News Flash: Nothing. New. Under. Sun

We are bombarded every day in the news with scandals, calamities, wars, and impending doom and gloom. If this one thing were done (or not done) then everything would be all right (or disastrous) for the poor, the rich, the middle class, the environment, the economy, or this poor little kitten.


Young Cat (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported – Maxo)

It even seems scheduled. The news apparatus can’t mention health insurance cancellations until there’s a groundswell (I noted it weeks earlier when I received my cancellation through the mail). And you get the impression that it’s all new, it’s never happened before, and no one knows what to do.

This guy by the name of Solomon seemed to have a clue. He said:

What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun. [Ecclesiastes 1:9, ESV]

But, if it’s understood, then why do we cast about, wring our hands anxiously, and worry needlessly? And why do those, who purport to be leaders, do the same?

Recently, I ran across some interesting precursors to some things we take for granted. These might seem to be mundane things, but they are informative none-the-less. And they point out some important ideas to which we might pay attention.

Everyone knows that Copernicus published his De revolutionibus orbium coelestium in 1543, the year he died. In it, he maintained that the Earth orbited the sun and not vice versa. However, Michelle Thaller points out that Aristarchus of Samos knew the rough sizes of the Earth, Moon and Sun. He knew the Sun was much larger than the Earth over two thousand years ago. If you check on Aristarchus (310 BC – ca. 230 BC) you find he propounded heliocentricity. You also find Aristarchus’s estimate for the length of a month had a relative accuracy of 1 part in millions (off by a fraction of a second).

Aristarchus's 3rd century BC calculations on t...

Aristarchus’s 3rd century BC calculations on the relative sizes of the Earth, Sun and Moon, from a 10th century AD Greek copy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

His estimate agreed with the Babylonian value to 1 part in tens of millions, decades before Babylon is known to have used it. This suggests that one party obtained it from the other or from a common source. His month estimate was contained in a calculation of the great year. The great year is associated with the precession of the equinoxes and takes about 25,800 years to complete.

This knowledge of precession was likely passed down to Hipparchus (c. 190 BC – c. 120 BC) and Ptolemy (c. AD 90 – c. AD 168). Hipparchus originated one of the models embodied by the Antikythera Mechanism. The knowledge likely originated from the ancient Egyptians who rebuilt a key temple in 3200 BC, 1600 BC and 100 BC to realign it with ‘fixed” stars. Aristarchus and Hipparchus were said to have visited Alexandria in Egypt, famed for its library of ancient texts (organized between the reign of Ptolemy I Soter (c.367 BC—c.283 BC) or his son Ptolemy II (283–246 BC)). Turns out Ptolemy lived there while some of the library collection remained unharmed.

As a second example, we think the “robber barons” of our day are bad. However, Fisk and Gould were the ones who “re-coined” the name in the eighteen hundreds. Turns out that Fisk and Gould used undue influence and an inside government man to game the gold market, corner it, and make obscene profits. President Grant and his treasury secretary, Boutwell, got wind of the scheme and dumped government gold on the market drastically lowering the artificially inflated price.

Only shady lawyers and a corrupt state judiciary let Fisk and Gould go. The damage to commodities, brokers, and the stock market took months to sort out. Some brokerages went bankrupt. Neither lived very well after their heydays. Fisk died as a result of a gunshot wound on January 7, 1872 in New York City’s Grand Central Hotel after refusing to pay extortion money to cover-up alleged illegal doings. Gould died of tuberculosis on December 2, 1892, roughly twenty years later.

Finally, product development at Apple is not what it seemed. Every technique was borrowed from somewhere else. So contends this videographer. Insanely great, wouldn’t you say?

So what do we make of it all? Everyone borrows, no one is original, and doing the right thing is better than doing evil. The man behind the curtain will be found out. If we search for tried and true solutions, we are certain to find them. Honesty and hard work are ultimately satisfying even if you look like a chump to those around you.

Wait until January 1, 2014 and folks are still without coverage. Worse still, when the corporate exemptions run out and those folk’s health insurance changes. What hollering we’ll hear then. Why doesn’t someone do the right thing and get it fixed now. The answers are out there.

2 thoughts on “News Flash: Nothing. New. Under. Sun

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