‘ . . . always light behind the clouds.’ Quote of the moment

November 29, 2020

Google Doodle in 2016 for Louisa May Alcott's birthday on November 29.

Google Doodle in 2016 for Louisa May Alcott’s birthday on November 29. The Doodle pays homage to the characters of Alcott’s novel, Beth, Jo, Amy and Meg. Designed by doodler Sophie Diao.Via SearchEngineLand.

“Be comforted, dear soul! There is always light behind the clouds.”

♦ Louisa May Alcott, Little Women, chapter 15, “A Telegram”

Louisa May Alcott was born on November 29, 1832. Her ending this chapter with a note of encouragement perhaps makes up for the opening slam at the month of November.

November is the most disagreeable month in the whole year, said Margaret, standing at the window one dull afternoon, looking out at the frostbitten garden.

That’s the reason I was born in it, observed Jo pensively, quite unconscious of the blot on her nose.


Veterans Day 2020 – Fly your flag

November 11, 2020

We fly our flags today, November 11, to honor all veterans, an extension and morphing of Armistice Day, which marked the end of World War I. The Armistice took effect on November 11, 1918.

Veterans Day parade in Aurora, Illinois, unknown year. Photo from EnjoyAurora.com.

Veterans Day parade features a nice jumble of flags in Aurora, Illinois, unknown year. Photo from EnjoyAurora.com.

Another very nice Veterans Day poster from the Veterans Administration, for 2020:

2020's Veterans Day from the Veterans Administration, a representation of veterans in many roles in American life, always helping others.

2020’s Veterans Day from the Veterans Administration, a representation of veterans in many roles in American life, always helping others.

In world history or U.S. history, I usually stop for the day to talk about the origins of Veterans Day in Armistice Day, the day the guns stopped blazing to effectively end fighting in World War I.

For several reasons including mnemonic, the treaty called for an end to hostilities on the “11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month” of 1918. Your state’s history standards probably list that phrase somewhere, but the history behind it is what students really find interesting.

Original documents and good history can be found at the Library of Congress online collections.

The Allied powers signed a ceasefire agreement with Germany at Rethondes, France, at 11:00 a.m. on November 11, 1918, bringing the war later known as World War I to a close.

President Wilson proclaimed the first Armistice Day the following year on November 11, 1919, with the these words: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…” Originally, the celebration included parades and public meetings following a two-minute suspension of business at 11:00 a.m.

Co. E, 102nd U.S.A. Curtiss Studio, photographers, c1917. Panoramic Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division

Between the world wars, November 11 was commemorated as Armistice Day in the United States, Great Britain, and France. After World War II, the holiday was recognized as a day of tribute to veterans of both wars. Beginning in 1954, the United States designated November 11 as Veterans Day to honor veterans of all U.S. wars. British Commonwealth countries now call the holiday Remembrance Day.

Online holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) provide rich sources of information on America’s military, and on veteran’s day. NARA leans to original documents a bit more than the Library of Congress. For Veterans Day 2016, NARA featured an historic photo form 1961:

 President John F. Kennedy Lays a Wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as part of Veterans Day Remembrances, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, 11/11/1961 Series: Robert Knudsen White House Photographs, 1/20/1961 - 12/19/1963. Collection: White House Photographs, 12/19/1960 - 3/11/1964 (Holdings of the @jfklibrary)

NARA caption: President John F. Kennedy Lays a Wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as part of Veterans Day Remembrances, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, 11/11/1961 Series: Robert Knudsen White House Photographs, 1/20/1961 – 12/19/1963. Collection: White House Photographs, 12/19/1960 – 3/11/1964 (Holdings of the @jfklibrary)

For teachers, that page also features this:

For Veterans Day, explore the many resources in the National Archives about veterans and military service.

(Well, actually it’s for everyone. But teachers love those kinds of links, especially AP history teachers who need documents for “Document-Based Questions” (DBQs).

On one page, the Veterans Administration makes it easy for teachers to plan activities; of course, you need to start some of these weeks before the actual day:

For Teachers & Students

Hope your Veterans Day 2020 goes well, and remember to fly your flag at home.

This is an encore post.

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


November 2020 days to fly the flag

November 2, 2020

The Major, a very large U.S. flag made in honor of Brent Major, Mayor of North Ogden, Utah, killed in action in Afghanistan in 2018. The flag flew at the mouth of Coldwater Canyon.

The Major, a very large U.S. flag made in honor of Maj. Brent R. Taylor, Mayor of North Ogden, Utah, killed in action in Afghanistan in 2018. The flag flew at the mouth of Coldwater Canyon. The flag is a quarter-acre in size, more than 100 feet on the longest side. North Ogden plans an annual celebration of the U.S. flag in early November. Photo by Ben Dorger, for the Ogden Standard-Examiner newspaper.

2020 is not exactly flying by — but November 3 will probably change our perception of how fast time moves, and how the year moves at all.

Do we even fly our flags during a pandemic? Sure we do.

Eight events spread over seven different days come with urgings to fly the U.S. flag in November: Six states celebrate statehood, Veterans Day falls as always on November 11, and Thanksgiving Day on November 26.

Did I say eight? Elections are dates to fly the flag. 2020 is a presidential election year — in Texas, May and other election dates for counties, cities and school boards were moved to November. (Some thought a pandemic would surely be over by November. Who knew?)

You may fly your flag at home on election day, too. (Yes, flags should be flown at all early polling places, on days of early voting, too — do you know of poll where that did not occur? Tell us in comments.)

Two states, North Dakota and South Dakota, celebrate their statehood on the same date. Washington’s statehood day falls on Veterans Day, November 11 — so there are only seven days covering nine events.

In calendar order for 2019, these are the seven days:

  • North Dakota statehood day, November 2 (1889, 39th or 40th state)
  • South Dakota statehood day, November 2 (1889, 39th or 40th state) (shared with North Dakota)
  • Election day, November 3 (all states; federal offices) — Go vote!
  • Montana statehood day, November 8 (1889, 41st state)
  • Veterans Day, November 11
  • Washington statehood day, November 11 (1889, 42nd state) (shared with Veterans Day)
  • Oklahoma statehood day, November 16 (1907, 46th state)
  • North Carolina statehood day, November 21 (1789, 12th state)
  • Thanksgiving Day, fourth Thursday in November (November 26 in 2020)

Most Americans will concern themselves only with Veterans Day and Thanksgiving Day. Is flying the U.S. flag for statehood day a dying tradition?

More:

Polling station in South Carolina. SCETV image.

Polling station in South Carolina. SCETV image.

This is an encore post.

Yes, this is an encore post. Fighting ignorance takes longer than we hoped.


Was Darwin racist? My long ago answer

October 16, 2020

A cartoon of Charles Darwin and the crew of the HMS Beagle – believed to be the only image of the great naturalist on the voyage that inspired his theory of evolution – auctioned by Sotheby’s in December, 2015, for 52,500

The watercolour, painted while the Beagle was anchored off the Patagonian coast in 1832, around September 24, shows fossils and botanical specimens being hauled aboard for examination by Darwin, who commands the centre of the painting in top hat and tails. The event followed Darwin’s trip ashore at Bahia Blanca, Brazil. Painting is by by Augustus Earle, who was hired as shipboard artist by Capt. FitzRoy in October 1831, but had to quit the ship soon after this painting, due to ill health. From The Guardian.

No, Darwin was not racist.

I know many Darwin students, and science students, usually concede that Darwin was “racist by today’s standards,” but better than most of his pre-Victorian and Victorian colleagues. I think that’s an unnecessary and very much inaccurate concession. Darwin simply was not racist.

To come to that conclusion, one needs to read a bunch of Darwin’s writings, and see what he really said. Darwin was bound by English usage mostly in the first half of the 19th century, and that produces confusion among people who assume “savage” is a pejorative term, and not simply the pre-1860 version of “wild” or “aboriginal.”

But beyond that, a look at Darwin’s life should produce an appreciation of the remarkable lack of bias he shows to people of color — though he does demonstrate bias against French, Germans and Turks, and it’s difficult to understand if he’s being sarcastic in those uses.

We discussed this issue way back in 2007, at Dr. P. Z. Myers’s blog, Pharyngula, back when it was a part of a series of science blogs hosted by Seed Magazine, which has gone defunct. P. Z. took an answer I gave in one post, and made a freestanding post out of it.

I was surprised, but happy to bump into the answer recently — because it remains a good summary response. It would have benefited from links, but in 2007 I wasn’t adept at adding links in other blogs (didn’t even have this one), and links were limited, as I recall.

So I’ll add in links below.

Here’s my 2007 answer to the retort, “Darwin was racist,” with no editing, but links added.

Here’s the post from P. Z. Myers, featuring my answer.

Since Ed Darrell made such a comprehensive comment on the question of whether Darwin was as wicked a racist as the illiterate ideologues of Uncommon Descent would like you to believe, I’m just copying his list here.

  1. Remember the famous quarrel between Capt. FitzRoy and Darwin aboard the Beagle? After leaving Brazil, in their mess discussions (remember: Darwin was along to talk to FitzRoy at meals, to keep FitzRoy from going insane as his predecessor had), Darwin noted the inherent injustice of slavery. Darwin argued it was racist and unjust, and therefore unholy. FitzRoy loudly argued slavery was justified, and racism was justified, by the scriptures. It was a nasty argument, and Darwin was banned to mess with the crew with instructions to get off the boat at the next convenient stop. FitzRoy came to his senses after a few days of dining alone. Two things about this episode: First, it shows Darwin as a committed anti-racist; second, it contrasts Darwin’s views with the common, scripture-inspired view of the day, which was racist.

  2. Darwin’s remarks about people of color were remarkably unracist for his day. We should always note his great friend from college days, the African man, [freed slave John Edmonstone,] who taught him taxidermy. We must make note of Darwin’s befriending the Fuegan, Jeremy Jemmy Button [real name, Orundellico], whom the expedition was returning to his home. Non-racist descriptions abound in context, but this is a favorite area for anti-Darwinists to quote mine. Also, point to Voyage of the Beagle, which is available on line. In it Darwin compares the intellect of the Brazilian slaves with Europeans, and notes that the slaves are mentally and tactically as capable as the greatest of the Roman generals. Hard evidence of fairness on Darwin’s part.

  3. Darwin’s correspondence, especially from the voyage, indicates his strong support for ending slavery, because slavery was unjust and racist. He is unequivocal on the point. Moreover, many in Darwin’s family agreed, and the Wedgwood family fortune was put behind the movement to end slavery. Money talks louder than creationists in this case, I think. Ironic, Darwin supports the Wilberforce family’s work against slavery, and Samuel Wilberforce betrays the support. It reminds me of Pasteur, who said nasty things about Darwin; but when the chips were down and Pasteur’s position and reputation were on the line, Darwin defended Pasteur. Darwin was a great man in many ways.

  4. Watch for the notorious quote mining of Emma’s remark that Charles was “a bigot.” It’s true, she said it. Emma said Charles was a bigot, but in respect to Darwin’s hatred of spiritualists and seances. Darwin’s brother, Erasmus, was suckered in by spiritualists. Darwin was, indeed, a bigot against such hoaxes. It’s recounted in Desmond and Moore’s biography, but shameless quote miners hope their audience hasn’t read the book and won’t. Down here in Texas, a lot of the quote miners are Baptists. I enjoy asking them if they do not share Darwin’s bigotry against fortune tellers. Smart ones smile, and drop the argument.

  5. One might hope that the “Darwin-was-racist” crap comes around to the old canard that Darwin’s work was the basis of the campaign to kill the natives of Tasmania. That was truly a terrible, racist campaign, and largely successful. Of course, historians note that the war against Tasmanians was begun in 1805, and essentially completed by 1831, when just a handful of Tasmanians remained alive. These dates are significant, of course, because they show the war started four years prior to Darwin’s birth, and it was over when Darwin first encountered Tasmania on his voyage, leaving England in 1831. In fact, Darwin laments the battle. I have often found Darwin critics quoting Darwin’s words exactly, but claiming they were the words of others against Darwin’s stand.

  6. Also, one should be familiar with Darwin’s writing about “civilized” Europeans wiping out “savages.” In the first place, “savage” in that day and in Darwin’s context simply means ‘not living in European-style cities, with tea and the occasional Mozart.’ In the second, and more critical place, Darwin advances the argument noting that (in the case of the Tasmanians, especially), the “savages” are the group that is better fit to the natural environment, and hence superior to the Europeans, evolutionarily. Darwin does not urge these conflicts, but rather, laments them. How ironic that creationist quote miners do not recognize that.

P. Z. closed off:

Isn’t it odd how the creationists are so divorced from reality that they can’t even concede that Darwin was an abolitionist, and are so reduced in their arguments against evolution that they’ve had to resort to the desperate “Darwin beats puppies!” attack?

Sadly, many of the posts in that old home for Pharyngula eroded away as the old Appalachian Mountain range eroded to be smaller than the Rockies. Time passes, even the rocks change.

Darwin’s still not racist. Creationists and other malignant forces revive the false claim, from time to time.

More:


October 9, 2020 – St. Denis’s Day, patron saint for those who have lost their head

October 9, 2020

Dear Reader: My apologies. As Cecil might say, we’ve been fighting ignorance since 1974, and it’s taking longer than we thought.  My hopes to retire this post have not been realized.  Heck, it doesn’t even need much editing from past years. Saints save us, please!

We might pause to reflect, too:  Recent years have seen the media rise of actual beheadings. This practice, which now strikes many of us as barbaric, occurs in reality as well as memory and literature; unlike St. Denis, those beheaded do not usually carry on to do anything at all; like St. Denis, they are martyred. Vote well in your local elections, and national elections. Your vote should be directed at preventing anyone’s losing their head, even just figuratively.

October 9 is the Feast Day of St. Denis.

Who? He’s the patron saint of Paris (and France, by some accounts), and possessed people. Take a look at this statue, from the “left door” of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris (Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris: portail de gauche). He was martyred by beheading, in about 250 C.E.

A later painting of the martyring of St. Denis. Though I can find a couple copies of this painting, neither lists who was the painter, nor where the painting is.

A later painting of the martyring of St. Denis. Though I can find a couple copies of this painting, neither lists who was the painter, nor where the painting is.

Our trusty friend Wikipedia explains:

According to the Golden Legend, after his head was chopped off, Denis picked it up and walked two miles, preaching a sermon the entire way.[6] The site where he stopped preaching and actually died was made into a small shrine that developed into the Saint Denis Basilica, which became the burial place for the kings of France. Another account has his corpse being thrown in the Seine, but recovered and buried later that night by his converts.[2]

Clearly, he is the guy to pray to about Donald Trump, Bill Barr, Ben Carson, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, intelligent design, and the Texas State Board of Education, no? In 2013, we added Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Louis Gohmert, the entire Tea Party, and the entire GOP crew of the House of Representatives. You catch my drift. In 2018 we added a raft of people: Marsha Blackburn, Ryan Zinke, Sid Miller, Denny Marchant, Jeff Sessions, Sarah Sanders, Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham. We’ve left 253 Republicans off for lack of space.

Who would you nominate to pray about for 2020?

Perhaps you can use this factoid to some advantage, enlightenment, and perhaps humor.  In Catholic lore, St. Denis is one of the “14 Holy Helpers,” and his aid is sought to help people with headaches, or who have been possessed.

Crazy GOP members who I suspect of having been possessed give me and America a headache. St. Denis seems to be our man. Or saint.

Who else do you know of in this modern, vexatious time, who keeps talking after losing his/her head?

As Rod Stewart sang, just “let your imagination run wild.” Maybe St. Denis is listening.

More:

Statue to St. Denis, in Cluny

Another portrayal, in sculpture, of St. Denis. Notice how this one’s face doesn’t really look like the one above? Ouvre du Musée de Cluny, Wikipedia photo by Guillaume Blanchard (Aoineko), June 2001, FinePix 1400Z.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. I had hoped to have to retire this post someday.  I still hope.  Perhaps this will be the last year we’ll have so many wackaloons running loose. Pray to St. Denis.


Ten most terrifying words in English language

September 28, 2020

Here. Pat Bagley in the Salt Lake Tribune, and for Cagle Cartoons.

Ten most terrifying words in the English language; Pat Bagley in the Salt Lake Tribune and Cagle Cartoons.

When is the Pulitzer committee going to give Bagley the prize for his work?
Tip of the old scrub brush to Twitter, and @PatBagley.


Signs of life; how we remember candidates

September 26, 2020

Campaign sign, “Biden and the Lady who made Brett Kavanaugh Cry 2020,” found on Twitter.

Not sure where this sign is, but I want one for the hearings and Senate vote.

Women on the Senate Judiciary Committee improve things a lot. Especially true for Kamala Harris.

More:


Election year? Vote climate.

September 25, 2020

A fitting poster I stole from Dr. Katharine Hayhoe’s Instagram feed.

Thermometers don’t have biases. She’s right. Vote informed.


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?


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