Monday, August 1, 2016

History: The Year is 1839

I've uploaded year 1839 to the TSP Wiki...

Here are some one liners...

Your Place in the Universe... You Are Here... Ahhhhhhhh! -- Even though scientists know how far away the nearest stars are, they can't believe it so they sit on the data until now.

The Amistad Has Landed -- Are slaves cargo or people? It matters. I also talk about getting one's history lessons from film.

In Other News -- The steam shovel, Standard Oil, Goodyear, and OK.

Your Place in the Universe... You Are Here... Ahhhhhhhh!

The Universe has suddenly become very large. For several decades astronomers have noticed that the star, Alpha Centauri, appears to be moving around, relative to the background of stars. As the logic goes, if the star is close enough and Earth's orbit is large enough then when we move, the star should appear to move. Determining the movement of a distant object is always a problem when your observation platform is moving too, but at long distances such errors can be ignored. By viewing Alpha Centauri at different times of the year and measuring carefully, one can determine the angle to the star each time and knowing the length of the base, a simple geometry formula will reveal the distance to the star. In 1826, the British astronomer Manuel Johnson made several rough measurements, shared them with his fellow astronomer, Thomas Henderson, who made precise measurements, and then sat on the data. It is impossible! Cannot be! Alpha Centauri is freakishly, insanely far away, but finally, in 1839, SOMEONE ELSE publishes the results. The star is a little less than 4.4 light-years away, or about 258 trillion miles. In other words, if you could fly as fast as a bullet toward the star, it would take a little over 17 million years to get there. Bring a book. [1] [2]
My Take by Alex Shrugged
The reaction of the 19th century scientists reminded me of Douglas Adams' "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" series. In one book, an especially arrogant fellow is shown his place in the Universe. It can be a humbling experience. [3]
"The Universe, as has been observed before, is an unsettlingly big place, a fact which for the sake of a quiet life most people tend to ignore [...] which is why the Total Perspective Vortex is as horrific as it is. For when you are put into the Vortex you are given just one momentary glimpse of the entire unimaginable infinity of creation, and somewhere in it a tiny little marker, a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot, which says 'You are here.'"
-- "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe" by Douglas Adams. [4]

The Amistad Has Landed

The Spanish slave ship, Amistad (meaning "Friendship") is intercepted by a US customs boat (an early version of the Coast Guard). Two Cubans on board beg for help. Their slaves have rebelled, killing the captain, the cook and forcing the two Cuban slave-owners to sail for Africa. But the Cubans have been backtracking at night in the hope that their fortunes will change. Now they are brought before a judge who views the whole affair as a matter of salvage. After all, the slaves are considered property. Although the Spanish slave trade was outlawed in 1817, slavery continues in Cuba just like the USA. The Amistad slaves carry papers certifying their lifetime residency in the Spanish territories. Unaccountably, they cannot speak a word of Spanish. The case captures the imagination of the public. Former President John Quincy Adams sees the Amistad case as a matter of kidnapping. Fighting off kidnappers is a reasonable thing for human being to do. If the judge believed the slaves were human beings then they should have been tried for piracy and murder (and found not guilty) instead of being parceled out like sacks of grain. Adams' opinions are published in the newspapers and the crowd goes wild. Elections are near so the judge declares the Amistad slaves free men. It is affirmed on appeal, so President Van Buren will take it all the way to the Supreme Court, but he is going to lose. Those who wish to return to Africa will be given passage. Volunteers will house the rest. [5] [6] [7]
My Take by Alex Shrugged
Shortly after the Amistad case, an American slave ship sailed into a British port and the slaves were granted their freedom. The USA threatened war, so the British paid reparations. From a property rights standpoint that makes perfect sense... that is... if you think people are property. Regarding the 1997 film "The Amistad", it has only a vague acquaintance with the truth. While critics call it "Absolutely Unforgettable", I'd forget about it as a learning tool. The same thing goes for the 1988 film "Mississippi Burning". While the incident actually occurred (three men shot dead by a mob probably led by a policeman and the bodies buried deep) the film itself swerved into the facts only now and then. The Sheriff was depicted as the mastermind behind the conspiracy when no such thing occurred. (He was acquitted.) However, I'm perfectly willing to believe that one of his deputies was involved. The point is... be careful about taking your history lessons from popular film. I love the HBO miniseries "John Adams" but I allow for some artistic license. I certainly wouldn't take my Bible lessons from the animated film "Prince of Egypt" even though they said they consulted the finest biblical scholars. No doubt they did, but apparently, they lost their notes. [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13]

In Other News

  • The acronym "OK" is first used. It is short for "oll korrect". It has become a fad to create short, silly phrases, abbreviations and acronyms. Our ancestors were knuckleheads. LOL (Laughing Out Loud). [14]
  • John D. Rockefeller is born. He will form Standard Oil as the first of the great US business trusts. ("Great" being defined as "Big" but not particularly "Good".) [15]
  • The steam shovel is patented. This large-bucket, powered excavating machine will change the face of the earth. It will be mounted on a railroad chassis, and dig a path for rails across the nation. [16]
  • Charles Goodyear discovers vulcanization! It makes rubber more durable and stable to use. The Goodyear Tire Company will be named in his honor, but no connection. Charles Goodyear will die penniless. [17]

This Year in Wikipedia

Year 1839, Wikipedia.

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