Category: Pseudo-random Wiki-link

"In memoriam -- our civil service as it was", Thomas Nast (Harper's Weekly, 1877. via Wikipedia)

Prior to Andrew Jackson’s presidency, each newly elected president had been rather circumspect regarding the transfer of power from one administration to the next. Andrew Jackson changed that in a big way. An office-seeking horde descended upon Andrew Jackson’s inauguration after Jackson had promised friends, allies and cronies alike positions within his new administration. The new process of appointing people due to political ties rather than competence represented a marked change from the past in the 1830s. This new Jacksonian system, the Spoils System derives from a quote by the Jacksonian Democratic Senator William L. Marcy of New York: “To the victor belong the spoils.” The system remained in place until the 1860s, when the public began to demand an increasingly large number of civil services to be administered by the federal government. The system did not end, however, until the Pendleton Act passed in 1883, however, which established a bipartisan board that would select applicants for work within the government. Later, the Hatch Act of 1939 prevented government employees from taking part in many political activities.

Wikipedia: Spoils System


Bunny! (Wikipedia)

Why bunnies? Because on some days the news is so bad that you just have to try to find a way to smile.

Wikipedia: Bunny

Lockheed-Martin F-35 Lightning II Fighter (Wikipedia)

The F-35 Lightning II is a new stealth fighter capable of penetrating defenses and carrying nuclear weapons at supersonic speeds. It also comes at the estimated price of $110 million per plane, which is much cheaper than the B-2 Bomber with a price tag somewhere between $1- and 3-billion dollars per plane. The U.S. Airforce would like to purchase 2,443 aircraft in a program originally estimated to cost $382 billion (the math does not work out because cost overruns have made the plane more expensive than at the time the program cost was worked out).

At $110 million per plane, simply not building three planes – only building 2,440 (99.8% of the original total) – could provide the funds for the U.S. government to build about 66 rural high schools around the country, assuming a cost of $5 million per school.

Wikipedia: F-35 Lightning II

3753 Cruithne (Powell Observatory, via Wikipedia)

Everyone has seen the Moon, Earth’s only natural satellite, in the sky going through its phases as it revolves around our planet, but there are also other classes of objects in space that have orbits similar to Earth. Some of these objects revolve around the Sun, but pass very close to the Earth on regular intervals due to an orbital resonance. The result, when viewed from Earth is an oddly-shaped orbit centered on a point near Earth. One of these objects is the asteroid 3753 Cruithne, one of five known quasi-satellites of Earth.

Cruithne is a small asteroid, roughly 5km in diameter, it is never bright in the sky and it requires a 12-inch telescope to view it. During close approaches, Earth’s gravity alters its orbit slightly so Cruithne spends a good deal of time either catching up to the Earth or falling behind it until the next close pass alters its orbit in the exact opposite way. The pattern is stable for hundreds of millions of years.

Wikipedia: 3753 Cruithne

"Miner strikes the owner" (Judge, via Wikipedia)

Bituminous coal miners had gone on strike in 1897 and had won a resounding victory. With success, the unions grew rapidly in size and spread to anthracite coal miners by 1899 and 1900. During that time, owners acquiesced to labor demands rather than impose on Republican William McKinley’s chances in the upcoming election. But in 1902, anthracite coal miners still lacked recognition for their unions and they did not have much say in the decisions that shaped their industry. Unwilling to concede even more, the company bosses refused arbitration and 100,000 United Mine Workers of America, comprising up to 80% of the workers in Pennsylvania, went on strike.

J.P. Morgan, owner of the Reading Railroad (of Monopoly fame) and financial autocrat, played a significant role in the negotiation process after intrigues involving the Federal mediation, the National Guard, Police and spies, but after 163 days, the strike ended with another labor victory. In the end, President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed that the government sought to ensure a “Square Deal” (first usage ever) to both sides. The strike was a victory for the workers and help lead to Progressive Era reforms.

Wikipedia: Anthracite Coal Strike

The Supporters (Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press)

As the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen in the United States, the nation risks falling even deeper in to a non-democratic system of governance: Plutocracy. In a plutocracy, wealthy members of society have much more say than everyone else. This system has historically led to a good deal of financial and political instability where ever it has arisen, especially as the population at large becomes increasingly isolated and victimized by its isolation from the political process.

Wikipedia: Plutocracy

1952 Steel Strike (Life)

Born out of a disagreement between Labor and the Steel Industry, the beginnings of the 1952 Steel Strike can be found in 1951. The stakes were quite high when negotiations began to break down between companies such as U.S. Steel and Bethlehem Steel and the United Steelworkers labor union. The United States was involved in the Korean War and President Truman had been briefed that an interruption of steel production could severely hamper the war effort.

After talks broke off in April, fearing the pending announced strike, President Truman nationalized the steel mills on public television an hour and a half before the strike was to begin. The strike was immediately called off and the steelworkers went to work on the morning the strike had been planned, April 9th, 1952. The steel companies went to court and eventually succeeded when the Supreme Court declared that President Truman had overstepped his authority when he nationalized the factories inYoungstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer at noon on June 2, 1952. The steel companies were returned to their owners that afternoon and the Steelworkers left the factories on strike all on the same day.

Collective bargaining began on June 5th, but by June 17th, defense plants that built tanks and other arms began cutting back to 1/4 time due to a lack of raw materials to continue. Meanwhile, the unions bargained with the steel industry rather than a single company, but it also negotiated in a divide and conquer manner with weaker plants in order to maximize benefit from the workers. By June 23, the strike ended in a victory for the Steelworkers who managed to gain nearly everything they had proposed in the Autumn of 1951.

Wikipedia: 1952 Steel Strike

Eleanor Roosevelt holding the UN Declaration of Human Rights (Wikipedia)

With workers around the world marching for the right to live in democracies and for the right to unionize, it is entirely appropriate to mention that neither of these are new ideas. Eleanor Roosevelt was one of the most popular women in the entire world and her work to create the United Nations as well as to craft the UN Declaration of Human Rights played no small role in that matter. Let’s allow the declaration to speak for itself with a few selected pieces:

Article 1
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 3
Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person.
Article 4
No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.
Article 5
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 18
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 22
Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.
Article 23
Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
Article 24
Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.
Article 25
Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.
Article 26
Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Wikipedia: UN Declaration of Human Rights

Danish Flag

According to Sarah Palin, American is at risk for falling into SOCIALISM! Oh no! Oh the humanity!
Oh if only everyone had the same problems as Denmark….

A Scandinavian-style social welfare state, the nation routinely ranks ahead of the United States in terms of Human Development, Health and Healthcare, Education and Take-home pay (even after their ~55% tax rate!) With such high taxes, you may think that the people are impoverished and miserable. But no – Denmark is routinely considered the Happiest Nation in the World. Of course, that could be due to their 6 weeks of paid vacation per year or due to the fact that low-income groups receive 120% of their pre-retirement incomes for their pensions. This country with few natural resources has invested heavily in its own citizens. As a result, Denmark holds the most Nobel Prizes per capita of any nation. It also has one of the most uniform distributions of wealth in the world, coupled with a standard of living that is higher than that of the U.S. (a seemingly good mix). Yet with all of that social spending, in fact because of it and because everyone is on board, the nation has been able to create a national budget surplus, its unemployment is at an all-time low, and the Great Recession (now long gone) barely left a mark due to a strong regulatory environment in finance. In fact, there is currently a shortage of skilled labor. As you can see, Sarah Palin has been right all along – who in the U.S. would want any of those problems that are the scourge of the Danish state?

Scene from the Epic of Gilgamesh on a rolled wax seal (Montclair State University Classics Dept.)

Beginning around 12,000 – 14,000 B.C.E., animal husbandry had developed in central north Africa. By 9,000 B.C.E., agriculture had matured in Mesopotamia to the point that it allowed the construction of some of the world’s first cities. Agriculture afforded the new city states the luxury of free time. No longer did everyone have to hunt and scavenge for food each day, because there were now reserves of grain that aided people when game was scarce. No longer required to be hunters, many urban dwellers could specialize and they often constructed tools and implements that farmers could use, so there developed a symbiosis between the city and the countryside.

That symbiotic relationship figures heavily in metaphorical form in the Epic of Gilgamesh, where the to key characters (both male) Gilgamesh and Enkidu represented the city (Uruk) and Enkidu the country. The Epic highlights the mutual interdependence of the city with the country by informing the reader that the two characters were surprisingly intimate (shall we say liberal?) for what we may today na├»vely consider the perceived mores of the ancient Middle East. But this metaphor is representative of the founding of urban culture itself – the interdependence of roles in society, despite farmers and urbanites living very different lives.

One of the world’s oldest extant pieces of literature, the oldest cuneiform tablets with early portions of the story date to as far back as 2150 B.C.E., though the oral tradition may be far older. It also describes an account similar to the Biblical flood – though its clay tablets were enscribed before the Bibllical scrolls. Most of all, the Epic of Gilgamesh describes some beliefs and conditions (natural and supernatural) that people enscribed into clay tablets very long ago. It is worth a read simply to find out how people thought and communicated back then and to learn what things in society then are similar to today and what things are different.

VY Canis Majoris highlights this paradigm-shifting video (via blangled on YouTube)

We have heard from elementary school that the Sun is an average star. Some people may be bothered by the fact that there is very little about the Sun that is superlative, but it should not bother you too much. Other people are curious about just how large other stars can be. At the moment, a red supergiant star, VY Canish Majoris holds the record. If placed inside our Solar System, the star would extend to the orbit of Saturn! At 30-40 times the mass of the Sun, it is also a very massive star, though it has an amazingly low density, about 1/10,000th the density of air at sea level on a warm day. Click on the image to see just how large CY Canis Majoris is relative to the Sun, its planets, and other stars.

Wikipedia: VY Canis Majoris

Lawrence Textile ("Bread and Roses") Strike, 1912 (via Wikipedia)

As hundreds of thousands of workers protest around the world and within the United States today, we should remember what the labor movement has brought to life in many places: Vacation time, benefits, increasing salaries, pensions, transparency in government and political clout for the middle class. None of these rights came easily as the image here shows and each of these rights are currently under assault. Within the United States, the battle lines are drawn through every state that is controlled by the Tea Party, who would like to undo 100 years of progress and literally return us to the world of child labor. Good luck, everyone, as your protests get underway!

Works Progress Administration (vis Wikipedia)

During the deepest depths of the Great Depression, President Roosevelt created the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the largest federal agency as part of the New Deal. In its beginnings in 1935, the WPA cost $1.4 billion, growing in size to $11 billion by 1943 (this is equivalent to expenditures of $25.6 billion and $136 billion per year in 2009 dollars). This mammoth undertaking employed 8 million people to construct and revitalize the national infrastructure. WPA construction projects, like CCC projects are everywhere – nearly every city in the country has at least one. The workers in the WPA built bridges, libraries, roads, dams, power plants, post offices, parks, schools, and shelters. Many of these projects are still around and in use today. A large people were also employed to distribute food to the needy, there were education programs, and there was a good deal of investment in the arts, media and community theater. By 1943, the unemployment rate had shrunk to very low levels due to the high demand for labor to build arms and munitions for World War II and the WPA closed its doors after building public infrastructure that later fueled the economic boom of the 1950s and 1960s.

Wikipedia: Works Progress Administration

The 8-hour workday: Why you can enjoy your weekends. (Wikipedia)

On the Eight-hour work day

During the early stages of the Industrial Revolution, child labor was common, slavery was still legal in many places, and for free men, the average work day was 10-16 hours. There was no middle class and those who were not rich traveled in “steerage”. The adoption of the 40-hour work week was in itself a labor that was hard-fought. The Briton Robert Own called for a ten-hour day in 1810 and had formulated by 1817 the slogan: “Eight hours labour, Eight hours recreation, Eight hours rest.” It was not until 1847 that women and children were granted a 10-hour day in Britain, such were the working conditions of the time. By 1836, demands for the 8-hour day finally reached the United States, but it was not until 1866 that the labor movement there decided on a course of action. That is when the National Labor Union passed this resolution in Baltimore:

“The first and great necessity of the present to free labour of this country from capitalist slavery, is the passing of a law by which eight hours shall be the normal working day in all States of the American Union. We are resolved to put forth all our strength until this glorious result is achieved.”

While this is incredibly different from the rhetoric of capitalism that we hear on TV today, Unions worked tirelessly to achieve the goal that had been set: The eight hour work day. It took a great deal of effort. It was not until 1916 that the Adamson Act was passed as the first federal law that promoted the 8-hour day for railroad workers. For the first time, the working hours for private companies were regulated and it luckily surived a surpreme court challenge in Wilson vs. New. Still, it was not until the New Deal that the eight-hour work day became standard for most Americans.

So as you are sitting at your desk, remember that progress is slow. It took nearly a century to achieve an 8-hour work day after centuries in which people worked up to 16 hours for slave wages at times there was no middle class. Things are better now, but only after a good deal of hard work, numerous strikes, legal challenges and tenacity. Many people died for the simple right to have free time away from work. The powers that be have never appreciated the work that labor gives, though over two centuries, labor is no longer treated like chattle. Let us not go back to the 19th century.

Wikipedia: Eight-hour day

Father Coughlin (Library of Congress, via Wikipedia)

History is often said to repeat itself and if there is a correspondence between the situation in the United States today and during the Great Depression, then Father Charles Edward Coughlin was to President Roosevelt what Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck are to President Obama. Initially a supporter of Roosevelt, his concerns over socialism and affinity toward Hitler and Mussolini led him to denounce Roosevelt to the wide audience of his popular radio show. There are, however, some difficulties with the comparison between Coughlin and Limbaugh and Beck. Father Coughlin was actually taken off the air by the Government. Wikipedia explains how:

The administration decided that although the First Amendment protected free speech, it did not necessarily apply to broadcasting, because the radio spectrum was a “limited national resource” and regulated as a publicly owned commons. New regulations and restrictions were created to force Coughlin off the air. For the first time, operating permits were required of those who were regular radio broadcasters. When Coughlin’s permit was denied, he was temporarily silenced. Coughlin worked around the restriction by purchasing air time and having his speeches played via transcription. However, having to buy the weekly air time on individual stations seriously reduced his reach and strained his resources.

Wikipedia: Father Coughlin