This isn't a political site, but it's not apolitical. In the wake of the Charleston shootings, with all the discussion of the Confederate battle flag that mysteriously continues to fly over the South Carolina state house, I wanted to posit the following theoretical conversation, which sums up my experience (here represented by a Reasonable Person) interacting with Serious Southerners Who Just Want To Honor Their Heritage:
SS: The Confederate flag isn't racist, it's about states' rights!
RP: States' rights to...enable slavery.
SS: Well, yeah, originally, but now it's just showing our heritage.
RP: Heritage of embracing slavery.
SS: Not just that, our heritage of being independent and free!
RP: So you still want to secede from the United States?
SS: No, we want to show we're independent and willing to stand up for our freedoms.
RP: By flying the flag of a country that specifically called for enslavement of blacks. Who weren't free. Or independent.
SS: But we South Carolinians are free and independent. And for the record, we're not racist anymore.
RP: Which you show by putting up the flag of a country that specifically called for the enslavement of blacks.
SS: But that flag isn't racist, it's heritage!
RP: Sure, it's heritage. But it's racist. It's a heritage of racism.
SS: Look, that was 150 years ago. We've moved on. It means something different today.
RP: Except for racists who proudly display the flag as a symbol of their racism.
SS: Look, we're not racist anymore.
RP: So you'd be fine with putting up some other symbol to celebrate the history of South Carolina, like the original Moultrie Flag, or a flag that just has the state seal or coat of arms.
SS: That doesn't represent us like the old Confederate flag.
RP: The Confederate battle flag. The one that stood for the whole Confederacy fighting for slavery.
SS: It wasn't about slavery!
RP: So when the founding document of the Confederacy says, "No law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed", that doesn't mean anything about slavery? And the Cornerstone Speech was just a slip of the tongue.
SS: That's not why they went to war. They went to war because of the abuses of the federal government.
RP: Abuses like enacting laws that limit or eliminate slavery?
SS: Yeah, at the time, those were abuses.
RP: So you reject the federal government's ability to do that today?
SS: No, we embrace states' rights with a reasonable federal government.
RP: Meaning that you think states should have the right to secede from the union and enact any law they want?
SS: Well, maybe. I mean, the federal government shouldn't stop people who want to do something democratically.
RP: Like have slaves?
SS: No, not like that. That's evil and immoral.
RP: But it was democratic. And it might be democratic in the future. Who stops slavery in that case?
SS: Nobody, I guess. But we would never do that. We're not racist. And slavery is un-Constitutional.
RP: It is federally, but it wasn't in South Carolina. And it wasn't in the Confederacy. So flying the flag allies you with the Confederacy, which embraced slavery.
SS: No, we ally with states' rights.
RP: By celebrating the Confederacy's right to have whites vote that blacks can be held as slaves.
SS: They would have abolished slavery eventually. They just didn't want the North telling them they had to do it.
RP: So the war was over being told what to do?
RP: Like being told that slavery was morally offensive?
SS: Well, yeah. It was up to them to decide that.
RP: Democratically. As whites. Because blacks were slaves and didn't count.
SS: Er. Yes. Sure.
RP: South Carolina said this when it seceded: "[The] ends for which [the federal] Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assumed the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions [i.e. slavery]; and have denied the rights of property [i.e. slaves] established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to enjoin the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection." You can only assume the slaves agreed with this sentiment.
SS: No, but...well, it was part of the times.
RP: So in summary, you think a flag celebrating the Confederacy should stay because the history of South Carolina includes (1) anti-U.S. sentiments; (2) slavery and enduring racism; and (3) democracy by white people.
SS: Wow, you make it sound so racist.
RP: It is. It's racist. There is nothing not racist about it. That history is entirely racist, entirely anti-black, entirely about slavery and oppression of blacks and securing the desires of white people at the expense of blacks. It's practically the definition of racism. And the only people who embrace it today are people who are either willfully ignorant of history -- because you really have to want to misunderstand that part of the Civil War -- or they're flat-out racists.
In olden times, "Natural Sciences" meant the study of pretty much everything. And it showed: being a scientist often meant doing the background work and experimentation spanning what we now call "science", from chemistry to biology to physics. Today's scientific professionals are almost always exclusive to a single field.
That's what makes it so refreshing to think of the crossovers that used to be so common. Without further ado, then, I present...
The List of Elements Named after Astronomical Objects
Helium (Atomic Number 2) - Found based on solar spectral emissions, this element is named after -- hold your breath and wait for it -- the sun.
Selenium (34) - Meaning "moon"; named because of its similarity to tellurium (from "Earth": see below). Those versed in the periodic table will note that selenium falls immediately above her mother tellurium, while those versed in history will note that tellurium was discovered about 35 years earlier. It just made sense.
Palladium (46) - The asteroid Pallas was sighted in 1802. It was the second asteroid ever found, and at just over 500 km in diameter, it's third largest in the inner solar system, after Ceres and Vesta (the two visited by the Dawn spacecraft). Two months after Pallas was identified, William Wollaston used that discovery to coin the element name palladium.
Tellurium (52) - "Tellus" is the Roman name for Earth, which gave us telluride and tellurium, back in the 1780s.
Cerium (58) - Ceres is #1 in the List of Minor Planets. Discovered in 1801 by Giuseppi Piazzi, it also happens to be the only dwarf planet in the inner solar system. Ceres took its name from the god of agriculture, then gave its name to cerium, which was discovered 2 years later (while Ceres was considered a full-fledged planet; this was in the days before the word "asteroid" or term "dwarf planet" had been thought up). Interestingly, Ceres also led to noted self-promoting mathematician/physicist Carl Friedrich Gauss to do some serious work on the orbits of celestial bodies.
Mercury (80) - Named after the planet. Next! No, really, it might not be named after the planet, but rather the Roman god; the ordering is unclear. Mercury -- like Mercury -- has a history stretching back thousands of years, and its chemical symbol (Hg) bespeaks its unusual liquid-at-room-temperature nature (hydragyrum -- "water-silver"). The association with the planet is strong enough that Mercury's planetary symbol has frequently been used to denote mercury the element.
Uranium (92) - Identified (in 1789) 8 years after the discovery of Uranus, this was directly taken from the planet name. Uranus, of course, was the first night sky object that was identified as a planet rather than a star using systematic observation. While it's visible to the naked eye -- and therefore was visible to ancient astronomers -- its dimness and slow motion made it appear more stellar. Continuing with the firsts, then, it was a fine candidate to kick off the name-stuff-after-astronomical-discoveries trend that continued into the 19th century.
Neptunium (93) - Neptune was discovered in 1846, but neptunium wasn't fully isolated until the 1930s and 1940s. Neptunium follows uranium on the periodic table, just as Neptune follows Uranus -- hence the name. Neptunium was more than just a namesake, though, as both share a theory-into-practice history. A large planet perturbing the orbit of Uranus was predicted by Alexis Bouvard based on observed irregularities in the Uranian orbit; mathematician Urban LaVerrier calculated the likely location of the planet, and Johann Galle confirmed the existence with a telescope. The transuranic elements, meanwhile, were predicted to exist based purely on the periodic table, and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory was busily seeking them out. Neptunium was the first discovered, and it set the stage for...
Plutonium (94) - In 1940, it was isolated by a team at the University of California, Berkeley. In the spirit of the neptunium turn, the team used Pluto, the next planet (at the time; as I'm sure you know, it's now considered a dwarf planet, and it doesn't seem to be the largest dwarf planet in the solar system), as the basis for this name. The elemental code "Pu" is, apparently, a long-running joke that the team slipped in. Pluto, of course, was named by a British girl; Disney later (likely) took it for the well-known animated dog 10 years before plutonium was isolated. So in a sense, plutonium -- used in nuclear weapons worldwide -- is named after a Disney character. (At least let that bring you a smile if the bombs start flying.)
The List of Not Quites
Elements typically get to be named by their discoverers. In some cases, discoveries are made independently, or someone thinks they've found an element but it's later shown not to be the case. The following were proposed element names that, for one reason or another, just didn't make the cut.
Vestium (not quite 44) - The name chosen by a Polish chemist for ruthenium, but Jedrzej (Andrei) Sniadecki couldn't reproduce his own work, and a later analysis suggests that it did not actually isolate ruthenium anyway. But asteroid Vesta (not quite a dwarf planet due to its mass and shape) had just been discovered, and Sniadecki was jumping on the chance to name his element after that body.
Aldebaranium (not quite 70) - Carl Auer von Welsbach had the star Aldebaran in mind when he proposed this in place of ytterbium -- at the time proposed to be named neoyttrbium. Aldebaran, of course, is the bright star near the "V" in Taurus. Welsbach did get his way when he named both praseodymium and neodymium.
Cassiopium (not quite 71) - Carl Auer von Welsbach strikes again, this time proposing to name something after the constellation Cassiopeia. Element 71 is known as lutetium, after the location where it was found (Lutetia, Sweden). Just so you know, you are likely to still be using a Welsbach flint strike mineral in your cigarette lighter.
It's Thursday morning, and I'm getting ready for yet another trip out of town. Last weekend, it was an overnight in Baltimore for a wedding; this weekend, we're across the country to San Francisco for another wedding.
Just yesterday, my wife asked about the prospect of taking our kids north to visit relatives sometime in November. "Fine with me," I told her, and I'm pretty sure that trip will be booked today. Come winter break, we're off to a two-week beach vacation in the Caribbean, but before then there will probably be at least one if not several excursions that take us from home overnight.
And we're already planning next year's trips. Our vacation time will be depleted early in the year, so maybe a visit to Washington will have to wait until summer (better weather anyway). Or maybe we'll head back to Europe for Spring Break and go into PTO deficit. No matter what, there will be holidays, and where there are holidays, there seems to be holiday travel.
I don't remember it being like this when I was young. Growing up, we thought it was a very long drive to the next town over -- the half hour in the car seemed extreme then, but it's about 2/3 of my normal one-way commuter drive time these days -- and would make a more significant trip to another major city (an hour or so to Kitsap, almost 3 to Seattle) maybe 4 times a year.
Our big drive, of course, happened during the summer, when we would all pile in the car for a multi-day tour of the US, followed by weeks away from home and a different multi-day tour to get home. That trip was always a unified whole, though, not some casual weekend excursion. And our purpose was always visiting: grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, old friends of my parents. This was how you saw people.
Back then, there wasn't a press to get out of town each three-day weekend, and we certainly didn't make last-minute plans with the expectation that we could Priceline a hotel somewhere. Getting a room meant calling around, and since that almost always meant long distance phone charges, you really wanted to know you were going. Not so today: Just book lodging from the road, an experience that 25 years ago would have required advanced technology to coordinate, a ready pile of cash to pay for the room, and a checkbook to handle the resultant (paper-issue) bill from the satellite phone provider.
Our kids, though, are growing up in a vastly larger universe. My oldest daughter thinks nothing of seeing the grandparents. She turns on the computer, pulls up Skype, and calls any night she wants. She considers using a tube hurtling through the sky at 350 mph a totally regular way to get to them as well, though it's accompanied by the annoying rules that force her to put her favorite stuffed dog (cunningly named "Puppy") through the x-ray machine.
The first flight I remember happened when I was about 12. We flew one year to visit the grandparents, and I was thrilled at the feeling of weightlessness, the feeling of motion-without-motion. You could look down at the plains and see vast swaths of ground, not the confined spaces shown through the glass of a car windshield. The horizon took just as long to reach, but instead of being 40 miles away, it was 100 or more. Terrain slid past at a stately pace marked in tens of minutes, but that terrain represented hours of driving.
I was pulled into a new world that day, a world I wanted to experience not as a passenger but as a pilot making my own way over that landscape. Strangely, flying brought me full circle, back to cycling: throughout my now-on-hiatus flying career, I rode to the airport, like a kid going plane-watching. But I would arrive, clean up as best I could, delve into books on flying, and clamber into a plane to cruise at 100 mph around the local mountains, over the ocean, across the plains, wherever I could get those wings to take me.
My early flight photos are a history of getting in shape, where I went from overweight pubescent to slender high school senior thanks in large part to the bike. Airplanes renewed my focus: learning to fly safely and smartly took discipline, attention to detail, careful examination of every part of the plane and flight plan. The bike may have been a vehicle, but it also freed me, both before and after those flights. I would ride to the airport alone and ride home alone, often making detours -- sometimes for an hour or more.
One favorite detour back home brought me to the opposite end of the runway from the FBO, I would take the long way to get there, slide off on the Civil Air Patrol's dirt road, and make my way to the west end, where I could sit in relative quiet and think through life, or maybe just take it all in. The 20-minute ride home never seemed like much, just a short jaunt back to load up on fuel and get ready for the next few hours, whatever they might hold.
Strangely, looking back, I can't even remember when I did homework, though I clearly did it. I can't remember sitting alone and struggling through complex math problems, but it certainly happened. Then, as today, I probably solved most of my problems while riding somewhere, or running somewhere, or flying somewhere.
But none of that was "casual". It always seemed fast in some sense, either fast for being self-propelled or fast for being self-controlled, but never thrown-together with the destination the ultimate goal. That was the appeal. In the end, the trip itself was a potent stimulant.
We here at Mash|Spin are keen on history. This open discussion is calling for your favorite historically-themed podcast. Traits we love: good presentation, compelling content, and unique perspectives. Note that "history" can range from the grand (History of the Roman Empire) to the unusual (The Memory Palace). The podcast may be one that already ran its course or continues to produce.
We don't care, as long as you can point our waiting ears to it.
Mash out. Spin on.