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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.

See Also


  1. Parallax - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 31 July 2016. “Stellar parallax is most often measured using annual parallax, defined as the difference in position of a star as seen from the Earth and Sun, i. e. the angle subtended at a star by the mean radius of the Earth's orbit around the Sun. The parsec (3.26 light-years) is defined as the distance for which the annual parallax is 1 arcsecond.”
  2. Mythbusters: The Explosive Exhibition. MythbustersTheExhibition.com (2016). Retrieved on 31 July 2016. “The average bullet travels at 2,500 feet per second (around 1,700 mph).”
  3. 61 Cygni - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 31 July 2016. “This corresponds to a distance of about 600,000 astronomical units, or about 10.4 light years. This was the first direct and reliable measurement of the distance to a star other than the Sun. His measurement was published only shortly before similar parallax measurements of Vega by Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve and Alpha Centauri by Thomas Henderson that same year.”
  4. Adams, Douglas. Restaurant at the End of the Universe, The. Pocket Books. ISBN 9780671493042. “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. Many would happily move to somewhere rather smaller of their own devising, and this is what most beings in fact do. [...] 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.'” 
  5. Bogen, David Skillen (October 1990). "The Maryland Context of Dred Scott: The Decline in the Legal Status of Maryland Free Blacks 1776-1810". The American Journal of Legal History (Oxford University Press on behalf of Temple University) 34 (4): 381-411. http://www.jstor.org/stable/845828. Retrieved October 20, 2015. "White racial prejudice was a substantial burden for blacks to overcome in the competition for jobs and money. Nevertheless, racial prejudice did not lead immediately to discrimination in the laws. Differences in individuals do not threaten the principle of equal treatment under law. In theory, differences attributed to race might be thought irrelevant to legal rights. Indeed, it appears unjust to add by law to the disadvantages believed to exist by nature.". 
  6. Davis, David Brion (April 2000). "Looking at Slavery from Broader Perspectives". The American Historical Review (Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Historical Association) 105 (2): 452-466. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1571460. Retrieved November 23, 2015. "One year later, in 1842, slaves revolted on an American ship, the Creole, en route from Virginia to New Orleans. The slaves steered the Creole to the British island Nassau, where British authorities freed them. After the United States threatened England with war, an international tribunal ruled that Britain had been in the wrong and was obliged to pay $100,000 to the American claimants.". 
  7. THE AMISTAD. FindLaw (January 1, 1841). Retrieved on 1 August 2016. “We deny that Ruiz and Montez, Spanish subjects, had a right to call on any officer or court of the United States to use the force of the government, or the process of the law, for the purpose of again enslaving those who have thus escaped from foreign slavery, and sought an asylum here. We deny that the seizure of these persons by Lieutenant Gedney for such a purpose was a legal or justifiable act. How would it be- independently of the treaty between the United States and Spain-upon the principles of our government, of the common law, or of the law of nations? If a foreign slave vessel, engaged in a traffic which by our laws is denounced as inhuman and piratical, should be captured by the slaves, while on her voyage from Africa to Cuba, and they should succeed in reaching our shores, have the constitution or laws of the United States imposed upon our judges, our naval officers, or our executive, the duty of seizing the unhappy fugitives and delivering them up to their oppressors?”
  8. Amistad (1997) - IMDb. imdb.com (2016). Retrieved on 1 August 2016. “About a 1839 mutiny aboard a slave ship that is traveling towards the northeastern coast of America. Much of the story involves a court-room drama about the free man who led the revolt.”
  9. Mississippi Burning Official Trailer #1 - Gene Hackman Movie (1988) HD. YouTube (2016). Retrieved on 1 August 2016. “Mississippi Burning Trailer - Directed by Alan Parker and starring Gene Hackman, Willem Dafoe, Brad Dourif, R. Lee Ermey, Gailard Sartain. Two FBI agents investigating the murder of civil rights workers during the 60s seek to breach the conspiracy of silence in a small Southern town where segregation divides black and white. The younger agent trained in FBI school runs up against the small town ways of his former Sheriff partner. MGM - 1988”
  10. Hadden, Sally (May 1998). "How Accurate Is the Film?". The History Teacher (Society for History Education) 31 (3): 374-379. http://www.austinlibrary.com:2138/stable/494886. 
  11. The Prince of Egypt. IMDb (1998). Retrieved on 1 August 2016. “An Egyptian prince learns of his identity as a Hebrew, and later, his destiny to become the chosen deliverer of his people.”
  12. Lawrence A. Rainey - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 1 August 2016. “On January 15, 1965, Rainey and seventeen others learned that they were indicted. Because there was at that time no federal murder statute, they were charged with violation of the three men's civil rights. In 1967, the case went to trial in federal court, and Rainey was acquitted, though six others were convicted.”
  13. Creole case - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 1 August 2016. “The Creole case was the result of an American slave revolt in November 1841 on board the Creole, a ship involved in the United States coastwise slave trade. As 128 slaves gained freedom after the rebels ordered the ship sailed to Nassau, it has been termed the 'most successful slave revolt in US history'. Two persons died as a result of the revolt, a black slave and a white slave trader.”
  14. OK - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 29 July 2016. “Read argues that, at the time of the expression's first appearance in print, a broader fad existed in the United States of 'comical misspellings' and of forming and employing acronyms, themselves based on colloquial speech patterns”
  15. John D. Rockefeller - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 31 July 2016. “In 1870, he founded Standard Oil Company and actively ran it until he officially retired in 1897.”
  16. Steam shovel - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 31 July 2016. “The steam shovel was invented by William Otis, who received a patent for his design in 1839. The first machines were known as 'partial-swing', since the boom could not rotate through 360 degrees. They were built on a railway chassis, on which the boiler and movement engines were mounted. The shovel arm and driving engines were mounted at one end of the chassis, which accounts for the limited swing. Bogies with flanged wheels were fitted, and power was taken to the wheels by a chain drive to the axles.”
  17. Charles Goodyear - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 1 August 2016. “Goodyear's discovery of the vulcanization process was accidental, after five years of searching for a more stable rubber and stumbling upon the effectiveness of heating after Thomas Hancock.”

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