By the time Lincoln was back on the train returning to Washington, he was down with a high fever from Small Pox. I’m thinking the illness did not grip the president the second he stepped on the train. Already distraught over Mary falling off a horse-carriage, his son Tod taken grievously ill, and the old, tired war, the president was almost certainly already stricken when he delivered the address and perhaps even when he wrote it the day and evening before. I suspect that the Gettysburg Address would not have been only 272 words long had Lincoln been well.
I make it point of getting a flu shot every year now. Contracting the illness was particularly costly academically when I was in graduate school. Typically, I would ration any accumulated energy to going to class. Back in bed, I found writing to be quite arduous, and sustained reading to be almost as exhaustive. In terms of writing, editing particular words or sentences was easiest, for it takes far less energy to think than to write on and on.
I suspect that Lincoln wrote such a short speech because thinking up just the right word or phrase was easier than writing a lot. Small Pox is much more serious than the common cold. Lincoln was likely already exhausted and feeling bad on the train to Gettysburg and in the bedroom that night before the day of the address. Lincoln’s emphasis on diction rather than length was likely a function of the illness rather than a political calculus or ingenious breakthrough.
Lincoln’s address was so short that the photographer only caught the president as he was returning to his seat. In the photo, Lincoln’s head is down, perhaps because he was already not feeling well. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.
By the end of the twentieth century and into the next decades at least, U.S. presidents typically relied on a speech-writing staff to write many speeches, the vast majority of which being long. One effect of this trend is the shift in presidential leadership from broad principles to incremental legislative reform. In this context of technician presidents, the attendant speech-inflation resists any feasible restraint. Strangely, presidents overlook Lincoln’s short address as a precedent and act more like the famous orator who spoke for two hours just before Lincoln. In spite of the obvious lesson from Gettysburg, the notion that a very short speech can be more powerful than a long one has been lost on the American political elite.
The explanation may lie in Lincoln’s address being a function of him being ill rather than any political calculus. Even so, a discovery is a discovery, even if it comes about by accident. That the subsequent political success of the Gettysburg Address did not give rise to an ongoing practice in political rhetoric suggests that such a short, extremely thought-out speech runs against the current of politics at the moment and even out a year or two. Stature achieved by hard-thought reputational management literally by intensely investing in word choice, or diction, is of value nevertheless even within the space of a four-year term, especially if the incumbent has courageously taken on a few vested interests by moving society off a “sacred cow” or two. Even if neither statesmanship nor politics accounts for the severe brevity of Lincoln’s address, I contend that much political gold is waiting for the leader—whether in the public or private sector—who radically alters his or her rhetorical style and preparation.
. . . → Read More: The Gettysburg Address: Shaped by Small Pox?
A Climate Change made public in December, 2013 places particular emphasis on the impacts that can be expected to be rapid even as they are dramatic, even “species shattering.” As the report was being released, one such change was being felt in the Northern climes of North America as unusually frigid air direct from the Arctic shot south with unusual force and distance south. For the folks bundling up then, as well as during the previous month, climate change can indeed be touched.
“What the scientists found was surprising and unnerving. They had known from previous ice core and ocean sediment core data that Earth’s climate had fluctuated significantly in the past. But what astonished them was the rapidity with which these changes occurred. Ocean and lake sediment data from places such as California, Venezuela, and Antarctica have confirmed that these sudden climate changes affected not just Greenland, but the entire world. During the past 110,000 years, there have been at least 20 such abrupt climate changes. Only one period of stable climate has existed during the past 110,000 years—the 11,000 years of modern climate (the “Holocene” era). ‘Normal’ climate for Earth is the climate of sudden extreme jumps—like a light switch flicking on and off.”
By the end of 2013, scientists could report to the world that abrupt changes were already in progress. Among the rapid changes, according to Master’s report, are the rapid decline in Arctic ice and, seemingly further down the line, increasing extinction pressure on plants and animals finding themselves in a rapidly changing climate.A rapid change in a climate can outpace the number of generations needed to adapt via natural selection. When this happens, extinction may much closer than the horizon. Because more complex organisms tend to adapt slower, taking more generations, we humans could find our species facing extinction sooner than we may suppose. Given the 7 billion humans on Earth in 2013, such a sudden flip from genetic success to extinction would indeed be unexpected (and very ironic, especially given the scientific finding that the species has contributed to the global warming).
Where might we see an extreme change? If the predictive results of the computer models are any indication, Europeans can have some confidence, at least for the time being, that the Gulf Stream ocean current, which conveys relatively warm water from Florida to Europe (and then back again in a circuit), is not expected to shut down. Lest the champagne be popped too early, the report also states that “(s)tudies of North Atlantic Ocean sediments have revealed that the Meridional Overturning Circulation [which includes the Gulf Stream] has shut down many times in the past, and that many of these shut downs coincide with the abrupt climate change events noted in the Greenland ice cores.”If the climate change is to be as abrupt in the twenty-first century as scientists have come to believe, the positive correlation could prove the predictive models wrong. Because for the last 11,000 years the Earth’s climates have been stable, the advent of rapid, dramatic changes is “new territory” for all of us, including the scientists. Accordingly, we might try recalibrating what we think we know and how accurately we can make predictions.
The mix of rapid and gradual climatic changes underway simultaneously kicks around in an increasingly volatile polar jet stream, the fast moving river of air looping north and south as it travels east in the Northern Hemisphere. With arctic air (and water) warming more than the air further south, the decreased temperature differential weakens the jet stream. This means more volatility in the stream’s waves as well as an elongation in the parts of the waves running north-south. Paradoxically, stronger and slower-moving storms are more likely in longer, more volatile loops. Furthermore, frigid Arctic air in the winter can make it further south. In terms of the mix, as 2012 and 2013 already demonstrated, the increasing number and intensity of Arctic forays southward have been outpacing the general warming of the areas subject to the Arctic air in the winter. In Chicago, for example, the growing season increased just a couple of weeks as suggested by the zenith of fall colors shifting back a week. This change was both more gradual and less dramatic than the enhanced shots of Arctic air a month or two before January.
During the first week of December 2013, for example, a “bitter blast” of “frigid weather pushed southward far into the United States. “This [air] comes directly from the Arctic,” according to Jon Gottschalck (head of forecast operations at the Climate Prediction Center).Already a heavy dose or two of Arctic air had gripped many states in November. This is not to say that the two months were nothing but a succession of sub-freezing days; rather, within a slightly shorter winter, the elongated troughs in the jet stream made it more likely that the crisp Arctic air would be carried further southward and more often.
Where the colder-oriented change is both quicker and more dramatic than the more general warming, people may be lulled into supposing that global warming must be some hoax by loner scientists with a strange sense of humor. Adding to the confusion is the scientific realization that climate change does not necessarily happen gradually, on the watch of some distant generation.
4. Doyle Rice, “Almost Everyone to Feel Arctic’s Blast This Week,” USA Today, December 3, 2013.
. . . → Read More: Rapid Climate Change: Arctic Air Shooting South Amid Global Warming
So, we’re all sad to hear that Martin Bashir has resigned from MSNBC. Whatever will he do with himself? Well, here’s a handful of suggestions for the beleaguered Bashir for his future endeavors: 5. Al-Jazeera America – Would have suggested Current, but Al Gore had to sell that store. 4. Organizing For America – Sure, he’s crass, but that’s never . . . → Read More: Top 5 new jobs for Martin Bashir
This week we have been looking at the economics aspects of Pope Francis’s Evangelii Gaudium, here, and here, from an American perspective, and quite frankly they range from leftist to communist. I doubt that is exactly what he meant so maybe our reading is not quite what he meant. Because our culture doesn’t do economics or law […] . . . → Read More: Evangelii Gaudium and the Rule of Law
By: Amy Lutz All I want for Christmas is a little historical literacy for my fellow Millennials. Perhaps the White House could use a bit as well? Exhibit A: [...] . . . → Read More: “White House Youth” & the Dangers of Historical Illiteracy