Blog Posts

History of the Midnight Justices: Who Appoints the Supreme Court?

October 17, 2020 /
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Midnight Justices

1st Meeting of the Supreme Court


In the news recently, you’ve seen the topic of “court-packing” as it relates to the US Supreme Court. Is this a new thing, and what does it mean? Court packing involves one branch of the government proposing to change the courts’ structure by either expanding or decreasing the number of judges.

As discussed in today’s “court of public opinion,” it means manipulating the number of Supreme Court seats primarily to alter the Court’s ideological balance.

Here’s the History Behind It

Oliver Ellsworth

Oliver Ellsworth

In 1801, during the closing weeks of his presidency, the second President of the United States, John Adams, appointed a new chief justice to the Supreme Court replacing the ailing Chief Justice Oliver Ellsworth, who had announced his retirement. This appointment angered his then-rival and subsequent president, the Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson.

John Marshall

John Marshall

Adam’s Secretary of State John Marshall became the new Chief Justice. Jefferson despised Marshall, even though Marshall was his cousin; Jefferson demonized Marshall by calling him “anti-democratic.” Ironically, it would be Marshall who would swear in Jefferson at the Presidential inauguration.

But what could Jefferson do?


History of Mach 1: 73 Years Ago – Yeager Breaks the Sound Barrier

October 14, 2020 /
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Captain Chuck Yeager and the Bell X-1


On June 10, 1948, The U.S. Air Force confirmed that Capt. Chuck Yeager had repeatedly attained supersonic speeds in the Bell X-1.


But it was on October 14, 1947, that Chuck Yeager, now 97 and a Brigadier General (retired), actually broke the sound barrier for the first time.

I met him on his 50th anniversary of that earlier date in Washington DC, on October 14, 1997 — when he retired as a military consultant and once again broke the sound barrier, this time in an F-15.

It was on this occasion in 1997 that he was speaking at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. He told us about how he did it, in the room right next to the gallery where the Bell X-1 rocket plane is hung.  This is a man with “The Right Stuff.” Indeed you saw his exploits in the movie by that name.


History of Christopher Columbus

October 12, 2020 /
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The man who sailed from Spain to discover America was neither Spanish nor actually discovered America. But it was true that:

In fourteen hundred and ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue


He was actually Italian, born in 1451 to a wool merchant in Genoa, and first went to sea in his youth. He sailed to Iceland and Guinea for business and later spent some time as a privateer. It was in 1484, the year after Martin Luther was born in Germany, that Christopher Columbus presented to King John of Portugal the idea of an “Enterprise of the Indies” (no relation to Star Trek‘s starship) where he would sail west to the East Indies, thinking it shorter than the eastern spice trade route.

After unsuccessful appeals to the kings of Portugal, England, and France, he eventually moved to Spain whereupon his fourth request; he secured the patronage of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. You know them as the parents of Queen Katherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII of England, and grandparents of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor who presided over the trial of Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms. (more…)

History of October 10: 42 Day

October 10, 2020 /
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  • Question: What is the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything.

  • Answer: 42


Question: What does that mean?

I met Douglas Adams about 30 years ago when he spoke to Sun Microsystems, where I was working at the time. I have never heard anyone speak quite as fast as he did.


Douglas Adams was famous for creating The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a comedy science fiction series. First, it was available as a radio broadcast on BBC, but later adapted to several novels, a TV series, a feature film, and a video game.

His trilogy of 5 books, plus a 6th posthumously, features an episode where our protagonist posits a question to the computer “Deep Thought,” which spends 7.5 million years calculating. Such an incredibly simple and succinct answer to an amazingly profound question leaves one wondering what the answer “42” means. He gets the answer

“What do you get if you multiply six by nine?”
“Six by nine. Forty two.”
“That’s it. That’s all there is.”
“I always thought something was fundamentally wrong with the universe.”


History of October: the Pumpkin Spice Saga

October 1, 2020 /
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Pumpkin Spice Late


October, the tenth month of the year in both the older Julian and the more recent Gregorian calendar was the 8th month (Latin octo) in the old Roman calendar, but with the addition of January and February got bumped to #10.

This month is significant in that, according to the modern Gregorian calendar, it is the first full month that enjoys Pumpkin Spice Latte, initially promoted by St. Starbucks. But it has not always been so, and therein lies the saga.


This concoction of caffeinated seasoned squash with super-heated supersaturated calcium lactose was originally socialized during the ancient part of this millennium, around 2003 when it was introduced as a seasonal beverage. Its formulation has not always been the same, however. Starting in 2015 Starbucks added real pumpkin ingredients, a novel concept, and some artificial flavors and colors were eliminated. (more…)

History of Yom Kippur: Day of Atonement

September 27, 2020 /
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The Jewish High Holy Days begin with Rosh Hashana and continue until Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur, the “Day of Atonement,” or more correctly Yom ha-Kippurim (Leviticus 16), goes back to Jewish antiquity almost 4,000 years to the time of Moses. This most solemn occasion of the Jewish Festival cycle was the season for annual cleansing from sin, but in time its significance was deepened so that it acquired personal meaning and filled a personal need. It is observed on the 10th day of Tishri, the seventh month, and is the climax of the whole penitential season.

Yom Kippur in Biblical Times

Originally, on one day of the year, the high priest would enter into the innermost part of the Tabernacle (and later the Temple in Jerusalem). He would enter the Holy of Holies with the blood of the sacrifice for the sin of the people as a congregation, and sprinkle it upon the ‘mercy seat’ of the Ark of the Covenant (made famous by the movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark” :-). This would “cover” the sin of the people, as this is what the Aramaic (and Hebrew) root “kaphar” (atonement) means. With the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., later Rabbinic legislation adapted the old ritual to the synagogue. The blast of the ‘shofar’ the ritual ram’s horn trumpet, signify, among other things, the inarticulate cry of the soul to God.


History of the Aspens

September 24, 2020 /
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Every year about this time, Fall is ushered in by a flush of Aspen trees as their leaves turn to gold. Where I live in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, the particular aspen is called the “trembling” or quaking aspen. The broadleaf and the flattened stem cause them to flutter in the breeze. It is a type of poplar tree called populus tremuloides. As tourists visit New England in Autumn for Leaves and Lobsters, visitors come to Colorado to Leaf Peep as the aspens change to dramatic yellows, golds, and reds.

Aspen YellowThe change in color occurs first at the highest altitudes. For example, at 9,800 feet, the aspens “peaked” their color change and the leaves begin to fall this year earlier in September. Where I live at 6500 feet, the edges of the aspen leaves are just beginning to turn from green to gold. At this time of the year, the production of chlorophyll which gives the leaf its green pigment slows to a standstill, and the yellow, orange, and red pigments of carotenoids and anthocyanins show in the leaf.


History of Oktoberfest: Why is it in September?

September 23, 2020 /
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Why is the famous German beer festival held in September if it’s called Oktoberfest? Officially, the beer festival starts the third Saturday in September through early October for 16 to 18 days.

But not this year, Oktoberfest 2020 has been canceled due to to the Coronavirus pandemic. So let’s look back at Oktoberfest’s origin.


The first Oktoberfest was held in 1810 to celebrate the royal wedding in Munich — the capital of the old kingdom of Bavaria — between Ludwig, the Bavarian Crown Prince and Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen, princess of Saxe-Altenburg. The celebration began October 12 and lasted until October 17. In subsequent years the festivities were repeated, lengthened, and moved to September when the weather was better.

The festivities were originally held for the citizens on the fields in front to the gates of the city. The fields were renamed Theresienwiese for the princess but are often abbreviated to simply die Wiesn. Over the years the celebration grew to become a celebration of Bavarian agriculture, culture, and food.


History of Fall: What is the Autumnal Equinox?

September 22, 2020 /
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FallHISTORY OF THE FALL: What is the Autumnal Equinox?

This time of year represented New Year’s Day, according to the French Republican Calendar. However, since that calendar was only in use from 1793 to 1805, following the fall of the French monarchy in 1792, very few still celebrate this day.


Instead, September 22 or 23 marks the beginning of Fall or Autumn associated with the Equinox. This word is made up of two Latin root words aequus and nox meaning “equal night” referring to the fact that daylight and night time are equal in duration.


When the plane of the earth’s equator passes through the center of the Sun, metaphorically speaking, you have evennight, twice a year. This year, the astronomical autumnal equinox (Fall) occurs on September 22 at 13:31 UTC. This means Temps Universel Coordonne (or Coordinated Universal Time) if you speak French, roughly equivalent to Greenwich Mean Time if you’re British, Zulu Time if you’re a pilot. The Vernal Equinox occurs six months later.

Since each equinox occurs at the same time whether in the northern hemisphere or the southern hemisphere, though the seasons are reversed, it is becoming common to call the (northern) vernal equinox the March Equinox and the Autumnal Equinox the September Equinox, thereby avoiding that annoying Northern Hemisphere bias.

During the Equinox:

  • The Sun rises due east and sets due west
  • The Sun rises at about 6 AM and sets about 6 PM local time in most places on the planet except the poles
  • In other words, daytime and nighttime are about the same length, worldwide
  • The center of the visible Sun is exactly above the Equator
  • The edge between night and day (solar terminator) is perpendicular to the Equator, equally illuminating both the northern and southern hemispheres.