Thomas Paine memorialized

Also, check out my new Freethinkers blog!


This is the letterhead of the Boston Investigator, which was established in 1831. Abner Kneeland was its most famous, but not its only editor. I took this off a note dated 1899, from somebody (I couldn't read the signature) donating a copy of the very fist issue of the paper, to the Investigator's archive. The image seems to be taken from the lithograph by J.H. Bufford's sons, below.

The Investigator was apparently located in the Paine Memorial Building in Boston, which (according to King's Handbook of Boston, 1889) was "on Appleton Street, between Tremont and Berkeley Streets. It was built in commemoration of Thomas Paine. The famous San Francisco millionaire, James Lick, gave $18,000 towards the building-fund. The hall has seats for 800 persons." This entry is followed by: "Investigator Hall, in the Paine Memorial Building, has a seating capacity of 600."

The hall was dedicated in early 1875. In October 1877, the building's board of trustees approved the foreclosure sale of the building. Although they had appealed to their friends, they did not receive enough in contributions to meet their taxes and interest payments. "We have been able to hold the property up to the present time only because Mr. Mendum has generously seen fit to advance the money…" they noted. These events are mentioned gloatingly by Joseph Cook (1838-1901), as a preface to one of his Tremont Temple prayer meetings titled "The First Cause as Personal." Cook is known for his attempts to reconcile science with faith, and apparently Paine was an easy target for ridicule -- the transcript begins, "Thomas Paine has recently been sold at auction in Boston. [Laughter.] We are reminded anew that in many senses infidelity does not pay." Maybe not, but it apparently hadn't disappeared, either.

London Radicals

I’ve been looking over a lot of information I’ve accumulated over the last couple of years, about British radical Charles Bradlaugh. When CB was thrown out of his house onto the streets of East London at age 16, for admitting he was an atheist, he found shelter for a while with the Eliza Sharples Carlile, the widow of radical freethinker Richard Carlile, and her three children.

The Carliles are really an
interesting family, when you think about it. I’ll probably have more to say about them later -- in the meantime, here are a couple of portraits from the Bradlaugh papers. The first is Richard Carlile, the second is his daughter Hypatia.

Yes, CB kept a portrait of Hypatia, and it survived his death 50 years after he was in love with her on Warner Street in East London. So yeah, maybe there’s more to that story than his daughter (whom he named Hypatia and who wrote a 2-volume biography of CB) wanted to tell…

Bye, GKT!

Lucy wrote a final installment to the Green Keene Teens blog today, and I posted it on the site. Lost the original formatting, which I liked a lot. But I got the post up, and a link to the story the local Coop people wrote about GKT giving all their accumulated money to the Coop. They also donated a couple of cases of Greenciles recycled pencils to Keene High School. GKT was a pretty cool club.

Education and Apple

This is an interesting story, below. Also, I watched a Steve Jobs presentation at last June’s Worldwide Developer Conference, on Apple’s new iCloud. On that basis, I predict that my next iPod touch will have a 3G data plan. I also predict that my next Macbook Air will also have one. 3G data, always on, is necessary to make iCloud work. And iCloud is Steve Jobs’ last major product as leader of Apple, so there’s tremendous pressure to make it successful. And Apple is the biggest richest technology company in the world. So, done deal. Go ahead, AT&T, try to say no. Actually, why would they? This way, they get a data plan on EVERYTHING.

Will this hurt iPhone sales. Yep. I’ll buy the iPod and use Skype or FaceTime. So what? Smartphones were catching up. This changes the game again.

Will I buy another iPod or iPad? Unlikely. Will I buy another Air? Almost definitely. I talked with a Linux guy the other day, and it took me back. And when you step back from the Steve Jobs hoopla, a lot of the stuff Apple is making now is more toy than tool.

AND, I had an external drive fail and found out that (despite it being in the manual) Apple’s Time Machine did not back up my files. So how much faith do I have in Apple’s ability to get iCloud right? Not a lot. Add to that I had to BUY Keynote today for my Air, even though I HAVE it on my iMac at school…these guys have deliberately hosed everything up so they can SEEM to be offering a solution. Do I want to reward that? Nope. Don’t use iCloud: learn FTP.

iTunes U Hits 600 Million Downloads
Thursday September 8, 2011 8:06 am PDT by Eric Slivka
The Loop reports that Apple's iTunes U education portal has topped 600 million downloads since its official launch four years ago. The milestone reveals a significant acceleration in activity, with the service having passed 300 million downloads just a year ago.
According to Apple, iTunes U has had more than 600 million downloads since it first launched in 2007. What’s even more impressive is that they’ve had more than 300 million in the last year alone — a testament to the growing popularity of the service. Currently, iTunes U boasts more than 1,000 universities with active accounts. Schools contributing to the program range from big to small and include some of the world’s most prestigious institutions like Harvard, MIT, Cambridge, Oxford, University of Melbourne and University of Tokyo.
Open University and Stanford University top the list of most popular sources for iTunes U users, with each registering over 30 million downloads. iTunes U is available in 123 countries, with 30% of traffic reportedly coming from iOS devices.

One last rant about the academy

Why is it so hard to impress on academics that they need to articulate their value-add just like everybody else in the modern world? This is not a function of some nasty new “corporatization” of the sacred groves of academe. This is the way we account for what we TAKE from society, by pointing out what we give. But maybe it IS evidence that we don’t live in the rich, happy, clueless world of high empire, when there’s just so much FAT on the beast that everybody can grab as much as they can carry without giving back.

It’s as if some academics believe they can’t be accountable to the rabble (which in their minds includes administrators) because “they don’t understand the true nature and significance of my very important work.” Well, there are plenty of other fields like medicine and nuclear physics, where the people at work in them can’t necessarily explain what they’re doing on any given day to the people they meet in the grocery store aisles. But you don’t see them running around saying those other people should have no say in the debate over whether society builds another super-collider or research hospital. They realize that at a basic level, they’re involved in society. Why is this so hard for some professors?

The folks in the supermarket expect there’s going to be material that the academic works on, that has no relation to the everyday world. Anyone who does anything (plumbing, blacksmithing, newspaper writing, pickle manufacturing) has specialized knowledge that the rest of us in the grocery aisles aren’t going to care about. What we DO care about is whether at the end of the day those specialized skills and knowledge roll up into an activity that does something that benefits society.

And this may be where the wheels come off the car for some people. It should be possible for a historian to say “my work, even though it’s on a vague and remote topic like Byzantine textiles, contributes to the overall understanding of change and development that has brought about the modern world. And furthermore, I teach the world history survey, and my intimate knowledge of the western Mediterranean in the middle ages and Renaissance adds depth and texture to my students’ experience of the course that they wouldn’t get from someone else.” That seems like a perfectly reasonable justification, especially if the scholar’s passion for the subject finds its way into the survey lectures and discussions. So why can’t we say these things?

Do professors sometimes lose touch with these connections themselves? Is it difficult to juggle scholarship and academic writing with teaching and popular writing? Are these activities happening, for many professors, at different times in their careers? Do some people really prefer one over the other, and find themselves forced by the system to do both, when they’d really like to concentrate on what excites them?

Wait! Here we are again. Do academics really think they should be allowed to concentrate on what excites them? Does that sound too normal? Let’s try it this way: do truck drivers really think they should be allowed to carry freight only to cities they’d like to visit? Now does it sound odd?

This is one aspect of the current debate over the future of higher education. Academics need to think about (and then articulate) the social utility of the work they do. Not its immediate profitability — it’s perfectly fine to argue that there’s a different, nobler possibility for society and this is how I’m contributing to it. It’s not okay to say, shut up and give me my money because I’m a PhD or because I have tenure. Used to be, what you gave back was an issue of conscience. Now that the empire has ended and times are getting tough, it’s an issue for public debate.

The other aspect of the current debate has to do with the foxes guarding the chicken coops. The fact that there’s so much furious blogging underway that completely ignores what’s best for students proves that the interests of some professors are not the same as the interests of students. That’s why we have administrations, and that’s why we need them. Yeah, but we let Wall Street insiders run the SEC and Monsanto run the USDA, you say. So why pick on professors? Well, financial collapse and GMO factory farms seem like good reasons…