Signs of life in an age of COVID-19 and revolution

July 8, 2020

Sign posted outside of an American bar, I presume.

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/EcWhamJWoAAQYbe?format=jpg&name=900x900

No indication of any complaints from any customers. (Comment said the sign was found in Beech Grove, Indiana.)

Tip of the old scrub brush to Melissa Howell and @TeacherGoals.


John Adams was right about much, but he missed on celebrating Independence Day

July 3, 2020

John Adams, by By John Trumbull, 1793. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
John Adams, by By John Trumbull, 1793. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

“The Second Day of July 1776 will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. . . . It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires, and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”
John Adams to Abigail Adams, July 3, 1776

Surely John Adams knew that July 4 would be Independence Day, didn’t he?

In writing to his wife Abigail on July 3, John Adams committed one of those grand errors even he would laugh at afterward. We’ll forgive him when the fireworks start firing.

1776 filled the calendar with dates deserving of remembrance and even celebration. John Adams, delegate from Massachusetts to the Second Continental Congress, wrote home to his wife Abigail that future generations would celebrate July 2, the date the Congress voted to approve Richard Henry Lee’s resolution declaring independence from Britain for 13 of the British colonies in America.

Continental congress DSC_0607
Scene of the crime — Independence Hall in Philadelphia, where the Second Continental congress approved the resolution to declare the colonies independent from Britain – (Photo credit: National Park Service)

Two days later, that same Congress approved the wording of the document Thomas Jefferson had drafted to announce Lee’s resolution to the world.

Today, we celebrate the date of the document Jefferson wrote, and Richard Henry Lee is often a reduced to a footnote, if not erased from history altogether.

Who can predict the future?

(You know, of course, that Adams and Jefferson both died 50 years to the day after the Declaration of Independence, on July 4, 1826. In the 50 intervening years, Adams and Jefferson were comrades in arms and diplomacy in Europe, officers of the new government in America, opposing candidates for the presidency, President and Vice President, ex-President and President, bitter enemies, then long-distance friends writing almost daily about how to make a great new nation. Read David McCullough‘s version of the story, if you can find it.)

More, and Related articles:

The Lee Resolution.
The Lee Resolution, passed by the Second Continental Congress on July 2, 1776 – Wikipedia image (Wait a minute: Are those numbers added correctly? What are they?)
This is an encore post.
Yes, this is an encore post. Defeating ignorance takes patience and perseverance. And of course, this post makes a good one to repeat every year near the 4th of July.

Joe Biden, Mensch

June 25, 2020

Joe Biden’s campaign is sharing personal stories about Biden — this one was shared originally in September 2019. It’s a way to get to know him, and to show his character (or lack of it).

This one, you should read. It’s the Joe Biden I met first in 1974, and the Biden I know him to be. But I hadn’t heard this story before.

I Know Joe Biden: Rabbi Michael Beals

The story I’m about to share with you about Joe Biden is special — in fact, I’m fairly certain I’m the only living person left who actually witnessed it firsthand.

It was about 16 years ago, and I was a young rabbi, brand-new to Delaware, on my way to lead a shiva minyan — a worship service following a death of a Jewish person. I was from California. Back then, I didn’t know Claymont, Delaware from Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Rabbi Michael Beals and Vice President Joe Biden

A quick bit of background: When someone passes away in the Jewish faith, we observe seven days of mourning, called shiva. We gather a group of ten Jewish adults together — a minyan — to say the Mourners’ Kaddish. It usually happens in a person’s home — somewhere intimate.

In this case, the deceased individual — her name was Mrs. Greenhouse, of blessed memory — had not been a person of means. She had lived in rent-controlled senior housing in a tall high-rise building off of Namaans Road. Her apartment had been too small to fit everyone into, so we conducted our worship service in the building’s communal laundry room, in the basement of the high-rise.

We assembled the ten elders together, and it was in this most humble of places that I began to lead the kaddish. Toward the end of the service, a door at the back of the laundry room opened, and who walks in but Senator Joe Biden, his head lowered, all by himself.

I nearly dropped my prayer book in shock.

Senator Biden stood quietly in the back of the room for the duration of the service.

At the close of the kaddish, I walked over to him and asked the same question that must have been on everyone else’s mind: “Senator Biden — what are you doing here?”

And he said to me: “Listen, back in 1972, when I first ran for Senate, Mrs. Greenhouse gave $18 to my first campaign. Because that’s what she could afford. And every six years, when I’d run for reelection, she’d give another $18. She did it her whole life. I’m here to show my respect and gratitude.”

Now, the number 18 is significant in the Jewish faith — its numbers spell out the Hebrew word chai, as in “to life, to life, l’chayim!” But it’s also a humble amount. Joe Biden knew that. And he respected that.

There were no news outlets at our service that day — no Jewish reporters or important dignitaries. Just a few elderly mourners in a basement laundry room.

Joe Biden didn’t come to that service for political gain. He came to that service because he has character. He came to that service because he’s a mensch.

And if we need anything right now when it comes to the leadership of our country — we need a mensch.

I know this is such a simple, small story. But I tell it to as many people as will listen to me.

Because I think that, in their heart of hearts, when people are trying to think about the decision they’ll make next year — this is the kind of story that matters.

Joe Biden is a mensch. We need a mensch.

Thanks for reading.

– Rabbi Michael Beals of Delaware

This article was first published by the Biden campaign on Medium, I think. This is the earliest version I’ve found. It’s been excerpted on Twitter, for example by Stanley Krute, and probably on other platforms, too.

I know of no similar story about Donald Trump. Do you?


“It’s mourning in America”

May 15, 2020

Republican campaign consultants and others who want to save the Republican Party, and America, from Donald Trump, put a fine twist on the old Ronald Reagan campaign ad from 1984, “It’s Morning in America.”

“Mourning in America” came out of the The Lincoln Project, a group of Republicans who find Donald Trump to be unacceptable as a president, including Rick Wilson, the author of Everything Trump Touches Dies.

At their YouTube site, the project say:

Donald Trump’s failed presidency has left the nation weaker, sicker, and teetering on the verge of a new Great Depression.

News accounts say this video’s one actual broadcast, in Washington, D.C., was seen by Trump, who erupted in a fountain of angry Tweets indicating that the ad hit where its makers and funders wanted it to hit.

In just a few months, over 71,000 American lives have been lost to this deadly disease, a loss that stands in glaring contrast to the president’s assertion, just a few weeks ago, that it would just “disappear . . . like a miracle.”

Trump didn’t create this virus. But his failure to prepare the nation for the pandemic has directly contributed to the growing number of COVID-19 deaths as well as economic devastation.

As of Wednesday, more than 30 million Americans have lost their jobs. Millions more will likely do so in the weeks ahead. The Paycheck Protection Program, intended to save small businesses across the country, instead distributed much of its funds to large corporations, leaving thousands of small businesses with little hope of survival.

A still from the Lincoln Project’s “Mourning In America” ad.Lesley Becker/”Mourning in America, via Boston Globe

May 7: Anniversary of the 27th Amendment, and tribute to James Madison’s three centuries of legislative accomplishment

May 7, 2020

September 25, 1789, Congress had approved and enrolled the proposals, and sent twelve proposed amendments to the Constitution to the states for ratification.  Ten of the twelve amendments were approved, rather quickly, and by 1791 the were attached to the Constitution.  These ten we now call the Bill of Rights.

James Madison before he was president

James Madison proposed the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution, and the 27th Amendment; the 203 years it took to ratify the 27th Amendment is the longest legislative process in the history of the U.S., and probably the world.

The two proposals that failed to earn the required approval of three-fourths of the 13 states fell into a special limbo for Constitutional amendments that became clear only in the late 1970s when Congress discussed how long to wait for states to approve the Equal Rights Amendment (this is a much-simplified explanation, I know).  Congress put deadlines on the ratification process in the late 20th century, but the first twelve proposals had no deadlines, nor did any other proposal before the Equal Rights Amendment proposal.  In the 1980s, Congress passed a law that said any amendments floating around, unapproved, would be considered dead after a date certain.  There were six amendments in that category.

Before that date certain passed, more states took a look at one of James Madison’s 1789 proposals.  They liked it, and they ratified it — 34 states total.

That amendment became the 27th Amendment to the Constitution, on May 7, 1992, 203 years after it was proposed:

No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.

This is the longest legislative procedure in U.S. history, perhaps the longest ever — it lasted much longer than many nations.  By that ratification in 1992, James Madison became the person who proposed both the first, and last amendments to the Constitution.

Madison’s reaching out from the grave 156 years after his death — he died on June 28, 1836 — is one of the greatest legislative coups in history, too.

This is an encore post.
Yes, this is an encore post. Defeating ignorance takes patience and perseverance.

Days of Yore: Scouting patent for a semaphore dummy

April 8, 2020

Some recent discussion about the least-earned Scout merit badge in history. In its three years of existence (and odd afterlife), only ten Boy Scouts earned the badge. It was discontinued in 1915.

One reason? A requirement for the badge was to file for and get a patent from the U.S. Patent Office. Much easier to do in 1911-1914 than today, but still a hurdle probably too high to require from Scouts.

Ten Scouts did it, though — one of the patents was displayed in the blog for Scouting Magazine. So I searched patents to see if I could find some of the other ten.

Not yet. But I did find this patent for a dandy semaphore signaling device (back in the day, Scouts had to learn either semaphore or Morse code). On October 29, 1929, H. C. Meyer got a patent on a device that looks like a Boy Scout with two semaphore flags — with mechanisms to position the flags for semaphore signaling.

Why a dummy instead of a Scout? Not sure. All I found was the drawing. No hint on whether the device was ever built.

U.S. Patent 1,729,890, to H. C. Meyer, for a “Boy Scout Signalling Device” using semaphores. Granted October 1, 1929.

Do you know semaphore? Morse code?

See the drawing and the entire description of the patent at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website. Four pages.


If we’re sheltered from the virus, is April still National Poetry Month?

March 31, 2020

Yes.

National poetry Month may be even more important when we’re avoiding other social interactions, poetry being a very intimate interaction that spans distances and time.

Plans for National Poetry Month 2020 were made months ago; the only difference will be cancellations of actual physical gatherings.

But, literature and history teachers, is there a topic better adapted for virtual learning than poetry?

Poster of National Poetry Month 2020, from the Academy of American Poets. It was designed by “tenth grader Samantha Aikman from Mount Mansfield Union High School in Richmond, Vermont, winner of the 2020 National Poetry Month Poster Contest for Students. Aikman’s artwork was selected by former U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera and award-winning cartoonist Alison Bechdel from among ten outstanding finalists and 180 student submissions.”

The Academy of American Poets described it:

National Poetry Month was inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in April 1996. Over the years, it has become the largest literary celebration in the world with schools, publishers, libraries, booksellers, and poets celebrating poetry’s vital place in our culture.

Join the celebration this April by listing your virtual readings and events, signing up for and displaying the official National Poetry Month poster, participating in Poem in Your Pocket Day on April 30, 2020 recommending the Dear Poet project to a young person, signing up to read a Poem-a-Day, and checking out 30 more ways to celebrate.

We hope National Poetry Month’s events and activities will inspire you to keep celebrating poetry all year long!

April’s a good month for poetry. I like using Longfellow’s “Paul Revere’s Ride” on April 18th or 19th in 10th and 11th grade history classes — sadly, most Texas students appear unfamiliar with the poem, which can help them on several key questions on the state test. It can be followed up with Emerson’s “Concord Hymn,” which contains a phrase they are required to know — but again, in a poem they are not taught otherwise.

And there are, or would be in a normal year, pending ceremonies of various types that demand poetry. Graduations, farewells, awards ceremonies, and more that cry out for just a few verses of poetry to put frosting on the cake, or gravy on the potatoes depending on which metaphor floats your particular watercraft.

Happy to see so much material out there for National Poetry Month. Where will you start?


Freud's friend Einstein, by Schmutzer

March 19, 2020

Einstein in 1921, by Ferdinand Schmutzer
Albert Einstein in 1921, by Ferdinand Schmutzer; original in the Freud Museum; image here public domain from Wikipedia.

Science historian Paul Halpern Tweeted this photo recently, saying:

Albert Einstein and psychologist Sigmund Freud greatly admired each other. Here is a portrait of Einstein, painted by Ferdinand Schmutzer, that was part of Freud’s personal collection. It is now housed in the Freud Museum, Vienna.

https://twitter.com/phalpern/status/1240371613150973954

It’s an image of Einstein I don’t recall seeing before. Einstein was not camera shy, but there are only a handful of photos of him that make the rounds regularly. I like to find other images that are less well-known, and which may offer some graphic insight into neglected facets of the man.

I did not realize that Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein regarded each other as friends, so. An interesting commentary on the times they lived and worked, I suppose. How much of each other’s work did they study, or understand?

Ferdinand Schmutzer was an Austrian professor (where?), photographer and painter, who published this picture of Einstein in 1921, the year Einstein won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the photoelectric effect. Perhaps ironically, Einstein did not win for his work on relativity, or other work more famous that photoelectric effect.

Einstein didn’t sit for this picture. Schmutzer worked from a photograph he took, or perhaps a series of photos. One photo negative was discovered in Austria in 2001. It provides an interesting comparison to the finished portrait.

Albert Einstein during a 1921 lecture in Vienna, photographed by Ferdinand Schmutzer; photo discovered in 2001. Public domain.

In his younger days, far from being a disheveled-appearing, perhaps-absent-minded professor, Einstein cut a handsome figure. Educators may note with some jealousy he had good skills on the chalkboard, too.

It looks like Sch

Einstein’s birthday was March 14. That’s Pi Day (3.14), if you’re looking for coincidences that strike a humor chord among scientists and science aficionados.


Bankruptcy of Boy Scouts of America, letter from the National Council

February 18, 2020

Letter from the Boy Scouts of America late on February 17, 2020, regarding bankruptcy filing by the National Council. This letter is directed chiefly at registered Scout leaders.

Boy Scouts of America

Dear Scouting Family,

Today, the national organization of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to achieve two key objectives: equitably compensate victims who were harmed during their time in Scouting and continue to carry out Scouting’s mission for years to come.

While the word “bankruptcy” can be intimidating, it is important to know that Scouting programs will continue. Your regular unit meetings and activities, district and council events, other Scouting adventures and countless service projects will take place as usual.

We took this action today amid increasing financial pressure on the BSA from litigation involving past abuse in Scouting. We are outraged that there have been times when individuals took advantage of our programs to abuse innocent children and sincerely apologize to anyone who was harmed during their time in Scouting. We believe victims, we support them, we provide counseling by a provider of their choice, and we encourage them to come forward. Our plan is to use this Chapter 11 process to create a Trust that would provide equitable compensation to these individuals.

As we go through this process, we want to make certain that all Scouting parents and volunteers know the following:

  • Scouting is safer now than ever before. Approximately 90% of the pending and asserted claims against the BSA relate to abuse that occurred more than 30 years ago. As someone close to Scouting, you know the safety of children in our programs is the BSA’s absolute top priority and that one instance of abuse is one too many. That’s precisely why over many years we’ve developed some of the strongest expert-informed youth protection policies found in any youth-serving organization.From mandatory youth protection training and background checks for all volunteers and staff, to policies that prohibit one-on-one interaction between youth and adults and require that any suspected abuse is reported to law enforcement, our volunteers and employees take youth protection extremely seriously and do their part to help keep kids safe. You can read more about the BSA’s multi-layered safeguards and our efforts to be part of the broader solution to child abuse at www.scouting.org/youth-safety. In fact, this is a resource that you can share with friends and family who are interested in understanding what the BSA is doing to keep kids safe.
  • Scouting continues. Scouting programs will continue to serve youth, families and local communities throughout this process and for many years to come. Just last year, communities across the country benefited from more than 13 million Scouting service hours, and young men and women earned more than 1.7 million merit badges that represent skills that will help them succeed throughout their lives. Studies prove and parents agree that Scouting helps young people become more kind, helpful and prepared for life, and as long as those values remain important to our society, Scouting will continue to be invaluable to our nation’s youth.
  • Local councils have not filed for bankruptcy. Local councils – which provide programming, financial, facility and administrative support to Scouting units in their communities – are legally separate, distinct and financially independent from the national organization.

We know you will likely have questions about these issues and things you will see in the news. We have posted information about our restructuring on a dedicated website, www.BSArestructuring.org.

This site includes a helpful Resources page, where you will find a short video explaining what Chapter 11 means for Scouting, as well as a FAQ and a reference document that will help you discuss this announcement with youth in our programs. The site also includes a Milestones page, which will be your best source for the latest updates throughout this process.

If these resources don’t answer your questions, please feel free to reach out to us through Member Care at 972-580-2489 or MyScouting@Scouting.org. We will do everything we can to provide helpful, transparent responses and ensure your Scouting experience continues to be a great one.

Yours in Scouting,

Jim Turley
National Chair

Ellie Morrison
National Commissioner

Roger Mosby
President & CEO

 


February 15 is Shoulders of Giants Day (‘Beware the Ides of February?’)

February 14, 2020

February 15th is Shoulders of Giants Day (unless you’re still on the Julian calendar).

Or should be. 

Famous quotations often get cited to the wrong famous person. ‘Somebody said something about standing on the shoulders of giants — who was it? Edison? Lincoln? Einstein? Jefferson?’  It may be possible someday to use Google or a similar service to track down the misquotes.

The inspiration, perhaps

Robert Burton, author of "Anatomy of Melancholy"

Robert Burton, melancholy scholar at Oxford

A dwarf standing on the shoulders of a giant may see farther than a giant himself.

Robert Burton (February 8, 1577-January 25, 1640), vicar of Oxford University, who wrote The Anatomy of Melancholy to ward off his own depressions

The famous quote

Sir Isaac Newton, by Sir Godfrey Keller, 1689

Sir Isaac Newton, by Sir Godfrey Keller, 1689

If I have seen further (than you and Descartes) it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.

Sir Isaac Newton, letter to Robert Hooke, February 5, 1675, Julian/February 15, 1676, Gregorian

Newton consciously paid tribute to others who had plowed his science fields before, even if he came up with different crops, er, answers. All science is based on something that comes before it, and in the modern world science advances, oddly, by trying to disprove what scientists thought happened before.

But the sentiment applies equally well in business, in politics, in raising children. We are products of what we learn, and what we learn is a result of culture, which is a result of history. We all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us.

It’s our job to try to see farther, and not just look down, at how far up we are.

Someone will ask (since we so often discuss it), ‘can we fly our flags today?’

Of course you may fly your U.S. flag today. It’s not a day designated by law, but you may fly it in honor of Sir Isaac Newton’s letter if you wish. The U.S. flag code suggests times Americans may fly their flags, but does not require it, nor does law forbid flying the flag for other occasions, or just for every day.

Maybe better, climb to the top of the flag pole. What can you see, aided by a giant’s height?

Other references:

Inscription on the edge of Britain's 2-pound coin; in this photo, four coins are used, to show the entire inscription. Flickriver image

Inscription on the edge of Britain’s 2-pound coin; in this photo, four coins are used, to show the entire inscription. Flickriver image, 1875Brian

 

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This is an encore post.
Yes, this is an encore post. Defeating ignorance takes patience and perseverance.

Happy birthday Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln!

February 12, 2020

Is it an unprecedented coincidence?  211 years ago today, just minutes (probably hours) apart according to unconfirmed accounts, Abraham Lincoln was born in a rude log cabin on Nolin Creek, in Kentucky, and Charles Darwin was born into a wealthy family at his family’s home  in Shrewsbury, England.

Gutzon Borglum’s 1908 bust of Abraham Lincoln in the Crypt of the U.S. Capitol – Architect of the Capitol photo

Lincoln would become one of our most endeared presidents, though endearment would come after his assassination.  Lincoln’s bust rides the crest of Mt. Rushmore (next to two slaveholders), with George Washington, the Father of His Country, Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, and Theodore Roosevelt, the man who made the modern presidency, and the only man ever to have won both a Congressional Medal of Honor and a Nobel Prize, the only president to have won the Medal of Honor. 

Charles Darwin statue, Natural History Museum, London – NHM photo

In his effort to keep the Union together, Lincoln freed the slaves of the states in rebellion during the civil war, becoming an icon to freedom and human rights for all history.  Upon his death the entire nation mourned; his funeral procession from Washington, D.C., to his tomb in Springfield, Illinois, stopped twelve times along the way for full funeral services.  Lying in state in the Illinois House of Representatives, beneath a two-times lifesize portrait of George Washington, a banner proclaimed, “Washington the Father, Lincoln the Savior.”

Darwin would become one of the greatest scientists of all time.  He would be credited with discovering the theory of evolution by natural and sexual selection.  His meticulous footnoting and careful observations formed the data for ground-breaking papers in geology (the creation of coral atolls), zoology (barnacles, and the expression of emotions in animals and man), botany (climbing vines and insectivorous plants), ecology (worms and leaf mould), and travel (the voyage of H.M.S. Beagle).  At his death he was honored with a state funeral, attended by the great scientists and statesmen of London in his day.  Hymns were specially written for the occasion.  Darwin is interred in Westminster Abbey near Sir Isaac Newton, England’s other great scientist, who knocked God out of the heavens.

Lincoln would be known as the man who saved the Union of the United States and set the standard for civil and human rights, vindicating the religious beliefs of many and challenging the beliefs of many more.  Darwin’s theory would become one of the greatest ideas of western civilization, changing forever all the sciences, and especially agriculture, animal husbandry, and the rest of biology, while also provoking crises in religious sects.

Lincoln, the politician known for freeing the slaves, also was the first U.S. president to formally consult with scientists, calling on the National Science Foundation (whose creation he oversaw) to advise his administration.  Darwin, the scientist, advocated that his family put the weight of its fortune behind the effort to abolish slavery in the British Empire.  Each held an interest in the other’s disciplines.

Both men were catapulted to fame in 1858. Lincoln’s notoriety came from a series of debates on the nation’s dealing with slavery, in his losing campaign against Stephen A. Douglas to represent Illinois in the U.S. Senate.  On the fame of that campaign, he won the nomination to the presidency of the fledgling Republican Party in 1860.  Darwin was spurred to publicly reveal his ideas about the power of natural and sexual selection as the force behind evolution, in a paper co-authored by Alfred Russel Wallace, presented to the Linnean Society in London on July 1, 1858.   On the strength of that paper, barely noticed at the time, Darwin published his most famous work, On the Origin of Species, in November 1859.

Darwin and Lincoln might have got along well, but they never met.

What unusual coincidences.

Go celebrate human rights, good science, and the stories about these men.

A school kid could do much worse than to study the history of these two great men.  We study them far too little, it seems to me.

Resources:

Charles Darwin:

Abraham Lincoln:

More:

Anybody know what hour of the day either of these men was born?

Yes, you may fly your flag today for Lincoln’s birthday, according to the Flag Code; the official holiday, Washington’s Birthday, is next Monday, February 15th — and yes, it’s usually called “Presidents Day” by merchants and calendar makers. You want to fly your flag for Charles Darwin? Darwin never set foot in North America, remained a loyal subject of Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, to the end of his days. But go ahead. Who would know?

This is an encore post.
Yes, this is an encore post. Defeating ignorance takes patience and perseverance.

Why kids sign up to be Scouts: “New Scout on the Old Trail”

January 31, 2020

It’s something I’ve seen in a thousand kids. Why do they sign up to be Scouts?

Girl or boy, it’s the adventure they sign up for. Parents like the idea of a kid learning how to be a good citizen, but the kids like the adventure.

It’s an old story, it turns out. Browsing images at the Library of Congress, I came across this one.

"A New Scout on the Old Trail," "Put her there, Pard! You do us proud." Image by Crawford Will, June 5, 1912; published by Keppler & Shwarzmann
“A New Scout on the Old Trail,” “Put her there, Pard! You do us proud.” Image by Crawford Will, June 5, 1912; published by Keppler & Shwarzmann

It’s a color print drawn by Crawford Will (1869-1944), for Keppler and Schwarzmann, a print company in the old Puck Building. Published on June 5, 1912, two years after Scouting got going in the U.S.

According to the description from the Library of Congress, the image shows a young Boy Scout coming out of his tent and meeting “Davy Crockett, Buffalo Bill, Texas Jack [Omohundro], Kit Carson, California Joe, [and] Dan’l Boone.” Better, that group of frontiersmen welcome the new Scout as one of them.

Know what? With just a bit of luck, that’s what a Scout gets: A lifetime of adventure. Scouting, I went all over Utah, and got to the wilds of New Mexico at Philmont National Scout Ranch. Scouting got me a job chasing air pollution in Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, got me a job tramping New York and canoeing the Adirondacks. As a Scout leader in four different councils I’ve camped long term in Colorado and Tennessee, Texas (a lot!). Scouting opened doors for me all over Washington, D.C., and gave me a boost on jobs in policy and journalism. Scouting delivered good adventures to our sons and my wife who joined one son on an 86-mile trek at Philmont.

I’ve been to those places haunted by Davy Crockett, Buffalo Bill, Texas Jack, Kit Carson, California Joe and Daniel Boone, and I’ve learned what they did wrong as well as what they did right.

More than once we’ve arrived at a camp at dusk or later, pitched tents, gone to sleep — then awakened in the morning to see young Scouts coming out of the tent and realizing they are on a big mountain, next to a grand lake, deep in a forest, in redrock country — somewhere adventures happen every day.

Like that young Scout in the picture.

Its the same for the girls in Scouting, too.


Ruckelshaus, Sweeney and DDT – rescued from the archives, for the record

January 14, 2020

Years ago Jim Easter tracked down the actual decision document from EPA’s Administrative Law Judge Edmund Sweeney, in which detailed his findings from the months of hearings at EPA on whether to pull registration as a pesticide from DDT.

Masthead and first few sentences of Jim Easter's late, lamented blog Some Are Boojums, and his 2007 post on EPA Administrative Law Judge Edmund Sweeney's decision on DDT labels after several months and 9,000 pages of hearings.
Masthead and first few sentences of Jim Easter’s late, lamented blog Some Are Boojums, and his 2007 post on EPA Administrative Law Judge Edmund Sweeney’s decision on DDT labels after several months and 9,000 pages of hearings.



It was great sleuthing, taking him through several EPA regional libraries, for a document that just falls into the cracks of most history of environmental law, DDT and regulation.

Jim posted the document at his blog, Some Are Boojums, and linked to his .pdf of the document. A great historical record.

Then his blog went out of commission, then it came back. And now, it’s gone again.

Meanwhile, I’d linked to the post, and have over the years sent a few hundred people to the old blog to find the .pdf and read Jim’s write-up of EPA’s hearings, findings and effects.

Some time in the late-Bush/early-Obama years EPA posted a copy of Judge Sweeney’s decision. That disappeared with the Trump administration, and I’ve not found it anywhere.

So to defend myself, make linking easier, and to aid any stray researchers who are having difficulty finding Judge Sweeney’s real decision, perhaps to debunk the pro-DDT lobbyists’ shouting that Sweeney said DDT is perfectly safe and should be used to bath every newborn, I’ve recaptured Jim Easter’s post from Some Are Boojums, and put it all here.

Warning: I’ve not rejiggered any links. I suspect many of them have gone sour. I may come back to fix a few, but you should know that at one time they all worked well.

Comments were quite lively, but I haven’t quite figured out how to post them; that may come later, or it may not.

Judge Sweeney’s decision? Full text here: Sweeney decision.

After all that ado, here’s Jim Easter’s post:
______________________________________________________________

Ruckelshaus, Sweeney and DDT

On June 2nd, 1972, William D. Ruckelshaus, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, issued an order effectively ending the agricultural use of DDT in the US.

Thirty-five years later, that order is still the subject of fierce controversy.

One claim often made by proponents of renewed DDT use is that Ruckelshaus’ decision was capricious and unsupported by the evidence — specifically, that he acted in willful disregard of his own hearing examiner’s findings. For example, in a post co-authored[1] with the late J. Gordon Edwards, Steven Milloy states that Ruckelshaus “ignored the decision of his own administrative law judge.”[2]

Milloy’s distortion of the history and science surrounding DDT is shameless, and deserves to be the subject of a separate post. But let’s stick with the Ruckelshaus order for now.

Did Ruckelshaus ignore the conclusions of his hearing examiner? You’d think, since this claim is made so relentlessly by DDT advocates, that we could find the relevant document somewhere on the Web. But it’s not that easy. Ruckelshaus’ order itself is readily available (see below for a more readable copy), but the hearing examiner’s findings … not so much. The document is sometimes cited as “Sweeney, E.M., 1972. ‘EPA Hearing Examiner’s Recommendations and Findings Concerning DDT Hearings,’ April 25, 1972. 40 CFR 164.32.” — which helps a bit, but only a bit, since “40 CFR 164.32″ is just the Federal Regulation governing administrative hearings at EPA. Anyone who offers that to you as an actual cite for the opinion is blowing smoke. A better cite is the one given in the order, viz.: “Stevens Industries, Inc. et al., I.F&R. Docket Nos. 63 et al. (Consolidated DDT Hearings)”. But even that will not get you anything online. EPA does give its Decisions and Orders online, but only back to 1989. A good deal of fruitless searching convinced me that the Sweeney opinion would not be mine with the click of a mouse; it was old-school or nothing. After several weeks, a dozen or so phone calls and the help of some very nice university librarians, I was able to get my hooks on all 173 glorious manually typewritten pages of Edmund M. Sweeney’s “Recommended Findings, Conclusions and Orders.”

Here it is. (56 Mb pdf!) EPA’s librarians indicated that they would not post it online, because of the wretched quality. I’m not so picky. While we’re at it, here is a (slightly) more readable copy of Ruckelshaus’ order.
(UPDATE: See [4] below.)

The following are some of the more notable things we can observe if we look at both documents:

Did Sweeney’s findings generally support the Petitioners (DDT registrants)?

Yes. Sweeney found no evidence to indicate that DDT causes mutations or birth defects in humans, considered the evidence for DDT’s carcinogenicity in humans to be inconclusive, and, though he found that DDT is harmful to wildlife, he deemed that harm to be outweighed by DDT’s value as a pesticide. Sweeney’s findings of fact are summarized in pages 91-92, and his conclusions of law in pages 93-94. Milloy quotes (#17) part of those conclusions:

The EPA hearing examiner, Judge Edmund Sweeney, concluded that “DDT is not a carcinogenic hazard to man… DDT is not a mutagenic or teratogenic hazard to man… The use of DDT under the regulations involved here do not have a deleterious effect on freshwater fish, estuarine organisms, wild birds or other wildlife.”

That partial quote is misleading. Sweeney also found (p. 92) that

20. DDT can have a deleterious effect on freshwater fish and estuarine organisms when directly applied to the water.

21. DDT is used as a rodenticide.

22. DDT can have an adverse effect on beneficial animals.

23. DDT is concentrated in organisms and can be transferred through food chains.

It is not true that Sweeney found no harm caused by DDT. Rather, he found that, using a “preponderance of the evidence” test, DDT users and USDA had shown that DDT’s usefulness to agriculture outweighed the demonstrated harm.

Did Ruckelshaus ignore Sweeney’s opinion?

No, but he disagreed with substantial portions of it. Ruckelshaus quotes extensively from Sweeney’s opinion, including the findings of fact and conclusions of law noted above. He repeats arguments made by the petitioners, and describes how he differs. Choosing one example:

Group Petitioners and USDA argue that the laboratory feeding studies, conducted with exaggerated doses of DDE and under stress conditions, provide no basis for extrapolating to nature.
They suggest that the study results are contradictory and place particular emphasis on documents which were not part of the original record and the inconsistencies in Dr. Heath’s testimony as brought out during cross-examination. Group Petitioners also contend that the observed phenomenon of eggshell thinning and DDE residue data are tied by a statistical thread too slender to connect the two in any meaningful way.

Viewing the evidence as a total picture, a preponderance supports the conclusion that DDE does cause eggshell thinning. Whether or not the laboratory data above would sustain this conclusion is beside the point. For here there is laboratory data and observational data, and in addition, a scientific hypothesis, which might explain the phenomenon.

This is exactly the kind of language that sent J. Gordon Edwards ballistic (detailed discussion reserved for another post). Then as now, DDT advocates felt that the existence of studies with negative results created enough doubt that a ban could not be justified. Ruckelshaus felt just the opposite — that the bulk of the evidence supported a ban — and explained why. For eggshell thinning, 35 years of research have shown that Ruckelshaus was right. A follow-up report issued in 1975 cited 179 studies related to eggshell thinning alone (pp. 69-81). Today, a quick check of PubMed for “ddt eggshell” turns up 50 papers since 1969, and it is clear from the abstracts that the association of thinning and DDT is well established. Bald eagle populations have rebounded since the DDT ban, so successfully that they are now delisted as threatened, a result accepted matter-of-factly by wildlife biologists as a benefit of the DDT ban.

How did Ruckelshaus’ order differ from Sweeney’s recommendation?

One word: cotton. Sweeney ruled on six separate applications for DDT registration, affirming the cancellations for two, vacating the cancellations for three, and allowing a sixth to start the application process. Two of the cases where Sweeney restored the DDT registration were for public health uses: Wyco’s for treatment of mosquito larvae and Eli Lilly’s for use against body lice. Ruckelshaus permitted both applications, as well as public health use of DDT generally, but required a label restricting it to that use. As to DDT’s application worldwide against malaria (the topic of so much dispute nowadays), Ruckelshaus took pains to say that he was not restricting it:

It should be emphasized that these hearings have never involved the use of DDT by other nations in their health control programs. As we said in our DDT Statement of March, 1971, “this Agency will not presume to regulate the felt necessities of other countries.” (p. 26)

The remaining case in which Sweeney vacated the cancellation of DDT registration, permitting its use, was a biggie: USDA and Group Petitioners (31 users of DDT). These had argued collectively that DDT was “essential” for economical production of various crops and control of pests such as the spruce budworm. Of these applications, by far the most important was cotton production, accounting for at least half of all DDT consumption in the US[3]. Other crops were discussed, with sweet peppers in the Delmarva peninsula used as an example. In his order, Ruckelshaus carved out specific exceptions for several crops where DDT was considered the only acceptable alternative, and said that

… if these users or registrants can demonstrate that a produce shortage will result and their particular use of DDT, taken with other uses, does not create undue stress on the general or local environment, particularly the aquasphere, cancellation should be lifted.

The fact that a few loopholes were left open for a while does not change the fact that Ruckelshaus intended to eliminate use of DDT on crops in the US, and his order did have that effect. Even for the “essential” uses, alternatives were found and DDT was dropped. The largest impact of the order was on cotton production. And this is where it gets even more interesting. One of Sweeney’s conclusions of law (p. 94) was that

13. The use of DDT in the United States has declined rapidly since 1959.

The EPA’s 1975 report gives a table (p. 149) that I’ve represented graphically below.
DDT plot
Although exports, and overall production, continued to rise until 1963, US consumption of DDT peaked in 1959, before any significant restrictions were placed on its use, and declined steadily thereafter. A reasonable person might wonder why that would be. Guess what? The boll weevil and the bollworm were becoming resistant to DDT. Sweeney refers to this fact (p. 86) and observes that

While the evidence convinces me that the use of DDT on cotton is declining and should be reduced as soon as effective replacement means of controlling pests are developed, I do not feel that the evidence to date permits any conclusion to the effect that DDT should be banned for use on cotton at this time.

Ruckelshaus disagreed. With his order, use of DDT on cotton pests became history. The economic impact on cotton growers was significant but far from catastrophic: costs to cotton producers were estimated at $7.75 million nationally, and for consumers at 2.2 cents per capita per year (p. 193).

Even in the one arena where the DDT ban was argued to be unbearably burdensome, its use was already declining, the hearing examiner recommended that it be reduced further in favor of alternative methods, and in the event, the ban’s effects were easily absorbed. Well, then — did it have any impact that we should care about?

Glad you asked.

Returning to Steven Milloy’s DDT FAQ, cited above, we find a pearl. Robert Desowitz’ The Malaria Capers is quoted (#8):

“There is persuasive evidence that antimalarial operations did not produce mosquito resistance to DDT. That crime, and in a very real sense it was a crime, can be laid to the intemperate and inappropriate use of DDT by farmers, especially cotton growers. They used the insecticide at levels that would accelerate, if not actually induce, the selection of a resistant population of mosquitoes.”

That’s right. The 1972 DDT ban did nothing to restrict the chemical’s use against malaria, but had the effect of eliminating the single most intense source of selection pressure for insecticide resistance in mosquitos. As the rest of the world followed suit in restricting agricultural use of DDT, the spread of resistance was slowed dramatically or stopped.
By this single action, William Ruckelshaus — and, credit where it’s due, Rachel Carson — may well have saved millions of lives.

Steven Milloy is invited to add that to the DDT FAQ any time it’s convenient.

_____________________________________________________________

[1] A footnote explains that the post is “largely drawn from materials compiled by J. Gordon Edwards, professor of entomology at San Jose State University.” How much actual collaboration took place, if any, is not stated.

[2] Technically, it’s not a “decision”, but an opinion stating “recommended findings, conclusions and orders.” A fine point, to be sure, but it makes a difference.

[3] “It has been estimated that two-thirds of the DDT that is used in the United States is used in agriculture, and that 75% of the DDT that is used on agricultural crops is used on cotton.” (Sweeney, p. 83). According to the 1975 report, cotton’s share had increased to 80% by 1971-1972.

[4] UPDATE: EPA has now posted its DDT archives, complete with the Sweeney opinion, here. You can now download a better-quality copy of the opinion at a fraction of the size, so do that. If my copy is adding no value, I’ll probably take it down eventually. I see that the EPA page was last updated September 25th, roughly a month after this post. I’d like to think that my prodding was a factor, but there’s no way to know.

_____________________________________________________________

(Hat tips are due Ed Darrell, for the best historical coverage, Bug Girl, for the best scientific coverage, and Tim Lambert, for the best overall coverage of this issue.)

 

This entry was posted on Sunday, August 26th, 2007 at 6:25 pm and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


Happy 220th birthday, Millard Fillmore!

January 7, 2020

Millard Fillmore, bronzed, sitting at the corner of 9th and St. Joseph Streets in Rapid City, South Dakota. He still gets around. Photo by Ed Darrell. Please use.

Millard Fillmore, bronzed, sitting at the corner of 9th and St. Joseph Streets in Rapid City, South Dakota. He still gets around. Photo by Ed Darrell. Please use. Creative Commons copyright.

Millard Fillmore, our 13th President, was born on January 7, 1800.

That was 24 days after the death of our first President, George Washington.

Fillmore’s birthday isn’t such a big deal anymore, since fun organizers discontinued the bathtub races once word got out that the story of Millard Fillmore putting the first bathtub in the White House, is a hoax.

Historians from the University of Buffalo — an institution founded by Fillmore after his presidency — usually hold a graveside ceremony with speeches. In 2020 the service was scheduled for 10:00 a.m. EST, at Fillmore’s grave. No news I can find about whether it occurred. The ceremony has been cancelled for snow, ice and cold in recent years. (About as cold as the response I get from the University of Buffalo when I ask for a copy of the speech or paper to publish here.)

It’s a shame, really. Fillmore is the victim of fake news, a hoax perpetrated by H. L. Mencken 100 years ago, in 1917. Mencken claimed, falsely, that Fillmore’s sole good, memorable deed was putting that fictitious bathtub in the White House. That story crowds out the real history, and any good Fillmore should be remembered for.

Fillmore did a few notable things as president.

  • Fillmore secured a steady supply of bird guano for the United States. Funny as that may be, the guano was essential for making gun powder, which in turn helped fuel the military might of the United States for years (including through the Civil War).
  • Millard Fillmore and his first wife, Abigail, read books all the time. Deprived of the opportunity of going to school much in his youth, Fillmore became an ardent reader, read for the law, became a lawyer, got into politics and was selected Vice President for President Zachary Taylor. When Taylor died (probably of typhoid) in 1850, Fillmore succeeded to the presidency. In the White House, the Fillmores found few books to read, and so established the White House Library. Say prayers that library survives the current president.
  • Fillmore thought globally, and he could see world trade as a huge opportunity for a young nation with a strong navy and army, and a lot of resources including intellectual capacity to manufacture things. Trade in the Pacific was problematic, and a large number of problems stemmed from Japan’s closing itself off from the world. Japan had coal, which could refuel steamships. Japan instead closed its ports. An occasional U.S. sailor would be executed if he washed up on Japanese shores. Fillmore sent a small fleet of “black ships” under Commodore Matthew Perry, to tell Japan it was time to open up to trade and assume its place among nations. Perry was successful, after a second visit and a small round of cannon fire. Japan became a strong economic power in the West Pacific, and in its march to glory decided to take over resources of several other Asian nations. We might say Fillmore started the slide to World War II in the Pacific.

History should be kept to accuracy. Mencken upset the ship of accuracy with his essay, and America has not recovered, nor has Millard Fillmore’s reputation. There’s a moral there: Don’t spread hoaxes; seek the truth, and glorify it. (Mencken apologized for the hoax, but too late.)

Rapid City, South Dakota, is a booming town. Mineral wealth and oil in the state combine with a nearby Air Force Base, great housing prices and good weather to benefit the town. One of its civic watchdogs got the idea of putting statues of all U.S. presidents on downtown corners. That is how Millard Fillmore comes to be seated with a book to read, at the corner of 9th Street and St. Joseph Street, where I met him in August 2017. Altogether a fun little history enterprise for Rapid City, very well executed, and worthy of a stop there if you’re passing by.

Perhaps someday Rapid City will take to decorating the statues on the birthdays of the men (so far!) represented. I hope they won’t be frozen out like Buffalo, New York, is, if they commemorate Millard Fillmore’s birthday.

We can reflect on happier times, when even our disrespected and forgotten presidents were good people who did great things.

Millard Fillmore and Ed Darrell meet, in Rapid City, South Dakota, August 2017

Millard Fillmore and Ed Darrell meet, in Rapid City, South Dakota, August 2017; photo by Kathryn Knowles

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New Mexico flies U.S. flags January 6, 2020, for Statehood Day

January 6, 2020

President William Howard Taft signing the bill that made New Mexico a state, in 1912. (Other people in the photo, I have not yet identified). Image from OldPicture.com

President William Howard Taft signing the proclamation that made New Mexico a state, on January 6, 1912. (Other people in the photo, I have not yet identified; can you help?). Image from Library of Congress Harris and Ewing Collection, via Albuquerque Historical Society.

New Mexico became the 47th member of the Union on January 6, 1912.  New Mexicans should fly their U.S. flags today in honor of statehood, the U.S. Flag Code urges.

U.S. and New Mexico flags fly from the state education administration building in Santa Fe, 2014

U.S. and New Mexico flags fly from the state education administration building in Santa Fe, 2014. The third flag is the U.S. POW/MIA flag.

I don’t think Statehood Day is a big deal in New Mexico.  New Mexicans love art, though, and statehood and history of the land and the peoples who live there are celebrated throughout Santa Fe and New Mexico.  The New Mexico Art Museum features a lot about history.

The New Mexico State Capitol is one of the more unique in the U.S. There is no grand dome. Instead, the building is a large, circular structure, a giant kiva, honoring New Mexico’s ancient residents and ancestors.

We toured the Capitol in July 2014. It features a massive collection of art by and about New Mexico, and is worth a stop as one would intend to visit any great art museum.

"Emergence," a representation of the creation of the present Earth and people, by Michael A. Naranjo, 2000. Part of the massive collection of New Mexico Art at the State Capitol -- this one outside the building itself.

“Emergence,” a representation of the creation of the present Earth and people, by Michael A. Naranjo, 2000. Part of the massive collection of New Mexico Art at the State Capitol — this one outside the building itself.

Simple Pleasures of New Mexico, acrylic by Gary Morton, 1992

“Simple Pleasures of New Mexico,”  stunning painting in acrylic by Gary Morton, 1992

If you’re in Santa Fe, plan to spend a half of a day, at least, looking at the Capitol and its art collections.  There are more than 400 pieces on display, sculpture, paintings, mixed media, and more.  It’s a world class gallery, free for the browsing.  Much of the art packs a powerful emotional punch, too, such as the sculpture outside the building honoring the vanished native tribes of North America.

Happy statehood, New Mexico.

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USPS stamp honoring the centennial of New Mexico's statehood, in 2012. The stamp features a representation of the beauty of the state found in its desert hills and mountains. VirtualStampClub.com

USPS stamp honoring the centennial of New Mexico’s statehood, in 2012. The stamp features a representation of the beauty of the state found in its desert hills and mountains. VirtualStampClub.com

This is an encore post.
Yes, this is an encore post. Defeating ignorance takes patience and perseverance.

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