Archive for August, 2016

A Man (Not) of His Time

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016

On August 30, 1791, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to Benjamin Banneker, who had written on August 19th, calling on Jefferson to live up to his principles and support political liberty for black Americans.

Jefferson seemed to wish slavery would eventually die out, but he was of the opinion whites were superior. His letter was short. It was friendly on the surface. And it turned out to be a classic example of his distressing inability to seal the deal when it came to the ideals, ethics, and promise of the Declaration of Independence.

As for Banneker, he wasn’t some obscure citizen. He was then known – and still is best-known – for surveying the borders of the land that would become the District of Columbia and our nation’s capitol.

Banneker was a civil engineer, scientist, farmer, and author of almanacs. At first blush, Banneker would seem to be the sort of Founding Father our nation needed. He was a polymath such as Benjamin Franklin (fellow scientist, inventor, and “Almanack” author), John Adams (lawyer, farmer, diplomat), and Alexander Hamilton (economist, liberty enthusiast, failed duelist, subject of at least one musical) – all of whom would have taken Banneker’s side.

In fact, along with his letter, Banneker gave examples of his work: he enclosed a copy of his astronomical almanac, and mentioned his profession as a surveyor to prove that, contrary to Jefferson’s writings, black people did not innately lack intellectual ability and the capacity for great achievement when not oppressed by slavery.

Banneker, who was was black and free, encouraged Jefferson to “eradicate that train of absurd and false ideas and opinions which so generally prevail with respect to us,” and chastised the founders for their untenable hypocrisy in “detaining by fraud and violence so numerous a part of my brethren under groaning captivity and cruel oppression.”

Jefferson’s reaction, besides being essentially monstrous, is a little embarrassing. His letter is a faint cordial response that does not deign to directly address slavery. What’s more, Jefferson later slagged Banneker off to another correspondent as having “a mind of very common stature indeed,” contrary to the evidence – not to mention truths self-evident.

One might say that Jefferson was a man of his time, except that at least 700 people Jefferson knew – those he bought and owned and sold – were also of their time, and they were more intimately acquainted with truths.

Benjamin Banneker was not a man ahead of his time.


UPG Picks – Eric

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016

When I was in design school at the Creative Circus, I took a class on animation in Adobe AfterEffects. Our final project was an open-ended brief to create an animation between 90 seconds and five minutes. I chose to create an interpretive animation set to a paragraph from Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot” monologue, which is a beautiful meditation on the paradoxical insignificance and monumental importance of Earth in the grand scale of the cosmos.

In my first few months at the Guild, I had the opportunity to design the sticker sheet that’s included with the Carl Sagan Quotable Notable. Most of the time, designing these sticker sheets involves simply typesetting the quotes and greetings in an attractive way, but occasionally some bit of inspiration hits you and you do something really clever with it. I was typesetting a line from “Pale Blue Dot” — “That’s here, that’s home, that’s us.” — when it occurred to me: the PERIOD is a DOT! I added the teensiest bit of blue to the period.

Nobody’s going to buy the Carl Sagan card because of this sticker, and most of the people who do buy the card are probably never going to notice it. But for the handful of people who do notice it, I hope I’ve added the teensiest bit of joy to this mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.

Photo on 4-29-16 at 11.17 AM

Some Random Beaches

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

We all can’t be at the beach this summer, so for those of you stuck at work, here’s a random selection of beaches.

1. Dhermi_Beach

Dhermi Beach, Albania

2. Waikiki_Beach

Waikiki Beach, Hawaii

Omaha Beach, Normandy

4. Sauble

Sauble Beach, Ontario

5. China_Beach

China Beach

6. Amber-Koserow_Beach

Koserow Beach, Germany


Allen C. Beach

8. Beach-St

Beach Street, Manhattan

Einstein on the Beach

Summer Beaches: Bill Beach

Tuesday, August 9th, 2016

It’s Summertime! What better time of year to celebrate famous Beaches?

This week we remember Bill Beach (1850-1935).


Bill Beach was an Australian professional sculler.

What is “sculling,” you ask? Good question. We had to look it up too. Sculling is a two-oared form of rowing. And, this being the future, you can learn how to do it online.

Bill Beach’s family moved to Australia from England when he was a child, and he learned how to row in a wooden tub. He trained as a blacksmith, but when he began winning races as a teenager, his career as a professional sculler soon took off.

In 1884, world champion Canadian sculler Ned Hanlan was traveling across Australia giving exhibitions, and 33-year-old Beach challenged him to a race. Hanlan was unbeaten at the time and didn’t think much of his Australian opponent, but Beach won by 6 or 7 lengths! Hanlan took the defeat poorly, blaming his loss on everything from climate to tides to his excessive travel. Hanlan demanded a rematch, then lost the rematch. Beach was firmly the world champion, and held the title until 1887, when he chose to forfeit to his young training partner. (Just for good measure, he defeated Hanlan once more before retiring.)

Beach was the only World Sculling Champion of his era to retire undefeated.

Summer Beaches: Four Thomas Beaches

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016

It’s Summertime! What better time of year to celebrate famous Beaches?

This week we remember not one, but four Beaches, all named Thomas.

Thomas Beach #1 (? – 1737)
Our first famous Thomas Beach was a wine merchant and poet from Wales. His best-known poem, Eugenio, or the Virtuous and Happy Life, was published in 1737, and dedicated to Alexander Pope. Beach submitted the text to Jonathan Swift, who suggested a list amendments, which Beach apparently took to heart. Notwithstanding this modest success, Beach killed himself that same year – dramatically – by slitting his throat.

Thomas Beach #2 (1738-1806)
This Thomas Beach was an English portraitist who studied under the highly influential painter Sir Joshua Reynolds. Beach’s skill as a painter “could always be relied upon to produce a good likeness” and opened the doors of high society for him. Beach regularly exhibited at the Royal Academy and befriended some of the prominent people of his day, such as Dr. Samuel Johnson, Angelica Kaufmann and David Garrick. His self portrait and his portrait of William Woodfall (Parliament’s first official reporter) hang in the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Thomas Beach #3 – Thomas Miller Beach (1841-1894)
Though he arrived in the US as a French Union Army volunteer with the romantic nom de guerre Henri le Caron, Thomas Miller Beach was an English spy who infiltrated the Fenians in North America. His fellow Union soldier, and Fenian leader, John O’Neill, told him about his plot to invade British Canada. [For those of you unfamiliar with the Fenians, they were Irish-Americans dedicated to harassing the British, often violently, to end the occupation of Ireland.] Beach/le Caron “joined” his friend O’Neill’s cause, and from the center of the movement, regularly reported its activities to the British. Beach’s spying career ended when his cover was blown in court by his own countrymen during the Parnell Commission. He lived the rest of his days heavily guarded and in fear for his life.

Thomas Beach #4 (1824-1864)
This Thomas Beach was a Scottish soldier who received the Victoria Cross for gallantry in the face of the enemy at the Battle of Inkerman in the Crimean war. After 23 years in the army, Beach left the service and became a railway laborer. He died of alcohol poisoning a year later, and was buried in a pauper’s grave in Dundee.

Thomas Beach at the Battle of Inkerman (circled)

Thomas Beach at the Battle of Inkerman (circled)