Cool tool: Tag clouds of presidents’ thoughts

August 5, 2007

Only Crook pointed this out in a comment — and it’s neat enough to raise to a headline:

 . . . have you seen the U.S. Presidential Speeches Tag Cloud I happened upon a speech by Millard Fillmore, so naturally I thought of this blog. I can’t link you directly to the speech I looked at, which was his 1850 State of the Union Address, (you have to use the slider to get there) but these were the most common words in that speech according to the tag cloud:

appropriations california constitution negotiation pacific ports revenue territory treasury treaty war

Go try it out.   It’s a very interesting tool for the visual portrayal of information — visual portrayals that I don’t know how to copy for display here.

For example, notice the arrival of the word “California” in presidential speeches, circa 1848.  Note how the word grows over the next few years, but then disappears just prior to the Civil War — what might that suggest to students about events in California, compared to events in the rest of the U.S.?  Or, track the word “Constitution” from the earliest speeches/writings listed to the latest.  Or track the use of the word “Iraq” in President Bush’s speeches, between 2000 and 2007.

The tool is ahead of its time, a fun device now.  The key question is, how should we be using such information?

Chirag Mehta created the program. Browsing his site will give teachers good ideas about what can be done by a decent programmer.  Does any school have a programmer to make such things for the classroom?  And we’re supposed to be using technology?  (Mehta’s stuff may be as good as it looks — see this article about the tag cloud device, in the Wall Street Journal, no less.)

Shortest term on the Supreme Court, and an unexpected controversy

August 5, 2007

Real history has enough mystery and controversy in it that one need not make up fictions.

I posed a question about who served the shortest term on the Supreme Court.

I had stumbled across the fact, and found it interesting: Edwin McMasters Stanton was a Supreme Court Associate Justice for one day in 1869.

Edwin M. Stanton, Lincoln's Sec. of War, Or was he? In the comments to my previous post, Ray from Anything Goes Discussions Edutechation (or Education Technology, more formally) pointed out that the official list of members from the Supreme Court Historical Association denies that Stanton took the oath of office, and so does not list him as a Member of the Court. What are the facts?

One source I have said Stanton took the oath of office on his deathbed, and died within hours. (Wikipedia agrees, but on such an issue, without reference, one should not trust it unconditionally.) The list from the Supreme Court specifically mentions the need to take the oath of office to be a Member, and leaves Stanton off the list, suggesting that he did not take the oath. What’s the truth in this matter? I do not know.

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Brainwashing for politics and profit: Global warming denial

August 5, 2007

Newsweek cover, August 13, 2007

We are plagued by industries set up to deny reality. It’s impossible to discuss public policy without smashing into organizations set up specifically to question history and hard science, and plant seeds of doubt in the minds of the public about the way things really are. When my job was to fight them, with essentially no budget, as late as 1985 there was a well-funded lobby in Washington that cranked out weekly “news” and opinion columns for smaller and less discriminating news outlets like weekly papers and local television stations, extolling the virtues of tobacco and claiming that no scientist had any real evidence that smoking is unhealthy.

A lot of those disinformation artists have moved on — not to the Soviet Union, since it collapsed and took most its propaganda machine with it — to denial of reality on global warming, evolutionary biology, pesticides and chemicals, and a host of other issues.

Sharon Begley’s story in the August 13, 2007, Newsweek pulls back the veil on the well-funded industry that tries to plant doubt about the reality of global warming: “The Truth about Denial.” If this is news to you, that people get paid well to hoax the public, you really need to read the story:

If you think those who have long challenged the mainstream scientific findings about global warming recognize that the game is over, think again. Yes, 19 million people watched the “Live Earth” concerts last month, titans of corporate America are calling for laws mandating greenhouse cuts, “green” magazines fill newsstands, and the film based on Al Gore’s best-selling book, “An Inconvenient Truth,” won an Oscar. But outside Hollywood, Manhattan and other habitats of the chattering classes, the denial machine is running at full throttle—and continuing to shape both government policy and public opinion.

Since the late 1980s, this well-coordinated, well-funded campaign by contrarian scientists, free-market think tanks and industry has created a paralyzing fog of doubt around climate change. Through advertisements, op-eds, lobbying and media attention, greenhouse doubters (they hate being called deniers) argued first that the world is not warming; measurements indicating otherwise are flawed, they said. Then they claimed that any warming is natural, not caused by human activities. Now they contend that the looming warming will be minuscule and harmless. “They patterned what they did after the tobacco industry,” says former senator Tim Wirth, who spearheaded environmental issues as an under secretary of State in the Clinton administration. “Both figured, sow enough doubt, call the science uncertain and in dispute. That’s had a huge impact on both the public and Congress.”

Do these deniers affect public policy? Gullibles, political opponents, handmaidens of error, and even well-meaning suckers fall for spin on science, over and over again: On global warming (see this one, too), on DDT and malaria, teaching science in public schools, alternative medicine and preventive vaccines, and other issues including (who could make this up?) riding a bicycle.

No, I don’t have a solution.

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