December 2: Millard Fillmore’s Guano Day!

December 1, 2014

Why December 2?

(You couldn’t make this stuff up if you were Monty Python.)

English: Millard Fillmore White House portrait

Millard Fillmore’s White House portrait, via Wikipedia

President Millard Fillmore, in the State of the Union Address, December 2, 1850

Peruvian guano has become so desirable an article to the agricultural interest of the United States that it is the duty of the Government to employ all the means properly in its power for the purpose of causing that article to be imported into the country at a reasonable price. Nothing will be omitted on my part toward accomplishing this desirable end. I am persuaded that in removing any restraints on this traffic the Peruvian Government will promote its own best interests, while it will afford a proof of a friendly disposition toward this country, which will be duly appreciated.

Did any other U.S. President spend so much time thinking about guano?  Did any president ever mention it in a State of the Union Address?  The curious case of Millard Fillmore, Seer, just grows.

Guano, or bird poop (and its relative, bat poop), contains phosphorus, which is an essential element for life.  Consequently, it turns out to be a key ingredient in effective agricultural fertilizers.  In international competition for supremacy in farming and farm exports, guano became a key resource to fight over, in the 19th century.

It’s almost safe to say the fights were economic; but guano did play a key role in wars in South America (see Andrew Leonard’s article, noted below).

Fillmore figured out that the substance had great importance, coupled that with the rather esoteric knowledge that sea birds tended to deposit guano in great abundance on certain islands, often unoccupied, and ordered the U.S. Navy to claim islands found to contain guano deposits that were not claimed by other nations.

By the American Civil War, the importance of phosphorus to the production of gun powder became an issue for the armies of the North and South.  Millard Fillmore had set the stage for the North to win an important advantage in gun powder production, just one of many that led to the defeat of the South.

It’s one more thing we should thank Millard Fillmore for doing. Our study of history should inform us that it is, indeed, important for politicians to understand the importance of guano.

Fillmore knew his guano.

Take a moment on December 2 to toast Millard Fillmore’s prescience, on Guano Day!

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December 1, 1955: “Why do you push us around?” Rosa Parks asked the cop. (Anyone know the answer?)

December 1, 2014

Mrs. Rosa Parks asked a question of the policeman who arrested her for refusing to move to the back of the bus. In 2014, it’s a chilling question, to which we have no good answer.

Rosa Parks being fingerprinted, Library of Congress

Mrs. Parks being fingerprinted in Montgomery, Alabama; photo from New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection, Library of Congress

Rosa Parks: “Why do you push us around?”

Officer: “I don’t know but the law is the law and you’re under arrest.”

From Rosa Parks with Gregory J. Reed, Quiet Strength
(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 1994), page 23.

Photo: Mrs. Parks being fingerprinted in Montgomery, Alabama; photo from New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection, Library of Congress

Today in History at the Library of Congress provides the simple facts:

On the evening of December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, an African American, was arrested for disobeying an Alabama law requiring black passengers to relinquish seats to white passengers when the bus was full. Blacks were also required to sit at the back of the bus. Her arrest sparked a 381-day boycott of the Montgomery bus system and led to a 1956 Supreme Court decision banning segregation on public transportation.

Rosa Parks made a nearly perfect subject for a protest on racism. College-educated, trained in peaceful protest at the famous Highlander Folk School, Parks was known as a peaceful and respected person. The sight of such a proper woman being arrested and jailed would provide a schocking image to most Americans. Americans jolted awake.

Often lost in the retelling of the story are the threads that tie together the events of the civil rights movement through the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. As noted, Parks was a trained civil rights activist. Such training in peaceful and nonviolent protest provided a moral power to the movement probably unattainable any other way. Parks’ arrest was not planned, however. Parks wrote that as she sat on the bus, she was thinking of the tragedy of Emmet Till, the young African American man from Chicago, brutally murdered in Mississippi early in 1955. She was thinking that someone had to take a stand for civil rights, at about the time the bus driver told her to move to allow a white man to take her seat. To take a stand, she kept her seat.

African Americans in Montgomery organized a boycott of the Montgomery bus system. This was also not unique, but earlier bus boycotts are unremembered. A bus boycott in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, earlier in 1955 did not produce nearly the same results.

The boycott organizers needed a place to meet, a large hall. The biggest building in town with such a room was the Dexter Street Baptist Church. At the first meeting on December 5, it made sense to make the pastor of that church the focal point of the boycott organizing, and so the fresh, young pastor, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was thrust into civil rights organizing as president, with Ralph Abernathy as program director. They called their group the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). When their organizing stretched beyond the city limits of Montgomery, the group became the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Litigation on the boycott went all the way to the Supreme Court (Browder v. Gale). The boycotters won. The 381-day boycott was ended on December 21, 1956, with the desegregation of the Montgomery bus system.

Sources for lesson plans and projects:

Yes, this is mostly an encore post.  Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

 

Tip of the old scrub brush to Slacktivist, who gave this post a nice plug.


Quote of the moment: Judge Richard Posner, on tradition and marriage

August 27, 2014

Judge Richard Posner, 7th Circuit, U.S. Court of Appeals

Judge Richard Posner, 7th Circuit, U.S. Court of Appeals

“It was tradition to not allow blacks and whites to marry — a tradition that got swept away.”

Federal appeals court Judge Richard Posner, balking when Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General Timothy Samuelson repeatedly pointed to “tradition” as the underlying justification for barring gay marriage.

Two states attorneys general argued before a panel of judges on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago yesterday that marriage between members of the same gender should be stopped because of tradition.  AP’s story explains what happened.

While judges often play devil’s advocate during oral arguments, the panel’s often-blistering questions for the defenders of the same-sex marriage bans could be a signal the laws may be in trouble — at least at this step in the legal process.

Richard Posner, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, hit the backers of the ban the hardest. He balked when Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General Timothy Samuelson repeatedly pointed to “tradition” as the underlying justification for barring gay marriage.

“It was tradition to not allow blacks and whites to marry — a tradition that got swept away,” the 75-year-old judge said. Prohibition of same-sex marriage, Posner said, derives from “a tradition of hate … and savage discrimination” of homosexuals.

Posner is one of those guys who gives us hope for the human race, and hope especially for that branch of the human race known as Homo americanus ssp. ordinarius.

Appointed to the bench by Ronald Reagan, Posner is widely recognized as one of the brightest and most engaging judges in the U.S. today.  That’s a sop to all the rest, to call him “one of ” the brightest — to avoid making everybody else give up hope.

But he’s outspoken enough that most legal scholars agree he’d never survive a hearing to take a place on the U.S. Supreme Court.  The late Sen. Roman Hruska’s revenge, that we can’t get the best and the brightest on our highest court.

Posner is not content to sit on the bench and make high pronouncements.  He pushes America, courts and lawyers, to be better.  He teaches at the University of Chicago Law School (in a position not unlike that the young Barack Obama had).  Posner’s high-flying comment-on-anything-important style got cut back in the past few months when his blogging partner died — Nobel-winning economist Gary S. Becker.

It must be agony to be a lawyer defending a pointless, silly and destructive law, to a panel that includes Richard Posner.

Arun With a View captured the reasons Posner strikes fear in conservatives, despite his being a Ronald Reagan conservative.

Sketch of Judge Richard Posner by the late David Levine

Sketch of Judge Richard Posner by the late David Levine

NPR has a delicious interview with Richard Posner. Money quote

“I’ve become less conservative since the Republican Party started becoming goofy,” [Posner] said.

And this

“Because if you put [yourself] in [John Roberts’] position … what’s he supposed to think? That he finds his allies to be a bunch of crackpots? Does that help the conservative movement? I mean, what would you do if you were Roberts? All the sudden you find out that the people you thought were your friends have turned against you, they despise you, they mistreat you, they leak to the press. What do you do? Do you become more conservative? Or do you say, ‘What am I doing with this crowd of lunatics?’ Right? Maybe you have to re-examine your position.”

Listen to it here and enjoy.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Texas Freedom Network’s emails — probably on the blog sometime soon.

Yes, I read Posner despite his errors, getting hoaxed by the DDT/Rachel Carson hoaxsters. That just indicates the danger of the hoax and the need to correct it and stamp it out.

More:


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):


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