Road warrior Paul Revere, the concept of zero, and the odd beginning of the book of world records: newsletter, August 17, 2018

August 20, 2018 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: newsletter.

This newsletter was emailed to everyone on Jim’s email list (3,166) on August 3, 2018

Still thinking about the American Road this week, I took a deep dive into history and found a perfect and obvious connection: Paul Revere. Of course. See below. People of a certain age will have memorized all or most of the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem that begins, “Listen, my children, and you shall hear/ Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere . . . ” I’ll have more to say about the poem soon.

Woodworking: I have been putting this off for a couple of weeks but am now reading to announce that I have made two more dulcimers since the beginning of the summer and am working on a third. I’ll have pictures next week.

Newsletter insider information: Last week’s newsletter went out to 3,200 people and was opened by more than 39 percent of them. An open rate of more than 25 percent for a newsletter of this type is thought to be very good, I’m told. So, thanks — thanks for opening this thing and giving it a bit of time and thanks particularly for those of you who write back. That’s a joy.

I hope you’ve had a wonderful week and are looking forward to a great weekend.

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Paul Revere, road warrior and speed king

File this under The American Road, History Division.

Paul Revere, we all know, is famous for riding through the night of April 18-19, 1775, spreading the alarm “to every Middlesex village and farm,” letting everyone know that the British Army, too, was hitting the road, and things were about to turn nasty. (More on that in a later post.)

But that’s not the only important ride he ever took — not by a long shot.

David Hackett Fischer, a historian of the first order, in his book Paul Revere’s Ride, points out that Revere mounted up several times during the pre-Revolutionary War period to deliver important information. He could be called, according to Fischer, an American Mercury, but as a man intimately involved in the Patriot circles of Boston and Massachusetts in the 1770s, Revere was more than just a messenger. He was a representative to what was happening in that colony.

One of Revere’s most important rides occurred in September 1774, when he rode from Boston to Philadelphia, a distance of 350 difficult miles, in just five days.

Boston and the colony of Massachusetts had been at the forefront of anti-British activity and sentiment. Boston was also the focal point of British authority in the colonies. General Thomas Gage, commander of the British Army in America was headquartered in Boston. So, throughout the other colonies, those who sympathized with those feelings eagerly awaited news from there.

The news was worth waiting for. By the summer of 1774, colonists had actively resisted (though not always effectively) a number of attempts by Parliament to levy taxes on the colonies, and those disputes had resulted in the Boston Tea Party, a piece of political theater that captured the imagination of the British and colonial public. Parliament responded to Boston impudence with a series of harsh measures that became known in America as the Intolerable Acts. That summer, representatives from towns in Suffolk County, Massachusetts, met and passed a set of resolutions vowing to resist the enforcement of the Intolerable Acts by any means possible. These resolutions were known as the Suffolk Resolves.

Once they were passed, news about them needed to be sent to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia as quickly as possible. That’s when Paul Revere became America’s most important road warrior.

The day after Revere arrived in Philadelphia, the Congress passed a resolution strongly supporting the Suffolk Resolves. It was a significant step toward the eventual separation from Great Britain.

Revere got back on his horse, and five days later, he was back in Massachusetts with the new from Congress. It was news that would encourage the Patriots in Massachusetts to maintain their resistance, which would lead to the confrontation at Lexington and Concord the next spring.

Revere stayed on the road for a good part of the fall with trips to New York and back to Philadelphia. His travels on the roads of America — which were anything but ideal — did much to unite the colonies against their British occupiers.


European game birds, settling arguments, and the world’s best-selling copyrighted book

Well, what do you think? Does a grouse fly faster than a golden plover?

They’re both game birds, popular with hunters in Europe, and in 1950 they were the subject of this debate — or rather, argument — that Sir Hugh Beaver was having with his hunting buddies. Beaver was the managing director of Guinness Brewery.

How do you settle a debate — argument — like that? You look it up, of course.

Only, in 1950, there was nowhere to look it up. No quick reference could settle the question.

So Beaver, frustrated, turned his frustration into an opportunity. Thus the idea was born: the Guinness Book of World Records. Debates — arguments — like the one he had with his hunting buddies must be happening all over the place, and the world needed an authoritative source to settle such questions.

At the suggestion of an employee a few years later, the Guinness company turned to Ross and Norris McWhirter, twin brothers who ran an agency that supplied British newspapers with facts and figures, and asked them to produce a book of records and interesting facts. The twins wrote night and day for 13 weeks and had a manuscript which was first published in 1955. Six months later, it was Britain’s best selling book.

In 1974, the book listed itself as a world record holder: It was the best selling copyrighted book ever at nearly 24 million copies. Since then, the number of copies sold has topped 100 million.

Source: Our history | Guinness World Records

Source: Guinness Book Is Up for Sale, Insiders Say – The New York Times


Giveaways and offers

The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.”


Zero and the concept of nothingness: a gift from India

Non-mathematicians, such as myself (and maybe you), may have thought that zero was a logical extension of any numerical system, but that isn’t so. Mathematics is an all-too-human construct. And the concept of zero — that is, nothing — had to be constructed.

It turns out that this construction comes from India, according to Mariellen Ward, writing for the travel section of the BBC website.

The invention of zero was a hugely significant mathematical development, one that is fundamental to calculus, which made physics, engineering and much of modern technology possible. Source: BBC – Travel – India’s impressive concept about nothing

If you enjoy thinking about things you’ve never thought about — things you didn’t even know you could think about — this is a highly interesting and readable article. Like this bit:

But equally interesting are the reasons as to why the zero wasn’t developed elsewhere [other than India]. One theory is that some cultures had a negative view of the concept of nothingness. For example, there was a time in the early days of Christianity in Europe when religious leaders banned the use of zero because they felt that, since God is in everything, a symbol that represented nothing must be satanic.

Like some of our math teachers, as friends of mine might claim.


The future of English in the U.S.

A couple of weeks ago, I recommended an article where the writer claimed the English language was a “bully,” elbowing out other languages and dialects. While I don’t agree with the descriptor “bully,” I did think the writer made some interesting points and had a good take on the issue.

Here’s another article about the position of English in the world — and what effect it has on people (like me) who speak only English. Writing Bryon Lufkin, writing for the BBC website says:

. . . over the last century, the English language has been the currency of global trade and communications. A 2013 Harvard University report found that English skills and better income go hand-in-hand, and that they lead to a better quality of life. Adults and children all over the world spend years, and invest a lot of money, in studying English as a second language.

The problem for those of us who speak English from the cradle is that we forget how easy we have it. Source: BBC – Capital – What is the future of English in the US?

While most Americans have never felt a need to learn another language, the future may see something differed, Lufkin argues. The changing demographics of America will probably mean that there’s an economic and cultural advantage to those who have at least a passable understanding of something other than English.

Some companies have ramped up the search more than others – a full third of job openings posted by Bank of America in 2015, for example, were for bilingual workers who could speak languages like Spanish, Mandarin and Arabic. The report noted that the fastest growth in bilingual listings were for “high prestige jobs” like financial managers, editors and industrial engineers.

Lufkin makes some other valid points that are worth considering.



Kennedy, Poe and all that
From my good friend Dan C. come this about Poe-related birds:
In the mid-1990s, I owned a semi-pro football team, The Peninsula Poseidons in Newport News, VA. One of the teams in our intrastate rivalry in our league was The Richmond Ravens. Years after Art Modell snuck the Colts out of Baltimore in the dark of night The Baltimore Ravens were formed. Those that know much about Ornithology will tell you that Ravens are not particularly relevant birds to those areas as the Orioles are to Baltimore, Cardinals are to Saint Louis, or the Seahawks are to Seattle. So, where does the name come from that joins two cities and that most fans would not have a clue? I could give you a clue fairly soon … or Nevermore … 
Army Sergeant Major Edgar Allen Poe was a West Point Cadet. One reason he went to West Point was to try and evade a debt. He had promised to pay another soldier to take a posting he had been given. Only he did not have the money to pay and he was, in essence, on the run. During his Plebe (Freshman) year he missed his mother so much, he tried to resign from the Academy but he had been such an exemplary soldier and Cadet they would not accept it. He also tried to get his step-father to help him get out but the man was happy that Poe was not around, so he offered no help and he stopped sending money, which drove Poe further into despair and increased his desire to leave. The often discounted rumor is that in order to leave he came up with a way to get out. The announced Uniform of the Day was Crossed Pistol Belts Under Arms. This means wearing the Full-Dress Gray Uniform with White Crossed Belts (and a small black pouch on the back), with your Rifle. It is said that he arrived at the evening formation with the mentioned Crossed Pistol Belts, sans the Full-Dress Gray Uniform. 
The cost of a lawyer
Also from Dan C.:
We have a system in place now that allows those that cannot afford a lawyer to have one appointed for them. I did find out something interesting about that “one will be appointed for you” with my first wife, at least in Virginia. If after providing proof you could not afford a lawyer, the State would provide one for you and if you were found “not guilty” you did not have to pay for the attorney. If you were found “guilty” you had to pay the state back for the money they paid for your court-appointed attorney.

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Paul Revere


If you want to watch an interesting watercolorist on YouTube, check out Gary Tucker’s videos. The videos are in the 8-15-minute range, and while the paintings take longer than that, he speeds up the painting and narrates with a voice-over. He explains what he does in a gentle, relaxed style that is fun and informative. I find that he’s influencing my approach, as evidenced by the watercolor above.

Best quote of the week:

Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed. Herman Melville, novelist and poet (1819-1891) 


Helping those in need

This is my weekly reminder to all of us (especially me) that there are many people who need our help. It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here). When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief ( my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.


Jim Stovall

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: The timely deaths of Jane Marple and Hercule Poirot; Sargent, the combat artist; a forgotten American we should remember: newsletter, Aug. 10, 2018




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