Tuesday, December 19, 2023

E Pluribus Unum

E Pluribus Unum is Threatened
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, December 19, 2023, p. A6

Pull a dollar bill from your billfold. Look at the back. Our Congress of the Confederation founders put that Great Seal on their money in 1782 before creating the United States. It’s still there.

The superstitious recoil from hotels with a 13th floor. They favor floors numbered 11, 12, 14, 15. Our founders loved 13 – 13 states, 13 stars in the Seal, and 13 letters in E Pluribus Unum (after removing the “x” from Ex).

Did you study Latin? No? Me neither. Fifty-six percent of high school students studied Latin in 1905. Presidents John Kennedy, Richard Nixon, both Bushes and Bill Clinton did so. By 1977 only 6,000 students struggled with the national exam.

Thankfully, “Google translate” studies Latin. It reveals our money’s motto means “out of many, one.” Google is not reassuring us that while we’re out of many dollars we still have one. Google’s sharing the founders’ long shot they could blend 13 states into one United States.

But compare the founders’ challenges – 13 states and four million people – with ours: 50 states and 340 million people. People breathing in the polluted air of deliberate divisiveness and politically promoted hatred, occasionally bursting into flames of violence, leaving ashes from which authoritarian dictatorships emerge.

Some politicians and their followers shout demands that immigrants seeking asylum be sent back to their home country – and almost certain death – without a hearing. Those advocates ignore, if they ever knew, that their ancestors also immigrated to this county, often for similar reasons. Unless, that is, they’re registered members of one of America’s 574 Indian tribes.

It’s easy to notice the many differences among us -- languages, ethnicity, customs, religion, wealth, norms, appearance, and political affiliation. We sometimes forget we are 99.9 percent identical in genetic makeup and belong to the same animal species: Homo sapiens.

Those differences dissolve like fog in the sunshine when disaster strikes – floods from heavy rain, rising seas or rivers; home-destroying derechos, tornadoes and hurricanes; fires, airplane or highway disasters, mass shootings and a 9/11 or Oklahoma City bombing.

Well folks, don’t want to scare you, but we may soon find ourselves struggling with a disaster to end all disasters.

We need to realize, as we descend the waterslide of democracy into the Putin-like polluted pool of political populism, that loss of our 247-year-old democracy is upon us.

We can no longer smugly say, “It can’t happen here.” It’s already happening here. It’s no longer a matter of saving our democracy, it’s a matter of rebuilding a democracy.

Don’t whine about the things an individual Gazette subscriber can’t do – compete with billionaires’ political contributions, or knock on every Iowan’s door.

What we can create is what we do in disasters. What the Youngbloods sang in “Get Together”:

“Come on people now
"Smile on your brother (and sister)
"Everybody get together
"Try to love one another
"Right now”

Gift a stranger with a smile and “Good morning.” Pay a compliment. Do a favor.

E Pluribus Unum.

Nicholas Johnson authored the books Columns of Democracy and Test Pattern for Living. Contact mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org

E Pluribus Unum

“E pluribus unum,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E_pluribus_unum (“E pluribus unum . . . – Latin for "Out of many, one . . . – is a traditional motto of the United States, appearing on the Great Seal . . . its inclusion on the seal was approved in an act of the Congress of the Confederation in 1782.”)

Thirteenth Floor

“Thirteenth Floor,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirteenth_floor (“The thirteenth floor is a designation of a level of a multi-level building that is often omitted in countries where the number 13 is considered unlucky.[1][2] Omitting the 13th floor may take a variety of forms; the most common include denoting what would otherwise be considered the thirteenth floor as level 14, giving the thirteenth floor an alternate designation such as "12A" or "M" (the thirteenth letter of the Latin alphabet), or closing the 13th floor to public occupancy or access (e.g., by designating it as a mechanical floor). Reasons for omitting a thirteenth floor include triskaidekaphobia on the part of the building's owner or builder, or a desire by the building owner or landlord to prevent problems that may arise with superstitious tenants, occupants, or customers. In 2002, based on an internal review of records, Dilip Rangnekar of Otis Elevators estimated that 85% of the buildings with Otis brand elevators did not have a floor named the 13th floor.[3] Early tall-building designers, fearing a fire on the 13th floor, or fearing tenants' superstitions about the rumor, decided to omit having a 13th floor listed on their elevator numbering.[3] This practice became commonplace, and eventually found its way into American mainstream culture and building design.[3]”)


Harry Mount, “A Vote for Latin,” New York Times, Dec. 3, 2007, https://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/03/opinion/03mount.html (“In 1905, 56 percent of American high school students studied Latin. By 1977, a mere 6,000 students took the National Latin Exam. . . . Of the 40 presidents since Jefferson, 31 have studied Latin, many at a high level. James Polk graduated from the University of North Carolina, in 1818, with top honors in math and classics. James Garfield taught Greek and Latin from 1856 to 1857 at what is now Hiram College in Ohio. Teddy Roosevelt studied classics at Harvard.

John F. Kennedy had Latin instruction at not one, but three prep schools. Richard Nixon showed a great aptitude for the language, coming second in the subject at Whittier High School in California in 1930. And George H. W. Bush, a Latin student at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., was a member of the fraternity Auctoritas, Unitas, Veritas (Authority, Unity, Truth).

A particular favorite for Bill Clinton during his four years of Latin at Hot Springs High School in Arkansas was Caesar’s “Gallic War.”

Following in his father’s footsteps, George W. Bush studied Latin at Phillips Academy (the school’s mottoes: “Non Sibi” or not for self, and “Finis Origine Pendet,” the end depends on the beginning).”)

Google Translate

“Google Translate,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_Translate (“Google Translate is a multilingual neural machine translation service developed by Google to translate text, documents and websites from one language into another. . . . In November 2016, Google transitioned its translating method to a system called neural machine translation.[13] It uses deep learning techniques to translate whole sentences at a time, which has been measured to be more accurate between English and French, German, Spanish, and Chinese.[14] No measurement results have been provided by Google researchers for GNMT from English to other languages, other languages to English, or between language pairs that do not include English. As of 2018, it translates more than 100 billion words a day.[13]”)

US Population 1782

Cynthia A. Kierner, “First United States Census, 1790,” Washington Library, Mount Vernon, https://www.mountvernon.org/library/digitalhistory/digital-encyclopedia/article/first-united-states-census-1790/ (“The final tally, released by the government in 1792 and also included in digest form in some almanacs and geographies, was 3,919,023 people, divided among fourteen states, Kentucky (a territory before attaining statehood in 1792), and the Southwest territories (Tennessee).10”)

US Population 2023

“U.S. Population 1950-2023,” macrotrends, https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/USA/united-states/population (339,996,563)

U.S. Ancestries

“Ancestry: 2000,” U.S. Census Bureau, June 2004, https://www.census.gov/history/pdf/ancestry.pdf (“In total, 7 ancestries were reported by more than 15 million people in 2000, 37 ancestries were reported by more than 1 million people, and 92 ancestries were reported by more than 100,000 people.”)

Indian Tribes

“Federally recognized Indian tribes and resources for Native Americans; Find information about and resources for Native Americans and Alaska Native entities,” usagov, https://www.usa.gov/tribes# (“The federal government recognizes 574 American Indian tribes and Alaska Native entities in the U.S.”)

Humans share 99.9% genetic makeup

James Franklin Crow, “Unequal by nature: a geneticist’s perspective on human differences,” Daedalus, Winter 2002, https://www.amacad.org/publication/unequal-nature-geneticists-perspective-human-differences (“Most of our DNA determines that we are human, rather than determining how we are different from any other person. So it is not so surprising that the DNA of any two human beings is 99.9 percent identical.”)

Homo sapiens

“Homo sapiens,” Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Homo-sapiens, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Homo-sapiens (“Homo sapiens, (Latin: “wise man”) the species to which all modern human beings belong. Homo sapiens is one of several species grouped into the genus Homo, but it is the only one that is not extinct. See also human evolution.”)

Lyrics to “Get Together”

Chester Powers and Chester William Jr. Powers, “Get Together by The Youngbloods,” https://www.songfacts.com/lyrics/the-youngbloods/get-together (Sample from lyrics: “If you hear the song I sing You will understand (listen!) You hold the key to love and fear All in your trembling hand Just one key unlocks them both It's there at your command

Come on people now Smile on your brother Everybody get together Try to love one another Right now”)

Examples of Iowa volunteerism

“Days of Service,” “Volunteer Iowa,” https://volunteer.iowa.gov/, (“Organizations across Iowa will plan activities that give citizens an opportunity to give back. Activities will depend on the specific project, but could range from collection drives, painting, gardening, serving or packaging meals or tutoring children, to cleaning up parks and more. The Day of Service could have partnerships with local schools, families, faith-based groups, businesses and governments to accomplish the activities or projects. Post your project online to help you reach the largest pool of potential volunteers possible!” History: “1978 —The Iowa Office on Volunteerism was established by Governor Robert D. Ray with Executive Order 33 on November 2.”)

Janet Petersen, “Iowans’ Ideas: The power of kindness,” The Gazette, Oct. 6, 2020, https://www.thegazette.com/iowa-ideas/iowans-ideas-the-power-of-kindness/ (list)

Chenue Her, “A musician and an inspiration: R.J. Hernandez to be inducted into 2023 Iowa Latino Hall of Fame; R.J. Hernandez is one of six people being inducted into the Iowa Latino Hall of Fame October,” We Are Iowa, Sept. 22, 2023, https://www.weareiowa.com/article/features/rj-hernandez-iowa-latino-hall-of-fame-inductee-2023/524-4f628393-2ed1-4786-976b-563840b0f6b4 (“Hernandez is one of many ambassadors who works with the group to educate the community on different cultures. Since 2008, Hernandez has worked with about 24,000 participants in just about 700 sessions. "He’s so passionate about sharing and about what he knows people will learn from him," Orton said. "And, he gets people to participate . . ..”)

“Valuing the Cultures of Our Community,” CultureALL, https://www.cultureall.org/ (“CultureALL values the cultures of our community. You’ll see us in schools, the workplace, and wherever people gather. The experiences we provide invite Iowans to participate in cultural traditions that lead to a greater appreciation for the diversity around them. The ultimate goal of CultureALL is to elevate individuals' behaviors and attitudes to a higher level of acceptance and collaboration for the benefit of our region. CultureALL provides various opportunities for individuals to learn more about the people they interact with on a daily basis. From programs for seniors to summer camps for children, house parties featuring ethnic flavors to unique storytelling events, multicultural events to musical performances, CultureALL welcomes you to experience and appreciate today’s diverse world.”)

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