Archive for March, 2014

Smartass Response to a Philosopher #21

Friday, March 28th, 2014

“Science is what you know. Philosophy is what you don’t know” – Bertrand Russell

And that is why knuckleheads tend to be very philosophical.

March 25th: Happy Be-Better-Than-Your-Times Day!

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

On March 25, 1807, the British Parliament passed “The Abolition of the Slave Trade Act” and for some reason, the “all about freedom” former colonies did not. Here is the point even the most devoted fan of the Original Thirteen can’t get behind the United States, brand-new country or not. We had slaves until 1865 – for practically 50 years – and that’s not even counting sharecropping other forms of oppression that lasted another century.

How did we lose our way? Sometimes you would hardly recognize us as a country that valued liberty. We had ideals. Then we compromised. In fact, one of those compromises was even called The Missouri Compromise.

It’s about now that some fusty old duffer might creak forward in a wingback leather club chair and squawk, “It was the thinking of the times!”

Oh, it was NOT.

Slaveholders knew slaves were people – otherwise, why did they have to try so hard all the time to prove they weren’t? They knew they were cruel – otherwise, why so darned defensive? Theirs was not the only thinking of the times. It was the rotten thinking of the times.

As far as we can make out, the Golden Rule and several popular religions of the love-thy-neighbor variety were in full swing here in the nation conceived in liberty and justice. It wasn’t just slaves who noticed slavery Was Not Right. (See, for instance, Benjamin Banneker’s letter to Thomas Jefferson, blown off by Jefferson and cited in “It’s-Laying-the-Groundwork Day”. When, about 30 years later, your former oppressor takes a decisive step toward liberty, it’s time to check your head, young nation.

We should probably look around and see how we’re disappointing the future. What are we doing that will make some fusty duffer defend us as Idiots of the Past? (*SPOILER* We usually mess up when we want good things only for some of us.)

So today let’s celebrate being better than our times!

Happy Day When People Wear Green!

Monday, March 17th, 2014

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, here are some things that are green (besides shamrocks and beer).





The flag of Saudi Arabia.


Chameleons – well, at least some of the time.


Green Ring Nebulas.


Jack in the Green.






The European Greenfinch.


U.S. Currency.








Traffic lights (when it’s OK to go).


The Green Moray Eel.


It’s Laying-the-Groundwork Day!

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014


On this day in 1789, Benjamin Banneker began to lay out the boundaries of Pierre Charles L’Enfant’s design for Washington DC.

You’ve probably heard of L’Enfant, the temperamental French-born architect who designed our capitol city, but what about Banneker – who was he?


Benjamin Banneker was a free-born black man who, despite little formal education, became a scientist and surveyor; his work made the creation of Washington DC possible.

At age 22, Banneker carved a clock out of wood, and it was still running when he died over 50 years later. Banneker was also a farmer who wrote and published six almanacs between 1792 and 1797.

As a staunch opponent of slavery, Banneker was enraged that certain founding fathers could speak so eloquently about freedom but still keep others in bondage. He wrote an impassioned letter to Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson to protest his ownership of slaves and support for the institution. The letter didn’t do any good, of course.

George Washington appointed the commission to design the capitol of the brand-spanking-new United States. Those who planned and surveyed its borders represented both the potential and the problems of our nation: black and white, foreign and native-born, instigators of skirmishes and nepotism. By all accounts, Benjamin Banneker was like most of us – he just did his job and did it well.

So today let’s celebrate laying the groundwork!

It’s Suffer-By-Comparison Day!

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

Ludwig von Beethoven’s 4th Symphony was performed for the very first time this week in 1807.

The 4th Symphony occupies an unfortunate place between Beethoven’s 3rd and Beethoven’s 5th.

Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony (the “Eroica”), is legendary and groundbreaking. It’s a milestone in the development of the Symphony, and is regarded as the beginning of the Romantic era. As for Beethoven’s 5th, it is one of the most recognizable pieces of classical music ever written, as well as one of the most lasting and influential works of Western Civilization.

Beethoven’s 4th Symphony is perfectly fine. In another time or from another composer it might even be better than fine. But it doesn’t have the oomph of its 3rd and 5th siblings.

Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony was famously dedicated (and then undedicated) to Napoleon Bonaparte. The 4th was dedicated to Count Franz von Oppensdorff.

Beethoven’s 5th revolves around one of the most recognizable themes in classical music. The 4th? Who can hum a bar?

And let’s not go into the 6th, 7th and 9th: they’re all masterpieces.

As for Beethoven’s first two symphonies, while they may not be so famous today, they were influential in their time and constituted major developments in Beethoven’s voice. Even Beethoven’s little 8th Symphony stands apart for its brevity and for Beethoven’s personal fondness for it.

In Beethoven’s time, people tended to like the 4th well enough. “On the whole,” one critic wrote, “the work is cheerful, understandable and engaging.” Others liked how it took a step back from the Romantic urgings of the 3rd — listeners appreciated how it reminded them of Beethoven’s earlier, lighter work. But that’s about it. Beethoven’s 4th was, and remains, the least-performed and least-discussed of all of his Symphonies. Not that it’s bad. It’s perfectly fine. It’s just not Great.

Sometimes you have to do the minor things when you’re between the major things. Here’s to unsung (or rarely played) work that makes the major work that much more major!