Quote of the moment: Reorganization creates illusion of progress, and demoralization – Charlton Ogburn

May 31, 2013

Historian and birder Charlton Ogburn, right.

Historian and birder Charlton Ogburn, right.

We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we would be reorganized. Presumably the plans for our employment were being changed. I was to learn later in life that, perhaps because we are so good at organizing, we tend as a nation to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.

This quotation is often misattributed to one Greek philosopher or another, or to the Roman Petronius.

Cover of "The Marauders"

Cover of The Marauders

Ogburn’s magazine article became the basis for his book, The Marauders. In turn, that was the basis for a movie, Merrill’s Marauders.  In the book, the quote is different:

As a result, I suppose, of high-level changes of mind about how we were to be used, we went though several reorganizations. Perhaps because Americans as a nation have a gift for organizing, we tend to meet any new situation by reorganization, and a wonderful method it is for creating the illusion of progress at the mere cost of confusion, inefficiency and demoralization.

  • The Marauders (1959), chapter 2, page 60 (attributed)

My old friend Frank Hewlett had been a correspondent in the South Pacific and Southeast Asia, including Burma, during World War II.  Frank told me that he had been the first to call the American group “Merrill’s Marauders” in a war news dispatch on the progress the group made.  He did not get any credit for the book or movie title, but he said it was great that any group of soldiers that worked that well got popular attention for their work.  I’ve never found Hewlett’s dispatches from that period, but I’ve never found anything else he told me to be inaccurate.

In serious corporate reorganizations, or in corporate culture change operations, this quote is usually trotted out in opposition to whatever the proposed change may be.  Generally reorganizers will dismiss the thing as fictional, in at least one case claiming that renegade corporate leader Bob Townsend made it up.

In our work at Committing to Leadership at American Airlines, CEO Bob Crandall actually read the full quote (misattributed at the time), and observed that it was probably true — but not a good reason to stop a needed reorganization.  Crandall pointed to the last sentence, and said that a good manager’s job is to make sure that reorganization creates real success, not just an illusion of action, and that any good manager will recognize that reorganizations offer the danger of demoralization and confusion.  Those are problems to be managed, Crandall said, not fates that cannot be avoided.

Do you find Ogburn’s snippet of wisdom to be true? So what?

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Merrill's Marauders (film)

Advertising poster for Merrill’s Marauders; Wikipedia image


“Rise Again”: How a sea chanty saved a sailor, and why government regulation saves lives

May 30, 2013

Stan Rogers?

P. Z. Myers was feeling a tad puny, though he’s in Minnesota where that Texas phrase might not win understanding.  In any case, he queued up Nathan Rogers singing his late father’s most famous tune, “The Mary Ellen Carter.”

That was Stanfest, an annual music festival dedicated to Stan Rogers, who died tragically trying to put out an airplane fire, in 1983. (Stanfest is July 5, 6 and 7 in 2013. Actually, Ricky Skaggs kicks it off this year on July 4, a day early.)

The Mary Ellen Carter” is a bit of an odd song, probably best performed where a bunch of people can join in, obviously fueled by a few pints to the guitar players, and seemingly not correct if not done with at least one twelve-string in the band. More, it’s a song with a story that you may not get the first time through, but you should get.  Stan Rogers’s poetry is not simple.  He tells complex stories.

Home in Halifax, one of three albums by Stan Rogers on which “The Mary Ellen Carter” appears. The song is also on Between the Breaks . . . Live! and The Very Best of Stan Rogers.

It’s a song about a group of men who were aboard the Mary Ellen Carter when that ship scuttled.  The song describes their work to patch her up, to raise her from the depths and make her “rise again.”  But we never learn whether the ship was refloated.  That’s not the point of the song.  It’s a song about getting back up when you’ve been scuttled, when you’ve got holes punched in your side, and you’re under water.

That doesn’t get lost on fans of Stan Rogers, nor others who listened to the song over the years.

The song has become a classic of the genre and many artists covered it even before Rogers’ death, including Jim Post who began performing it in the 1980s, as did Makem and Clancy, and the English a cappella trio, Artisan, who went on to popularise their harmony version of it in UK folk circles throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and Portland, Maine-based folk group Schooner Fare. Ian Robb recorded it with the other members of Finest Kind on his album From Different Angels. It was also recorded by the seven piece Newfoundland band The Irish Descendants as part of the tribute album Remembering Stan Rogers: An East Coast Tribute performed by a large number of acts at Rogers’ favorite venue in Halifax, Dalhousie University; the album is out of print though occasionally available from online sellers; the track does not appear on any of the band’s own albums.

It was also recorded by Williamsburg, Virginia-based Celtic rock band Coyote Run as part of their self-titled Coyote Run album. According to liner notes with their 10 Years and Running retrospective album, Coyote Run‘s recording of the song was done with the same 12-string guitar that Stan Rogers himself had used when recording the song.

As a tribute to Stan Rogers, “The Mary Ellen Carter” has been sung to close the annual Winnipeg Folk Festival every year since his death.

Surely you’ve heard it, no?

English: Winnipeg Folk Festival 2006.

Winnipeg Folk Festival 2006. “The Mary Ellen Carter” is sung to close this festival, each year since 1983. Wikipedia image

According to the lore, the song actually saved a sailor’s life once, in 1983, with the sinking of the Marine Electric.  The pedestrian version of the story:

So inspiring is the song that it is credited with saving at least one life. On February 12, 1983 the ship Marine Electric was carrying a load of coal from Norfolk, Virginia to a power station in Somerset, Massachusetts. The worst storm in forty years blew up that night and the ship sank at about four o’clock in the morning on the 13th. The ship’s Chief Mate, fifty-nine-year-old Robert M. (“Bob”) Cusick, was trapped under the deckhouse as the ship went down. His snorkeling experience helped him avoid panic and swim to the surface, but he had to spend the night alone, up to his neck in water, clinging to a partially deflated lifeboat, and in water barely above freezing and air much colder. Huge waves washed over him, and each time he was not sure that he would ever reach the surface again to breathe. Battling hypothermia, he became tempted to allow himself to fall unconscious and let go of the lifeboat. Just then he remembered the words to the song “The Mary Ellen Carter”.

And you, to whom adversity has dealt the final blow
With smiling bastards lying to you everywhere you go
Turn to, and put out all your strength of arm and heart and brain
And like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.

Rise again, rise again—though your heart it be broken
Or life about to end.
No matter what you’ve lost, be it a home, a love, a friend,
Like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.

He started to sing it and soon was alternately shouting out “Rise again, rise again” and holding his breath as the waves washed over him. At seven o’clock that morning a Coast Guard helicopter spotted him and pulled him to safety.[1] Only two men of the other thirty-three that had been aboard survived the wreck. After his ordeal, Cusick wrote a letter to Stan Rogers telling him what had happened and how the song helped save his life. In response, Cusick was invited to attend what turned out the be the second-to-last concert Rogers ever performed. Cusick told his story in the documentary about Stan Rogers, One Warm Line.[2][3]

Truth is stranger and better than fiction once again. You couldn’t convince me that story was plausible, if it were fiction.

Cusick’s story has a coda, though, and it’s an important one.  From the survivors come not only tales of the trials, but information that, if listened to, can prevent future tragedies.

In a 2008 story in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot, Bob Cusick related just how close and hard death breathed on him that night:

Bob Cusick is “still kicking.” That’s no small feat for any man about to turn 85. It’s especially notable when you are one of only three sailors to survive what was among the nation’s worst maritime disasters.

Tuesday will mark the 25th anniversary of the sinking of the coal ship Marine Electric in a blizzard off Chincoteague. Thirty-one sailors died.

Cusick was the ship’s chief mate. He still has nightmares about how the rusted relic of World War II rolled before the crew could launch its lifeboats. He can still feel the water swallowing him and hear the men screaming for help in the darkness.

But the nightmares aren’t as frequent now.

“It’s really been a long time,” he said from his home in New Hampshire. “And evidently, a lot of good came from that ship’s sinking.”

Most of it because of Cusick and the other two survivors’ testimonies.

Before we hear the good, let’s get the facts:

The Marine Electric was what mariners call a rust bucket. Its huge cargo hatches were warped, wasted away and patched cosmetically with putty and duct tape. The deck was cracked, and the hull even had a hole punched through by a bulldozer.

Still, inspectors cleared it to sail, and it routinely hauled pulverized coal from Norfolk to a power plant near Boston.

Its last trip was into the teeth of a violent nor’easter. The aging ship was no match for the weather. For more than 24 hours, the Marine Electric was battered by swells that stretched 40 feet from trough to crest.

For part of the trip, the ship had been diverted to escort a trawler into Chincoteague.

Not long after resuming its course, the Marine Electric started taking on water.

Seas crashing over those corroded decks rushed inside the hatches, mixing with the powdered coal to create an unstable slurry.

The water couldn’t be pumped out, because the ship’s owners had welded covers over the drain holes.

Cusick was lucky. He had just come off watch and was wearing an insulated coat his wife had insisted he buy and a raw wool cap she had knitted for him. They would eventually make the difference between life and death.

Cusick swam for an hour in the tempest before finding a swamped lifeboat. He climbed inside and wedged himself beneath the seats, slipping under the 37-degree water, to escape the howling winds. He gasped for breaths between waves.

Cusick found strength in a song about the shipwreck of the Mary Ellen Carter, and folksinger Stan Rogers’ refrain to “rise again, rise again.”

Cusick would spend 2 hours and 45 minutes in the frigid water, nearly double what Navy survival charts claimed was possible.

It was after dawn when a Coast Guard helicopter from Elizabeth City, N.C., running on fumes, dropped a basket into his lifeboat and Cusick was hoisted to safety.

Rogers’s song, and Cusick’s story, were put to great use.

As a result of this accident, and the detailed records of neglect Cusick kept, the Coast Guard launched its renowned rescue swimmers program. Ships sailing in cold waters are required to provide survival suits to their crews; safety inspections are more rigorous; lifeboats must have better launching systems; and rafts must have boarding platforms to allow freezing sailors to climb inside.

We lived on the Potomac when the Marine Electric went down.  We had the daily, sometimes hourly updates, and the growing sense of tragedy.  I well recall my amazement that anyone survived in the cold water.  In the 30 years since, I had never heard the full story.

This is why we study history.  This is why we write history.  This is why we revel in history, even faux history, being turned into art by the poets and troubadors.

Knowing history, and knowing the art, we can stand up to demand that money to inspect ships for safety be restored to the federal budget, that money to build safe air transport be revived, that politicians stop blocking the doors to the hospitals and clinics (Rick Perry, Greg Abbott), and that justice be done on a thousand other scores where cynics and highway robbers tell us it cannot be done or it’s too expensive.

And then we all may, as the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.

Marine Electric sank on February 12, 1983; Stan Rogers died less than four months later, on June 2, 1983, returning home from performing at the Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas.  Listen to Mr. Cusick’s story, and listen to Mr. Rogers’s telling of his:

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Texas, “Go fish!”

May 28, 2013

No, this isn’t a comment about the Texas Lege.  That I have to tell you that is comment enough.

Texas Parks and Wildlife notes:

Catching a fish is fun for kids, but many families have questions about how to get started. That’s why some state parks are offering free fishing classes. They’ll teach you the basics through fun, hands-on activities. Texas Parks and Wildlife has this report on a program called “Go Fish” as the June Outdoor Activity of the Month.

To find places to fish and events near you, visit texasstateparks.org/fishing

Doesn’t seem that long ago, but he’s grown, graduated from college and moved 2,000 miles away; heck, both of the boys graduated and moved away.  We started our romancing of Texas State Parks at Ink’s Lake State Park, in one of the hottest Augusts I ever would wish to see.  We got a new tent, big enough for a family and bigger than the pup tent Kathryn and I used on the Atlantic Beaches (never did get that hurricane smell out of it . . .).  I worried about older son Kenny.  Little patience for anything not electronic.

The rules were they could play handheld games until we got there, in the car, but not once we got down to camping.  When we got to Ink’s Lake it was 105º F.  Kenny decided he’d rather stay in the car with his games.  Eventually the batteries died.

It was a fun, but not necessarily easy first day.  We had Disney TrueLife Adventure watching a wasp and spider fighting.  We had deer wandering through the site, including one with a deformed mouth (we named her Celeste, but don’t ask me why).  Deer would do almost anything for a bite of cantaloupe.  Swimming, rocks to jump off of . . . Kenny was bordering on crabby.

I never took to fishing.  That’s Kathryn’s bailiwick.  She got poles for the kids.  The whole point of the trip was to get back to fishing for Kathryn.  Kenny complained about the hot son on the end of the pier, about the worms, about the lack of video games.  He complained about everything until he got that pole in his hand and dropped the hook in the water.  I wish we had it on video.  Instantly, he became a man of patience.

Caught his first little fish that day, too.   Bluegill, or crappie — I don’t remember.  The next few days brought quite a bit of adventure — small boat tour of Ink’s Lake, big tourist boat trip on nearby Lake Buchanan (” . . . this is Texas, Honey. It’s pronounced buck-CANnon. Don’t forget.”).  We froze in Longhorn Cavern.  We found magic, and five-foot catfish, at Hamilton Pool.  The catfish were larger than James, but he took great delight in watching them in the bottom of the supernaturally-clear pool.

English: Photo taken by Reid Sullivan during d...

Hamilton Pool, near the Pedernales River – photo by Reid Sullivan during drought conditions 1/2/2006, via Wikipedia

Both boys got great at camping, both had long periods with Boy Scouts after YMCA Guides (Kenny got Life; James got Eagle).  I think both of them got the fishing merit badge with help from the Mighty Fisher, Eddie Cline.  We have thousands of photos, lots of great memories, and for our family, it started with that trip to Ink’s Lake.

The good stuff all started with fishing.

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President Obama, a man of grace and encouragement

May 27, 2013

Consoler and Encourager in Chief:

Note President Obama left at Plaza Towers Elementary in Moore, Oklahoma

Caption from Pete Souza‘s slide show: A message from President Barack Obama is seen on a Plaza Towers Elementary School sign, at Moore Fire Department Station #1 in Moore, Okla., May 26, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Pete Souza‘s work as White House photographer will ultimately make historians’ work much richer.  He’s got a great eye for a shot that needs to be snapped, and a great sense of art on the fly.  If you’re not a regular watcher of Souza’s work, you probably should be, especially if you’re teaching history.

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Flags flying on Memorial Day, 2013

May 27, 2013

Certainly you’ve remembered to put your flags up for Memorial Day.

This is what it looks like at Officers Row, at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park:

Flags on Officers' Row, Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone NP

Yellowstone National Park “On this Memorial Day, American Flags are proudly displayed on Officers’ Row in Mammoth Hot Spring as we remember those who gave their lives in military service to our country. (dr2)”

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May 25, 1961, 52 years ago: John Kennedy challenged America to go to the Moon

May 26, 2013

President Kennedy at Congress, May 25, 1961

President John F. Kennedy speaking to a special joint session of Congress, on May 25, 1961; in this speech, Kennedy made his famous statement asking the nation to pledge to put a man on the Moon and bring him back safely, in the next ten years.

It was an era when Congress would respond when the President challenged America to be great, and Congress would respond positively.

On May 25, 1961, President Kennedy delivered a special message to Congress, on the challenges facing the U.S. around the world, in continuing to build free market economies, and continuing to advance in science, as means of promoting America’s future.  He closed with the words that have become so famous.  From the Apollo 11 Channel, excerpts from the speech, via Fox Movietone news:

History from the Apollo 11 Channel:

In an address to a Joint session of the United States Congress, Kennedy announces full presidential support for the goal to “commit…before this decade is out, to landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth” and urges Congress to appropriate the necessary funds, eventually consuming the largest financial expenditure of any nation in peacetime.

Though Kennedy had initially been convinced that NASA should attempt a manned mission to Mars, NASA Associate Administrator Robert Seamans spent three days and nights working, ultimately successfully, to convince him otherwise.

The complete speech is 46 minutes long.  The JFK Library has a longer excerpt in good video I haven’t figured out how to embed here, but it’s worth your look.  The Library also features the entire speech in audio format.

The complete copy of the written text that President Kennedy spoke from, is also available at the JFK Library.

NASA has a good site with solid history in very short form, and links to a half-dozen great sites.

Can you imagine a president making such a challenge today?

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Memorial Day, May 27 – Fly your flag, at half-staff until noon

May 24, 2013

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder continued the program started by his predecessor, Jennifer Granholm, to send out notices electronically of occasions to fly the U.S. flag, and when to fly flags at half staff.  Michigan honors every soldier who dies with a day of mourning, with half-staff flags.

Notices also go out for things like Memorial Day.  Here is the e-mail the system sent out today, a notice to fly the flag on Memorial Day, and how to fly it:  Half-staff until noon, full staff from noon until sunset.

So now you know.

Flag Honors banner

FLAGS ORDERED LOWERED ON MONDAY, MAY 27

LANSING, MI – The flag of the United States has been ordered lowered to half-staff in Michigan on Monday, May 27, 2013 in honor of Memorial Day. This recognition is asked to be observed until noon of the same day at which point it should be raised to the peak.

“It is a great honor to join with fellow Americans in paying special tribute to the selfless individuals who serve and protect our country,” said Gov. Rick Snyder. “On this day, and every day, we say ‘thank you’ to the courageous and vigilant men and women who sacrifice much to ensure our safety, and we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice in carrying out their sworn duties.”

Michigan residents, businesses, schools, local governments and other organizations are encouraged to display the flag at half-staff.

When flown at half-staff or half-mast, the U.S. flag should be hoisted first to the peak for an instant and then lowered to the half-staff or half-mast position.

###

You may fly your flag all weekend if you wish, of course.

Different activities honoring fallen soldiers are scheduled through the weekend.  What’s going on in your town?

33,000 flags on Boston Common for Memorial Day 2013

“A garden of 33,000 flags was planted by city officials and members of the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund this week, and will cover part of the Boston Common near the Soldiers and Sailors Monument through Memorial Day, in honor of fallen soldiers from the state. Each flag put in the ground near the monument will represent a service member from Massachusetts who gave his or her life defending the country since the Civil War to the present day.” Photo via Lorie Jenkins on Twitter, in Boston Magazine.

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Poster for World Turtle Day (May 23)

May 23, 2013

World Turtle Day, Share the Roads!

Nice reminder, featuring an Eastern Box Tortoise (I think). Image from Conscious Companion.

 

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May 23 is World Turtle Day

May 23, 2013

English: Turtles. Français : Tortoises. Deutsc...

English: Turtles. Français : Tortoises. Deutsch: Schildkröten. Griechische Schildkröte (Testudo graeca). ¼. Klappschildkröte (Cinosternum pensylvanicum). ¼. Sumpfschildkröte (Cistudo lutaria). ¼. Matamata (Chelys fimbriata). 1/16. Großkopfschildkröte (Platysternum megalocephalurn). ¼. Lederschildkröte (Dermatochelys coriacea). 1/20. Karettschildkröte (Chelone imbricata). 1/20. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just found out.  Never heard of it before — and I’m rather a turtle & tortoise kind of guy, so you’d think I’d know that.

May 23 is World Turtle Day.  In fact, this is the 13th World Turtle Day.

No grand pronouncements from Congress, probably — American Tortoise Rescue picked a day, and that was that.

American Tortoise Rescue (ATR) is sponsoring its 13th annual World Turtle Day 2013 on May 23rd.  The day was created as an annual observance to help people celebrate and protect turtles and tortoises and their disappearing habitats around the world.  Susan Tellem and Marshall Thompson, founders of ATR, advocate humane treatment of all animals, including reptiles.  Since 1990, ATR has placed about 3,000 tortoises and turtles in caring homes.  ATR assists law enforcement when undersize or endangered turtles are confiscated and provides helpful information and referrals to persons with sick, neglected or abandoned turtles.

“World Turtle Day was started to increase respect and knowledge for the world’s oldest creatures.  These gentle animals have been around for about 200 million years, yet they are rapidly disappearing as a result of the exotic food industry, habitat destruction, global warming and the cruel pet trade,” says Tellem. “We are seeing smaller turtles coming into the rescue meaning that older adults are disappearing from the wild thanks to the pet trade, and the breeding stock is drastically reduced.  It is a very sad time for turtles and tortoises of the world.”  (See slide show here http://www.slideshare.net/tellem/where-have-all-the-turtles-gone.)

Turtles, Tortoises, and Terrapins are reptiles...

Turtles, Tortoises, and Terrapins are reptiles of the Order Testudines (all living turtles belong to the crown group Chelonia), most of whose body is shielded by a special bony or cartilagenous shell developed from their ribs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tellem says, “We are thrilled to learn that organizations throughout the world now are observing World Turtle Day, including those in India, Australia, the UK and many other countries.”  Tellem notes that biologists and other experts predict the complete disappearance of these reptiles within the next 50 years.  She recommends that adults and children do a few small things that can help to save turtles and tortoises for the next generation:

  • Never buy a turtle or tortoise from a pet shop as it increases demand from the wild.
  • Never remove turtles or tortoises from the wild unless they are sick or injured.
  • If a tortoise is crossing a busy street, pick it up and send it in the same direction it was going – if you try to make it go back, it will turn right around again.
  • Write letters to legislators asking them to keep sensitive habitat preserved or closed to off road vehicles, and to prevent off shore drilling that can lead to more endangered sea turtle deaths.
  • Report cruelty or illegal sales of turtles and tortoises to your local animal control shelter.
  • Report the sale of any turtle or tortoise of any kind less than four inches.  This is illegal throughout the U.S.

“Our ultimate goal is to stop the illegal trade in turtles and tortoises around the world.  Our first priority here in the U.S. is to stop pet stores and reptile shows from selling illegal hatchling tortoises and turtles,” says Thompson.  “We also need to educate people who are unfamiliar with their proper care about the real risk of contracting salmonella from turtles.  Schools and county fairs are no place for turtles. Wash your hands thoroughly every time you touch a turtle or its water, and do not bring turtles into homes where children are under the age of 12.”

For answers to questions and other information send e-mail to info@tortoise.com; on Twitter @tortoiserescue; “Like” American Tortoise Rescue at www.Facebook.com/AmericanTortoiseRescue; and join World Turtle Day on www.Facebook.com/WorldTurtleDay.

Here’s to you Freddie, the Western Box Tortoise from Idaho, and Truck, the desert tortoise from Southern Utah, the friends of my youth.  And all you others.

Red-eared sliders, turtles at Texas Discovery Gardens - photo by Ed Darrell

Red-eared sliders cluster together to catch the sun on a spring day at Texas Discovery Gardens at Fair Park in Dallas. Photo by Ed Darrell, 2010

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Dallas crime history: Deaths of Bonnie and Clyde, May 23, 1934

May 23, 2013

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, notorious bank-robbing outlaws from Oak Cliff, Texas, ran into a police ambush and were shot to death on May 23, 1934, in Bienville Parish, Louisiana.

Bonnie and Clyde in 1933 - Wikimedia

Bonnie and Clyde in 1933, about a year before their deaths – Wikimedia image

Though they wished to be buried together, her family protested. They are buried in separate cemeteries in Dallas. Bonnie is buried in the Crown Hill Cemetery off of Webb Chapel Road in Dallas (do not confuse with the Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis). Clyde is buried in the Western Heights Cemetery off of Fort Worth Boulevard, in Oak Cliff (now a part of Dallas).

Borrowed originally with express permission from a Wayback Machine; expanded and edited here.

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Additional photo resources:

US Department of Justice, Division of Investig...

US Department of Justice, Division of Investigation identification order for Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Image via Wikipedia

Posse suffered deafness for hours after unleas...

“Posse members suffered deafness for hours after unleashing the thunderous fusillade” Wikipedia image

English: Photo of the grave of Clyde Barrow

The grave of Clyde Barrow – Wikipedia image

English: Photo of the grave of Bonnie Parker

The grave of Bonnie Parker – Wikipedia image

You should recall Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty in their movie turn as Bonnie and Clyde.  But Serge Gainsborough and Brigitte Bardot, in French?  From 1968:


May 23, 1926: Mencken confessed the Millard Fillmore bathtub hoax, “any facts . . . got there accidentally”

May 23, 2013

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).

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

Text of the 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.

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 votes today 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.

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:


Fly your flag for South Carolina, May 23 – Statehood Day

May 23, 2013

U.S. and South Carolina flags flying together on one pole. Photo from Bluffton Breeze

U.S. and South Carolina flags flying together on one pole. Photo from Bluffton Breeze

Fly your flag for South Carolina’s statehood on May 23.

South Carolina is one of the original 13 colonies who banded together, first to fight for independence from Britain, and then to create the United States of America.  “Statehood Day” for the 13 original members is the anniversary of the date that colony ratified the Constitution.

South Carolina’s convention of citizens ratified the constitution on May 23, 1788 — the 8th state to do so.  A three-fourths, 75% majority put the Constitution into operation; 75% was 9 states.  While South Carolina’s ratification technically didn’t become viable until one more state joined in, we give South Carolina a pass, so they can celebrate.

The U.S. Flag Code urges residents of a state to fly U.S.  flags on the anniversary of that state’s statehood.  I gather South Carolina doesn’t do much to celebrate statehood.

English: The Great Seal of the State of South ...

The Great Seal of the State of South Carolina. Wikipedia image

More:


Camping with the guys

May 22, 2013

No campfire necessary?  Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, President Warren Harding, and Harvey Firestone

No campfire necessary? Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, President Warren Harding, and Harvey Firestone. Harding was probably the closest to poverty in this group. Photo may be from a camping trip in Maryland, circa 1921.  AkronHistory.org

Every Boy Scout knows, there’s something magical in a campfire.  Sometimes, you don’t even need the campfire.

More details of their camping exploits here, at Frederick County Forestry Board. See also this history site from the Maryland Forest Service, Department of Natural Resources.


Pay attention to the science: James Hansen proved right, critics wrong (reprise)

May 22, 2013

This is mostly a reprise of a post from October, in which we noted that climate scientist James Hansen‘s off-handed prediction of what might be warming damage to New York had come true.  Not that Hansen wanted it to ever occur, but Hansen’s conjecture had been the subject of great ridicule attempts in the warming [choose one: denialists’, critics’, apologists’s] Gish Gallop rebuttal attempts.

As it is again.  This time, a discussant pointed the Anthony Watts’s Carnival of Misbelief as the source of a claim which, the discussant said, proved liberals don’t like facts.

Here’s the run-up question, and my response:

Mr. Mears tried to extend his argument:

He should have quit at bafflegab.  His link runs to Anthony Watts’s place, with the same attempted ridicule of James Hansen’s nightmare.

Watts made the same error Steve Goddard made, of course.  Watts corrected one erroneous detail — the time in which Hansen said it might occur — but tried to make the ridicule stick:

As of this update in March 2011, we’re 23 years into his prediction of the West Side Highway being underwater. From what I can measure in Google Earth, Dr. Hansen would need at least a ten foot rise in forty years to make his prediction work. See this image below from Google Earth where I placed the pointe over the West Side Highway, near the famous landmark and museum, the USS Intrepid:

According to Google Earth, the West Side Highway is 10 feet above sea level here – click to enlarge

The lat/lon should you wish to check yourself is: 40.764572° -73.998498°

We turn to the events of last October, and the storm that was Hurricane Sandy, which slammed into New Jersey and New York, and that same West Side Highway.

I noted in an earlier post, on October 30 of last year:

Over at Rabbett Run:

tonylearns said…
Could someone go over to Goddard’s blog for me ( I have been banned three times most recently for having the gall to suggest he was wrong in ridiculing the possibility of a new record minimum SIE this year. ) and ask for his apology to Hansen for ridiculing the possibility of the West Side Highway being underwater. I just saw a video showing the West Side Highway underwater.
29/10/12 7:46 PM

No! Someone whose comments don’t show up at Steve Goddard’s blog? Must be some massive disruption in the force of the Tubes of the Interweb thingy.

What is this guy Tony on about?

At Steve Goddard’s blog — this is the same guy who said the western drought was over because Lake Powell rose a few feet, though the drought raged on everywhere else — Goddard and his flying and limping monkeys have been poking fun at something James Hansen is alleged to have said:

According to NASA’s top scientist, Manhattan has been underwater for the past four years, and is experiencing a horrific drought.

While doing research 12 or 13 years ago, I met Jim Hansen, the scientist who in 1988 predicted the greenhouse effect before Congress. I went over to the window with him and looked out on Broadway in New York City and said, “If what you’re saying about the greenhouse effect is true, is anything going to look different down there in 20 years?” He looked for a while and was quiet and didn’t say anything for a couple seconds. Then he said, “Well, there will be more traffic.” I, of course, didn’t think he heard the question right. Then he explained, “The West Side Highway [which runs along the Hudson River] will be under water. And there will be tape across the windows across the street because of high winds. And the same birds won’t be there. The trees in the median strip will change.” Then he said, “There will be more police cars.” Why? “Well, you know what happens to crime when the heat goes up.”

And so far, over the last 10 years, we’ve had 10 of the hottest years on record. [Quoting an article at Salon]

The West Side Highway under water?  Ha.

Goddard’s blog has used Hansen’s quote as a regular punchline, not noticing that Hansen said “in 20 to 30 years,” and assuming he was just awfully, comically wrong.  30 years from 1988 will be 2018.  This year is 2012, six years to go.  Goddard tried to ridicule Hansen a few times over the past couple of years, for example:

  1. Here on October 4, 2010;
  2. Here on October 10, 2010;
  3. Here on November 13, 2010;
  4. Here on December 19, 2010 (with a photo of Al Gore, Barack Obama and an unidentified guy, maybe Goddard himself?);
  5. Here on January 15, 2011;
  6. Again on March 14, 2011;
  7. A special St. Patrick’s Day posting, March 17, 2011;
  8. Here on April 9, 2011;
  9. Here on May 22, 2011;
  10. Here on May 30, 2011; and obviously running out of comedy material, Goddard went for two in one day,
  11. Here on May 30, 2011, and by this time it’s such a regular meme attempting to mock James Hansen with same old material, Goddard doesn’t refer to the actual quote from Hansen;
  12. Here on June 15, 2011;
  13. Here on July 20, 2011;
  14. Here on July 21, 2011;
  15. Here on August 25, 2011;
  16. Here on May 7, 2012;
  17. Here on May 8, 2012;
  18. Here on May 23, 2012;
  19. June 25, 2012;
  20. August 9, 2012;
  21. August 23, 2012;
  22. August 31, 2012;
  23. September 28, 2012.

AP may complain about this use, but this is an academic, learning exercise:

Photo showing West Side Highway underwater from Hurricane Sandy

Caption from Yahoo! News: This photo provided by Dylan Patrick shows flooding along the Westside Highway near the USS Intrepid as Sandy moves through the area Monday, Oct. 29, 2012 in New York. Much of New York was plunged into darkness Monday by a superstorm that overflowed the city’s historic waterfront, flooded the financial district and subway tunnels and cut power to nearly a million people. (AP Photo/Dylan Patrick) MANDATORY CREDIT: DYLAN PATRICK

Dylan Patrick got the photographic evidence that shows, once again, warming denialists really are a classless, fact-lacking bunch.  CNN has photos from Dylanphoto1 (the same guy, almost certainly), in a slide show, noting, “Most of the Westside Highway south of 49th street is flooded all the way down, and in front of the USS Intrepid.”  Across from Pier 88 and the USS Intrepid, the street is indeed underwater.

So we learn that, as a comedian, Steve Goddard has an extremely limited range and depends on a sympathetic room to get laughs; and as a climate scientist, he is even more limited, and wrong, with 6 years to go in the 20 to 30 year range James Hansen offered.  And we learn once again, sadly, that James Hansen was right back in 1988 when he hit the claxons to warn us of global warming.

23 times Goddard repeated the charge?  Do you get the idea that “climate skeptics” ran out of material years ago, and have been dancing a cover-up for a very, very long time?  Hurricane Sandy blew and floated his claim away.

In this reprise post, I add three photos to make it even more clear what happened:

West Side Highway at Pier 88, flooded

From CNN: By dylanphoto1 | Posted October 29, 2012 | NYC, NY, New York — CNN PRODUCER NOTE dylanphoto1 told me, ‘It was fairly quiet with large gusts of wind and some rain. There were other people out and about taking photos and commenting on how crazy it is to see the water covering the highway. Cops were out chasing people off the highway.’

Yes, Dear Reader, that is indeed Pier 88.  New Yorkers probably recognize it as the berthing place of the U.S.S. Intrepid, the same ship Watts shows in his photo, while laughingly promising that the West Side Highway would never be flooded by the ocean at that spot.  Never?

West Side Highway flooded by Sandy, at Pier 88

CNN image, photo by dylanphoto1; in this view, Pier 88’s denizen, the U.S.S. Intrepid, can clearly be seen by the name on the stern of the ship.

One more photo from dylanphoto1:

Pier 88 during Sandy - CNN image from dylanphoto1

At New York City’s Pier 88, the U.S.S. Intrepid, with the West Side Highway in the foreground, covered by surging and rising ocean waters.

So there you have it.  Some conservatives will deny the science they claim to cling to, blaming liberals or James Hansen for being right all along.

Is this stuff from the anti-warms the Cargo Cult Science Dr. Feynman warned us about, do you think?

More (list from the October post):

Even more, a bit later:

And even more, from May 2013:


Oklahoma storms, as viewed by NASA

May 21, 2013

Oklahoma storm of May 20, 2013, as viewed by NASA Goddard's Aqua satellite.

Oklahoma storm of May 20, 2013, as viewed by NASA Goddard’s Aqua satellite.

Residents of Moore got several minutes of warning before the tornado struck, saving perhaps hundreds of lives.

Can the U.S. afford to keep cutting resources from NASA and NOAA?  Seriously?

 


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