Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A flurry of Anniversaries

By Gary Berg-Cross

This year seems filled with memorable anniversaries.  Some like the first anniversary of SuperStorm Sandy (Oct. 23rd) linger bitterly in recent memory as images of damaged neighborhoods and distraught lives.  A bit more distant is the 8th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina whose horrific damage now throttles the Philippines. Prohibition ended 80 years ago or so, something I guess we will see eventually on TV as part of Boardwalk Empire.

This month (Nov.), of course, marks the very big 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, who was shot and killed in Dallas, Texas on Nov. 22, 1963.
Forty years ago in the summer of 1973, the Senate Watergate Committee discovered that Trickster Nixon had a tape-recording system in his offices.  Many of the events come from the civil war era such as the anniversary of the Gettysburg address.

Earlier in the year we had a happier side of  Americana to celebrate like the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King's 'I have a dream' speech.
The setting for this was Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC and so it is perhaps fitting to thrown one anniversary onto the pile that involves the very progressive and first Republican President Lincoln and has a setting not far from his hulking memorial. It’s the 150th anniversary celebration the creation of the National Academy of Sciences. On March 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Act creating the National Academy of Sciences.  The act came from Congress with an impetus from American scientists including Coast Survey Alexander Dallas Bache (Ben Franklin’s great grandson!!), naturalist Louis Agassiz, Harvard professor of mathematics and astronomy Benjamin Peirce (father of that great philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce), astronomer Benjamin Gould, and Harvard professor of Greek and Latin Cornelius Felton.  Yes, Republicans once respected Science, reliable knowledge rather than ideology and its promotion in pre-Climate Change days. Indeed Congress was interested in good, scientific advice and saw the Academy as an independent and nonprofit institution charged with providing the government with the scientific advice that it needed. One of the new Academy's first tasks was to determine how magnetic compasses could be made to work properly on board the new "ironclad" battleships being developed for the Civil War.

There’s a year-long celebration, but a special event was held recently October 16-18 called Celebrating Service to the Nation. You can view the Sackler Colloquia's YouTube channel. According to the NAC site 9 videos are available, including the 2013 Sackler Lecture by historian Daniel J. Kevles (Yale University) on The National Academy in the American Democracy. The colloquium program, which lists the moderator and panelists for each of the eight sessions, is available online.

Remarks by President Obama on the NAC are also online.

For 150 years, you’ve strived to answer big questions, solve tough problems, not for yourselves but for the benefit of the nation.  And that legacy has endured from the Academy’s founding days.  And when you look at our history, you’ve stepped up at times of enormous need and, in some cases, great peril. “

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