Sad memorial to American victim of tragic American violence

May 23, 2017

Neal Augenstein‏ at WTOP Radio in Washington, D.C. posted this photo on Twitter: @AugensteinWTOP -- Richard Collins III's graduation gown draped over front row chairs at Bowie State University ceremony. He was murdered Saturday.

Neal Augenstein‏ at WTOP Radio in Washington, D.C. posted this photo on Twitter: @AugensteinWTOP — Richard Collins III’s graduation gown draped over front row chairs at Bowie State University ceremony. He was murdered Saturday.

Bowie State University honored a man who should have graduated today, Richard Collins III.

Another reminder that senseless violence threatens us all, and that we must oppose all violence, regardless its origin.

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M.A.S.H. quote of the moment: War is worse than hell

May 22, 2017

"Why do you say that, Hawkeye?" Screen capture from video snippet of M.A.S.H.

“How do you figure that, Hawkeye?” Father Mulcahy, screen capture from video snippet of M.A.S.H.

Our correspondents Jameses, Stanley and Kessler, alerted me months ago to this exchange in the old television show, “M.A.S.H.” In a discussion of the First Battle of Bull Run, we discussed war as hell.

War is worse than hell, they said. Still true.

They pointed to a scene from “M.A.S.H.”

Dialogue borrowed from IMDB:

Hawkeye: War isn’t Hell. War is war, and Hell is Hell. And of the two, war is a lot worse.

Father Mulcahy: How do you figure that, Hawkeye?

Hawkeye: Easy, Father. Tell me, who goes to Hell?

Father Mulcahy: Sinners, I believe.

Hawkeye: Exactly. There are no innocent bystanders in Hell. War is chock full of them — little kids, cripples, old ladies. In fact, except for some of the brass, almost everybody involved is an innocent bystander.

Deep thinking, maybe wisdom, from a mobile operating room filtered through sit-com writers.

M.A.S.H., copyright 20th Century Fox

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Armed Forces Day 2017, May 20 – Fly your flag

May 20, 2017

New meaning to

New meaning to “flying the flag”: (Wikipedia caption) A pair of specially painted F-117 Nighthawks fly off from their last refueling by the Ohio National Guard’s 121st Air Refueling Wing. The F-117s were retired March 11 [2008] in a farewell ceremony at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Master Sgt. Kim Frey

Armed Forces Day is the third Saturday in May. This year it falls on May 20.

The U.S. Flag Code designates Armed Forces Day as one day for all Americans to fly their flags, in honor of those men and women presently serving in any of the Armed Forces.

Activities to honor active duty and active reserve forces occur in hundreds of communities across the nation.  Check your local papers.

Remember to fly your flag.

A bit of history, as we’ve noted earlier:  After President Truman’s administration brought the management of the armed forces under the umbrella of one agency, the Department of Defense, Truman moved also to unite what had been a separate day of honor for each of the branches of the military, into one week capped by one day for all uniformed defense services.

On August 31, 1949, Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson announced the creation of an Armed Forces Day to replace separate Army, Navy and Air Force Days. The single-day celebration stemmed from the unification of the Armed Forces under one department — the Department of Defense. Each of the military leagues and orders was asked to drop sponsorship of its specific service day in order to celebrate the newly announced Armed Forces Day. The Army, Navy and Air Force leagues adopted the newly formed day. The Marine Corps League declined to drop support for Marine Corps Day but supports Armed Forces Day, too.

In a speech announcing the formation of the day, President Truman “praised the work of the military services at home and across the seas” and said, “it is vital to the security of the nation and to the establishment of a desirable peace.” In an excerpt from the Presidential Proclamation of Feb. 27, 1950, Mr. Truman stated:

Armed Forces Day, Saturday, May 20, 1950, marks the first combined demonstration by America’s defense team of its progress, under the National Security Act, towards the goal of readiness for any eventuality. It is the first parade of preparedness by the unified forces of our land, sea, and air defense.

Celebrations like Armed Forces Day offer good opportunities to promote history. I suspect that the day’s coming always in the middle of May suppresses some of the teaching moment value, as teachers make a final push for end of course tests, finals, and in high schools, for graduation — and as many colleges are already out for the summer. Good materials are available that can be sprinkled throughout a course.

Photograph of President Truman and other digni...

President Truman and other dignitaries on the reviewing stand during an Armed Forces Day parade, (left… – NARA – 200222 (Photo credit: Wikipedia) (Is that Eisenhower on the left?) (Update: Yep! From Wikimedia: Left to right, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson, President Truman, Adm. William Leahy.

For example, this list of world-wide events at the first Armed Forces Day, in 1950, gives a good picture of four years into the Cold War, and would make a good warm-up exercise or even an entire lesson, or offer opportunities for projects:

The first Armed Forces Day came at a time of increased world tensions, political volatility and communist aggression. Some notable events that marked America’s first Armed Forces Week were as follows:

  • Bolivian police broke up “alleged” revolutionary communist-led general strike in LaPaz.
  • Two U. S. government buildings in Canton, China were taken over by the Chinese Communist Government. The buildings were U. S. property acquired prior to the Communist takeover.
  • The Burmese Army recaptured the city of Prome, a strategic communist-rebel stronghold.
  • Nicaraguans elect General Anastasio Somoza to a regular six-year term as president.
  • French and West German governments expected to talk shortly on the merger of the coal and steel industries of the two countries.
  • Communist China lifted the ban on daylight shipping along the Yangtze River due to the decline of Nationalist air activity.
  • Norway receives first US military aid in the form of two Dakota planes.
  • U. N. Secretary General Trygive Lie seeks West’s acceptance of Red China in the U. N.
  • Iran announced close range news broadcasts to the Soviet Union with $56,000 worth of Voice of America equipment.
  • Cuba celebrated the 48th anniversary of the establishment of its republic.
  • The Red Cross celebrated its 69th birthday.
  • Britain ended rationing of all foods except meats, butter, margarine, and cooking fat.
  • The U. S. Congress voted to extend the draft. “A Bill to extend registration and classification for the Draft until June 24, 1952 passed the House 216-11.”
  • The Allied Command announced it would “ease” the burden of occupation on Austria and would name civilian high commissioners to replace present military high commissioners.
  • Soviet authorities in Berlin withdrew travel passes of the U.S. and British military missions stationed at Potsdam in the Soviet zone of occupation.
  • The Soviets returned 23 East German industrial plants to East German authorities. The plants had been producing exclusively for the benefit of reparations to the USSR.
  • Twenty-eight Soviet vessels, consisting of tugs, trawlers, and supply ships remained in the English Channel as the Western Alliance prepared for air and naval maneuvers. Observers noted that many of them carried rollers at their sterns for trawling nets although no nets were visible.
  • Pravda denounced Armed Forces Day, calling it the militarization of the United States. “The hysterical speeches of the warmongers again show the timeliness of the appeal of the Permanent Committee of Peace Partisans that atomic weapons be forbidden.”
  • Western Powers renewed their promise to help Mid-Eastern states resist communism. They also announced an agreement to sell arms to Israel as well as to the Arabs.

Veterans Day honors veterans of wars, and those who served in the past; Memorial Day honors people who died defending the nation; Armed Forces Day honors those men and women serving today.  Service with two wars, in an “all volunteer” military, is a rough go, especially in times of federal budget cuts.  Say a good word about active duty military on Saturday, will you?

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

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

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Getting ready for Memorial Day, where it counts

May 19, 2017

From the Andersonville National Historic Site Twitter account: Our Avenue of Flags went up today in celebration of Memorial Day! You can view these rows of American flags in the cemetery until May 31.

From the Andersonville National Historic Site Twitter account: Our Avenue of Flags went up today in celebration of Memorial Day! You can view these rows of American flags in the cemetery until May 31.

The Andersonville NHS is in Andersonville, Georgia. Memorial Day grew greatly after the U.S. Civil War, as people worked to commemorate those who died in the war, on both sides. Andersonville contributed many of those deaths.

Memorial Day is Monday, May 28, in 2017, a day for all Americans to fly the U.S. flag.

A view from the cemetery at Andersonville NHS. NPS photo.

A view from the cemetery at Andersonville NHS. NPS photo.

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Get ready to fly your flag for Armed Forces Day, Saturday, May 20, 2017

May 18, 2017

Armed Forces Day poster for 2017, from the Department of Defense

Armed Forces Day poster for 2017, from the Department of Defense

Americans celebrate Armed Forces Day on the third Saturday in May, by law as listed in the Flag Code.

Get your flag ready, if you haven’t been flying it all week to honor fallen police. Saturday is also the last day of National Police Week, during which flags are flown half-staff to honor fallen policemen. You may fly your flag half-staff on Saturday, too, if you wish; if your flag pole does not allow a half-staff position, fly it at full height.

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Fly your flags May 11 in Minnesota: 159th Minnesota Statehood Day

May 11, 2017

Flag etiquette following the U.S. Flag Code urges Americans to fly U.S. flags on the day of statehood for the state in which you reside.

Minnesota joined the Union on May 11, 1858.

Minnesota Capitol Chandelier, lit for Statehood Day, May 11.

Caption from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: The Minnesota Capitol chandelier was illuminated May 10, 2013 in celebration of Statehood Day. It has 92 bulbs surrounded by 40,000 crystal beads strung together and was recently painstakingly cleaned and refurbished. The fixture is traditionally lit once per year on Statehood Day. Minnesota became a part of the United States as Minnesota Territory in 1849, and became the 32nd U.S. state on May 11, 1858.

At the Library of Congress’s outstanding American Memory site, a much more detailed history of Minnesota statehood is featured on “Today in History,” reproduced here in its entirety:

The Star of the North

Dome of the Minnesota Capitol. Pinterest image.

Dome of the Minnesota Capitol. Pinterest image.

Capitol Building, exterior, St. Paul, MN
American Landscape and Architectural Design, 1850-1920

On May 11, 1858, Minnesota became the 32nd state admitted into the Union. Minnesota’s application for statehood was submitted to President James Buchanan in January, but became entangled with the controversial issue of Kansas statehood, delaying it for several months until it was finally approved by Congress.

Known as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” or “Star of the North,” Minnesota is the northern terminus of the Mississippi River’s traffic and the westernmost point of an inland waterway which extends through the Great Lakes and, with the St. Lawrence Seaway, to the Atlantic Ocean.

The Ojibwa (Chippewa) and Dakota (Sioux) were among the tribal peoples who first made this land their home. For them state borders were non-existent, and their territory extended far beyond what is today Minnesota. The French claimed this region from the mid-1600s to the mid-1700s, developing a strong fur trade but ceding lands east of the Mississippi to Britain. The U.S. acquired the area and its rich natural resources through the Treaty of Paris (1783), and the Louisiana Purchase (1803).

U.S. administration of the northwest lands formally began with the 1787 passage of the Northwest Ordinance. The ordinance, one of the most important pieces of legislation passed by the Continental Congress, set out the requirements for a territory to become a state. The American Memory collection Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789 features a discussion of the Incorporation of the Western Territories. For additional information on England’s yielding of land west of the Appalachian Mountains, see the Today in History feature on the Surrender of Fort Sackville. A representation of Fort Sackville is accessible on The George Rogers Clark National Historic Park site.

From the 1820s on, protected the growth of the area now called Minnesota. During the Civil War, the fort served as a training center for thousands of young Minnesota volunteers who joined the Union Army. Twenty-four thousand soldiers who trained at the fort fought in the Union Army, serving gallantly at Gettysburg or during the Indian Outbreak. Once a military outpost at the edge of a small settlement, Fort Snelling is now located at the center of Minnesota’s “Twin Cities”—Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Wheat stack in Minnesota, circa 1910

Horse powered threshing rig, Blue Earth Minnesota, 1898 Courtesy Fred Hultstrand History in Pictures Collection, NDIRS-NDSU, Fargo - See more at: http://www.lakesnwoods.com/BlueEarthGallery.htm#sthash.i9zmvAlC.dpuf

Horse powered threshing rig, Blue Earth Minnesota, 1898. Colorized.  Courtesy Fred Hultstrand History in Pictures Collection, NDIRS-NDSU, Fargo – See more at: http://www.lakesnwoods.com/BlueEarthGallery.htm#sthash.i9zmvAlC.dpuf

Horse powered threshing rig, Blue Earth, Minnesota, 1898.
The Northern Great Plains, 1880-1920

Until the second half of the nineteenth century, immigration into Minnesota was slow. However, as the value of the state’s woodlands and fertile prairie was realized, settlers poured into the region with New England lumbermen leading the way. Between 1850 and 1857, the state population skyrocketed from 6,077 to over 150,000. As a large state with land for homesteading, Minnesota attracted immigrants from Norway, Sweden, Finland, and those seeking to own land in the United States. An 1878 brochure published by the Minnesota State Board of Immigration, describes the many reasons for moving to the state.

19th century advertisements to get people to move to Minnesota. Library of Congress images

19th century advertisements to get people to move to Minnesota. Library of Congress images; see description and link details below

Northern Line Packet Co.,
Advertisement for a steamship company in The Minnesota Guide. A Handbook of Information for the Travelers, Pleasure Seekers and Immigrants…, 1869.
Pioneering the Upper Midwest: Books from Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, ca. 1820-1910

Still a leader in farming, lumbering, milling, and medical research, Minnesota is also an important center for the printing industry and a major producer of iron ore. Its largest city, Minneapolis, is home to the University of Minnesota, numerous museums, and theaters such as the Tyrone Guthrie Theater and the Walker Arts Center, and the world’s largest cash grain market.

St. Paul is the state capital.

Bird's eye view of Duluth Minnesota, 1914, via Library of Congress
Bird’s Eye View of Duluth, Minnesota, copyright 1914.
Taking the Long View, 1851-1991

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U.S. and Minnesota flags flying together. Minnesota state flag photo by AlexiusHoratius - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons, via Wikipedia

U.S. and Minnesota flags flying together. Minnesota state flag photo by AlexiusHoratius – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons, via Wikipedia

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

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

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May 11, Feynman Day! How to celebrate?

May 11, 2017

May 11 is the anniversary of the birth of Richard Feynman (born 1918, died 1988).

Richard Feynman

Richard Feynman. Borrowed from Luciano’s Tumblr, LikeaPhysicist

Feynman’s birthday falls on Statehood Day for Minnesota.  You can fly your flag for both causes, if you wish, Minnesota’s statehood AND Feynman’s birthday.  No proclamation will issue from the White House, but you can fly your flag any day.

Why Feynman Day?  To celebrate invention, physics, interesting characters, and that essential, American quality of je ne sais quoi.

In addition to his winning the Nobel Prize for Quantum Electrodynamics (QED), Feynman popularized the critique of science and other enterprises with what we now call Cargo Cult science, or education, or whatever, where people follow the dance steps, but without the rhythm and music.

Those two things alone would make him a remarkable man.  But, like a product offered for $19.95 as a good buy in a 2:00 a.m. infomercial, with Feynman, there’s more.  With Feynman, there is always more.

I got alerted to Feynman in the first days of the old Quality Paperback Book Club, when they featured his new memoir, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!  QPBC was hot on the book, and with a title like that, how could I resist?  When I got the book a week or so later, I read it within two days, while attending law school and working full time.  I remember Feynman.

Norton published the book — and their description, alone, should make you want to read it:

A New York Times bestseller—the outrageous exploits of one of this century’s greatest scientific minds and a legendary American original.

In this phenomenal national bestseller, the Nobel Prize­-winning physicist Richard P. Feynman recounts in his inimitable voice his adventures trading ideas on atomic physics with Einstein and Bohr and ideas on gambling with Nick the Greek, painting a naked female toreador, accompanying a ballet on his bongo drums and much else of an eyebrow-raising and hilarious nature.

All true, and that’s not even the half of the outrageousness, all done with great good humor, about a life lived in great good humor through what should have been a memorable age, but often was just terrifying.

I think sometimes that Feynman’s calm, alone, borne of that great good humor and insatiable curiosity,  may have gotten us through the birth of the atomic age and the Cold War.

Feynman was a giant, and we don’t revere him enough.  Consider:

  • Feynman’s high school sweetheart, Arlene, came down with tuberculosis.  He married her, and took her with him to New Mexico to make the atom bombs.  The stories of her confinement to a hospital, and the laborious trekking he had to make between Los Alamos and her bedside in Santa Fe, are touching, and heartbreaking.  It is one of the great love stories of the 20th century, certainly, and perhaps for all time.  It also provided the title for his second memoir, What Do You Care What Other People Think?
  • Every single, college-age man should read Feynman’s stories of how to date, and how to seduce women.  His approach was unique, and endeared him to women — in legend, to many women.  Feynman’s dating must have been part of the inspiration for the comedy series, “Big Bang Theory.”  Feynman’s stories are better.  (Heck, it’s even the subject of a popular, classic XKCD comic — probably only Feynman and Einstein among Nobel-winning physicists have made so much money for so many cartoonists.)
US postage stamp featuring Richard Feynman

US postage stamp featuring Richard Feynman

  • Yeah, he’s already been featured on a postage stamp, see at right.  That’s not good enough for Feynman, though — the U.S. Postal Service created a special cancellation stamp for Feynman, featuring a version of his Feynman Diagrams.

    USPS authorized a special postal cancel (United States Postal Service) to honor the 80th birthday of Richard Feynman. This cancel was used in Lake Worth, Florida. For this special day the post office was renamed “Feynman Station.”
    Feynman Commemorative Cancel Feynman Diagram

    The Feynman Diagram used for the postal cancel on this envelope depicts what is known as a “bubble process.” It shows a high energy particle, for example, a cosmic ray (a) from a distant supernova, which emits a high energy photon, for example, a gamma ray (b). The photon, in turn, creates a particle (c) and an anti-particle (d) that exists for a brief moment and then recombines.

    As Feynman liked to point out, an anti-particle is the same thing as a particle with negative energy traveling backward in time (which is why the arrow at (d) points backwards, i.e. to the left). So you could say the photon created only one particle that, at first, traveled forward in time (the bottom semi-circle) and then reversed and went back in time (the top semi-circle) and annihilated itself! By inventing diagrams like this, Richard Feynman made it much easier to understand what is going on in the interactions between sub-atomic particles without getting lost in tremendous amounts of tedious math

  • Working at Los Alamos on the Manhattan Project, Feynman developed a keen appreciation for bureaucracy and all its follies.  His vexations for the security managers are also legendary.  Here’s a quick version of one story — he asked friends and family to write to him in code, but to not include a key to the code, so he’d have to crack the code to read the letter.  Feynman could do it, but the security people couldn’t.  Hilarity ensued.
  • Feynman developed a love for the still-relatively unknown, landlocked Asian nation of Tannu Tuva.  It’s just the sort of place to appeal to a character like Feynman — so obscure most atlases didn’t, and don’t, show it at all — seemingly consumed by the Soviet Union, but held in a special status.  Home of throat singing — and almost impossible to get to.  During the Cold War, Feynman struck up correspondence with people in Tuva, to the concern of Soviet and American intelligence agencies, who seemed not to understand someone might do such thing out of curiosity.  Feynman hoped to travel there to visit new friends, but his final bouts of cancer took him before it was possible.  Tuva, famous among philatelists only, perhaps, honored Feynman with postage stamps and postcards.
  • Just try to find a photo of Feynman not smiling. The man was a joy to be around, for most people, most of the time.
  • Quantum electrodynamics?  No, I can’t explain it, either — but his work had a lot to do with how particles wobble.  I remember that because, according to Feynman, he got the inspiration for the work for which he won the Nobel while spinning plates, like a Chinese acrobat on the Ed Sullivan Show, to the delight of students in the Cornell University cafeteria, and the shock and horror of the food service people.  Who else has yet confessed to such an inspiration for a Nobel?

There’s more — a lot more.  Feynman outlined our current generation of computer memory devices — in 1959.  No, he didn’t patent the idea.  He did patent an idea for a nuclear-powered spacecraft.  Another delightful story.

Feynman in an Apple ad

Feynman was featured in print and broadcast ads for Apple — not one, but two (did anyone else get that honor from Apple?). “Think Different.” This is one of Apple Computer’s most successful advertising campaigns. The theme of the campaign is one that celebrates figures in history who changed the world by thinking differently. Richard Feynman was among the chosen figures. Image from the Feynman Group.

Feynman served on the board that approved science books for the California school system –– his stories of that work will shock some, but it will make others shake their heads as they recognize the current crop of cargo-cultists and political bullies who dominate textbook approval processes, knowing nothing at all about what they are doing, or why.

No, I didn’t forget his brilliant work on the commission that studied the Challenger disaster, for NASA. There’s so much stuff to glorify!

In history, Feynman should be remembered much as we remember Thomas Jefferson, as a renaissance man in his time, a man who put great intellect to great work for his nation and all humanity.

Feynman's second Apple ad

The second Apple ad featuring Richard Feynman. An excerpt from Apple Computer’s campaign commercial: “Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes, the ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them… about the only thing you can’t do is ignore them, because they change things, they push the human race forward; and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

The sages say we shouldn’t have regrets, but I do have one. When the Challenger Commission was meeting in Washington, D.C., I was working on another commission up the street. I knew Feynman was ill, but our work was important, and we’d heard his disease was in remission. I didn’t goof off a day and go to any of the hearings to see him, to get an autograph, to meet the man. I though I’d have other opportunities to do that. Now I regret not having met him in person.

In print, and in film, I know him well. In our family, reading Feynman is something everybody does. Feynman’s memoir was one of the last books I read to our son, Kenny, as he was growing up, and growing into reading on his own. Even reading about Feynman, together, was an adventure. Our son, James, took us into the real physics of Feynman, and though I struggle with it more than James, we still read Feynman, for humor, and physics.

What would be appropriate ways to mark Feynman’s birth? At some future date, I hope we’ll have public readings of his books, showings of the documentaries about him, recreations of his lectures, perhaps. And then everyone can get in a circle, beating drums and singing about getting some orange juice, before sending postcards to our friends in Tuva.

Richard Feynman, we still need you, and miss you dearly.

Tannu Tuva

Tuva’s capital is the delightfully-named Kyzyl. From this map, can you figure out where Tuva is, or how to get there — without Google, or Bing?

Tuva postcard honoring Richard Feynman

Tuva postcard, in honor of Richard Feynman — who loved to drum.

There will always be “More” about Richard Feynman, if we’re lucky:

Richard Feynman, unlikely leader, from Open University

Have a great Feynman Day!

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

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

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