February 15 is Shoulders of Giants Day

February 15, 2017

February 15th is Shoulders of Giants Day (unless you’re still on the Julian calendar).

Or should be. 

Famous quotations often get cited to the wrong famous person. ‘Somebody said something about standing on the shoulders of giants — who was it? Edison? Lincoln? Einstein? Jefferson?’  It may be possible someday to use Google or a similar service to track down the misquotes.

The inspiration, perhaps

Robert Burton, author of "Anatomy of Melancholy"

Robert Burton, melancholy scholar at Oxford

A dwarf standing on the shoulders of a giant may see farther than a giant himself.

Robert Burton (February 8, 1577-January 25, 1640), vicar of Oxford University, who wrote The Anatomy of Melancholy to ward off his own depressions

The famous quote

Sir Isaac Newton, by Sir Godfrey Keller, 1689

Sir Isaac Newton, by Sir Godfrey Keller, 1689

If I have seen further (than you and Descartes) it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.

Sir Isaac Newton, letter to Robert Hooke, February 5, 1675, Julian/February 15, 1676, Gregorian

Newton consciously paid tribute to others who had plowed his science fields before, even if he came up with different crops, er, answers. All science is based on something that comes before it, and in the modern world science advances, oddly, by trying to disprove what scientists thought happened before.

But the sentiment applies equally well in business, in politics, in raising children. We are products of what we learn, and what we learn is a result of culture, which is a result of history. We all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us.

It’s our job to try to see farther, and not just look down, at how far up we are.

Someone will ask (since we so often discuss it), ‘can we fly our flags today?’

Of course you may fly your U.S. flag today. It’s not a day designated by law, but you may fly it in honor of Sir Isaac Newton’s letter if you wish. The U.S. flag code suggests times Americans may fly their flags, but does not require it, nor does law forbid flying the flag for other occasions, or just for every day.

Maybe better, climb to the top of the flag pole. What can you see, aided by a giant’s height?

Other references:

Inscription on the edge of Britain's 2-pound coin; in this photo, four coins are used, to show the entire inscription. Flickriver image

Inscription on the edge of Britain’s 2-pound coin; in this photo, four coins are used, to show the entire inscription. Flickriver image, 1875Brian

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

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience. But, nanos gigantum humeris insidentes.

 

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Quote of the moment: Ali, ‘said I was the greatest even before I was’

February 3, 2017

Muhammad Ali, mural on business building on west Commerce Street, Dallas, Texas. Photo, Creative Commons copyright by Ed Darrell.

Muhammad Ali, mural on business building on west Commerce Street, Dallas, Texas. Photo, Creative Commons copyright by Ed Darrell.

It’s a tribute to self-confidence, a motivational-poster caption with a hundred different photos just featuring Muhammad Ali.

On the mural, Ali is quoted, I said I was even before I knew I was.” Here’s the more commonly-accepted version:

“I am the greatest. I said that even before I knew I was. I figured that if I said it enough, I would convince the world that I really was the greatest.”

Can you guess? It’s difficult to pin down a solid attribution for the quote. I have little doubt he said it — but can someone say where?

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Quote of the moment: Ann Richards, open doors of government, let people in

February 1, 2017

Texas Gov. Ann Richards in the Governor's Office, with the motorcycle she got on her birthday. Texas State Library image.

Texas Gov. Ann Richards in the Governor’s Office, with the motorcycle she got on her birthday. Texas State Library image.

Sarah Weddington wrote:

Ann now rests at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin. Her grave marker reads, “Today we have a vision of a Texas where opportunity knows no race, no gender, no color—a glimpse of what can happen in government if we simply open the doors and let the people in.”

Weddington wrote a remembrance to Richards in The Texas Observer, October 12, 2012. This quote comes from Richards’s speech at her inauguration as Texas Governor, January 15, 1991.

Richards served Texas as governor, 1991 to 1995.

Let the sunshine in, then!

Texas Gov. Ann Richards's grave marker in the Texas State Cemetery, Austin, Texas, reverse. Quote comes from her 1991 inaugural address. Image from Findagrave.com

Texas Gov. Ann Richards’s grave marker in the Texas State Cemetery, Austin, Texas, reverse. Quote comes from her 1991 inaugural address. Image from Findagrave.com

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Quote of the Trump administration? “What’s the Constitution between friends?”

January 8, 2017

Timothy J. Campbell, Congressman from New York; photo from Mathew Brady negative circa 1870; Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2005691716/

Timothy J. Campbell, Congressman from New York; photo from Mathew Brady negative circa 1870; Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2005691716/

What’s the Constitution between friends?

–Timothy J. Campbell (1840-1904), Attributed, circa 1885

A little more below the fold? Certainly. Read the rest of this entry »


Quote of the moment, December 6, 1852: Millard Fillmore explains his legacy; history ignores it

December 6, 2016

For an accidental president, a man who no one expected to take the office; for a guy whose term was marked by his party’s rejection of his policies so much that they did not even entertain the idea he might be the nominee in the next election; for the last Whig president, an obvious dinosaur of a dying political view; for a guy so obscure that a hoax more than a half-century later remains his greatest acknowledged point of reference, Millard Fillmore left the U.S. in good shape.

Should that be his real legacy?

On the anniversary of his final State of the Union message, let us ponder what Millard Fillmore bragged about.

Millard Fillmore for President, campaign poster from 1856 (American Party)

Campaign poster for Millard Fillmore, running for president in 1856 on the American Party ticket. He carried Maryland, which is probably ironic, considering Maryland’s Catholic roots, and the American Party’s anti-Catholic views, views probably not entirely shared by Fillmore; the American Party is more often known as the “Know-Nothings.”  Image from the Library of Congress American Memory files.

These are the last two paragraphs of his final State of the Union message, delivered on paper on December 6, 1852 Perhaps establishing a tradition, he made the message a listing of current zeitgeist, starting out mourning the recent passing of Daniel Webster, and the abatement of epidemics of mosquito-borne plagues in several cities.  He recited activities of the government, including the abolishing of corporal punishment in the Navy and improvements in the Naval Academy; he mentioned U.S. exploration around the world, in the Pacific, in the Amazon River, in Africa, and especially his project to send a fleet to Japan to open trade there.  He noted great opportunities for trade, domestically across an expanded, Atlantic-to-Pacific United States, and in foreign markets reachable through both oceans.

The last two paragraphs would be considered greatly exaggerated had any president in the 20th century delivered them; but from Millard Fillmore, they were not.  He gave credit for these achievements to others, not himself.

In closing this my last annual communication, permit me, fellow-citizens, to congratulate you on the prosperous condition of our beloved country. Abroad its relations with all foreign powers are friendly, its rights are respected, and its high place in the family of nations cheerfully recognized. At home we enjoy an amount of happiness, public and private, which has probably never fallen to the lot of any other people. Besides affording to our own citizens a degree of prosperity of which on so large a scale I know of no other instance, our country is annually affording a refuge and a home to multitudes, altogether without example, from the Old World.

We owe these blessings, under Heaven, to the happy Constitution and Government which were bequeathed to us by our fathers, and which it is our sacred duty to transmit in all their integrity to our children. We must all consider it a great distinction and privilege to have been chosen by the people to bear a part in the administration of such a Government. Called by an unexpected dispensation to its highest trust at a season of embarrassment and alarm, I entered upon its arduous duties with extreme diffidence. I claim only to have discharged them to the best of an humble ability, with a single eye to the public good, and it is with devout gratitude in retiring from office that I leave the country in a state of peace and prosperity.

What president would not have been happy to have been able to claim as much?  Historians often offer back-handed criticism to Fillmore for the Compromise of 1850; in retrospect it did not prevent the Civil War.  In the circumstances of 1850, in the circumstances of Fillmore’s presidential career, should we expect more?  Compared to Buchanan’s presidency and the events accelerating toward war, did Fillmore do so badly?

Compare with modern analogs: Donald Trump appears to be working exactly contrary to those things Fillmore said were beneficial to the U.S., then: Friendly relations with foreign powers, the U.S. recognized as a refuge for persecuted people, and domestic prosperity. Any president since Franklin Roosevelt would have loved to have left such a legacy.

Have we underestimated Millard Fillmore?  Discuss.

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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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Rosa Parks Sit Down to Stand Up for Freedom Day, December 1: “Why do you push us around?” Rosa Parks asked the cop. (Anyone know the answer?)

December 1, 2016

Mrs. Rosa Parks asked a question of the policeman who arrested her for refusing to move to the back of the bus on December 1, 1955. In 2016, it is again, and still, 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.

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August 16 quote of the moment: FDR, ‘I’d join a union’

August 16, 2016

One wag, who didn’t want to discuss things after all, referred me to President Franklin Roosevelt’s message to the National Federal of Federal Employees (NFFE), of August 16, 1937 (from the American Presidency Project at the University of California – Santa Barbara (UCSB)).  The wag asked me to confess that FDR was anti-union, and that Wisconsin Gov. Scott “Ahab” Walker had acted in Roosevelt’s path in Walker’s assaults on the unions of policemen, firefighters and teachers in Wisconsin.

I demurred, and pointed out instead that Walker went after the unions despite their having NOT struck, that Walker refused to bargain in good faith, or bargain at all.  I pointed out that Walker had failed in his duty, in the view of FDR.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in 1936 (Checking to see whether, when and where FDR said that; Robert Reich says he did.)

It’s a good way to send wags packing on Twitter, I’ve learned.  They don’t like to read or think, and they certainly don’t want anyone pointing out that they may have misinterpreted something. Anything.

NFFE had invited Roosevelt to speak at their Twentieth Jubilee Convention; Roosevelt sent a letter declining the invitation. In declining, Roosevelt noted he opposed strikes by government employees.  No doubt there is more history there that deserves our attention.  We can get to it later.

Here’s the meat of FDR’s letter:

Particularly, I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of Government employees. Upon employees in the Federal service rests the obligation to serve the whole people, whose interests and welfare require orderliness and continuity in the conduct of Government activities. This obligation is paramount. Since their own services have to do with the functioning of the Government, a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable. It is, therefore, with a feeling of gratification that I have noted in the constitution of the National Federation of Federal Employees the provision that “under no circumstances shall this Federation engage in or support strikes against the United States Government.”

What do you think Roosevelt would have made of the current and last “do nothing” GOP blocs in Congress?  (Or should we say “blocks?”)

Doesn’t this describe Republicans in Congress today?

” . . . intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable.”

Is it too much to ask Republicans in Congress to be at least as loyal to the U.S. as the unionized government employees who pledged not to shut down the government?

FDR was pro-union, for very good reasons. Patriots should be, too.

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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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