Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Fourth Branch of Government

French Lick, Indiana – There is a famous story about the American war in Cuba against Spain –the war that features the charge up San Juan Hill. The story goes that newspaper man William Randolph Hearst sent a journalist there to “report on the war in Cuba.” But when the man got there, he sent word back that there was no war in Cuba. Hearst responded that if the man gave him the story, he would give him the war. The war in Cuba happened.

In my college textbook on Political Science, I learned about what it called the four branches of government; the fourth, and at times the most powerful, being the media.
The days are past, or nearly so, when a man such as William Crawford could be, according to the book Henry Clay: The Essential American, lost his bid for the presidency in the early eighteen hundreds, because many people had been told, and apparently some newspapers even printed that he was dead. He was very much alive, and very much a loser, in the election.
We heard about the Boston Bombings last year within minutes, even though some of us were thousands of miles away from where it happened. Journalists were, no doubt, scrambling to get the story off to their outlet as fast as their fingers could type or voices could talk.
The media has a great effect on the way people vote. They have great effect on which stories get out, and which are forgotten. Most people do not know about what happened in the Idaho legislature today, if they are even sitting. I do not. The story is not interesting enough for the big outlets. It hast to be something that people will click on when viewing on a website, or cause them to drop the quarter in the slot to buy the paper when they see it on the headline.
The subtle nuances of politics, the gathering storms, the exiting sidelines, the secret dramas, the shifting of alliances and coming and going of power through people’s hands, are too big to put in a headline, and take too long to catch on Sixty Minutes. Media is a good thing, a helpful thing. That is how I found out who the pope is, or why the entire Western Alliance might be leaving Afghanistan by the end of the year. But I would not recommend thinking you now know the story without further checking.
Media has had a long and varied history in our country, causing at times panic and at others mad rushes of euphoria. Especially at such times as when the evening news boys called out, while waving papers over their heads “Extra, extra, read all about it!” The headline that night read DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN. When in fact, Dewey had lost.

Andrew C. Abbott

Friday, February 21, 2014

Hey Brother Can You Spare a Dime

West Baden, Indiana – Unemployment. If the percentage gets too high, the ruling party of any nation can be relatively sure they are on their way out of office. It is a large factor in many races, and parties talk about their record of job creation as an attempt to win voters.

There are entire branches of economics dealing unemployment, and there are many different categories given to it. Structural, personal, real, etc. Books have been written and documentaries made, and there is even an economic law, Orkun’s, dealing with it.
But it can occasionally be forgotten that the unemployed are not just numbers, they are people. People with other people who depend on them. If there are one million people out of work, there could be twice that suffering for it. President’s that lower unemployment to 4% look good. But as the New York Times said, 4% unemployment only looks good to 96% of the population.
As Ronald Reagan said, if it is not personal, we tend to forget. “Rescission is when your neighbor loses his job. Depression is when you lose yours.” He then added “Recovery is when Carter loses his.”
The Great Depression is remembered mainly because of the lack of employment. If the stock market had just crashed and nothing else had happened, it might not have even made the history books. Stock markets go up and down all the time. The Japanese Index is down almost 4,000 points currently from previous, short term in terms of years, high.
Reminding countries that there are people out of work often works well in election time. And we have elections coming this year. It may be possible that this will be made an issue by one side or another.
In the election of 1932, for the American President, according to the book Hard Times, there was one song that made sure Herbert Hoover lost his job. Brother can you spare a dime? The song was about an American Man. He had “built a railroad” but now the railroad was done, and he was out of work. He had fought, but now the war was over. He had “built a tower” but now the tower was done, “brother can you spare a dime?” It was sung, according to the author, on every street corner and on every soup kitchen in the country. Because the truth was, nobody could spare a dime, because they were out of work to. The people voted out the president over that.

Andrew C. Abbott

Monday, February 17, 2014

President Number 45

Warsaw, IN – The presidential race for 2016 is any minute now. Any minute if you mean that Election Day is still over two years away. But already many on both left and the right have expressed interest in the race.

There has been much talk and positioning, and already fund raising and web site preparation. By the numbers, if popularity polls are to be trusted, congress as a whole is not popular, its approval rating standing at only 13%. This has led some to say that we can expect no serious presidential candidates from that section. Although it is highly possible that the nation views this as a whole, but will be more forgiving to the separate members come election time.
There are of course several governors who have expressed interest. Bobby Jindal possibly, along with Rick Perry of Texas, and Christ Christie of New Jersey, who, according to a recent poll is at 10%, despite allegations that he shut down lanes leading to the busiest bridge on the planet as a form of political payback for a mayor who did not endorse him in his bid for reelection.
However, besides the inner party interests, such as whether vice president Joe Biden will run, which he will announce in the summer of next year, is not at interesting as which party has a better shot at getting one of their people into the position of “leader of the free world.”
Some have said that people will not want a Republican as president because they shut down the government last year for seventeen days, costing the economy millions. But there is a statistic about the Democratic Party that they have never once beaten.
The only time a Modern Democrat has ever followed a Democrat was when he was already an incumbent. That was Lyndon Banes Johnston following JFK and Harry Truman following FDR. Both of their predecessors had died in office, making these men incumbents. These are the only time it has happened.
But we are still two years away. There are many things that could happen. “One year is an eternity in politics.” Just about anything could happen. So that, no matter what predictions are made now, and no matter what has held true in the past, anything could still change. America really has no idea who will be president number 45.

Andrew C. Abbott

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Speed of Light

It was the evening of April 21st, 1820, when Hans Christian ├śrsted was preparing for a lecture, that, as he switched a battery on, he noticed his compass deflected from the magnetic north. When he switched it off, the compass went back. He had discovered, as had Newton, one of the four forces of physics. The first had been gravity, the second was to be electromagnetism.
Michal Faraday was a bookbinder, and in a time when science was a hobby mostly for the rich, he was not a likely candidate for an eminent scientist. But he taught himself much, and in his early adulthood obtained tickets to the lectures of Humphrey Davies, a popular scientist of the time.
Faraday eventually got a job working for Davy. And although Davy was a good scientist, the greatest thing, according to some, that he discovered in his life was Michal Faraday.
Faraday, after seeing ├śrsted’s experiment, theorized that as electricity moved along a wire, it created a little piece of magnetism, and this in turn created a little piece of electricity, and thus they were connected in a never ending braid.
Instead of trying to get a wire to move a compass, he decided to see if he could get a compass to move a wire. The experiment worked. They were connected.
Sir Humphrey Davy, Faraday’s old mentor, was the new president of The Royal Society. When he saw his old student’s work, he at once accused Faraday of plagiarism from another scientist, although that scientist had denied it was. Davy opposed Faraday joining the Royal Society, which was the elite body of science at the time. But at the election, Faraday even had the vote of the man Davy claimed Faraday had stolen from.
Years later, in 1865, James Clerk Maxwell, after doing his equations, discovered that Faraday had been right all along. The two forces were connected. But electricity could only create magnetism, and magnetism could only create electricity at a very particular speed. A speed at which only one thing could go. Faraday was exonerated. Light was connected to electromagnetism. The speed at which this could happen was  670,000,000 miles per hour. Or 186,00 miles per second. It was the speed of light.
To be continued.

Andrew C. Abbott

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Apple

“In the beginning all was night, then God said let Newton be, and all was light.” –Alexander Pope. (Modified.)

Anytime an apple is dropped, it falls.
Everybody has known that for a long time. But It would take Isaac Newton, who was born on Christmas day, 1642, the year Galileo died, to find out why.
He was a terrible student in early life. But then, one day, a schoolyard bully kicked him in the stomach. Newton was the student directly beneath that boy in the class. So, instead of striking back, he set to work. Soon, he passed that boy. But he did not stop; the poor student who could not be made to pay attention soon became the best student in the school.
And he continued one from there. Newton lived in his own mind, and was very solitary. He never married. He did many of his own scientific experiments, nearly blinding himself at one point by putting sharp instruments behind his eye to see what was back there. He also stared at the sun for a long time, until he could no longer see anything. He had to be put into a dark chamber for days before he regained the use of his sight. He used a prism, like in the book Pollyanna, to break up light into the different parts of the visible spectrum.
But then, one day, the man who, as a boy, was “the worst” manager of a farm that could ever be found, realized something that would revolutionize science forever.
Anytime an apple is dropped, it falls.
It was a revolution in science. The day Isaac Newton wondered why the above statement is always true. According to some versions the apple fell on his head, and according to others, the apple never fell at all. Newton himself said he was walking in a garden thinking one day when he saw an apple fall.
When it did, he wondered if there was a force pulling down. Then, “all at once” he began to wonder if this force worked on everything. If this was true, then there were forces which did not need to touch each other to work. “They worked at a distance.” If so, then why could not all objects be pulling each other together. It could be why the moon orbited the earth, and why the earth orbited the sun. It was.
Newton called it the effect of gravitas, the Latin word for weight. It was the effect that all bodies of indistinct mass attract each other across all of time and space. It was the force of gravity.
To explain all of his scientific ideas, Newton wrote Principia Mathmatica, possibly the most influential science book ever written. In it, the laws of motion, or physics, are put down as three.
1)      A body in motion will stay in motion. A body at rest continues at rest.
2)      Force exerted by a body when hit equals the mass of the thing colliding with it, times that bodies acceleration.
3)      For all actions, there is an equal or greater reaction.
And so one of the four forces of physics had been discovered. Newton would go down in history, not as an exactly very nice man, you did not dare cross him, and even his most famous phrase “If I have seen farther than others, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants” was most likely a jab at a short scientist who claimed Newton had built on his work, and Newton said he had not.
But be that as it may, Newton may go down in history with his own words.
“I do not know what I may appear to the world. But to myself, I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore. Amusing myself now and then by finding a smoother pebble or prettier shell than ordinary. While the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”
Soon, more men were to come and attempt to uncover at least a small part of that ocean.
To be continued.

Andrew C. Abbott