“Out of Many, One”: Citizenship and the Constitution

September 17, 2014

September 17 is Constitution Day, thanks to the efforts of the late Senator Robert C. Byrd, who always carried a copy with him on and off the floor of the Senate. Last year, I blogged about the various editions of the Constitution available as Government publications. This time around, I’ve been thumbing through another publication that helps to put the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and a variety of other documents, speeches, and even songs and poetry, into the bigger picture of what it means to be – or become – an American citizen.

The Citizen’s Almanac: Fundamental Documents, Symbols, and Anthems of the United States, a handsome and very useful little book from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services correctly states that “both native-born and naturalized citizens will find important information on the rights and responsibilities associated with United States citizenship.” It’s an extremely useful collection of songs (The Star Spangled Banner, America the Beautiful, God Bless America), poems (The Concord Hymn, I Hear America Singing, The New Colossus), symbols (the Great Seal of the United States, including an explanation of that impressive but somewhat mystifying “pyramid with an eye in it” device), complete texts or extracts from notable American speeches (the Gettysburg Address, John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream, Ronald Reagan’s Remarks at the Brandenburg Gate), notable Supreme Court decisions (Marbury v Madison, Brown v Board of Education) and much more.

Although the complete text of the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and other documents are not included, the brief sections on each put them into context so readers can perceive the continuum of American democracy through time. For new and aspiring citizens, a series of brief biographies of famous Americans who were not born in the U.S. makes for interesting reading. In the entertainment world alone, how many of us think of Marlene Dietrich, Bob Hope, and Celia Cruz in their roles as citizens of the Republic?

The Citizen’s Almanac is a terrific, well-illustrated source for all kinds of information about American history and citizenship. It’s also an interesting read and a book that’s perfect for Constitution Day or any other day when you need information about this country of ours. You can browse through The Citizen’s Almanac here, buy a single copy or a package of 25 for schools and civic organizations, or locate it at a library.

HOW DO I OBTAIN THIS PUBLICATION?

In addition to clicking on the links in the article above to find the publication, you may find this publications from the following:

Shop Online Anytime: You can buy this and other print publications related to citizenship (with FREE Standard Shipping worldwide) from the U.S. Government Online Bookstore website at http://bookstore.gpo.gov:

Order by Phone: You may also order print editions by calling GPO’s  Customer Contact Center Monday through Friday, 8 am to 5:30 pm Eastern (except US Federal holidays). From US and Canada, call toll-free 1.866.512.1800. DC or International customers call +1.202.512.1800.

Shop our Retail Store: Buy a copy of any print editions at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday–Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., except Federal holidays, Call (202) 512-0132 for information or to arrange in-store pick-up.

About the author: Adapted by Trudy Hawkins, Writer and Marketing Specialist in GPO’s Publication & Information Sales Division in Washington, DC, from an original post by James Cameron, former Government Book Talk Editor in support of the U.S. Government Online Bookstore (http://bookstore.gpo.gov).


Browsing the U.S. Government Manual

September 29, 2011

What with invisible ink, yetis, and earthquakes, the world of Government publications can be so diverse and intriguing that it’s easy to lose track of sober perennials like the U.S. Government Manual. I’ve used this great book throughout my career in the Federal Government to get contact information for the right part of a large Federal agency or verify that a smaller, more obscure one actually existed – and what it really did. Thanks to the diligent folks at the National Archives and Records Administration’s  Office of the Federal Register, you can ferret out phone numbers, mailing addresses and URLs that really work, or just read through each agency entry to better understand its particular missions and activities. It’s perhaps the premier annual reference book for all three branches of Government.

Of course, this wouldn’t be Government Book Talk if I didn’t come at my subject from a slightly skewed angle. My favorite section to browse isn’t the main listing of agencies, the quasi-official agencies, or even the international organizations – it’s the History of Organizational Changes. For scholars or other researchers, this section is valuable because it allows them to trace the institutional evolution of a Government function or track down the ultimate fate of a defunct bureau or commission. For me (although I’ve used it for these worthy purposes), it’s mainly a way to arouse bemused curiosity about how Federal entities were christened in years past. Did you know that we once had a Bureau of Efficiency (1916-1933)? Did it fade away because we got too efficient? Doubtful, I’m afraid. What about the Office of Facts and Figures (1941-1942)? I know we haven’t run out of them…

Some innocuous agency names conceal more interesting activities. There couldn’t be a blander, more bureaucratic sounding name than The Office of  the Coordinator of Information (1942). It quickly changed to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) which, under the charismatic leader of William J. “Wild Bill” Donovan, conducted U.S.espionage and sabotage activities for the European Theater of Operations in World War II and was the progenitor of today’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Then there was the Virgin Islands Company (1934-1966), a New Deal Government corporation established to grow and refine sugar cane and manufacture and sell rum in that beautiful U.S. possession. It marketed rum under the name “Government House.” The label (left) featured a sailing ship, a palm tree, and a harbor, and supposedly was designed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt himself. How else could I find out about this stuff if not through the pages of the U.S. Government Manual?

If you need a source of the latest information about any Government agency, or if you’re just curious about the innumerable nooks and crannies of the Federal establishment, the U.S. Government Manual is for you. You can browse it here, get a print copy of the 2011 edition here, or find it in a library.


Yetis and Extraterrestrials?

September 22, 2011

Alert Government Book Talk reader Deb Christmas tipped me off to this document which, although not the kind of thing I usually discuss here, has a couple of things going for it. First, what’s not to like about an American diplomatic memo outlining the special procedures required by the Nepalese government for those engaged in yeti-hunting expeditions?  The diplomat involved may have wondered exactly how he wound up drafting such a memo, but I hope he derived some amusement from it. I also wonder how many intrepid explorers received this excellent advice prior to launching themselves into the high Himalayas. The other aspect of this little “Foreign Service Despatch”  that stimulated what pass as my thought processes is the juxtaposition of an official, rather bureaucratic Government memo regarding a subject widely considered to be…well…paranormal. Since this blog already has discussed the possibly occult nature of the mysterious Voynich Manuscript, how could I pass up the opportunity to delve into such enigmatic realms again?

This brings me to the U.S. Air Force’s 1997 The Roswell Report: Case Closed. This study, written by Air Force Captain James McAndrew, “was to determine if the U.S. Air Force, or any otherU.S. government agency, possessed information on the alleged crash and recovery of an extraterrestrial vehicle and its alien occupants nearRoswell,N.M. in July 1947.” The conclusion? “…the predecessor to the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Army Air Forces, recovered debris from an Army Air Forces balloon-borne research project code named MOGUL. Records located describing research carried out under the MOGUL project, most of which were never classified (and publicly available) were collected, provided to GAO, and published in one volume for ease of access for the general public.”

Jim McAndrew, whom I met in the course of GPO’s printing and selling The Roswell Report: Case Closed, was a sincere and enthusiastic disbeliever in the much-hyped Area 51 stories that circulated then and now, but I’m afraid that his conclusions haven’t had much influence on those with a will to believe in extraterrestrials, UFOs, etc. I try to keep an open mind about these things, feeling that “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Based on this well-documented study, though, I think the official version holds up pretty well. (Those anthropomorphic test dummies are pretty creepy looking…)

You can read The Roswell Report: Case Closed here or find it in a library. The yeti memo? Look here.  As far as is known, no yetis were shot at,  testifying to its effectiveness.


A Botanic Garden for the Nation: “National benefits to be derived from exploration”

September 20, 2011

Guest blogger Nancy Faget sheds some light on a little-known Federal agency.

It’s always interesting to see what kinds of things I can learn from a Government publication. For example, I just found out that President George Washington asked the city commission to incorporate a botanical garden into the plan for Washington, DC.  He suggested the square next to the President’s House as a possible site. But it was President James Monroe who passed the bill to set aside five acres on the National Mall for a national botanic garden.  Thus, a living museum of plants was created as an oasis on Capitol Hill.

This National Garden is a living laboratory which includes the Rose Garden, the Butterfly Garden, the Lawn Terrace, the First Ladies’ Water Garden, the Regional Garden, and an outdoor amphitheater.

The founders of the country had an understanding of plants and gardens as a national benefit.  In the beautifully produced A Botanic Garden for the Nation, published by the U.S. Botanic Garden, I learned many interesting facts that I didn’t expect to find. For example, Thomas Jefferson emphasized that the Lewis and Clark expedition should look for plants and vegetables.  The U.S. Exploring Expedition of 1842 also was charged partly with gathering plants and seeds from around the world.  As the expedition traveled 87,000 nautical miles charting oceans and coastlines, the botanists and naturalist aboard the ships collected plant and seed specimens.Although the color photographs in the book are spectacular, it’s also a fascinating read.  Here are some other bits I discovered:

  • The Botanic Garden houses more rare plants all the time as gifts are received from foreign governments and (incredibly) as a result of law enforcement actions!   When rare or endangered species are confiscated, they often are sent to the Botanic Garden for its collection.  For example, The Vietnamese orchid in the Garden’s collection was seized by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).  It’s now working with FWS and a commercial grower to produce marketable quantities of this orchid for sale and distribution to other public gardens.
  • The Garden also was established as an important plant rescue center for orchids and succulents.  Through a program, present species may be prevented from going extinct.  It has a production facility that works to propagate plants for exchange with other institutions.
  • In the Garden’s Medical Collection, visitors find the saw palmetto, from which fruits are studied to treat prostate cancer.  Turmeric is included in the collection because of the anti-inflammatory benefit.   In cultures where turmeric is used regularly, rates of Alzheimer’s disease are significantly lower.

Best of all, the photos of Bartholdi Park and the National Garden look so inviting, they make me want to grab A Botanic Garden for the Nation, sit in the sun, and just ponder the seasons!

You can buy your own copy for garden reading on the U.S. Government Online Bookstore, or find it in a library.


Space Exploration and the Mind

September 13, 2011

Many years ago I read “Ideas Die Hard,” a memorable story (at least to me) by Isaac Asimov. In the story, a crew of astronauts is on a flight to the moon under very tense circumstances. They go too far and see the dark side of the moon. SPOILER AHEAD: When they view the dark side, it’s a gigantic wood-and-paper stage set, the sight of which causes the crew to have a collective mental breakdown. At the end of the story, it’s revealed that the flight was a simulation and the simulator went just a bit further than intended. I think the story has stayed with me because it addresses the psychological dimensions of space exploration – an aspect I haven’t really seen addressed in news accounts or books.

NASA has filled this gap quite nicely with Psychology of Space Exploration, an engrossing new collection of articles on this theme. After an initial focus on the psychological effects of space travel, for many years the American space program paid only minimal attention to them, perhaps because the military background of the astronauts militated against what they perceived as the possibly career-retarding discussions of such matters. Interestingly, theSoviet Union paid much more attention to the psychological health of its cosmonauts during the same period. These days, however, NASA is more cognizant of the importance of mood, morale, the psychological effects of weightlessness, and other mind-body issues.

As a history buff, I was intrigued to read about the comparison of voyages in space to the epic journeys of Arctic explorers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Even now, wintering over in Antarctica is a kind of model of the prolonged stays in close quarters that characterize the International Space Station.

In a section on the interplay of astronauts from different countries working together, I was amused to learn that Soviet cosmonauts were not totally enthralled the space cuisine enjoyed by a French counterpart: “one of them later expressed his relief at going back to black bread and borscht after a menu of canned French delicacies, including compote of pigeon with dates and dried raisins, duck with artichokes, boeuf bourguignon, and more.”

Another fascinating essay described a space flight simulation experience in which people who knew that they were not really in space still got great enjoyment from their “trip.” It sounded so interesting that I was ready to sign up myself. Also, the special effects sound much better than those in Isaac Asimov’s story!

I really enjoyed reading Psychology of Space Exploration – I had no idea of the range of psychological issues that can crop up in space travel and the ways in which NASA has tackled them. Space buffs and students of the human mind will find much to ponder in this book. You can read it here, get your own copy, or find it in a library.


Trickle, Trickle, Splash, Splash

September 9, 2011

 As I sit here writing this, it’s raining. It’s been raining for days, as a result of the remnants of Hurricane Lee. Before that, we got rain from Hurricane Irene, although thankfully not what Vermont and Upstate New York received. Before that, innumerable August thunderstorms had dumped inches of precipitation on us. The forecast for the next few days? More rain. Earlier this summer I read that our area was in a “moderate drought” state. Ha! I was just bemoaning our saturated state with a co-worker, in the course of which I said “I’ve been blogging about earthquakes and hurricanes, so I guess I’ll have to dig out a Government publication on floods.” Aha!

 This brings me to Floods: The Awesome Power, a National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA to the cognoscenti) booklet that covers all kinds of flooding scenarios, including the one I’m putting up with right now. “Floods are often produced by hurricanes, tropical storms, and tropical depressions. A tropical cyclone’s worst impact may be the inland flooding associated with torrential rains. When these storms move inland, they are typically accompanied by very heavy rain.” Happily, we’re not experiencing what Louisianans did a few days ago, but it wouldn’t be totally unprecedented, either. A few years ago a freak weather system dumped tons on rain around here, resulting in a mini-flash flood in our basement – two or three inches worth. All I’ll say is that pulling up waterlogged wall-to-wall carpeting underlain with ratty-looking linoleum squares isn’t my favorite thing to do. Last night, after work, I spent a couple of hours down there mopping up from the current seepage, and the stream down the block looked way high. It can happen anywhere.

Floods: The Awesome Power not only covers the types of weather systems that can cause flooding, it provides information on how to keep track of such events, how to prepare in advance (“Store drinking water in food-grade containers. Water service may be interrupted”) what to do when the deluge is upon you (“Rapidly rising water may engulf the vehicle and its occupants sweeping them away. Vehicles can be swept away by as little as 2 feet of water”), and what to do afterward (“If the power is out, use flashlights, not candles”). Guilty as changed on that last point – it sounds as if I need more batteries and less wax around the house. There’s also a detailed outline on how to develop a family disaster plan, which could be useful in any number of crisis situations.

All in all, I don’t know of a better way to find out a lot about coping with flooding in a concise, easy-to-read format. You can read Floods: The Awesome Power here, buy it in packs here (great for neighborhood associations and other groups), or find it in a library. As for me, this old doo-wop classic says it all…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Getting Ready for the Next Quake

September 8, 2011

For us East Coasters, our recent experience with an earthquake was an unusual one. Of course, they’re comparatively rare here and not as strong as the ones that plague the West Coast, but it still makes you think about what would happen to your house (and you) if a really big one hit. What about my house? Even aside from how it would stand up structurally, I’ve got a lot of books and bookcases – maybe an avalanche waiting to happen. Then there are the china cabinets – it really wouldn’t do to have grandma’s best strewn across the room in shards, would it?

When I start thinking about stuff like this, my natural inclination is to find a book. For example, there’s Homebuilders’ Guide to Earthquake-Resistant Design and Construction, a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) publication that’s been around for years. It’s for homebuilders, but also for homeowners who want some good information about safe homes and how some things can be made safer. It’s based on the International Residential Code (IRC) and explains the basic principles of earthquake-resistant design and what it calls “above-code” measures that can further reduce the amount of damage from an earthquake. I like the idea of guidelines that not only meet but exceed the standards, especially when they can affect safety.

I must admit, though, that I’m not a Mr. Fix-it type. If I were to do an addition to my house, I couldn’t do what this book says needs to be done, but it at least tells me the things to ask a contractor about. Chapter 8, “Anchorage of Home Contents,” is different. It explains how to put locks on cabinets, anchor a PC, and other simple fixes that I can understand – and even do myself. There’s no question but that experiencing an earthquake concentrates the mind powerfully on such things!

Homebuilders’ Guide to Earthquake-Resistant Design and Construction is a useful and reliable guide to building and maintaining a house that can cope with earthquakes. You can look through it here, get a copy for home reference here, or find it in a library.


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