Vote for your favorite science video

July 4, 2009

The Scientist Magazine’s 2009 Science Video Awards closes voting in just a few days, on July 9.

Go here to view the five nominees for best video in each of two classes — individual and group efforts — and vote for your favorite.

Some cool stuff.

Scouts show the colors, Duncanville, Texas

July 4, 2009

Scouts from Troop 355 and Pack 494 carry the colors in the Duncanville, Texas, 4th of July parade

Scouts from Troop 355 and Pack 494 carry the colors in the Duncanville, Texas, 4th of July parade

Proper flag display, on the way to Monticello

July 4, 2009

U.S. flag displayed over Virginia Route 53, the road to Monticello, Jeffersons home in Virginia, 2008 - Photo by Emory

U.S. flag displayed over Virginia Route 53, the road to Monticello, Jefferson's home in Virginia, 2008 - Photo by Emory

Properly displayed, by the way.  The field is in the “northwest” position.

Fly your flag today, July 4, 2009

July 4, 2009

Soldiers raise the U.S. flag at a base in Afghanistan, 2003

Soldiers raise the U.S. flag at a base in Afghanistan, 2003

It’s the 233rd anniversary of the announcement of the Declaration of Independence.  The resolution calling for independence of the 13 colonies passed the Continental Congress on July 2, 1776.  The Declaration would be Thomas Jefferson’s crowning achievement, outshining even his presidency and the Louisiana Purchase.   John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, that July 2 would forever be marked by patriotic displays.

But the Declaration, which gave teeth to the resolution, was adopted on July 4.  Adams didn’t miss a beat.  Who quibbles about a couple of days when the celebrating is so good?

Adams and Jefferson were two of the five-member committee the Congress had tasked to write a declaration.  Adams and Ben Franklin quickly determined to leave it up to Jefferson, who had a grand flair with words, and who had just written a couple of stirring documents for Virginia.  Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston, the other two members, went along.

Adams and Jefferson became friends only later, when they both served the nation at war as ambassadors to France, and then for Adams, to England.  A widower, Jefferson was taken in by Abigail Adams who worried about him.  After the war, Jefferson was in England when Adams was to meet King George III in a grand ceremony in which the king would accept the credentials of all the ambassadors of foreign nations to England.  As the king strode down the line, each ambassador or delegation would bow, the king would acknowledge them, the papers would be passed, and the king would move on.  Adams and Jefferson bowed.  King George moved on, ignoring them completely.

In such a case of such a snub, the snubbed foreigners usually made a quick exit.  Adams and Jefferson did not.  They stood at attention as if the king had treated them like all the rest, reversing the snub.

Back in America in peacetime, Adams and Jefferson fell out.  Jefferson favored a more limited federal government; Adams favored a more powerful one.  By the end of Washington’s second term, party politics had been well developed.  Adams defeated Jefferson in the election of 1796.  As was the law then, Jefferson was vice president; but Adams kept Jefferson out of all government affairs.  Perhaps because he didn’t have Jefferson to help, Adams’s presidency did not go well.  In the rematch election in 1800, one of  the bitterest fights ever, Jefferson’s party defeated Adams.  The gleeful Democratic-Republican electors all voted one ballot for Jefferson, the presidential candidate, and one ballot for Aaron Burr, the party’s vice presidential candidate.

Alas, that produced a tie vote in the electoral college.  Adams’s party, the Federalists, still held the House of Representatives before the new Congress came in.  A tie vote goes to the House for decision.  They could not bring themselves to vote for Jefferson, and the deadlock continued for 37 ballots.  Finally Jefferson’s arch enemy Alexander Hamilton intervened, explaining that Burr was clearly the greater scoundrel, and the House elected Jefferson.  Adams slunk out of town, avoiding the inauguration.

It wasn’t until after 1809 when Benjamin Rush hoodwinked Jefferson into writing to Adams, and Adams to Jefferson, that the two became friendly again.  For the next 17 years Jefferson and Adams carried on perhaps the greatest series of correspondence in history between two great minds.  Letters went out almost daily.  They discussed the weather, their families, old times, farming — but especially the republic they had been most instrumental in creating, and how it might be preserved, and prosper.  Eventually the letters became harder to read, both because their eyesight was failing, and because their penmanship deteriorated, too.

The ideas, however, flowed like a river.

Both men took ill early in 1826.  This was a landmark year, 50 years since the Declaration of Independence.  In Massachusetts, a grand display of fireworks was to cap off a day of feasting and celebration.  Adams hoped he might attend.  In Virginia, a week before, it became clear Jefferson was too ill to venture even as close as Charlottesville for the celebration.  Jefferson slept through most of July 3, but awoke about 9:00 p.m., and asked, “This is the fourth?”  It was not.  These are the last significant, recorded words of Jefferson.  He awoke at about 4:00 a.m. on the Fourth of July, 1826, but could not make a rally.  He died at 12:50 in the afternoon.

Adams, too, was too ill to attend the celebrations.  In the late afternoon or early evening of the Fourth, he awoke, and heard the celebration in the town.  Almost as if he had worked just to live to see that particular day, he checked the date.  Realizing he was near the end, happy that he’d seen 50 years after the Declaration, and unaware of the events earlier that day in Virginia, Adams said, “Thomas Jefferson still survives.”

Fly your flag today. Remember John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.  Remember their great work in creating the nation that protects our freedoms today.  Remember their great friendship.  Write a letter to a good friend you’ve not written to lately.

It’s the Fourth of July.  Their spirit survives in us, as we celebrate, and as we remember why we celebrate.

Happy birthday, Kathryn!

July 4, 2009

Fireworks in Texas - supposedly in Addison, but I cant figure where

Fireworks in Texas - supposedly in Addison, but I can't figure where

I used to tell the kids their mother was so beloved that the town set off fireworks every year on her birthday.  They probably didn’t believe the cause, but the town did, indeed, set off fireworks on her birthday.  I don’t always do the best planning, but at least I don’t ever forget Kathryn’s birthday — I cannot forget it.

We saw a lot of great displays on the Fourth of July in Washington, D.C., and a fantastic show one year out on the water in Baltimore’s harbor, right over Fort McHenry where Francis Scott Key was inspired to write his now-famous poem.  One year with brother Wes and his wife, Momie, we watched bluebirds all day, and then stayed for the fireworks at the Yorktown Battlefield, where Cornwallis was cut off by George Washington and the Continental Army with a grand assist from the French fleet.

We’ve seen great shows in Dallas, a bunch of shows in Duncanville, Texas, and Ogden, Utah, and we saw a part of a show in Addison, Texas, before the rain and wind shut it down (no, I can’t figure out where that photo came from, either) — and that doesn’t count all those shows before we met.  New York City, Hyde Park, from the parking lot of the Veterans Administration Hospital in Salt Lake City, overlooking Liberty Park, Derks Field, and a dozen other displays across the valley; from Wahkara Ridge, high up in Payson Canyon, catching the displays from Payson, Springville, Spanish Fork and Provo, Utah; and right there in Cougar Stadium in Provo.  Ohio, Michigan, Idaho, upper New York State, and probably a few other places we’ve forgotten about.  Great fireworks displays every one.

Last year we camped at the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park in Utah on the Fourth of July — no gunpowder fireworks, just the Milky Way and the most spectacular stars you can imagine, perched on 80-foot sand dunes where voices carried 150 yards with no shouting.  The decision not to drive back into Kanab for their show was a good idea.

This year?  Heck, we’ve already had some fireworks — Kathryn’s mother made a quick trip to an emergency room Friday, and we’ve had to rejuggle the dinner arrangements just a bit for tomorrow.  But the knockwursts and bratwursts from Kuby’s are in the refrigerator; the potato salad’s halfway done.  The beans will cook up most of the morning.  The flags will wave from their new poles.

The kids are home.  Buddy the border setter has his sedatives, so maybe the illegal fireworks around the neighborhood won’t make him a total wreck; and we can choose between a Grucci show at the Cotton Bowl or the local fireworks two miles away — or maybe the fireworks at the U.S. Capitol again, this time on PBS, with a glass of champagne.

The nation may not be setting off all those fireworks just for you, Kathryn, but they should be — and the coincidence can’t be explained except by divine intervention, eh?  Happy birthday, sweetie!

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