Please if you are a creationist, do not read any further. In no way do I want to encourage you to read The Accidental Species Misunderstandings Of Human Evolution by Henry Gee. If you found some measure of truth in the book it would alter your identity, and your relationships with fellow dimwits. Now for those who think of evolution as science you may find you are guilty of gaping holes in your understanding of the subject.

This is a high protein energy drink so I will not try to cover in three paragraphs what Gee covered in 203 pages, counting notes and index. Darwin never wrote of a tree of evolution. This commonplace metaphor continues because it is easy to use and old habits are hard to break. Gee quotes Darwin, “It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us.”

Darwin did not use the term evolution to describe what he saw and understood. Gee writes, “Darwin had a term for this process to which evolution was a mere analogy: he called it ‘descent with modification,’ a much less loaded term than ‘evolution.'”

Neither Darwin’s Origin of Species, nor Gee’s little field guide will ever be popular in Texas and those other Southern states where they believe in teaching ignorance early and often; however, a reader still struggling to put it all together will find Gee a good book to have. Charles Marlin


Beware Talking Shoes

purple pumps
To the loyal followers of Alexander McCall Smith’s The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Series, the latest addition, The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon, will be cause for concern. Most all of us were looking forward to Grace Makutsi’ pregnancy as her swansong at the detective agency. With Grace at home nursing young Itumelang Clovis Radiphuti, Precious Ramotswe would be free to pursue solving cases without having to constantly work around the obstreperous Grace; but no, what happened instead is that Precious felt lonely and sought out Grace at home. It would have been better if she had hired the often maligned Violet Sephotho as her temporary secretary, or if she had inquired of the Botswana Secretarial College for a less difficult, recent graduate, regardless of their score.

What do we have now? For starters, we have Grace and baby Clovis in the office. We have milktoast Phuti Radiphuti coming in for minor praise. We have Precious acknowledging the existence of Grace’s many talking shoes.

The final blow comes on the closing page of the book; but I am too alarmed to report it. Mark my prediction, there will be rough days ahead for the detective agency. Charles Marlin


Doris Kearns Goodwin has written a little book, well as little as the subject will allow, The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, And The Golden Age Of Journalism. Most readers will find about what they expected of Theodore Roosevelt, and probably much more than they expected of William Howard Taft. Without the mercurial magazine publisher, S. S. McClure, neither of the presidents would have made it to the White House, so this is rather like a three-volume set bound in one book cover. We all know she is good at this history stuff, so enough said of lady Goodwin.

Jump in time, but not in issues, location, or culprits, to the contemporary political smack down by Mark Leibovich, This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral–Plus Plenty of Valet Parking!–in America’s Gilded Capital. Corporate American continues to defecate on the American public, at the same time they corrupt the track and stable employees, dope their own horses, and bet wildly on races they know are fixed. Where is this? Why, I write of Washington Downs, the center of the District of Columbia, or as Leibovich tells us, the insiders call “This Town.”

Goodwin moves faster when she is on Roosevelt and McClure, and much slower on Taft. No one can blame her for that. Leibovich has no slow pacers in his book. If his subjects don’t keep up their frantic pace, they are dead, or might as well be dead, because it is snap, snap, snap from prologue to page 371.

In the middle of reading these two books, I received a nice mailing from Public Citizen outlining their fear for America resulting from the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling, which almost any university freshman can tell you was a dunderheaded ruling. Public Citizen wants an amendment to the Constitution they have named Democracy Is For People Amendment. I know they mean well; but that name alone should give a citizen reason to pause.

They claim their amendment would outlaw corporate spending on elections, overturn the Supreme Court ruling “money is speech,” and require PACs be composed of individuals. It is their Carry Nation solution to establishing a democracy of equality, justice, and public service, where so many others have failed. If you read one or both books, you will not sign their petition. If you have respect for history, you will not sign their petition.

Is there no hope? Yes, I think there is hope for incremental progress. I continue to read to prepare myself to recognize those increments when they occur. If I had no hope, I would stop reading, and watch Fox News.

Yes, I have mixed metaphors, first a race track and then a rat infested town, but Washington is flexible and can fit most derogatory comparisons. We are blessed. Charles Marlin

2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 8,800 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

The Big Bench

Here is a double-barreled shotgun on the United States Supreme Court. No, this is not a call to arms for Amendment 2 zealots, gun anarchists, and the tea bag deluded; they may all return to their reinforced and camouflaged bunkers. The shotgun is a metaphor for the focused scholarship of two books on different Supreme Court topics. The book subtitles are important: The Great Dissent: How Oliver Wendell Holmes Changed His Mind—and Changed the History of Free Speech in America, by Thomas Healy, a professor at Seton Hall Law School; and A Wild Justice: The Death And Resurrection Of Capital Punishment In America, by Evan J. Mandery, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Both are carefully researched, well written, and free of polemic. There seems to be nothing involving the Supreme Court that is too old or irrelevant to the current personalities on the Bench, their judicial thinking, and the issues that are never at rest in our court system.

If you think weighing the Bench down with incompetence, or perhaps more charitably with mediocrity, is a new problem, read on. Buy yourself both books, and marvel at how well we survive. Charles Marlin

SedgwickThe first time I ever paid serious attention to historical photographs was in an antique shop in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, in the early 1970s. At the time I was a new employee of the Penn State Libraries and rented rooms in the attic story of a Boalsburg home. The antique shop was heavily focused on what I now realize were high-end Civil War collectibles, which I neither collected nor could afford. There was, however, laid out on a counter an assortment of photo images from the Civil War era, both soldiers and civilians alike. These immediately hit a chord with me and I began a small collection, mainly focusing on the non-military images which were comparatively inexpensive. Over the years I added to my collection accumulated a lot of books on the history of photography, including several covering Mathew Brady and his career photographing luminaries of American history and especially soldiers and events of the Civil War. In the fall of 1997, I attended an impressive exhibition, Mathew Brady Portraits, Images as History, Photography as Art at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC. I must admit, with this background, when I was asked to read and comment on Robert Wilson, new book I feared the book would add little to what I already knew about Brady. Happily, I was completely wrong.

In the introduction Wilson points out that despite his skill in promoting himself and his work, “Brady is someone we cannot know in whole.” He did not keep a journal, detailed business records, or write or dictate memoirs and “we know almost nothing of his domestic life.” Wilson describes how “Brady was in and out of public view his whole working life and was often mentioned in the press,” and states the “hidden-in-sight aspect of Brady’s story has contributed to a number of myths and misinterpretations.”

In my opinion, in Mathew Brady: Portraits Of A Nation, Wilson succeeds in tracing the amazing arc of Brady’s career, making a strong case for him being “the single most important person in nineteenth century American photography.” His commentary on previous interpretations of Brady and commentary of the photographs themselves is fresh and spot on. Persons reading this book not familiar with the history of photography in nineteenth century America will find a fascinating story of how the new medium was accepted, embraced, and how it rapidly evolved and became a chief means of recording illustrious people and events. They should be impressed with Brady’s accomplishments as an artist, entrepreneur and preserver of history. And for those like myself who thought they already knew all there was to know about they will find their interest revived and stimulated.

I would have loved to have been present in Brady’s gallery as he greeted the famous of the day, and led them upstairs to his skylight studio. I’m a little less sure I would have enjoyed following him or his camera operators into the scenes of battle. Fortunately, Brady succeeded in his major enterprise of recording the great figures and events of his day and we can at least enter his world through his photography.

If you enjoy this book, you may also enjoy Mary Panzer’s well illustrated Mathew Brady And The Image Of History. A paperback edition of this work can be bought online for less than $20. Brady himself would be delighted to learn that thousands of Civil War images can be viewed online, most notably at the Library of Congress website. Enjoy.

The illustration for this review is a Carte de visite (cdv)* portrait of Union General John Sedgwick. Sedgwick was hit by three bullets at the Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862, in the leg, wrist, and shoulder. As evidenced by the bandaged hand, General Sedgwick sat for this portrait while still recovering from his wounds. On May 9, 1864, at the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, Sedgwick was shot below the left eye and killed by a Confederate sharpshooter moments after scolding his men for ducking enemy fire. He was the highest ranking Union officer killed in the Civil War. The imprint on the back of the cdv reads, “Published by E & H T Anthony, 501 Broadway, New York, From Photographic Negative in Brady’s National Portrait Gallery.”

*A carte de visite is a small paper photograph glued to a 2 1/2 by 4 inch card. A glass negative was exposed in the camera and, after development, could be used to create an unlimited number of paper images. First introduced and made popular in France in the 1850s, cdvs were produced by the thousands in the United States. Special albums were designed and would hold the studio portraits of family and friends as well as readily available portraits of the famous people of the day. Prior to the advent of the glass negative, the previous forms of photography, daguerreotype and ambrotype, could be reproduced only by taking single copy photos of an image. Greg Ramsey

For sixteen consecutive years the Clarion University Chapter of APSCURF, The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Retired Faculty, has awarded memorial scholarships through Clarion University Foundation honoring their deceased colleagues. The Memorial Resolution for 2013-14 is as follows.

Whereas, The Clarion University Chapter of APSCURF approved on October23, 2013, one annual memorial scholarship of $1,000;

Resolved, That the 2013-2014 scholarship be designated a memorial for our deceased colleagues

Donald Black 07/09/13 Music
Dempsey Middleton Dupree 10/28/12 Accountancy
Berlie Raymond Etzel Jr 04/10/13 Cheyney University Mathematic
Wanda A. Jetkiewicz 01/19/13 Biology
Melvin Mitchell 04/04/13 Mathematics
Eugene L. Rhoades 06/20/13 Mathematics
Ruth Suzanne Van Meter 05/31/13 History
Thomas T. Vernon 01/27/13 Economics