Friday, March 6, 2009

Mark Twain on the USPTO, circa 1867

February was a blur; I have three or four new posts in various stages of completion, so check back soon. In the meantime, I offer a quote from The Innocents Abroad, which I'm in the midst of reading. The remark was written by Twain (or Sam Clemens, as it were) while he was touring Rome and the Vatican on an expedition to the Mediterranean in 1867, and published two years later.

The popes have long been the patrons and preservers of art, just as our new, practical republic is the encourager and upholder of mechanics. In their Vatican is stored up all that is curious and beautiful in art; in our Patent Office is hoarded all that is curious or useful in mechanics. When a man invents a new style of horse collar or discovers a new and superior method of telegraphing, our government issues a patent to him that is worth a fortune; when a man digs up an ancient statue in Campagna, the Pope gives him a fortune in gold coin. We can make something of a guess at a man's character by the style of nose he carries on his face. The Vatican and the Patent Office are governmental noses, and they bear a deal of character about them.

Fascinating read, this book - so many deeply imbedded "modern" American personality quirks, assumptions, and unconscious habits are described in full. Try this: read Twain with tongue firmly in cheek. Watch 20 episodes of The Daily Show. Read more Twain. Read America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction. And then tell me if there isn't something to the notion that Jon Stewart is a reincarnation of Twain.

Photo of Mark Twain/Sam Clemens was taken by Matthew Brady in 1871.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Best Things in Life are Free, Part II

For science history enthusiasts, this is a banner weekend. Free events at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus promise to be fascinating glimpses into the lives of two of the most ground-breaking scientists in history, Galileo and Charles Darwin.

The first event is tonight, Friday February 6, at 7:30 pm. A concert by the musical ensemble Galileo's Daughters (Sarah Pillow - soprano, Mary Anne Ballard - viola da gamba, with Ronn McFarlane - lute as Vincenzio Galilei) will present "Perpetual Motion: Revolutions in 17th Century Science and Music". This multimedia performance will include music played on period instruments along with remarks by Dava Sobel, author of Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love. Sobel's book is an account of Galileo's relationship with his eldest daughter, a cloistered nun. Over 100 surviving letters between them provide incredible insight into Galileo's scientific struggles, his close relationship with his daughter, and his complex relationship with the Catholic Church. He was ultimately convicted by the Inquisition for maintaining the heretical belief that the earth revolved around the sun. The concert will be held in the Margaret H’Doubler Performance Space of Lathrop Hall.

And on Saturday, an all-day event free to the public will celebrate the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin, and the 150th anniversary of the publication of "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection", the first-published account of the theory of evolution. Darwin Day will include talks by Sean Carroll, a UW-Madison professor of Genetics who has written several popular books on evolutionary development; Patricia McConnell, an internationally-known expert on animal behavior; and other lectures, presentations, a workshop for teachers, and a panel discussion on science and the media. Darwin Day will be held from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Microbial Sciences building at the corner of Linden Drive and Babcock Street.

Labels: , ,