Monday, September 13, 2010

New Website

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Come check out my new site featuring videos, links, and exhibits!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Armstrong Walks on the Moon


At 10:56 p.m. EDT, American astronaut Neil Armstrong, 240,000 miles from Earth, speaks these words to more than a billion people listening at home: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Stepping off the lunar landing module Eagle, Armstrong became the first human to walk on the surface of the moon.

The American effort to send astronauts to the moon has its origins in a famous appeal President John F. Kennedy made to a special joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961: "I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth." At the time, the United States was still trailing the Soviet Union in space developments, and Cold War-era America welcomed Kennedy's bold proposal.

In 1966, after five years of work by an international team of scientists and engineers, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) conducted the first unmanned Apollo mission, testing the structural integrity of the proposed launch vehicle and spacecraft combination. Then, on January 27, 1967, tragedy struck at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, when a fire broke out during a manned launch-pad test of the Apollo spacecraft and Saturn rocket. Three astronauts were killed in the fire.

Despite the setback, NASA and its thousands of employees forged ahead, and in October 1968, Apollo 7, the first manned Apollo mission, orbited Earth and successfully tested many of the sophisticated systems needed to conduct a moon journey and landing. In December of the same year, Apollo 8 took three astronauts to the dark side of the moon and back, and in March 1969 Apollo 9 tested the lunar module for the first time while in Earth orbit. Then in May, the three astronauts of Apollo 10 took the first complete Apollo spacecraft around the moon in a dry run for the scheduled July landing mission.

At 9:32 a.m. on July 16, with the world watching, Apollo 11 took off from Kennedy Space Center with astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin Jr., and Michael Collins aboard. Armstrong, a 38-year-old civilian research pilot, was the commander of the mission. After traveling 240,000 miles in 76 hours, Apollo 11 entered into a lunar orbit on July 19. The next day, at 1:46 p.m., the lunar module Eagle, manned by Armstrong and Aldrin, separated from the command module, where Collins remained. Two hours later, the Eagle began its descent to the lunar surface, and at 4:18 p.m. the craft touched down on the southwestern edge of the Sea of Tranquility. Armstrong immediately radioed to Mission Control in Houston, Texas, a famous message: "The Eagle has landed."

At 10:39 p.m., five hours ahead of the original schedule, Armstrong opened the hatch of the lunar module. As he made his way down the lunar module's ladder, a television camera attached to the craft recorded his progress and beamed the signal back to Earth, where hundreds of millions watched in great anticipation. At 10:56 p.m., Armstrong spoke his famous quote, which he later contended was slightly garbled by his microphone and meant to be "that's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind." He then planted his left foot on the gray, powdery surface, took a cautious step forward, and humanity had walked on the moon.

"Buzz" Aldrin joined him on the moon's surface at 11:11 p.m., and together they took photographs of the terrain, planted a U.S. flag, ran a few simple scientific tests, and spoke with President Richard M. Nixon via Houston. By 1:11 a.m. on July 21, both astronauts were back in the lunar module and the hatch was closed. The two men slept that night on the surface of the moon, and at 1:54 p.m. the Eagle began its ascent back to the command module. Among the items left on the surface of the moon was a plaque that read: "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot on the moon--July 1969 A.D--We came in peace for all mankind."

At 5:35 p.m., Armstrong and Aldrin successfully docked and rejoined Collins, and at 12:56 a.m. on July 22 Apollo 11 began its journey home, safely splashing down in the Pacific Ocean at 12:51 p.m. on July 24.

There would be five more successful lunar landing missions, and one unplanned lunar swing-by, Apollo 13. The last men to walk on the moon, astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt of the Apollo 17 mission, left the lunar surface on December 14, 1972. The Apollo program was a costly and labor intensive endeavor, involving an estimated 400,000 engineers, technicians, and scientists, and costing $24 billion (close to $100 billion in today's dollars). The expense was justified by Kennedy's 1961 mandate to beat the Soviets to the moon, and after the feat was accomplished ongoing missions lost their viability.

Here is the video of the Eagle landing on the moon and Armstrong’s famous words:

[Image via 4bp.blogspot]

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Most Famous Duel in American History: Hamilton Killed By Burr

On July 11, 1804, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr met on the dueling grounds of Weehawken, New Jersey to engage in one of the most famous duels in American history. The two politicians had been engaged in a war of words since 1791 when Burr won a United States Senate seat from Hamilton’s father in law. Hamilton, a Federalist, and Burr, a Republican, continued to fight over politics until 1804. That year, Burr suffered a crushing loss in the New York governor’s race, and believed, with some cause, that Hamilton had helped to convince voters to keep Burr out of office. What actually led to the duel was Hamilton’s supposed conduct at a dinner party.
In February 1804, Hamilton attended a dinner party at the home of Dr. Charles D. Cooper. At the dinner, Hamilton shared his own scathing views of Burr. At one time (though not at the dinner) he stated unequivocally, “[He is] For or against nothing, but as it suits his interests of ambitions. I feel the religious duty to oppose his career.” Cooper later related Hamilton’s bad opinion of Burr in a letter to Philip Schuyler.  At some point, this opinion traveled from a private conversation through the letter to Schuyler to the New York newspaper the “Albany Register.” The public smearing of Burr gave him an opportunity to revive his flagging political career (or so he thought). He challenged Hamilton to a duel for offending his honor. Hamilton couldn’t deny the accusation, which was substantively true, without offending his own honor. That said, to refuse to duel Burr would also ruin his honor. Thinking he had no other option, Hamilton agreed to the duel, and the rest, as they say, is history.
The two met on July 11th and fired .56 caliber revolvers at one another. Burr escaped unscathed while Hamilton was mortally wounded. He died the next day. The duel robber the young country of one of the most brilliant minds the young nation had in its ranks.
While Hamilton paid the ultimate price in the duel, Burr also suffered. The gambit he hoped would revitalize his political career essentially helped to end it. After his term as Vice President (1801-1805), Burr was never elected to another office. He was also charged with two counts of murder as a result of the duel. You might think the duel and its fallout would have ended Burr’s penchant for desperate action in the hopes of making political gains. Unfortunately, in history as in life some people do not learn from their mistakes. Burr’s next plot to gain power and prestige would end with charges of treason.

A few years ago, people gathered on the anniversary of the Burr and Hamilton duel at the scene of the crime to reenact history. Check it out:

Now that you know the facts about one of the most famous duels in American history, lets hope you never find yourself in this position.

To read some of the correspondence between Hamilton and Burr that led to the duel, check this out.

[Image via Rutgers]

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Monkey Trial Begins


In Dayton, Tennessee, the so-called "Monkey Trial" begins with John Thomas Scopes, a young high school science teacher, accused of teaching evolution in violation of a Tennessee state law.

The law, which had been passed in March, made it a misdemeanor punishable by fine to "teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals." With local businessman George Rappalyea, Scopes had conspired to get charged with this violation, and after his arrest the pair enlisted the aid of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to organize a defense. Hearing of this coordinated attack on Christian fundamentalism, William Jennings Bryan, the three-time Democratic presidential candidate and a fundamentalist hero, volunteered to assist the prosecution. Soon after, the great attorney Clarence Darrow agreed to join the ACLU in the defense, and the stage was set for one of the most famous trials in U.S. history.

On July 10, the Monkey Trial got underway, and within a few days hordes of spectators and reporters had descended on Dayton as preachers set up revival tents along the city's main street to keep the faithful stirred up. Inside the Rhea County Courthouse, the defense suffered early setbacks when Judge John Raulston ruled against their attempt to prove the law unconstitutional and then refused to end his practice of opening each day's proceeding with prayer.

Outside, Dayton took on a carnival-like atmosphere as an exhibit featuring two chimpanzees and a supposed "missing link" opened in town, and vendors sold Bibles, toy monkeys, hot dogs, and lemonade. The missing link was in fact Jo Viens of Burlington, Vermont, a 51-year-old man who was of short stature and possessed a receding forehead and a protruding jaw. One of the chimpanzees--named Joe Mendi--wore a plaid suit, a brown fedora, and white spats, and entertained Dayton's citizens by monkeying around on the courthouse lawn.

In the courtroom, Judge Raulston destroyed the defense's strategy by ruling that expert scientific testimony on evolution was inadmissible--on the grounds that it was Scopes who was on trial, not the law he had violated. The next day, Raulston ordered the trial moved to the courthouse lawn, fearing that the weight of the crowd inside was in danger of collapsing the floor.

In front of several thousand spectators in the open air, Darrow changed his tactics and as his sole witness called Bryan in an attempt to discredit his literal interpretation of the Bible. In a searching examination, Bryan was subjected to severe ridicule and forced to make ignorant and contradictory statements to the amusement of the crowd. On July 21, in his closing speech, Darrow asked the jury to return a verdict of guilty in order that the case might be appealed. Under Tennessee law, Bryan was thereby denied the opportunity to deliver the closing speech he had been preparing for weeks. After eight minutes of deliberation, the jury returned with a guilty verdict, and Raulston ordered Scopes to pay a fine of $100, the minimum the law allowed. Although Bryan had won the case, he had been publicly humiliated and his fundamentalist beliefs had been disgraced. Five days later, on July 26, he lay down for a Sunday afternoon nap and never woke up.

In 1927, the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned the Monkey Trial verdict on a technicality but left the constitutional issues unresolved until 1968, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a similar Arkansas law on the grounds that it violated the First Amendment. 

[Image via siarchives]

Monday, July 5, 2010

That's Alright Mama....It's Only Rock N Roll

This past weekend we’ve all probably had the chance to see some great fireworks…so I thought it would be appropriate to end the holiday weekend by commemorating a sonic firework that exploded onto the radio airwaves in 1954. 
Today in 1954, Elvis Presley recorded “That’s Alright Mama,” which was his first commercial record. It is one of the groundbreaking moments in rock and roll that helped crossover the genre to white audiences. In the segregated south, music, like much of life, was segregated by race. White radio stations played music for white audiences (think Pat Boone) and black stations played music for black audiences. While segregation may have been the order of the day on the radio, many white kids growing up in the south were exposed to black music and were influenced by it. Elvis Presley, a big fan of gospel and rhythm and blues music, was certainly one of them.
Presley helped to cross over rhythm and blues style singing by recording “That’s Alright Mama,” which gained popularity among white audiences. The song was originally written and recorded by Arthur Crudup in 1946. When Elvis’ version of the song was first played on white radio stations in the south, listeners would call in because they couldn’t believe that Presley was a white singer. The song was one of many which would help grow the audience of rhythm and blues music into what was eventually known as rock and roll.  

Here is Presley performing “That’s Alright Mama” during his 1968 comeback special. Enjoy!

[Image via por-img]

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy 4th of July!

Here is a description of the Fourth of July from - It features a run down of important events leading to the Declaration of Independence:

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Continental Congress adopts the Declaration of Independence, which proclaims the independence of the United States of America from Great Britain and its king. The declaration came 442 days after the first volleys of the American Revolution were fired at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts and marked an ideological expansion of the conflict that would eventually encourage France's intervention on behalf of the Patriots.

The first major American opposition to British policy came in 1765 after Parliament passed the Stamp Act, a taxation measure to raise revenues for a standing British army in America. Under the banner of "no taxation without representation," colonists convened the Stamp Act Congress in October 1765 to vocalize their opposition to the tax. With its enactment in November, most colonists called for a boycott of British goods, and some organized attacks on the customhouses and homes of tax collectors. After months of protest in the colonies, Parliament voted to repeal the Stamp Act in March 1766.

Most colonists continued to quietly accept British rule until Parliament's enactment of the Tea Act in 1773, a bill designed to save the faltering East India Company by greatly lowering its tea tax and granting it a monopoly on the American tea trade. The low tax allowed the East India Company to undercut even tea smuggled into America by Dutch traders, and many colonists viewed the act as another example of taxation tyranny. In response, militant Patriots in Massachusetts organized the "Boston Tea Party," which saw British tea valued at some 18,000 pounds dumped into Boston Harbor.

Parliament, outraged by the Boston Tea Party and other blatant acts of destruction of British property, enacted the Coercive Acts, also known as the Intolerable Acts, in 1774. The Coercive Acts closed Boston to merchant shipping, established formal British military rule in Massachusetts, made British officials immune to criminal prosecution in America, and required colonists to quarter British troops. The colonists subsequently called the first Continental Congress to consider a united American resistance to the British.

With the other colonies watching intently, Massachusetts led the resistance to the British, forming a shadow revolutionary government and establishing militias to resist the increasing British military presence across the colony. In April 1775, Thomas Gage, the British governor of Massachusetts, ordered British troops to march to Concord, Massachusetts, where a Patriot arsenal was known to be located. On April 19, 1775, the British regulars encountered a group of American militiamen at Lexington, and the first shots of the American Revolution were fired.

Initially, both the Americans and the British saw the conflict as a kind of civil war within the British Empire: To King George III it was a colonial rebellion, and to the Americans it was a struggle for their rights as British citizens. However, Parliament remained unwilling to negotiate with the American rebels and instead purchased German mercenaries to help the British army crush the rebellion. In response to Britain's continued opposition to reform, the Continental Congress began to pass measures abolishing British authority in the colonies.

In January 1776, Thomas Paine published Common Sense, an influential political pamphlet that convincingly argued for American independence and sold more than 500,000 copies in a few months. In the spring of 1776, support for independence swept the colonies, the Continental Congress called for states to form their own governments, and a five-man committee was assigned to draft a declaration.

The Declaration of Independence was largely the work of Virginian Thomas Jefferson. In justifying American independence, Jefferson drew generously from the political philosophy of John Locke, an advocate of natural rights, and from the work of other English theorists. The first section features the famous lines, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." The second part presents a long list of grievances that provided the rationale for rebellion.

On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress voted to approve a Virginia motion calling for separation from Britain. The dramatic words of this resolution were added to the closing of the Declaration of Independence. Two days later, on July 4, the declaration was formally adopted by 12 colonies after minor revision. New York approved it on July 19. On August 2, the declaration was signed.

The American War for Independence would last for five more years. Yet to come were the Patriot triumphs at Saratoga, the bitter winter at Valley Forge, the intervention of the French, and the final victory at Yorktown in 1781. In 1783, with the signing of the Treaty of Paris with Britain, the United States formally became a free and independent nation. 

[Image via nicedeb]

Betsy Ross: Businesswoman

In honor of the Fourth of July, here is a great article in Slate that demystifies the legend surrounding Betsy Ross. As any elementary school kid can tell you, Betsy Ross was commissioned to make an early American flag. However, much of her story has been falsified through the years. This article does a great job in revealing what a shrewd businesswoman Ross actually was.

[Image via Betsyrossfacts]