Rachel Carson’s 108th birth anniversary

May 27, 2015

Rachel Carson, the great biologist and author, was born on May 27, 1907.

Last year, Google’s Doodle featured Ms. Carson, and the crazy, ill-informed, hoaxing and hoaxed right wing, came unglued.

Less flap this year, but I suspect it’s only because there’s been no great public recognition of the date.  Hoaxsters who insist DDT was always safe, or that banning DDT on cotton crops in Arkansas and Texas somehow caused malaria in Africa, or that Idi Amin became a great fan of Rachel Carson and stopped spraying DDT in Uganda to save American eagles, or other similarly silly-but-vicious things, or who just hate anything to do with protecting the environment, usually erupt on Earth Day, World Malaria Day, and Rachel Carson’s birthday.

Not much on her birthday this year (but stay tuned).

Meanwhile, our country’s sober liberal conscience, The Nation, looks back at their review of Silent Spring, and does a little cringing. Probably not necessary:

Rachel Carson, date unknown. (US Department of Agriculture) - via The Nation

Rachel Carson, date unknown. (US Department of Agriculture) – via The Nation

It is difficult not to cringe at the sight of the headline to the following review of Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking book, Silent Spring—“Man and Other Pests”—given that it was a review of what was then probably the most influential intellectual contribution by an American woman to date.

Miss Carson is indignant about the unexpected effects of our thoughtless broadcasting of pesticides. She writes persuasively, for she has taken great pains to gather and check her facts. Parts of the book were published in The New Yorker magazine last summer, and immediately provoked wide interest, discussion and controversy. This reaction will undoubtedly intensify with the publication of the book. No one is in a better position than Miss Carson to arouse the indignation of the public and the conscience of the chemical industry, and it may well be that she has made a real contribution to our salvation.

[At The Nation, you can read the entire review quoted from above.]

Happy birthday, Ms. Carson.  You have become a hero to thinking people, conservationists, scientists and women everywhere.

You’ll be pleased to know the American symbol, the bald eagle, is back from extinction’s verge, along with the brown pelican, peregrine falcons and osprey.  You’d be surprised to know that, despite gross abuse of DDT in the 1950s and 1960s that caused mosquitoes all over the world to carry alleles resistance and immunity, DDT was saved from complete worthlessness by a reduction in use, and is still used in a few places today, indoors to protect wildlife, to fight malaria.  You were right about DDT.

You were right about fighting malaria, too.  You said in Silent Spring we should use integrated pest management to battle the mosquitoes that provide a site for part of the life cycle of the malaria parasites, and who then spread the disease.  When DDT failed the malaria eradication campaign in the 1960s, malaria fighters were left with little else. Malaria deaths have plunged, from the 4 million to 5 million per year you knew, to fewer than 500,000 per year now.  Worldwide, we’ve cut malaria deaths 45% just since 1999, when a group of non-governmental organizations and the World Health Organization formally adopted integrated pest management as the best way to fight the disease, and began distributing mosquito nets in a big way.

You were right, Rachel Carson. Humanity is a part of nature, and if we fight nature we end up fighting and killing ourselves.

More:

One of my favorites from Gus Arriola (also appearing at the DDT Chronicles):


Memorial Day 2015 – Fly your flag today

May 25, 2015

U.S. flags flying at the Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery, for Memorial Day 2015. Photo by Ed Darrell. Please use.

U.S. flags flying at the Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery, for Memorial Day 2015. Photo by Ed Darrell. Please use.

Fly your flag today for Memorial Day.

On Memorial Day, flags should be flown at half-staff until noon, then raised to full staff (and retired at sunset).

Just a reminder: When posting a flag to half-staff, it should be raised with gusto to full staff, then slowly lowered to the half-staff position.  On Memorial Day, when changing the flag’s position at noon, simply raise the flag briskly to full staff.  At retirement, the flag should be lowered in a stately fashion.

U.S. flags flying at the Dallas Fort Worth National Cemetery, for Memorial Day 2015.  You may use this photo.

U.S. flags flying at the Dallas Fort Worth National Cemetery, for Memorial Day 2015. You may use this photo.


89 years ago, May 23, 1926: Mencken confessed Fillmore bathtub hoax, “any facts . . . got there accidentally”

May 23, 2015

Reasons for my annual observance of a moment of silence, here on May 23, for the failed confession of Mr. Mencken should be obvious to even a sleepy reader.  Alas, annually the need grows to call attention to the dangers of hoaxing, as hoaxes particularly in the political life of the U.S. grow in number, in viciousness, and in the numbers of gullibles suckered.  Here, again, is our annual reading of the confession with a few photographs and new links thrown in for easy learning:

May 23, 1926, H. L. Mencken‘s newspaper column confessed his hoax of nine years earlier — he had made up whole cloth the story of Millard Fillmore‘s only accomplishment being the installation of a plumbed bathtub in the White House (in the 1850s known as the Executive Mansion).

H. L. Mencken, America's "wittiest defender of liberty," according to a story in the resurrected American Mercury. Image from American Mercury.

H. L. Mencken, America’s “wittiest defender of liberty,” according to a story in the resurrected American Mercury. Image from American Mercury.

Alas, the hoax cat was out of the bag, and the hoax information still pollutes the pool of history today.

Text of Mencken’s confession, from the Museum of Hoaxes:

Melancholy Reflections

On Dec. 28, 1917, I printed in the New York Evening Mail, a paper now extinct, an article purporting to give the history of the bathtub. This article, I may say at once, was a tissue of absurdities, all of them deliberate and most of them obvious…

This article, as I say, was planned as a piece of spoofing to relieve the strain of war days, and I confess that I regarded it, when it came out, with considerable satisfaction. It was reprinted by various great organs of the enlightenment, and after a while the usual letters began to reach me from readers. Then, suddenly, my satisfaction turned to consternation. For these readers, it appeared, all took my idle jocosities with complete seriousness. Some of them, of antiquarian tastes, asked for further light on this or that phase of the subject. Others actually offered me corroboration!

But the worst was to come. Pretty soon I began to encounter my preposterous “facts” in the writings of other men. They began to be used by chiropractors and other such quacks as evidence of the stupidity of medical men. They began to be cited by medical men as proof of the progress of public hygiene. They got into learned journals. They were alluded to on the floor of congress. They crossed the ocean, and were discussed solemnly in England and on the continent. Finally, I began to find them in standard works of reference. Today, I believe, they are accepted as gospel everywhere on earth. To question them becomes as hazardous as to question the Norman invasion.

* * *

And as rare. This is the first time, indeed, that they have ever been questioned, and I confess at once that even I myself, their author, feel a certain hesitancy about doing it. Once more, I suppose, I’ll be accused of taking the wrong side for the mere pleasure of standing in opposition. The Cincinnati boomers, who have made much of the boast that the bathtub industry, now running to $200,000,000 a year, was started in their town, will charge me with spreading lies against them. The chiropractors will damn me for blowing up their ammunition. The medical gents, having swallowed my quackery, will now denounce me as a quack for exposing them. And in the end, no doubt, the thing will simmer down to a general feeling that I have once more committed some vague and sinister crime against the United States, and there will be a renewal of the demand that I be deported to Russia.

I recite this history, not because it is singular, but because it is typical. It is out of just such frauds, I believe, that most of the so-called knowledge of humanity flows. What begins as a guess — or, perhaps, not infrequently, as a downright and deliberate lie — ends as a fact and is embalmed in the history books. One recalls the gaudy days of 1914-1918. How much that was then devoured by the newspaper readers of the world was actually true? Probably not 1 per cent. Ever since the war ended learned and laborious men have been at work examining and exposing its fictions. But every one of these fictions retains full faith and credit today. To question even the most palpably absurd of them, in most parts of the United States, is to invite denunciation as a bolshevik.

So with all other wars. For example, the revolution. For years past American historians have been investigating the orthodox legends. Almost all of them turn out to be blowsy nonsense. Yet they remain in the school history books and every effort to get them out causes a dreadful row, and those who make it are accused of all sorts of treasons and spoils. The truth, indeed, is something that mankind, for some mysterious reason, instinctively dislikes. Every man who tries to tell it is unpopular, and even when, by the sheer strength of his case, he prevails, he is put down as a scoundrel.

* * *

As a practicing journalist for many years, I have often had close contact with history in the making. I can recall no time or place when what actually occurred was afterward generally known and believed. Sometimes a part of the truth got out, but never all. And what actually got out was seldom clearly understood. Consider, for example, the legends that follow every national convention. A thousand newspaper correspondents are on the scene, all of them theoretically competent to see accurately and report honestly, but it is seldom that two of them agree perfectly, and after a month after the convention adjourns the accepted version of what occurred usually differs from the accounts of all of them.

Political boss Harry M. Daugherty (later Attor...

Political boss Harry M. Daugherty (later Attorney General of the United States), left, with Senator Warren G. Harding (later President of the United States) at Harding’s home in Marion, Ohio during the 1920 presidential campaign. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I point to the Republican convention of 1920, which nominated the eminent and lamented Harding. A week after the delegates adjourned the whole country believed that Harding had been put through by Col. George Harvey: Harvey himself admitted it. Then other claimants to the honor arose, and after a year or two it was generally held that the trick had been turned by the distinguished Harry M. Daugherty, by that time a salient light of the Harding cabinet. The story began to acquire corroborative detail. Delegates and correspondents began to remember things that they had not noticed on the spot. What the orthodox tale is today with Daugherty in eclipse, I don’t know, but you may be sure that it is full of mysterious intrigue and bold adventure.

Ambassador Myron T. Herrick was part of the U....

Ambassador Myron T. Herrick was part of the U.S. delegation to the International Chamber of Commerce which sailed on Kroonland in 1920. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What are the facts? The facts are that Harvey had little more to do with the nomination of Harding than I did, and that Daugherty was immensely surprised when good Warren won. The nomination was really due to the intense heat, and to that alone. The delegates, torn by the savage three cornered fight between Lowden, Johnson, and Wood, came to Saturday morning in despair. The temperature in the convention hall was at least 120 degrees. They were eager to get home. When it became apparent that the leaders could not break the deadlock they ran amuck and nominated Harding, as the one aspirant who had no enemies. If any individual managed the business it was not Harvey or Daugherty, but Myron T. Herrick. But so far as I know Herrick’s hand in it has never been mentioned.

* * *

English: Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier i...

Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier in arena before fight at Boyle’s Thirty Acres. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I turn to a more pleasant field — that of sport in the grand manner. On July 2, 1921, in the great bowl at Jersey City, the Hon. Jack Dempsey met M. Carpentier, the gallant frog. The sympathy of the crowd was overwhelmingly with M. Carpentier and every time he struck a blow he got a round of applause, even if it didn’t land. I had an excellent seat, very near the ring, and saw every move of the two men. From the first moment Dr. Dempsey had it all his own way. He could have knocked out M. Carpentier in the first half of the first round. After that first half he simply waited his chance to do it politely and humanely.

Yet certain great newspapers reported the next morning that M. Carpentier had delivered an appalling wallop in the second round and that Dr. Dempsey had narrowly escaped going out. Others told the truth, but what chance had the truth against that romantic lie? It is believed in to this day by at least 99.99 per cent of all the boxing fans in Christendom. Carpentier himself, when he recovered from his beating, admitted categorically that it was nonsense, but even Carpentier could make no headway against the almost universal human tendency to cherish what is not true. A thousand years hence schoolboys will be taught that the frog had Dempsey going. It may become in time a religious dogma, like the doctrine that Jonah swallowed the whale. Scoffers who doubt it will be damned to hell.

The moral, if any, I leave to psycho-pathologists, if competent ones can be found. All I care to do today is to reiterate, in the most solemn and awful terms, that my history of the bathtub, printed on Dec. 28, 1917, was pure buncombe. If there were any facts in it they got there accidentally and against my design. But today the tale is in the encyclopedias. History, said a great American soothsayer, is bunk.

[Emphasis in that last paragraph added here.]

Mencken’s confession gets much less attention than it deserves.  In a just world, this essay would be part of every AP U.S. history text, and would be available for printing for students to read individually in class and to discuss, debate and ponder.  Quite to the contrary, state legislatures today debate whether to require teaching of the hoax that disastrous climate change is not occurring, only 45% of Americans claim to know better for certain; more legislatures work hard to devise ways to insert hoaxes against biology (evolution and human reproduction, notably), astronomy and physics (Big Bang), history and even education (Islam is a root of socialist thought, President Obama is not Christian, weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq after the U.S. invasion, teachers are socialists).

In 2013, the governing body of the Boy Scouts of America voted on whether to allow homosexual boys to be Scouts — as if an 8-year-old kid joining Cub Scouts knows enough about sex and love, and sex predation, to threaten the Constitution of the U.S. if we allow him to learn how to put alphabet macaroni onto a board spelling out “Mom,” or to learn how to carve an automobile out of a block of wood and race it on a closed-course track.  The so-called Family Research Council (FRC) has conducted a campaign of vicious hoaxes against the measure, even going so far as to purloin official logos of the Boy Scouts to suggest they speak for BSA.  The hoax has millions of victims, they claim.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., GOP Members of Congress call for investigations into wrongdoing evidenced in e-mails between the White House and State Department and CIA, over the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, and the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens.  To hear the GOP describe it, you’d never know that the GOP opposed President Obama’s actions to save the city of Benghazi from destruction by dictator Muammar Gadhafy a few months before, that the GOP slashed the security budget for all U.S. diplomatic missions, leaving Ambassador Stevens underprotected, that the GOP was opposed to much of the work of Ambassador Stevens, or that the incriminating e-mails were hoaxed up by GOP Congressional staff.  [This paragraph was written two years ago; still oddly valid in 2015.]

Other hoaxes that plague our nation, national security, and freedom from fear:

  • Texans fret that President Obama will invade Texas and annex it into the United States of America.
  • Many business lobbyists scream that rogue scientists cooked up global warming, and tell us that all of us frogs will know when the water is too warm, and can leap to safety later.
  • Any Google or Bing search turns up high dudgeon ne’er-do-gooders who scream that we need to bring back DDT to beat malaria, Ebola, West Nile virus and tooth decay, though DDT has always been available to fight disease-carrying insects, and it won’t work against Ebola, and it’s inappropriate against West Nile.
  • Et cetera.
  • Et cetera.
  • Et cetera.

If you see pale faces among the GOP Congressional staff or the FRC this morning, it may be because the ghost of H. L. Mencken appeared to them last night to give them hell.  We could hope.

More:

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

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience, and repetition of the facts.


Fly your flags May 23 for statehood in South Carolina and Wisconsin

May 23, 2015

Two states on the same day?

Not exactly.

South Carolina achieved statehood on May 23, 1788, according to the date the state’s people ratified the Constitution. South Carolina was number eight; the Constitution became effective on the ninth ratification.

Wisconsin joined the union in 1848 — but it did name its capital city after James Madison, the Father of the Constitution.

Same day, 60 years apart.

Residents of a state are urged to fly the U.S. flag on the state’s anniversary of entering the union.

U.S. and South Carolina flags. Fox News file photo

U.S. and South Carolina flags. Fox News file photo

Judging by what’s available in on-line news, it appears both South Carolina and Wisconsin don’t have plans to celebrate statehood much, in 2015.

Is this a litmus test?  Will only true patriots fly their flags in the two states?

Or after National Maritime Day on May 22, and with Memorial Day on May 25, are citizens suffering from flag-flying fatigue?

U.S. and Wisconsin flags fly at the Wisconsin Capitol Building in Madison. Wisconsin Legislature image.

U.S. and Wisconsin flags fly at the Wisconsin Capitol Building in Madison. Wisconsin Assembly image.

Here in Texas, Rotary Clubs offer a service to put flags up on flag-flying days, for an annual fee. Boy Scout groups and others service organizations take routes to deliver flags on poles; on weekends, flags go up on Friday, and come down at the end of the holiday, Monday night in this case.

Heck, that covers National Maritime Day, Wisconsin and South Carolina Statehood Days, and Memorial Day (without the half-staff exercise).

A patriot could get lost in all this flag flying.


Powers of Ten – Charles and Ray Eames’ brilliant, before-its-time film

May 23, 2015

Images from

Images from “Powers of Ten,” 1977 edition. From IconEye

AMNH’s “The Known Universe” is a cool film. Putting up that last post on the film, I looked back and noted that when I had previously written about the brilliant predecessor films from Charles and Ray Eames, “Powers of Ten,” the Eames films were not freely available on line.

That’s been fixed.

I like to use films like this as warmups to a year of history, and as a reminder once we get into studying the history of space exploration, of just how far we’ve come in understanding the universe, and how big this place is.

Of course, that means wer are just small parts.

The Eames’s genius showed the scale of things, from a couple picnicking in a park, to the outer reaches of the universe, and then back, zooming into the innermost reaches of a human down to the sub-atomic level.

There’s a series of these films; this one, published on YouTube by the Eames Office, was done in 1977, one of the later versions.

How can you use this in class, teachers? (I recommend buying it on DVD, as I did; better sound and pictures, generally.)

Film information:

Uploaded on Aug 26, 2010

Powers of Ten takes us on an adventure in magnitudes. Starting at a picnic by the lakeside in Chicago, this famous film transports us to the outer edges of the universe. Every ten seconds we view the starting point from ten times farther out until our own galaxy is visible only a s a speck of light among many others. Returning to Earth with breathtaking speed, we move inward- into the hand of the sleeping picnicker- with ten times more magnification every ten seconds. Our journey ends inside a proton of a carbon atom within a DNA molecule in a white blood cell. POWERS OF TEN © 1977 EAMES OFFICE LLC (Available at http://www.eamesoffice.com)

At the Eames Office Youtube site, you may find the film in with Mandarin Chinese, German, and Japanese translations (no Spanish?).  If you’re unfamiliar with the work of this couple — you would recognize much of the stuff they designed, I’m sure — check out a short film on an exhibit on Ray Eames (which has concluded, sadly):

More:

The very recognizable, famous Eames Chair, from Herman Miller. Ideally, you can sit in your Eames Chair while watching

The very recognizable, famous Eames Chair and Ottoman, from Herman Miller. Ideally, you can sit in your Eames Chair while watching “Powers of Ten.” Herman Miller image.


109 years ago, May 22, 1906: Patent to Wright Bros. for “flying machine”

May 22, 2015

In a drawer in a file box in the U.S. Patent Office in Washington, D.C., is a study in black ink on white paper, lines that resemble those images most of us have of the first Wright Bros. flyer, usually dubbed “Kittyhawk” after the place it first took to the air.

Drawing 1 from patent granted to Orville Wright for a flying machine

Drawing 1 from patent granted to Orville Wright for a flying machine

The patent was issued on May 22, 1906, to Orville Wright, Patent No. 821393, for a “flying machine.”

It makes more sense if you turn the drawing on its side.

Wright Bros. flying machine, from patent drawing

Wright Bros. flying machine, from patent drawing

With the patent, the Wrights had legal means to protect their idea so they could commercially develop it.  Turns out, however, that the fight to get the patent, and subsequent fights to protect it, may have prevented them from fully realizing the commercial success they could have had.  Lawrence Goldstone, the author of that article, details the history at much greater length in his 2014 book, Birdmen: The Wright Brothers, Glenn Curtiss, and the Battle to Control the Skies. 

Why did it take three years to get the patent issued?

Below the fold, the rest of the patent.

Read the rest of this entry »


Merchant mariners bring us the world; fly your flag for National Maritime Day, May 22

May 22, 2015

SS Savannah, first U.S. merchant steam ship to complete an Atlantic crossing, having set sail on May 22, 1819.  gCaptain image

SS Savannah, first U.S. merchant steam ship to complete an Atlantic crossing, having set sail on May 22, 1819. gCaptain image

You’ve got your flag up already? Good.

Most people don’t even know about National Maritime Day, May 22 — let alone President Obama issued a proclamation to fly the U.S. flag in honor of merchant marines.

USS Slater Color Guard member Art Dott of Colonie carries the American flag Sunday during the presentation of the colors at the start of a National Maritime Day ceremony on the boat in Albany. Dott, a culinary specialist chief, is a 350year member of the Navy Reserve. ( Philip Kamrass / Times Union)

From the Albany, New York, Times-Union, 2011: USS Slater Color Guard member Art Dott of Colonie carries the American flag Sunday during the presentation of the colors at the start of a National Maritime Day ceremony on the boat in Albany. Dott, a culinary specialist chief, is a 35-year member of the Navy Reserve. ( Philip Kamrass / Times Union)

 

National Maritime Day is a United States holiday created to recognize the maritime industry. It is observed on May 22, the date in 1819 that the American steamship Savannah set sail from Savannah, Georgia on the first ever transoceanic voyage under steam power. The holiday was created by the United States Congress on May 20, 1933.

President Obama’s proclamation:

Presidential Proclamation – National Maritime Day, 2015

NATIONAL MARITIME DAY, 2015

– – – – – – –

BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A PROCLAMATION

For over two centuries, proud mariners have set sail in defense of our people and in pursuit of opportunity.  Through periods of conflict and times of peace, our Nation has relied on the United States Merchant Marine to transport goods to and from our shores and deliver troops and supplies around the world.  On National Maritime Day, we honor the women and men who take to the seas to boost our economy and uphold the values we cherish.

Our Nation is forever indebted to the brave privateers who helped secure our independence, fearlessly supplying our Revolutionary forces with muskets and ammunition.  Throughout history, their legacy has been carried forward by courageous seafarers who have faithfully served our Nation as part of the United States Merchant Marine — bold individuals who emerged triumphant in the face of attacks from the British fleet in the War of 1812, and who empowered the Allied forces as they navigated perilous waters during World War II.  Today, patriots who share their spirit continue to stand ready to protect our seas and the livelihoods they support.

Ninety percent of the world’s commerce moves by sea, and businesses across our country rely on domestic and international trade every day.  Helping to protect our vital shipping routes, Merchant Mariners are critical to our effort to combat piracy and uphold the maritime security on which the global supply chain relies.  And in times of war or national emergency, they bolster our national security as a “fourth arm of defense.”  Whether transporting commercial goods or military equipment, battling tough weather or enemy fire, they strive and sacrifice to secure a brighter future for all Americans.  On this day, we reaffirm the importance of their contributions and salute all those who serve this noble cause.

The Congress, by a joint resolution approved May 20, 1933, has designated May 22 of each year as “National Maritime Day,” and has authorized and requested the President to issue annually a proclamation calling for its appropriate observance.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim May 22, 2015, as National Maritime Day.  I call upon the people of the United States to mark this observance and to display the flag of the United States at their homes and in their communities.  I also request that all ships sailing under the American flag dress ship on that day.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twentieth day of May, in the year of our Lord two thousand fifteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-ninth.

BARACK OBAMA

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