher and writer William Feather, photo by William Feather III

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

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

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

Who the heck was William Feather?

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

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

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

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

How could any test, ever test for that?


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?


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

October 29, 2013

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

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

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

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

More:

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

 


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

October 2, 2013

Way back in 2012 I wrote this:

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

Thomas Jefferson 3x4

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

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

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

Is this another fake Jefferson quote?

More, reference:

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

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

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

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

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

More, in 2013:


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

October 1, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

Playwright Peter Stone, Theatrical Rights image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More:

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

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

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

 


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

September 14, 2013

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

What are we to think of that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


Quote of the moment: Potter Stewart, on the freedom to procreate without government intrusion

August 31, 2013

Justice Potter Stewart, official portrait in the U.S. Supreme Court. Artist: Ruth A. Nestor Hamilton. Oyez image.

Justice Potter Stewart, official portrait in the U.S. Supreme Court. Artist: Ruth A. Nestor Hamilton. Oyez image.

Several decisions of this Court make clear that freedom of personal choice in matters of marriage and family life is one of the liberties protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. [...] As recently as last Term, in Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U. S. 438, 405 U. S. 453, we recognized “the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child.” That right necessarily includes the right of a woman to decide whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.

Potter Stewart (1915-1985) US Supreme Court Justice (1959-81)
Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 169-170 (1973) [Concurring]
(Source)

Links added here, except “Source.”  Handing the scrub brush to WIST, so WIST may tip it to itself.


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

August 31, 2013

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

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


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

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

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

This is an encore post, partly.

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

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

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Encore quote for August 17: George Washington, “to bigotry, no sanction”

August 17, 2013

Maybe we should designate August 17 as “No Bigotry Day.”

August 17, 1790, found U.S. President George Washington traveling the country, in Newport, Rhode Island.

Washington met with “the Hebrew Congregation” (Jewish group), and congregation leader (Rabbi?) Moses Seixas presented Washington with an address extolling Washington’s virtues, and the virtues of the new nation. Seixas noted past persecutions of Jews, and signalled a hopeful note:

Deprived as we heretofore have been of the invaluable rights of free citizens, we now (with a deep sense of gratitude to the Almighty disposer of all events) behold a government erected by the Majesty of the People–a Government which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance, but generously affording to All liberty of conscience and immunities of Citizenship, deeming every one, of whatever Nation, tongue, or language, equal parts of the great governmental machine.

George Washingtons reply to the Newport, RI, Hebrew congregation, August 17, 1790 - Library of Congress image

George Washingtons reply to the Newport, RI, Hebrew congregation, August 17, 1790 – Library of Congress image,

President Washington responded with what may be regarded as his most powerful statement in support of religious freedom in the U.S. — and this was prior to the ratification of the First Amendment:

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it was the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily, the government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

Below the fold, more history of the events and religious freedom, from the Library of Congress.

Read the rest of this entry »


Edward Tufte channels Richard Feynman

August 6, 2013

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

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

Edward Tufte makes art out of Feynman's ideas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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