Great Beginnings Day, December 27: Darwin, Apollo

December 27, 2011

December 27 is one of those days — many of us are off work, but it’s after Boxing Day, and it’s not yet on to New Year’s Eve or Day. We should have celebrated, maybe.

We should celebrate December 27 as a day of portent: A good embarkation, and a good, safe end to a nation-encouraging trip to almost touch the Moon.

HMS Beagle, Darwin's ship

HMS Beagle, on a voyage of discovery

On December 27, 1831, Charles Darwin and H.M.S. Beagle set sail on an around-the-world voyage of discovery that would change all of science, and especially biology, forever.

December 27 1831
After a few delays, H.M.S. Beagle headed out from Plymouth with a crew of 73 under clear skies and a good wind. Darwin became sea-sick almost immediately.

Darwin never fully overcame his seasickness, but he fought it well enough to become the single greatest collector of specimens in history for the British Museum and British science, a distinction that won him election to science societies even before his return from the trip — and cemented his life in science, instead of in the church. Darwin’s discoveries would have revolutionized biology in any case. In analyzing what he had found, a few years later and with the aid of experts at the British Museum, Darwin realized he had disproved much of William Paley’s hypotheses about life and its diversity, and that another, more basic explanation was possible. This led to his discovery of evolution by natural and sexual selection.

Mini-sheet from the Royal Mail honoring Darwin's discoveries in the Galapagos Islands

Mini-sheet from the Royal Mail in 2009 honoring Darwin's discoveries in the Galapagos Islands

On December 27, 1968, Apollo 8 splashed down after a successful and heartening trip to orbit the Moon. The three crewmen, Commander Frank Borman, James A. Lovell, Jr., and William A. Anders, had orbited the Moon, a very important milestone in the methodological race to put humans on the Moon (which would be accomplished seven months later). 1968 was a terrible year for the U.S., with the North Korean capture of the U.S.S. Pueblo, assassinations of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy during the presidential campaign, riots in dozens of American cities, nasty political conventions with riots at the Democratic Convention in Chicago, a contentious and bitter election making sore the nation’s divide over Vietnam policy, and other problems. On Christmas Eve, Borman, Lovell and Anders broadcast from orbit around the Moon, a triumphant and touching moment for the Apollo Program and Americans around the world. Their safe return on December 27 raised hopes for a better year in 1969.

Motherboard.tv has a great write up from Alex Pasternack:

In 1968, NASA engineers were scrambling to meet President Kennedy’s challenge to land a man on the moon by decade’s end. Because delays with the lunar module were threatening to slow the Apollo program, NASA chose to change mission plans and send the crew of Apollo 8 all the way to the moon without a lunar module.

Exactly 43 years ago, the three astronauts of Apollo 8 became the first humans to orbit another celestial object. As they came around the dark side of the Moon for the third time, Frank Borman, the commander, finally turned their capsule around. And then they saw the Earth.

Borman: Oh my God! Look at that picture over there! Here’s the Earth coming up. Wow, is that pretty.
Anders: Hey, don’t take that, it’s not scheduled.
Borman: (laughing) You got a color film, Jim?
Anders: Hand me that roll of color quick, will you…

One of the resulting photos taken by Anders on a Hasselblad camera became one of the world’s most iconic images.

As Bill Anders recalls it:

I just happened to have one with color film in it and a long lens. All I did was to keep snapping… It’s not a very good photo as photos go, but it’s a special one. It was the first statement of our planet Earth and it was particularly impressive because it’s contrasted against this startling horizon… After all the training and studying we’d done as pilots and engineers to get to the moon safely and get back, [and] as human beings to explore moon orbit, what we really discovered was the planet Earth.

Yeah, we missed toasting it on time in 2010. Plan to raise a glass today, December 27, 2011, to Great Beginnings Day for the human race. December 27 is a day we should remember, for these achievements.

Also on December 27:

  • 1927 – “Show Boat” with music by Jerome Kern and libretto by Oscar Hammerstein II, opened at the Ziegfeld Theater in New York City (AP)
  • 1932 – Radio City Music Hall opened for the first time, with a stage that, to me, looks like an old radio (AP)
  • 1945 – The World Bank was formed under the Bretton Woods Agreement of 1944, a key part of world finance structure following World War II
  • 1949 – Indonesia gained independence in a grant from Queen Juliana of the Netherlands; Netherlands had ruled Indonesia for three centuries

Adapted from a post from 2010.


A study in geography: The Red River of Texas – film from Texas Parks & Wildlife

December 26, 2011

Seven minutes on the Red River of the southern U.S., the fickle border of Texas and Oklahoma, the river of story and legend.  Good for a map study, good for the fun of it — how much do you really know about the Red River?

George Washington did not cross the Red River; George Washington may not have known the river even existed.  His loss.


Washington crossing the Delaware – a slightly different view

December 26, 2011

Past in the Present has this wonderful, terse post up:

It’s the most wonderful time of the year

Unless you’re a Hessian.

Passage of the Delaware, by Thomas Sully (1819). Now in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

Passage of the Delaware, by Thomas Sully (1819). Now in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

  1. Hessian?  Do my students know what he’s talking about?
  2. What is the other famous painting of this event?
  3. Considering how famous that other painting is, isn’t it almost tragic this one isn’t more famous?
  4. Considering #3, how many other great paintings of U.S. history sit in museums, or in government buildings, waiting to be discovered?  Maybe bloggers could help, by finding those paintings, photographing them, and posting the photographs.

More:


Have a good day, whatever you’re celebrating

December 25, 2011

Celebrating Christmas today?  In the middle of your Hanukkah observance?  Celebrating the birth of the world-wide web?

Whatever you’re doing today, have a good one.

(Did I miss your favorite observance for December 25, 2011?  Tell what I missed in comments.)


Cartoonist’s patent racism — disqualifier for New Jersey Hall of Fame?

December 24, 2011

What, exactly, are the requirements to be elected to the New Jersey Hall of Fame?

Thomas Nast is the great cartoonist whose pen launched crippling blows to the institutions of corrupt politicians including Tammany Hall’s Boss Tweed.  Nast generally gets the credit for inventing the symbols of the two major national parties, the donkey for the Democratic Party (or jackass, as in the first cartoon), and the elephant for the Republican Party, the party Nast favored.

Santa Claus’s commonly-accepted image owes a lot to Nast, who drew Santa Claus supporting the Union efforts in the Civil War.  Between 1855 and 1900, Nast supported the winning cause in at least seven presidential elections, illustrated the effects of America’s industrialization and rise as a world power, fought political corruption and campaigned for equal legal rights for immigrants and ex-slaves.

Thomas Nast's tribute to the Emancipation Proclamation in Harper's Weekly, 1863 - Ohio State University image

Thomas Nast’s tribute to the Emancipation Proclamation in Harper’s Weekly, 1863 – University of Michigan, Clements Library image; click image for a larger version

Lady Liberty?  Columbia?  An invention of Nast.  Nast’s image of Columbia was more than minor inspiration to the French friends of America who created the Statute of Liberty.  New Jersey is guarded, literally, with one of Nast’s creations.

Through it all, he clung to biases that, amplified by 1870s and 1880s politics, some people find less-than-acceptable today.  When Catholics raised money from Europe to establish schools in America so Catholic children would not undergo Protestant indoctrination, Nast sided with the public schools (and, perhaps, with the Protestants).  When immigrants, whose rights he defended, blindly turned the control of their votes over to corrupt political machines, he depicted those immigrants as louts, thugs and oafs.  On the issue of temperance, he sided with those who wanted to restrict alcoholic beverages, in opposition to German and Irish brewers and distillers.

Through it all, his pen brilliantly and clearly stated his positions, in images.  Nast’s work inspired Edgar Degas and Vincent van Gogh.

What should we make of the late-to-the-table complaints about Nast’s induction into the New Jersey Hall of Fame?  Opponents say Nast lampooned Catholics.  True.  Nast lampooned anyone whose policies he opposed.

Zeno presents a very good case that the opposition is wrong-headed, and ironic, coming from the voluble-and-usually obnoxious Bill Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights (a self-proclaimed name that many people find inaccurate), a guy who might well be a target of Nast had Nast and Donohue occupied the same place in time.  (Though I quote Zeno at length here, go to his site to read the full piece.)

It was a theme to which the cartoonist returned whenever he wanted to inveigh against Romish influence (the Church was on record in opposition to the separation of church and state) or Irish immigration (Nast had decidedly nativist tendencies). Today we can look at Nast’s cartoons and see them as over the top. In high dudgeon, however, Bill Donohue cannot help but demonstrate once again his unerring instinct for avoiding le mot juste in favor of the words least apt:

[H]e demonized bishops by portraying them as crocodiles with miters for jaws; and he also depicted them as emerging from slime while prowling towards children.

Really, Bill? You had to go there? Silly man.

You just depicted Thomas Nast as a prophet.

Nast’s work provides us with a conundrum.  On one hand he ardently and fervently supported the Union against the Confederacy, especially with regard to emancipation of slaves.  On the other hand Nast ideologically opposed the Democratic Party — perhaps an easy thing to do in those days when the Democratic Party was on record supporting slavery — and portrayed anyone with Democratic links as a beast or thug.

Should Nast’s biases against Catholics and Irishmen who unthinkingly gave their poll power to Boss Tweed disqualify Nast from a spot in New Jersey’s Hall of Fame?

Here is a list of people elected to the New Jersey Hall of Fame over the past four years:

CLASS OF 2008

Buzz Aldrin
Clara Barton
Yogi Berra
Bill Bradley
Thomas Edison
Albert Einstein
Malcolm Forbes
Robert Wood Johnson II
Vince Lombardi
Toni Morrison
Norman Schwarzkopf
Frank Sinatra
Bruce Springsteen
Meryl Streep
Harriet Tubman

CLASS OF 2009

Bud Abbott & Lou Costello
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Althea Gibson
Jon Bon Jovi
Jerry Lewis
Guglielmo Marconi
Shaquille O’Neal
Phil Rizzuto
Paul Robeson
Carl Sagan
Walt Whitman
William Carlos Williams

Unsung Hero:
Captain Brian Brennan

CLASS OF 2010

Count Basie
Judy Blume
Justice William Brennan
Danny DeVito
Larry Doby
Michael Graves
Carl Lewis
Jack Nicholson
Alice Paul
Les Paul
Phillip Roth
Susan Sarandon
Wally Schirra
Frankie Valli
President Woodrow Wilson

Unsung Heroes:
Marc DiNardo & James D’heron

CLASS OF 2011

John Basilone
Tony Bennett
Governor Brendan Byrne
Mary Higgins Clark
Admiral William Halsey
Franco Harris
Leon Hess
Queen Latifah
Bucky Pizzarelli
Martha Stewart
Joe Theismann
John Travolta
Bruce Willis

Unsung Heroes:
9/11 Victims & First Responders

Generally a well-deserving group of heroes, don’t you think?

Careful students of history may blanche a bit at one name there, in consideration of the flap against Nast.  Woodrow Wilson had his own biases — he resegregated the White House as president.  He opposed civil rights for African Americans.  He invited the racist, pro-Ku Klux Klan movie, “Birth of a Nation,” into the White House and praised it for its accuracy and advocacy.

Wilson led the nation into World War I (after promising he would not), and he campaigned unsuccessfully for a peace treaty that might have prevented World War II, had he been listened to.  Wilson campaigned to create an international peace-keeping organization, the League of Nations, an agency doomed to failure because the U.S. Senate rejected Wilson’s every imprecation to ratify the treaty that ended the Great War and created the agency.

Can Bill Donohue actually make a case that the great cartoonist, Thomas Nast, does not belong in a pantheon that includes Frank Sinatra, Bruce Willis, John Travolta, and ex-con Martha Stewart?  Is Nast not at least as deserving as Woodrow Wilson, on the same grounds?

Nominations for the class of 2012 include Aaron Burr, the vice president candidate whose overweening ambition nearly derailed the nation’s Constitution in 1800, the man who shot Alexander Hamilton fatally, and a man who plotted the overthrow of the government of the U.S.

Nast is nominated in the “General” category.  The others nominated there are Alexander Calder, Alfred Stieglitz, Charles Addams, Doris Duke, Dorothy Parker, Dorothy Porter Wesley, Joyce Carol Oates, Milton Friedman, and Gov. Tom Kean.

Uh, Bill?  Did you see Milton Friedman there?  Yeah, he was a great economist and he made popular television and book explanations of economics (that Republicans eschew today, to the detriment of free markets and political freedom) — but should he be there considering his work for the Pinochet regime in Chile?  I mean, Bill, can we be consistent?  Chile is a chiefly Catholic nation, you know, and surely the murders of 10,000 Catholics should weigh in here, shouldn’t it?

(New Jersey’s ability to produce such a body of notables is, itself, notable.  Probably each of those people deserves commemoration in the New Jersey Hall of Fame.  Second place, two spots in the New Jersey Hall of Fame.)

Is this really what Catholics are reduced to, today — a pointless, silly campaign against commemorating a great cartoonist?  May we assume Donohue and the Catholic Church oppose Nast across the board, in Nast’s campaigns against corruption, his work against slavery and support for the Union, and his support of the rights for immigrants?

Perhaps Donohue should review the situation, like Fagin.

And you, Dear Reader, should go vote for Thomas Nast’s inclusion, warts and all.

More:


Does Jesus care if anyone says “Merry Christmas?”

December 23, 2011

I get e-mail from Sara Maxwell, alerting me to the blog post by Dave Hershey.

Ouch.

Let Dave tell it; first he used a Fox video, to show what he’s talking about:

(via Stuff Christian Culture Likes)

What would Jesus say if he came to your house and had coffee with you?

That is the question asked at around 1:10 into this video.  It is a decent question.  What would Jesus say?

*“I miss hearing you say Merry Christmas”

*”And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”

*”I  tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”

*“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

*“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

*“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 

*“You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 

*Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:“‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ 

What would Jesus say to us?

Hint: all but the first choice are things Jesus actually did say to people (Matthew 5:41-42, 44; 6:19-21; 16:24; Luke 4:18-19; 18:21; Matthew 15:17-19).

When I read the gospels, I find Jesus’ words incredibly challenging.  What he calls people to do is uncomfortable, to say the least.  I am sure in the face of our insistence that people say “Merry Christmas” and our offense when people do not that he would challenge us Christians to sell our stuff or love our enemies or something we frankly would rather not do.

The ladies in the video say they are offended that people do not say Merry Christmas.  Offended?  By that?

Maybe we Christians should get offended by things that actually matter, things that are horrendous evils happening right now in the world, things like global poverty, human trafficking and modern-day slavery and so many others.

Maybe if instead of wasting money on billboards urging people to say “Merry Christmas” we used that money to help those who are really suffering, people would actually care to hear more about Jesus.

The prophet Amos also probably doesn’t care if you say “Merry Christmas”.  I’ll end with his powerful words (Amos 5):

21 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; 
   your assemblies are a stench to me. 
22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, 
   I will not accept them. 
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, 
   I will have no regard for them. 
23 Away with the noise of your songs! 
   I will not listen to the music of your harps. 
24 But let justice roll on like a river, 
   righteousness like a never-failing stream!

Have a good Christmas/Hanukkah/Solstice/KWANZAA/Festivus, anyway.


Art from science: Protein folds

December 23, 2011

What is this?

Protein folding gif from Protein Art

From Protein Art

Nature and science produce some of the most beatiful stuff, especially in high-speed phtotography, or photo-micrographs, or shots from scanners of various kinds including especially Scanning Electron Microscopes (SEM).

I spent three years locked in a lab looking at photographs of Nuclepore filters that had captured dust, pollen, and air pollution in the desert southwest.  Magnified about 50,000 times, fly ash from coal-fired power plants become brilliant balls of glassy light; pollen from god-knows-what become intricate, Alhambra-worthy patterned stones, and dust becomes jagged expressionistic sculptures of someone greatly disturbed (but still artistically gifted).

Now we know that proteins fold up in specific ways.  Micrographic photos show wiggles of ribbon to you and me.

It’s inspiration to May K.

You and I see tangled ribbons:

May K's take on 2-nd PDZ Domain of Mint1  (Homo sapiens)

To May K the human protein 2-nd PDZ Domain of Mint1 becomes . . .

May K. sees:

May K's take on a human protein - a tango of cats (from 2-nd PDZ Domain of Mint1)

. . . a tango of cats.

Go see more for yourself.  Or here.

Sort of a Rorschach for well-balanced life scientists.  There are possibilities there.


Best editorial quote ever: “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus”

December 23, 2011

“Papa says, ‘If you see it in the Sun, it’s so.'”

Do we, you and I in 2011, stand as witnesses to the end of newspapers in America?

It’s been a grand history. Newspapering gave us great leaders like Benjamin Franklin. Newspapering gave us wars, like the Spanish-American War. Newspapering gave us Charlie Brown, Ann Landers, the Yellow Kid, Jim Murray, Red Smith, Thomas Nast (and Santa Claus), the Federalist Papers, and coupons to save money on laundry soap.

It’s been a curious history, too. An 1897 editorial vouching for Santa Claus rates as the most popular editorial of all time, according to the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

Francis Pharcellus Church, New York Sun writer who wrote

The man who saved Christmas, at least for Virginia O’Hanlon: Francis Pharcellus Church – Newseum image

In autumn, 1897, 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon of 115 West 59th Street in New York, wrote to the New York Sun with this simple question:

“Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?”

In the age of Yellow Journalism, the fiercely competitive Sun‘s editors turned the letter to Francis Pharcellus. He responded to little Virginia on September 21, 1897:

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”

Church’s brother, William Conant Church, owned and published the newspaper. Both had followed their father into the news business. They co-founded The Army-Navy Journal in 1863, and went on to a series of journalistic collaborations. Francis was 58 years old when he answered Virginia’s letter. (He died at age 67, in 1906.)

The New York Sun held down the conservative corner in New York journalism at the time, versus the New York Times and the New York Herald-Tribune. But it also had an interesting history, to a blogger intrigued by hoaxes. In 1835 the paper published a series of six newspaper stories falsely attributed to Sir John Herschel, a well-known astronomer, claiming to describe a civilization on the Moon — the Great Moon Hoax. The discovery was credited to a new, very powerful telescope.

In 1844 the paper published a hoax written by Edgar Allen Poe, the Balloon Hoax. Under a pseudonym, Poe wrote that a gas balloon had crossed the Atlantic in three days.

The Sun also featured outstanding reporting. A 1947 and 1948 series about crime on the docks of New York City won a Pulitzer Prize for writer Malcolm Johnson. That series inspired Elia Kazan’s 1954 movie On the Waterfront starring Marlon Brando, Rod Steiger, Eva Marie Saint, Karl Malden and Lee J. Cobb.

The New York Sun ceased publication in 1950.

For all of its history, the Sun and the Churches are most remembered for that defense of belief in Santa Claus.
Virginia O’Hanlon grew up, graduated from Hunter College, got a masters at Columbia, and earned a Ph.D. from Fordham. She taught in the New York City Public School system, from which she retired in 1959. She died in 1971.

Birth of tradition

Columbia University was Church’s alma mater, as well as O’Hanlon’s. Her letter and his response get a reading each year at the Yule Log Ceremony at Columbia College, along with the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” Animated, live-acting, and other television productions have been mounted in 1974, 1991, and 2009.


Is there a Santa Claus? Did Church write a credible defense? The text of the letter and answer, below the fold.

More:  

Read the rest of this entry »


Fossil walrus porn

December 23, 2011

Walrus baculum fossil, from Retrieverman

What is it? If you were a lady walrus a few million years ago, you wouldn't have to ask!

I can’t do it justice.  Go read about the photo at Retrieverman’s site.

My students hear it often:  Truth is stranger and often much more interesting than fiction.  It certainly applies in history, and it applies in science, too.


MITx launches — new model for post-secondary learning?

December 22, 2011

We get press releases in the e-mail:

MIT launches online learning initiative

MIT launches online learning initiative

MITx‘ will offer courses online and make online learning tools freely available.

December 19, 2011

Share

MIT today announced the launch of an online learning initiative internally called “MITx.” MITx will offer a portfolio of MIT courses through an online interactive learning platform that will:

  • organize and present course material to enable students to learn at their own pace
  • feature interactivity, online laboratories and student-to-student communication
  • allow for the individual assessment of any student’s work and allow students who demonstrate their mastery of subjects to earn a certificate of completion awarded by MITx
  • operate on an open-source, scalable software infrastructure in order to make it continuously improving and readily available to other educational institutions.

MIT expects that this learning platform will enhance the educational experience of its on-campus students, offering them online tools that supplement and enrich their classroom and laboratory experiences. MIT also expects that MITx will eventually host a virtual community of millions of learners around the world.

MIT will couple online learning with research on learning

MIT’s online learning initiative is led by MIT Provost L. Rafael Reif, and its development will be coupled with an MIT-wide research initiative on online teaching and learning under his leadership.

“Students worldwide are increasingly supplementing their classroom education with a variety of online tools,” Reif said. “Many members of the MIT faculty have been experimenting with integrating online tools into the campus education. We will facilitate those efforts, many of which will lead to novel learning technologies that offer the best possible online educational experience to non-residential learners. Both parts of this new initiative are extremely important to the future of high-quality, affordable, accessible education.”

Offering interactive MIT courses online to learners around the world builds upon MIT’s OpenCourseWare, a free online publication of nearly all of MIT’s undergraduate and graduate course materials. Now in its 10th year, OpenCourseWare includes nearly 2,100 MIT courses and has been used by more than 100 million people.

MIT President Susan Hockfield said, “MIT has long believed that anyone in the world with the motivation and ability to engage MIT coursework should have the opportunity to attain the best MIT-based educational experience that Internet technology enables. OpenCourseWare’s great success signals high demand for MIT’s course content and propels us to advance beyond making content available. MIT now aspires to develop new approaches to online teaching.”

OCW will continue to share course materials from across the MIT curriculum, free of charge.

MITx online learning tools to be freely available

MIT will make the MITx open learning software available free of cost, so that others — whether other universities or different educational institutions, such as K-12 school systems — can leverage the same software for their online education offerings.

“Creating an open learning infrastructure will enable other communities of developers to contribute to it, thereby making it self-sustaining,” said Anant Agarwal, an MIT professor of electrical engineering and computer science and director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). “An open infrastructure will facilitate research on learning technologies and also enable learning content to be easily portable to other educational platforms that will develop. In this way the infrastructure will improve continuously as it is used and adapted.” Agarwal is leading the development of the open platform.

President Hockfield called this “a transformative initiative for MIT and for online learning worldwide. On our residential campus, the heart of MIT, students and faculty are already integrating on-campus and online learning, but the MITx initiative will greatly accelerate that effort. It will also bring new energy to our longstanding effort to educate millions of able learners across the United States and around the world. And in offering an open-source technological platform to other educational institutions everywhere, we hope that teachers and students the world over will together create learning opportunities that break barriers to education everywhere.”

Read frequently asked questions about MITx

Tip of the old scrub brush to James Darrell.


Bored in class? Do some math, for fun.

December 22, 2011

This is a good video that all math teachers ought to see (heck, I can figure out how to use it as a bell ringer in social studies, I think).

I had to mention it, just because of Michael Tobis’s wonderful headline at Planet 3.0:  “Bored in class?  Do some math instead.”

I confess to being caught doing math instead, in English, in history — and in art we often made mathematical games to create patterns.  From the stuff I see on walls in schools, that’s still popular.

Some time ago I ordered a poster from Max Temkin, the brilliant poster propagandist/artist.  It says that the universe is easy to understand if you speak its language, and that language is mathematics.  True.

Also true that in most of the disciplines that work into classes we call social studies, we do not have the ability to discern the cool patterns like Fibonacci numbers in pine cones, pineapples and sunflower blossoms.  People look for those pattersn in history anyway, and that poses a key problem to policy makers.  People want to see a pattern, expect to see a pattern, and historians cannot meet that expectation, other than quoting Santayana.

Maybe one of my students will be the one who discerns a key pattern.  It’ll be one of the slackers, if it happens.


Human extinction? Nature doesn’t care

December 22, 2011

Some of the cartoonists get it.  Mother Earth will survive human extinction; it’s humans who will suffer if we don’t work to save ourselves.

Tim Eagan in Deep Cover, December 15, 2011:

Tim Eagan's Deep Cover, on Durban Climate Conference, December 15, 2011

Tim Eagan’s Deep Cover, on Durban Climate Conference, December 15, 2011; go to Eagan’s site for a larger view of the original

That’s right:  Contrary to conservative and warming denialist blather, it is environmentalists who are the humanitarians in this unfortunate-to-have, unnecessary discussion.

Eagan is another recovering lawyer, ten points to his favor.  Is there any publication that regularly features his work?  I don’t know.  There should be many.

Update:  If you’re visiting the Bathtub for the first time, be sure not to miss the link at the top, to go to this cartoon.

Tip of the frozen-but-thawing scrub brush to Devona Wyant.


How do we know? Who invented Santa Claus? Who really wrote “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas?”

December 22, 2011

The annual retelling, a Christmas tradition; an encore post from 2007

Thomas Nast invented Santa Claus? Clement C. Moore didn’t write the famous poem that starts out, “‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house . . . ?”

The murky waters of history from Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub soak even our most cherished ideas and traditions.

But isn’t that part of the fun of history?

Santa Claus delivers to Union soldiers, "Santa Claus in Camp" - Thomas Nast, Harper's Weekly, Jan 3, 1863

Thomas Nast’s first published drawing featuring Santa Claus; for Harper’s Weekly, “A Journal of Civilization,” January 3, 1863 Nast portrayed the elf distributing packages to Union troops: “Santa Claus in camp.” Nast (1840-1904) was 23 when he drew this image.

Yes, Virginia (and California, too)! Thomas Nast created the image of Santa Claus most of us in the U.S. know today. Perhaps even more significant than his campaign against the graft of Boss Tweed, Nast’s popularization of a fat, jolly elf who delivers good things to people for Christmas makes one of the great stories in commercial illustration. Nast’s cartoons, mostly for the popular news publication Harper’s Weekly, created many of the conventions of modern political cartooning and modeled the way in which an illustrator could campaign for good, with his campaign against the graft of Tammany Hall and Tweed. But Nast’s popular vision of Santa Claus can be said to be the foundation for the modern mercantile flurry around Christmas.

Nast is probably ensconced in a cartoonists’ hall of fame. Perhaps he should be in a business or sales hall of fame, too. [See also Bill Casselman’s page, “The Man Who Designed Santa Claus.]

Nast’s drawings probably drew some inspiration from the poem, “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas,” traditionally attributed to Clement C. Moore, a New York City lawyer, published in 1822. The poem is among the earliest to describe the elf dressed in fur, and magically coming down a chimney to leave toys for children; the poem invented the reindeer-pulled sleigh.

Modern analysis suggests the poem was not the work of Moore, and many critics and historians now attribute it to Major Henry Livingston, Jr. (1748-1828) following sleuthing by Vassar College Prof. Don Foster in 2000. Fortunately for us, we do not need to be partisans in such a query to enjoy the poem (a complete copy of which is below the fold).

The Library of Congress still gives Moore the credit. When disputes arise over who wrote about the night before Christmas, is it any wonder more controversial topics produce bigger and louder disputes among historians?

Moore was not known for being a poet. The popular story is that he wrote it on the spur of the moment:

Moore is thought to have composed the tale, now popularly known as “The Night Before Christmas,” on December 24, 1822, while traveling home from Greenwich Village, where he had bought a turkey for his family’s Christmas dinner.

Inspired by the plump, bearded Dutchman who took him by sleigh on his errand through the snow-covered streets of New York City, Moore penned A Visit from St. Nicholas for the amusement of his six children, with whom he shared the poem that evening. His vision of St. Nicholas draws upon Dutch-American and Norwegian traditions of a magical, gift-giving figure who appears at Christmas time, as well as the German legend of a visitor who enters homes through chimneys.

Again from the Library of Congress, we get information that suggests that Moore was a minor celebrity from a well-known family with historical ties that would make a good “connections” exercise in a high school history class, perhaps (”the link from Aaron Burr’s treason to Santa Claus?”): (read more, below the fold)

Clement Moore was born in 1779 into a prominent New York family. His father, Benjamin Moore, president of Columbia University, in his role as Episcopal Bishop of New York participated in the inauguration of George Washington as the nation’s first president. The elder Moore also administered last rites to Alexander Hamilton after he was mortally wounded in a tragic duel with Aaron Burr.

A graduate of Columbia, Clement Moore was a scholar of Hebrew and a professor of Oriental and Greek literature at the General Theological Seminary in Manhattan. [See comment from Pam Bumsted below for more on Moore.] He is said to have been embarrassed by the light-hearted verse, which was made public without his knowledge in December 1823. Moore did not publish it under his name until 1844.

Tonight, American children will be tucked in under their blankets and quilts and read this beloved poem as a last “sugarplum” before slipping into dreamland. Before they drift off, treat them to a message from Santa, recorded by the Thomas Edison Company in 1922.

Santa Claus Hides in Your Phonograph
By Arthur A. Penn, Performed by Harry E. Humphrey.
Edison, 1922.
Coupling date: 6/20/1922. Cutout date: 10/31/1929.
Inventing Entertainment: The Motion Pictures and Sound Recordings of the Edison Companies

Listen to this recording (RealAudio Format)

Listen to this recording (wav Format, 8,471 Kb)

But Henry Livingston was no less noble or historic. He hailed from the Livingtons of the Hudson Valley (one of whose farms is now occupied by Camp Rising Sun of the Louis August Jonas Foundation, a place where I spent four amazing summers teaching swimming and lifesaving). Livingston’s biography at the University of Toronto site offers another path for a connections exercise (”What connects the Declaration of Independence, the American invasion of Canada, the famous poem about a visit from St. Nick, and George W. Bush?”):

Henry Livingston Jr. was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, on Oct. 13, 1748. The Livingston family was one of the important colonial and revolutionary families of New York. The Poughkeepsie branch, descended from Gilbert, the youngest son of Robert Livingston, 1st Lord of Livingston Manor, was not as well off as the more well-known branches, descended from sons Robert and Philip. Two other descendants of Gilbert Livingston, President George Walker Herbert Bush and his son, President-Elect George W. Bush, though, have done their share to bring attention to this line. Henry’s brother, Rev. John Henry Livingston, entered Yale at the age of 12, and was able to unite the Dutch and American branches of the Dutch Reformed Church. At the time of his death, Rev. Livingston was president of Rutgers University. Henry’s father and brother Gilbert were involved in New York politics, and Henry’s granduncle was New York’s first Lt. Governor. But the law was the natural home for many of Henry’s family. His brother-in-law, Judge Jonas Platt, was an unsuccessful candidate for governor, as was his daughter Elizabeth’s husband, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Smith Thompson. Henry’s grandson, Sidney Breese, was Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court.

Known for his encyclopedic knowledge and his love of literature, Henry Livingston was a farmer, surveyor and Justice of the Peace, a judicial position dealing with financially limited criminal and civil cases. One of the first New Yorkers to enlist in the Revolutionary Army in 1775, Major Henry Livingston accompanied his cousin’s husband, General Montgomery, in his campaign up the Hudson River to invade Canada, leaving behind his new wife, Sarah Welles, and their week-old baby, on his Poughkeepsie property, Locust Grove. Baby Catherine was the subject of the first poem currently known by Major Livingston. Following this campaign, Livingston was involved in the War as a Commissioner of Sequestration, appropriating lands owned by British loyalists and selling them for the revolutionary cause. It was in the period following Sarah’s early death in 1783, that Major Livingston published most of his poems and prose, anonymously or under the pseudonym of R. Ten years after the death of Sarah, Henry married Jane Patterson, the daughter of a Dutchess County politician and sister of his next-door neighbor. Between both wives, Henry fathered twelve children. He published his good-natured, often occasional verse from 1787 in many journals, including Political Barometer, Poughkeepsie Journal, and New-York Magazine. His most famous poem, “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas,” was until 2000 thought to have been the work of Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863), who published it with his collected poems in 1844. Livingston died Feb. 29, 1828.

More on Henry Livingston and his authorship of the Christmas poem here.
Thomas Nast, Merry Old Santa Claus, Harper's Weekly, Jan 1, 1881

Our views of Santa Claus owe a great deal also to the Coca-Cola advertising campaign. Coca-Cola first noted Santa’s use of the drink in a 1922 campaign to suggest Coke was a year-round drink (100 years after the publication of Livingston’s poem). The company’s on-line archives gives details:

In 1930, artist Fred Mizen painted a department store Santa in a crowd drinking a bottle of Coke. The ad featured the world’s largest soda fountain, which was located in the department store of Famous Barr Co. in St. Louis, Mo. Mizen’s painting was used in print ads that Christmas season, appearing in The Saturday Evening Post in December 1930.

1936 Coca-Cola Santa cardboard store display

1936 Coca-Cola Santa cardboard store display

  • 1936 Coca-Cola Santa cardboard store display
1942 original oil painting - 'They Remembered Me'

1942 original oil painting - ‘They Remembered Me’

Archie Lee, the D’Arcy Advertising Agency executive working with The Coca-Cola Company, wanted the next campaign to show a wholesome Santa as both realistic and symbolic. In 1931, The Coca-Cola Company commissioned Michigan-born illustrator Haddon Sundblom to develop advertising images using Santa Claus — showing Santa himself, not a man dressed as Santa, as Mizen’s work had portrayed him.

  • 1942 original oil painting – ‘They Remembered Me’

For inspiration, Sundblom turned to Clement Clark Moore’s 1822 poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (commonly called “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”). Moore’s description of St. Nick led to an image of Santa that was warm, friendly, pleasantly plump and human. For the next 33 years, Sundblom painted portraits of Santa that helped to create the modern image of Santa — an interpretation that today lives on in the minds of people of all ages, all over the world.

Santa Claus is a controversial figure. Debates still rage among parents about the wisdom of allowing the elf into the family’s home, and under what conditions. Theologians worry that the celebration of Christmas is diluted by the imagery. Other faiths worry that the secular, cultural impact of Santa Claus damages their own faiths (few other faiths have such a popular figure, and even atheists generally give gifts and participate in Christmas rituals such as putting up a decorated tree).

For over 100 years, Santa Claus has been a popular part of commercial, cultural and religious life in America. Has any other icon endured so long, or so well?

________________________
Below:
From the University of Toronto Library’s Representative Poetry Online

Major Henry Livingston, Jr. (1748-1828)

Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas

1 ‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house,
2 Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
3 The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
4 In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
5 The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
6 While visions of sugar plums danc’d in their heads,
7 And Mama in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
8 Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap –
9 When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
10 I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
11 Away to the window I flew like a flash,
12 Tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash.
13 The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,
14 Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below;
15 When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
16 But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer,
17 With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
18 I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
19 More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
20 And he whistled, and shouted, and call’d them by name:
21 “Now! Dasher, now! Dancer, now! Prancer, and Vixen,
22 “On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Dunder and Blixem;
23 “To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
24 “Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
25 As dry leaves before the wild hurricane fly,
26 When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
27 So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
28 With the sleigh full of Toys — and St. Nicholas too:
29 And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
30 The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
31 As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
32 Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound:
33 He was dress’d all in fur, from his head to his foot,
34 And his clothes were all tarnish’d with ashes and soot;
35 A bundle of toys was flung on his back,
36 And he look’d like a peddler just opening his pack:
37 His eyes — how they twinkled! his dimples how merry,
38 His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;
39 His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow.
40 And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
41 The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
42 And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
43 He had a broad face, and a little round belly
44 That shook when he laugh’d, like a bowl full of jelly:
45 He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
46 And I laugh’d when I saw him in spite of myself;
47 A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
48 Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
49 He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
50 And fill’d all the stockings; then turn’d with a jerk,
51 And laying his finger aside of his nose
52 And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
53 He sprung to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
54 And away they all flew, like the down of a thistle:
55 But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight –
56 Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Online text copyright © 2005, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto. Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries. Be sure to visit this site for more information on this poem, on Maj. Livingston, and on poetry in general.

Nota bene: By no means should readers assume that I’m saying the authorship of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” is settled. There remains much controversy, and many people convinced that Moore was, indeed, the author. See this comment from an earlier posting, for example.


More misunderstanding of the case against DDT

December 21, 2011

Well-meaning but misinformed dog breeder Terrierman (a guy who goes by the handle PBurns, too)  is just the latest to fall victim to false and nearly false claims about DDT and its effects on birds.

One of the claims made by pro-DDT and anti-environmental protection, anti-science groups is that DDT is not the bad guy in bird deaths.  The late DDT-nut Gordon Edwards said DDT had nothing to do with eagle deaths, and pointed to the 300-year decline in eagle populations from the time European settlers began shooting at them.  This idea has been touted by the chief junk science purveyor, Steven Milloy, and by many others over the years.

So, in one of his several posts slamming eagle conservation efforts that include stopping the use of DDT, Terrierman said:

What’s the story? Simple: that Bald Eagles and Osprey were pushed to the edge of extinction by DDT.

Not True.

Actually, that is true.  Terrierman got it wrong.  DDT was, indeed, threatening the very existence of the bald eagle.  While it is true that there were other pressures, some long-standing, it is also true that once those problems were cleared, DDT still barred the recovery of the eagle, plus other species like osprey, peregrine falcons, and brown pelicans.

What is the story?  The story is that eagles have been under assault since Europeans found America.  By 1900, eagle populations across North America were dramatically and drastically reduced.  A federal law in 1918 made it illegal to shoot eagles, but it had little effect.  A tougher law passed in 1940 finally got some traction.

But eagle recovery didn’t take off.  In the late 1940s and early 1950s bird watchers, and bird counters like those volunteers who contribute to the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count, noticed that young eagles disappeared.  Simply, adult, breeding eagles were not able to produce young who survived to migrate, mature, and breed later.

The culprit was DDT.  DDT kills young eagles in three ways, known in the 1960s.  It poisons them so they cannot grow in the egg.  It poisons them so they die after a period of growth.  It poisons them so they are unable to eat and digest properly, so they die shortly after they hatch.

DDT can also screw up the sexual organs of young birds, so they are unable to breed — perhaps a fourth way DDT kills young, by simply preventing their creation.

Then, in the 1970s, we found another way DDT kills species:  DDT makes the eagle hens unable to form competent eggshells.  The young die because the eggs cannot survive incubation.

DDT also kills adult eagles, especially migrating birds.  DDT accumulates in fat tissues, those fats that migrating birds burn.  When the birds migrate, the DDT comes out, and it can literally stop the heart or brain of the bird in flight.  (It kills bats the same way.)  Birds lost in migration rarely get found for necropsy.   The bird count simply falls, the population sinks one individual closer to extinction.

Does the dog breeder know all of this?  I can’t tell — I tried to correct his errors at his blog site, but after I provided a link to an article that showed DDT appears to be harming California condors as well — in a post he has censored in moderation and which will never see the light of day at Terrierman, I predict — it’s clear he’s not up to gentle correction.

One more blog from which I am banned from telling the facts.

PBurns, if you’re bold enough to comment here, your comments won’t be censored (so long as not profane).  We need robust discussion, and I encourage it.

Below the fold — my final post to Terrierman, which he won’t allow through moderation.

Read the rest of this entry »


Louisiana Purchase Day: All over including the shouting

December 20, 2011

December 20 is the anniversary of the 1803 completion of the Louisiana Purchase, with the formal transfer of title at a ceremony in New Orleans.  Ceremony could have been in Paris, Washington, or New Orleans.

Did our forefathers know about how to party, or what?

The documents, from the Library of Congress:

Transfer of Louisiana title from France to the U.S., December 20, 1803

History of the Transfer, according to the 8th Congress - Image 1 (Click image for a larger view at the Library of Congress)

 

Transfer of Louisiana from France to the U.S., December 20, 1803 -- documents from Congress history

Documents of transfer of Louisiana, from France to the U.S., December 20, 1803 - Library of Congress images - Image 2

Louisiana transfer, December 20, 1803 -- official records - Library of Congress

Louisiana transfer, Image 3

 


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