A Prof Debunks Standardized Testing & Pearson Strikes Back

Pearson is an example of a corrupt corporation – it is in business to make money, not to support education. If push comes to shove, it will save itself at the expense of students (and faculty).

A Prof Debunks Standardized Testing & Pearson Strikes Back.

September 18, 1894 (a Tuesday)

Education

On this date, the trial committee in the case of Professor Richard T. Ely submitted its final report to the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin. The report, unanimously adopted, exonerated Ely, and heralded the board’s devotion to academic freedom:

As Regents of a university with over a hundred instructors supported by nearly two millions of people who hold a vast diversity of views regarding the great questions which at present agitate the human mind, we could not for a moment think of recommending the dismissal or even the criticism of a teacher even if some of his opinions should, in some quarters, be regarded as visionary. Such a course would be equivalent to saying that no professor should teach anything which is not accepted by everybody as true. This would cut our curriculum down to very small proportions. We cannot for a moment believe that knowledge has reached its final goal, or that the present condition of society is perfect. We must therefore welcome from our teachers such discussions as shall suggest the means and prepare the way by which knowledge may be extended, present evils be removed and others prevented. We feel that we would be unworthy of the position we hold if we did not believe in progress in all departments of knowledge. In all lines of academic investigation it is of the utmost importance that the investigator should be absolutely free to follow the indications of truth wherever they may lead. Whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere we believe the great state University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found.

A plaque at Bascom Hill at the University of Wisconsin

The outcome of the Ely trial, and especially the proclamation of academic freedom, were given wide publicity by the press. Despite occasional periods of turmoil in the subsequent history of the University of Wisconsin, the declaration was never officially repudiated. Notably, when the Wisconsin Class of 1910 voted to present to the University a plaque bearing the last sentence of the regents’ statement, the regents accused the Class of being influenced by radicals and of joining with them in attacking regent policies. Five years later the plaque was accepted and placed at the entrance of the main university building.

Years later Richard T. Ely could pridefully refer to the Regents’ report as:

…that famous pronunciamento of academic freedom which has been a beacon light in higher education in this country, not only for Wisconsin, but for all similar institutions, from that day to this. Their declaration on behalf of academic freedom … has come to be regarded as part of the Wisconsin Magna Charta …

September 17, 1835 (a Thursday)

Charles Darwin by G Richmond.

In the morning on this date, HMS Beagle anchored at Chatham Island in the Galapagos Archipelago. Of this island, Charles Darwin wrote:

Nothing could be less inviting than the first appearance. A broken field of black basaltic lava, thrown into the most rugged waves, and crossed by great fissures, is everywhere covered by stunted, sunburnt brushwood, which shows little signs of life. The dry and parched surface, being heated by the noon-day sun, gave to the air a close and sultry feeling, like that from a stove: we fancied even that the bushes smelt unpleasantly.

Galapagos Archipelago

Although I diligently tried to collect as many plants as possible, I succeeded in getting very few; and such wretched-looking little weeds would have better become an arctic than an equatorial Flora. The brushwood appears, from a short distance, as leafless as our trees during winter; and it was some time before I discovered that not only almost every plant was now in full leaf, but that the greater number were in flower. The commonest bush is one of the Euphorbiaceæ: an acacia and a great odd-looking cactus are the only trees which afford any shade. After the season of heavy rains, the islands are said to appear for a short time partially green.

September 15, 1935 (a Sunday)

Massed crowds at the Nazi party rally in Nuremberg. Nuremberg, Germany, 1935.

On this date, the Nuremberg Race Laws, as they became known, stripped German Jews of their citizenship, reducing them to mere “subjects” of the Nazi state.

The laws also prohibited Jews from marrying or having sexual relations with persons of “German or related blood.” “Racial infamy,” as this became known, was made a criminal offense. Interestingly, the Nuremberg Laws did not define a “Jew” as someone with particular religious beliefs. Instead, anyone who had three or four Jewish grandparents was defined as a Jew, regardless of whether that individual identified himself or herself as a Jew or belonged to the Jewish religious community. Consequently, the Nazis classified as Jews thousands of people who had converted from Judaism to another religion, among them even Roman Catholic priests and nuns and Protestant ministers whose grandparents were Jewish.

What was the outside world’s reaction? Because unemployment had dropped precipitously under Hitler’s early commandeering of the economy, and the average German felt renewed hope and pride, the face of Germany seemed brighter, more at peace with itself. While some foreign visitors, even some political opponents within Germany itself, decried these racist laws and practices, most were beguiled into thinking it was merely a phase, and that Hitler, in the words of former British Prime Minister Lloyd George, was “a great man.”

This is David Lloyd George’s impression after a meeting with Hitler on 4 September 1936, from the Daily Express (London), published on 17 November 1936:

I have just returned from a visit to Germany. In so short time one can only form impressions or at least check impressions which years of distant observation through the telescope of the Press and constant inquiry from those who have seen things at a closer range had already made on one’s mind. I have now seen the famous German Leader and also something of the great change he has effected. Whatever one may think of his methods – and they are certainly not those of a parliamentary country – there can be no doubt that he has achieved a marvellous transformation in the spirit of the people, in their attitude towards each other, and in their social and economic outlook. He rightly claimed at Nuremberg that in four years his movement has made a new Germany. It is not the Germany of the first decade that followed the war – broken, dejected, and bowed down with a sense of apprehension and importance. It is now full of hope and confidence, and of a renewed sense of determination to lead its own life without interference from any influence outside its own frontiers. There is for the first time since the war a general sense of security. The people are more cheerful. There is a greater sense of general gaiety of spirit throughout the land. It is a happier Germany. I saw it everywhere and Englishmen I met during my trip and who knew Germany well were very impressed with the change. One man has accomplished this miracle. He is a born leader of men. A magnetic, dynamic personality with a single-minded purpose, a resolute will and a dauntless heart. He is not merely in name but in fact the national Leader. He has made them safe against potential enemies by whom they were surrounded. He is also securing them against that constant dread of starvation, which is one of the poignant memories of the last years of the War and the first years of the Peace. Over 700,000 died of sheer hunger in those dark years. You can still see the effect in the physique of those who were born into that bleak world. The fact that Hitler has rescued his country from the fear of a repetition of that period of despair, penury and humiliation has given him unchallenged authority in modern Germany. As to his popularity, especially among the youth of Germany, there can be no manner of doubt. The old trust him; the young idolise him. It is not the admiration accorded to a popular Leader. It is the worship of a national hero who has saved his country from utter despondency and degradation. It is true that public criticism of the Government is forbidden in every form. That does not mean that criticism is absent. I have heard the speeches of prominent Nazi orators freely condemned. But not a word of criticism or of disapproval have I heard of Hitler. He is as immune from criticism as a king in a monarchical country. He is something more. He is the George Washington of Germany – the man who won for his country independence from all her oppressors. To those who have not actually seen and sensed the way Hitler reigns over the heart and mind of Germany this description may appear extravagant. All the same, it is the bare truth. This great people will work better, sacrifice more, and, if necessary, fight with greater resolution because Hitler asks them to do so. Those who do not comprehend this central fact cannot judge the present possibilities of modern Germany. On the other hand, those who imagine that Germany has swung back to its old Imperialist temper cannot have any understanding of the character of the change. The idea of a Germany intimidating Europe with a threat that its irresistible army might march across frontiers forms no part of the new vision. What Hitler said at Nuremberg is true. The Germans will resist to the death every invader at their own country, but they have no longer the desire themselves to invade any other land. The leaders of modern Germany know too well that Europe is too formidable a proposition to be overrun and trampled down by any single nation, however powerful may be its armaments. They have learned that lesson in the war. Hitler fought in the ranks throughout the war, and knows from personal experience what war means. He also knows too well that the odds are even heavier today against an aggressor than they were at that time. What was then Austria would now be in the main hostile to the ideals of 1914. The Germans are under no illusions about Italy. They also are aware that the Russian Army is in every respect far more efficient than it was in 1914. The establishment of a German hegemony in Europe which was the aim and dream of the old pre-war militarism, is not even on the horizon of Nazism. …

Not much has changed in the more than three-quarters of a century since then. Just consider the way the world looks at China, whose economy is commandeered by the Chinese Communist Party.

References:

  • J. Remak (ed.), The Nazi Years – A Documentary History (Prentice-Hall, 1969), pp.80-82.

September 15, 1835 (a Tuesday)

Charles Darwin by G Richmond.

In the afternoon of September 15, HMS Beagle with Charles Darwin on-board sighted Mount Pitt, a large hill on the north-east end of Chatham Island, about 600 miles off the coast of South America. This was the first sighting of the Galapagos Archipelago by the Beagle. Captain Robert FitzRoy wrote in the ship’s journal:

…we were anxiously looking out for land, when what appeared to be an islet was seen from the mast-head. This seeming islet turned out to be the summit of Mount Pitt, a remarkable hill at the north-east end of Chatham Island.

On September 16, the Beagle reached Hood Island. Early in the morning Edward Chaffers (Master) and Arthur Mellersh (Midshipman) set out on a boat to survey the island’s shoreline. By noon another boat was launched to survey the central islands of the archipelago. Later in the afternoon of September 16, HMS Beagle reached Chatham Island.

September 14, 1804 (a Friday)

John Gould, from *The Illustrated London News*, June 12, 1852.

On this date, the English ornithologist John Gould was born. His identification of Charles Darwin’s finches was pivotal in the development of the theory of evolution presented in The Origin of Species.

When Charles Darwin presented his mammal and bird specimens collected during the voyage of HMS Beagle to the Geological Society of London at their meeting on January 4, 1837, the bird specimens were given to Gould for identification. He set aside his paying work and at the next meeting on January 10 reported that birds from the Galápagos Islands which Darwin had thought were blackbirds, “gross-bills”, and finches were in fact “a series of ground Finches which are so peculiar” as to form “an entirely new group, containing 12 species.” This story made the newspapers.

In March, Darwin met Gould again, learning that his Galápagos “wren” was another species of finch and the mockingbirds he had labelled by island were separate species rather than just varieties, with relatives on the South American mainland. Subsequently Gould advised that the smaller southern Rhea specimen that had been rescued from a Christmas dinner was a separate species, which he named Rhea darwinii, whose territory overlapped with the northern Rheas.

Darwin had not bothered to label his finches by island, but others on the expedition had taken more care. He now sought specimens collected by Captain Robert FitzRoy and crewmen. From them he was able to establish that the species were unique to the islands, an important step on the development of his theory of evolution. Gould’s work on the birds was published as Part 3 of The Zoology of the Voyage of HMS Beagle, under the Command of Captain FitzRoy, during the Years 1832 to 1836, edited by Charles Darwin and published in five volumes between 1838 and 1842.

During his life, Gould produced 41 lavishly illustrated volumes on birds from all over the world, containing in all about 3,000 plates, all lithographed and hand-painted. Of these, his Birds of Australia was particularly significant (1840-69) as the first comprehensive record of the continent’s birds and mammals. With its plates of the birds were descriptions and notes on their distribution and adaptation to the environment.

September 13, 1970 (a Sunday)

Margaret Thatcher famously claimed that “there is no such thing as society” and mainstream economics works from exactly the same assumption – for mainstream economists society is simply the aggregation, the adding together, of millions of individual economic actors and actions. All of these actors are assumed to be “rational” – a word which economists also use in a way that reflects their own prejudices – a purely calculating and narrowly self interested mentality focused on short and long run material gratification, whose relationship to other economic actors is intrinsically competitive. Thus “rational economic man” has no emotion, is part of no social psychological processes involving mutual influence, common hopes, beliefs and fears, no mutual support, no group or common class interests. Instead “rational economic man” is a calculating machine, focused on maximizing his satisfactions or “utility”.

– Brian Davey, “Economics is not a social science”

It is clear, therefore, that Buddhist economics must be very different from the economics of modern materialism, since the Buddhist sees the essence of civilization not in a multiplication of wants but in the purification of human character.

– E. F. Schumacher, “Buddhist Economics” (1966)

Zen stones

On this date, The New York Times Magazine published an article by Milton Friedman entitled “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits.”  It has been held up by neoliberals as the foundation of their economic beliefs ever since.

Neoliberals are fierce advocates of so-called free markets, as though they are some magical solution to all of the world’s problems. What Friedman called the “free market” is actually laissez-faire, the elimination of any government influence in the market. The only role for the government in the system would be for the protection of property rights.

The problem, of course, is that laissez-faire fails every time it is tried. The grand laissez-faire experiments during America’s Gilded Age resulted in the most devastating economic collapses, the last of which we now call the Great Depression. Friedman’s “free market” offers no safety and no rules. The unscrupulous exploit any advantage to develop a monopoly, with the result being that the market itself becomes unstable and will eventually self-destruct.

The other problem with the free market is that it makes no accommodation for the commons. The commons is a very old concept, pre-dating even colonial America, existing in English common law as far back as 800 CE. A “commons” is any resource used as though it belongs to all. In other words, when anyone can use a shared resource simply because one wants or needs to use it, then one is using a commons. For example, the radio frequencies that pass in and around and through us all are part of the commons. Nowadays, a government agency, the FCC, prevents any two businesses from broadcasting on the same frequency because otherwise nobody could listen to either of them. However, in laissez-faire, there would be no commons, and things such as the radio spectrum would be unusable in its entirety, due to encroachment by other ventures.

Sometimes it is not a question of taking something out of the commons, but of putting something in — sewage, or chemical, radioactive, and heat wastes into water; noxious and/or dangerous gases (for example, carbon dioxide) into the air; and distracting and unpleasant advertising signs into the line of sight. If a corporation’s share of the cost of the wastes discharged into the commons is less than the cost of purifying those wastes before releasing them, then we are locked into a system of “fouling our own nest,” so long as the government, even though it represents the people, cannot effectively regulate polluting corporations.

Milton Friedman offered no solution to these problems; in fact, his writings exacerbated them. The article he published on this date was ferocious. He said that any business executives who pursued a goal other than making money were “unwitting pup­pets of the intellectual forces that have been undermining the basis of a free society these past decades.” They were guilty of “analytical looseness and lack of rigor” and had even turned themselves into “unelected government officials” who were illegally taxing employers and customers. Ironically, Friedman himself was guilty of “analytical looseness and lack of rigor” by assuming the conclusion of his argument at the beginning of his article.

On 26 June 2013, Forbes published “The Origin of ‘The World’s Dumbest Idea’: Milton Friedman” written by Steve Denning. He points out several flaws and inconsistencies in Friedman’s paper:

“In a free-enterprise, private-property sys­tem,” the article states flatly at the outset as an obvious truth requiring no justification or proof, “a corporate executive is an employee of the owners of the business,” namely the shareholders…

If anyone familiar with even the rudiments of the law were to be asked whether a corporate executive is an employee of the shareholders, the answer would be: clearly not. The executive is an employee of the corporation…

A corporate exec­utive who devotes any money for any general social interest would, the article argues, “be spending someone else’s money… Insofar as his actions in accord with his ‘social responsi­bility’ reduce returns to stockholders, he is spending their money.”

How did the corporation’s money somehow become the shareholder’s money? Simple. That is the article’s starting assumption. By assuming away the existence of the corporation as a mere “legal fiction”, hey presto! the corporation’s money magically becomes the stockholders’ money.

Denning then points out how Friedman later, in a conceptual sleight of hand, recasts the money:

The article goes on: “Insofar as his actions raise the price to customers, he is spending the customers’ money.” One moment ago, the organization’s money was the stockholder’s money. But suddenly… the organization’s money has become the customer’s money…

The article continued: “Insofar as [the executives’] actions lower the wages of some employees, he is spending their money.” Now suddenly, the organization’s money has become, not the stockholder’s money or the customers’ money, but the employees’ money.

According to Denning, Friedman’s entire paper rests on the false assumption “that an organization is a legal fiction which doesn’t exist and that the organization’s money is owned by the stockholders.”

The success of the article was not because the arguments were sound or powerful, but rather because people desperately wanted to believe. [emphasis in original]

As a result of Friedman’s writings, self-interest has reigned supreme. His theories justify the impulse to make money by whatever means are available. As recent scandals have made clear, even breaking the law is acceptable, if the corporation gets off with civil penalties that are small in relation to the illicit gains that are made.

Roger Martin, in his book, Fixing the Game, writes:

It isn’t just about the money for shareholders, or even the dubious CEO behavior that our theories encourage. It’s much bigger than that. Our theories of shareholder value maximization and stock-based compensation have the ability to destroy our economy and rot out the core of American capitalism. These theories underpin regulatory fixes instituted after each market bubble and crash. Because the fixes begin from the wrong premise, they will be ineffectual; until we change the theories, future crashes are inevitable.

References:

September 13, 1848 (a Wednesday)

Phineas Gage skull diagram 1868 (left) and skull (right).

Phineas Gage (1823-1860) is one of the earliest documented cases of severe brain injury. He is the index case of an individual who suffered major personality changes after brain trauma. As such, Gage is a legend in the annals of neurology, which is largely based on the study of brain-damaged patients.

On this date, 25-year-old Phineas Gage and his crew were working on the Rutland and Burlington Railroad near Cavendish, Vermont. Gage was preparing for an explosion by compacting a bore with explosive powder using a tamping iron. While he was doing this, a spark from the tamping iron ignited the powder, causing the iron to be propelled at high speed straight through his skull. It entered under the left cheek bone and exited through the top of the head, and was later recovered some 30 yards from the site of the accident.

Gage recovered almost entirely from his physical disabilities, except for loss of sight in one eye. It is surprising, of course, that Gage survived such a traumatic event at all, but more surprising is the fact that his personality was completely changed as a result of the accident. Gage’s doctor describes how “the equilibrium or balance, so to speak, between his intellectual faculty and animal propensities” had been destroyed. The changes became apparent as soon as the acute phase of brain injury subsided. He was now “fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity which was not previously his custom, manifesting but little deference for his fellows, impatient of restraint or advice when it conflicts with his desires, at times perniciously obstinate, yet capricious and vacillating, devising many plans of future operation, which are no sooner arranged than they are abandoned. . . .” .

These new personality traits contrasted sharply with the “temperate habits” and “considerable energy of character” Phineas Gage was known to have possessed before the accident. Previously, he had “a well balanced mind and was looked upon by those who knew him as a shrewd, small businessman, very energetic and persistent in executing all his plans of action.” So radical was the change in him that friends and acquaintances could hardly recognize the man. They noted sadly that he was “no longer Gage.”  In fact, he was so different that his employers had to let him go shortly after he returned to work. The problem was not lack of physical ability or skill – it was his new character.

References:

  • Damasio, Antonio R. Descartes Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain, New York: Avon, 1994.

September 12, 1940 (a Thursday)

Image of a horse from the Lascaux caves.

Image of a horse from the Lascaux caves.

On this date, four teenagers followed their dog down a narrow entrance into a cavern near the village of Montignac, in the Dordogne region of southwestern France. There they discovered the prehistoric artwork today known as the Lascaux cave paintings. The 15,000- to 17,000-year-old paintings, consisting mostly of large animals once native to the region, are among the finest examples of art from the Upper Paleolithic period. (The Paleolithic period is a division of archaeological time roughly coincident with the Pleistocene epoch of geologic time). The paintings were given statutory historic monument protection in December of the same year they were discovered.

Lascaux is located in the Vézère Valley where many other decorated caves have been found since the beginning of the 20th century (for example, Les Combarelles and Font-de-Gaume in 1901 and Bernifal in 1902). Lascaux is a complex cave with several areas: the Great Hall of the Bulls, the Lateral Passage, the Shaft of the Dead Man, the Chamber of Engravings, the Painted Gallery, and the Chamber of Felines. The cave contains nearly 2,000 figures, which can be grouped into three main categories — animals, human figures and abstract signs. Most of the major images have been painted onto the walls using mineral pigments although some designs have also been incised into the stone.

September 11, 1831 (a Sunday)

Charles Darwin by G Richmond.

On this date, Charles Darwin and Captain Robert FitzRoy began their trip from London to Plymouth to inspect HMS Beagle. Concerned about Darwin’s sea-worthiness, FitzRoy decided they would go by ship rather than by coach, even though it would have been much faster. Apparently, Darwin handled the three day trip very well and FitzRoy was impressed that a land-lover could take to the sea so quickly. This was Darwin’s first sight of the ship on which he would sail a voyage of discovery leading to his famous theory of evolution. However, when Darwin saw the Beagle his heart sank into his stomach. The ship was in tatters! She had no masts, half of the deck had been torn away, and the water-tightness of the hull appeared dubious. FitzRoy assured Darwin that she would be sea-worthy in short order — no expense would be spared in her refitting. As Darwin later wrote in his Autobiography:

When recommissioned in 1831 for her second voyage, she was found (as I learned from the late Admiral Sir James Sulivan) to be so rotten that she had practically to be rebuilt, and it was this that caused the long delay in refitting.

September 10, 1941 (a Wednesday)

"The main reason I write is that the world is very complicated, and when I write I learn," said Gould.

On this date, American paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and science writer Stephen Jay Gould was born. Gould, who grew up in New York City, graduated from Antioch College in 1963 and received his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1967. He was immediately hired by Harvard University, where he worked until the end of his life. Harvard promoted him to Professor of Geology and Curator of Invertebrate Paleontology at the institution’s Museum of Comparative Zoology in 1973 and to Professor of Zoology in 1982. Gould also worked at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. He was awarded fellowship in the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1983, where he later served as president (1999-2001), and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1989. He also served as president of the Paleontological Society (1985-1986) and the Society for the Study of Evolution (1990-1991).

Gould is one of the most highly cited scientists in the field of evolutionary theory. The paper entitled “The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm” (1979) that he co-authored with Richard Lewontin has been cited more than 1,600 times. In Palaeobiology—the flagship journal of his own speciality—only Charles Darwin and George Gaylord Simpson have been cited more often. Gould was also a considerably respected historian of science. Historian Ronald Numbers has been quoted as saying: “I can’t say much about Gould’s strengths as a scientist, but for a long time I’ve regarded him as the second most influential historian of science (next to Thomas Kuhn).”

Perhaps more than any other contemporary American scientist, Stephen Jay Gould committed himself to communicating the goals, processes, and achievements of science to a wide audience. His high visibility, distinctive critical voice, and marked enthusiasm for making science accessible to the general public led him to contribute to debates surrounding creationism, evolutionary psychology, and biological determinations of race and intelligence. Gould wrote popular science essays in Natural History magazine and best-selling books on evolution. Many of his essays were reprinted in collected volumes, such as Ever Since Darwin and The Panda’s Thumb, while his popular treatises included books such as The Mismeasure of Man, Wonderful Life, Rocks of Ages, and Full House.  His work won many awards, including the National Book Award.

September 10, 1788 (a Wednesday)

Jacques Boucher de Crèvecœur de Perthes

On this date, the French geologist and archaeologist Jacques Boucher de Crèvecœur de Perthes was born. His discovery in 1846 of whole handaxes, tools, and fragments embedded in and scattered about the fossilized bones of extinct mammals in the Somme River valley showed that man existed at least as early as the ancient creatures. He announced his discovery in the first volume of a work he published in 1847, Antiquites Celtiques Et Antediluviennes (Celtic and pre-Flood Antiquities).

The very title of his book showed that Boucher de Perthes at first regarded these implements and weapons as having belonged to men overwhelmed at the Deluge of Noah; but it was soon seen that they were something very different. Being found in terraces at great heights above the Somme River indicated that they must have been deposited there at a time when the river system of northern France was vastly different from anything known within the historic period. This would have required a series of great geological changes since the time when these implements were made, disproving the prevailing theologically-based idea that 4004 B.C. was the year of the creation of man.

The type of handaxe discovered by Boucher de Perthes.

Although Boucher de Perthes was the first to establish that Europe had been populated by early man in the Pleistocene or early Quaternary period, he himself was not able to pinpoint the precise period because the scientific frame of reference did not then exist. Today, the handaxes of the Somme River district are widely accepted to be at least 500,000 years old and thus the product of Neandertal populations, while some authorities think they may be as old as one million years and therefore associated with Homo erectus.

September 9, 1794 (a Tuesday)

On this date, the English geologist and paleontologist William Lonsdale was born in Bath. His study of coral fossils found in Devon suggested (1837) that certain of them were intermediate between those typical of the older Silurian System (408 to 438 million years old) and those of the later Carboniferous System (286 to 360 million years old). Geologists Roderick Murchison and Adam Sedgwick agreed. They named (1839) this new geologic system after its locale – the Devonian System.

Lonsdale’s early career was as an army officer (1812-15). Residing afterwards for some years at Batheaston, he collected a series of rocks and fossils which he presented to the Literary and Scientific Institution of Bath. He became the first honorary curator of the natural history department of the museum, and worked until 1829 when he was appointed assistant secretary and curator of the Geological Society of London (GSL) at Somerset House. There he held office until 1842, when ill health led him to resign. Lonsdale was awarded the prestigious Wollaston Medal of the GSL in 1846. He recognised that fossils showed how species changed over time, and more primitive organisms are found in lower strata. Charles Darwin used this to support his theory of evolution by natural selection.

September 8, 1892 (a Thursday)

Southington, Connecticut school children pledge their allegiance to the flag, in May 1942.

Southington, Connecticut school children pledge their allegiance to the flag, in May 1942.

On this date, the Pledge of Allegiance was published in The Youth’s Companion, the leading family magazine and the Reader’s Digest of its day. It was written by Francis Bellamy in 1892 as a critique of the rampant greed, misguided materialism, and hyper-individualism of the Gilded Age. Furthermore, he wrote it in support of President Harrison’s public education programs, which were called socialist in 1892 just as Obama’s health care program is today.

He did not include the phrase “under God” as part of the original Pledge.

Bellamy, who lived from 1855 to 1931, was a Baptist minister and a leading Christian socialist. He was ousted from his Boston church for his sermons depicting Jesus as a socialist and for his work among the poor in the Boston slums.

Bellamy (cousin of Edward Bellamy, author of two best-selling socialist utopian novels, Looking Backward and Equality) believed that unbridled capitalism, materialism and individualism betrayed America’s promise. He hoped the Pledge of Allegiance would promote a different moral vision to counter the rampant greed he thought was undermining the nation.

In 1923, over the objections of the aging Bellamy, the National Flag Conference, led by the American Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution, changed the opening, “I pledge allegiance to my flag” to “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.”  In 1954, at the height of the Cold War — when many political leaders believed that the nation was threatened by godless communism — the Knights of Columbus led a successful campaign to get Congress to add the words “under God.”

The Pledge was now both a patriotic oath and a public prayer. Bellamy’s granddaughter said he also would have resented this second change: He had been pressured into leaving his church in 1891 because of his socialist sermons, and during his retirement in Florida he stopped attending church because he disliked the racial bigotry he found there.

When we recite the Pledge of Allegiance, we should remind ourselves that it was written by a socialist who believed that “liberty and justice for all” meant more equality and a stronger democracy.

September 8, 1504

Plaster cast of original statue of 'David', by Michelangelo, Florence, Italy, 1501-4. Cast by unknown maker, Florence, Italy, about 1857.

Plaster cast of original statue of ‘David’, by Michelangelo, Florence, Italy, 1501-4. Cast by unknown maker, Florence, Italy, about 1857.

On this date, the original statue of David by Michelangelo was unveiled in Florence, Italy.

Interestingly, a replica of the statue of Michelangelo’s ‘David’ was originally presented to Queen Victoria by the Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1857, but was immediately given by the queen to the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A). The story goes that on her first encounter with the cast of ‘David’ at the Museum, Queen Victoria was so shocked by the nudity that a proportionally accurate fig leaf was commissioned. It was then kept in readiness for any royal visits, when it was hung on the figure using two strategically placed hooks. In a photograph of the Art Museum taken around 1857-9 the figure of David is shown wearing a fig leaf. The fig leaf is likely to have been made by the Anglo-Italian firm D. Brucciani & Co., based in London.

Male nudity was then a contentious issue. A letter sent to the Museum in 1903 by a Mr Dobson complained about the statuary displayed: ‘One can hardly designate these figures as “art” !: if it is, it is a very objectionable form of art.’

In relation to Mr Dobson’s complaint, the then director Caspar Purdon Clarke noted: ‘The antique casts gallery has been very much used by private lady teachers for the instruction of young girl students and none of them has ever complained even indirectly’ (museum papers, 1903).

Tin fig leaves had been used during the early years of the Museum on other nude male statuary, but later authorities at South Kensington were dismissive of objections. Nowadays, the fig leaf is no longer displayed on the David. Instead, it is housed in its own case on the back of the plinth of the figure.

Hopefully, that’s where it will remain.

September 7, 1707 (a Wednesday)

Georges-Louis Leclerc, count de Buffon

On this date, the naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc, count de Buffon was born in Montbard, France. Buffon is best remembered for his great work Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière(1749-1778: in 36 volumes, 8 additional volumes published after his death by Lacépède). It included everything known about the natural world up until that time and was translated into many different languages, making him the most widely read scientific author of the day, equaling Rousseau and Voltaire. Buffon’s views influenced the next two generations of naturalists, including Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and Charles Darwin.

Buffon was one of the first philosophers to grapple with the questions of evolution, both of Earth and of living creatures. At the time, church doctrine insisted that Earth was only six thousand years old and that each type of creature had been made independently by a Creator. He proposed instead around 1778 that the Earth was hot at its creation and, from the rate of cooling, calculated its age to be 75,000 years, with life emerging some 40,000 years ago.

Buffon noted that despite similar environments, different regions of the world have distinct plants and animals, a concept later known as Buffon’s Law, widely considered the first principle of biogeography. He made the radical conclusion that species must have both “improved” and “degenerated” (evolved) after dispersing away from a center of creation. He also asserted that climate change must have facilitated the worldwide spread of species from their center of origin. Buffon also proposed, in sharp contrast to his contemporary Carolus Linnaeus, that species are defined not by simple similarity of appearance but by reproductive fertility over time.

September 7, 1829 (a Monday)

Lithograph of dino fossils, Leidy (1860)

On this date, the American geologist Ferdinand Vandiveer Hayden was born. It is generally accepted that the first discovery of dinosaur remains in North America was made in 1854 by Hayden during his exploration of the upper Missouri River. At that time, the area was the hunting ground of the Lakota, Blackfeet, Atsina, and River Crow Indians. A lone white man in Indian Country was often fair game to the tribes, but Hayden’s passion for rocks and fossils earned him the name “He Who Picks Up Stones While Running” and a reputation for madness. The Indians left him alone.

Hayden explored what would later become known as the Judith River Formation, a large area of sedimentary materials deposited in the lowland areas bordering the Colorado Sea during the Late Cretaceous Period 78 to 74 million years ago. Here, Hayden’s party recovered a small collection of teeth which were later described (in 1856) by Joseph Leidy at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. Three of the specimens described were dinosaurs – Trachodon, Troodon (now known as Stegosaurus), and Deinodon (notice the use of ‘don’ meaning ‘tooth’). This was the first published description of dinosaur remains in the United States. Leidy recognised that Trachodon was a creature similar to Iguanodon.

Interestingly, for centuries the Blackfeet have inhabited the high plains of Montana and Alberta – the same area in which the dinosaur-rich, Late Cretaceous Hell Creek and Oldman Formations occur. Dinosaur fossils were known to the Blackfeet, who considered them to be the remains of giant, ancestral buffalo. The Blackfeet used dinosaur bones in rituals intended to insure good hunting. Notwithstanding the religious significance dinosaur bones had for the Blackfeet, they were quite enlightened in their view toward dinosaurs. They hit on the antiquity, and the organic nature of dinosaur remains, and in comparing them to buffalo showed their sophisticated knowledge of vertebrate anatomy. Referring to dinosaurs as large buffalo was thus good scientific practice in the context of their perception of the natural world. In doing this, they were as close to the truth as was the Rev. Dr. Plot back in England, or any other European of the time.

September 7, 1936 (a Monday)

Benjamin, the last known Thylacine (1933)

On this date, the last known Thylacine, commonly known as the Tasmanian Tiger or Tasmanian Wolf, died in captivity at Hobart Zoo, Tasmania, as a result of neglect. The animal, named Benjamin, was locked out of its sheltered sleeping quarters and exposed to freezing temperatures at night.

The Thylacine was the largest known carnivorous marsupial mammal of modern times. Like the tigers and wolves of the Northern Hemisphere, the Thylacine was an apex predator. As a marsupial, it was not closely related to these placental mammals, but because of convergent evolution it displayed the same general form and adaptations. Its closest living relative is thought to have been either the Tasmanian Devil or Numbat. Interestingly, the Thylacine was one of only two marsupials to have a pouch in both sexes (the other being the Water Opossum). The male Thylacine had a pouch that acted as a protective sheath, protecting the male’s external reproductive organs while running through thick brush.

Thylacinus in Washington D.C. National Zoo, c. 1906.

Virtually wiped out in the wild due to constant hunting (they were thought to be a threat to sheep and other small farm animals) and the encroachment of humans on their already limited habitat, the Thylacine was finally recognized as being in danger of becoming extinct in 1936, but much too late. There have been no confirmed sightings in over 70 years.  It was the last extant member of its genus, Thylacinus, although several related species have been found in the fossil record dating back to the early Miocene.

September 5, 1831 (a Monday)

Charles Darwin by G Richmond.

On this date, after having spent the weekend in Cambridge, Charles Darwin rode to London and went to the Whitehall Admiralty building to speak with Robert FitzRoy. FitzRoy told Darwin that the person to whom he had offered the position of naturalist on board HMS Beagle had just turned it down five minutes ago (this might have been Harry Chester, a close friend of FitzRoy, and at the time a clerk in the Privy Council office across the street). He wanted to know if Darwin was still interested in the position. Interestingly, Darwin wrote in his autobiography:

Afterwards on becoming very intimate with Fitz-Roy, I heard that I had run a very narrow risk of being rejected, on account of the shape of my nose! He was an ardent disciple of Lavater, and was convinced that he could judge a man’s character by the outline of his features; and he doubted whether anyone with my nose could possess sufficient energy and determination for the voyage. But I think he was afterwards well-satisfied that my nose had spoken falsely.

Of course, Charles enthusiastically accepted the offer and both men spent the next few hours going over the details of the voyage. Darwin learned that the sail date had been postponed until October 10, and that the voyage might extend longer than two years. Later that afternoon, Darwin took up lodgings at 17 Spring Gardens, just around the corner from Whitehall.

September 4, 1957 (a Wednesday)

A page from the Wolfeden Report.

A page from the Wolfeden Report.

On this date, the Report of the Departmental Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution (better known as the Wolfenden Report, after Lord Wolfenden, the chairman of the committee) was published in Britain. It was significant for recommending that homosexual behavior in private between consenting adults, (i.e., over 21) should be decriminalized. The first printing of 5,000 copies of the 155-page document sold out in a matter of hours, and the report quickly went through numerous reprintings.

Male homosexuality had been illegal in England since the Buggery Act of 1533 (female homosexuality was never specified). The law became much more strict in 1885 with the Criminal Law Amendment Act, which made all homosexual acts illegal, even those carried out in private. Perhaps the most famous prosecution was that of the writer Oscar Wilde in 1895.

The number of convictions rose rapidly in the immediate period after World War II as the Home Office pursued prosecution more rigorously. In 1952, there had been 670 prosecutions in England for sodomy; 3,087 prosecutions for attempted sodomy or indecent assault; and 1,686 prosecutions for so-called gross indecency.

At that time, homosexuality was also the subject of sensationalist reporting in the popular press, and there were a number of high profile cases involving public figures. In 1951, the Russian spies Donald MacLean and Guy Burgess, both known to be homosexual, defected to the USSR. Alan Turing, the cryptographer who helped to break the German Enigma code, was victimized for his homosexuality. Charged in 1952 with “gross indecency”, he chose hormone treatment as punishment (the alternative was prison). He also lost his job. His death in June 1954 was treated as suicide. In 1953, newly-knighted Sir John Gielgud was arrested after trying to pick up a man in a public toilet who turned out to be an undercover policeman. He was found guilty of “persistently importuning for immoral purposes.” In 1954, the sensational trial of the Montagu/Pitt-Rivers/Wildeblood case was held, resulting in a peer (Lord Montagu of Beaulieu), his cousin (Michael Pitt-Rivers), and a journalist (Peter Wildeblood) being convicted of having had sexual relations with young working class men. They received sentences ranging from twelve to eighteen months imprisonment.

All of these events and controversies created pressure for a re-evaluation of the criminalization of homosexuality. Two MPs in December 1953 called upon the government to set up a Royal Commission to investigate the law relating to homosexual offenses, leading the Home Secretary, David Maxwell-Fyfe, to appoint the Departmental Committee in August 1954.

In addition to Wolfenden, the committee consisted of eleven men and three women, of whom thirteen served for the entire three years of the committee’s deliberations. The committee included, among others, two judges, a Foreign Office official, a Scottish Presbyterian minister, a Conservative MP, a consulting psychiatrist, the vice-president of the City of Glasgow Girl Guides, and a professor of moral theology. It was charged “to consider (a) the law and practice relating to homosexual offences and the treatment of persons convicted of such offences by the courts; and (b) the law and practice relating to offences against the criminal law in connection with prostitution and solicitation for immoral purposes, and to report what changes, if any, are desirable.”

The committee met for the first time on September 15, 1954. Over a period of three years, they interviewed religious leaders, policemen, judges, probation officers, psychiatrists, social workers, and homosexuals. When they issued their report in 1957, all but one of the thirteen members still sitting on the committee agreed that homosexual acts should be decriminalized if they took place in private, with consent, between persons at least 21 years of age and not members of the armed forces or the merchant navy.

The committee condemned homosexuality as immoral and destructive to individuals, but concluded that outlawing homosexuality impinged on civil liberties and that private morality or immorality should not be “the law’s business.” The function of the law, the committee wrote:

…is to preserve public order and decency, to protect the citizen from what is offensive or injurious, and to provide sufficient safeguards against exploitation and corruption of others, particularly those who are specially vulnerable…. It is not, in our view, the function of the law to intervene in the private life of citizens, or to seek to enforce any particular pattern of behaviour, further than is necessary to carry out the purposes we have outlined.

_____________________________________________________________

Interview with Sir John Wolfenden in 1967.
_____________________________________________________________

The basis on which the Wolfenden committee made its recommendations was essentially a restatement of the famous “harm principle” of John Stuart Mill, which he stated in his best-known work, On Liberty (1859). Here, Mill’s defense of liberty is as uncompromising as he can make it:

[T]he sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil in case he do otherwise. To justify that, the conduct from which it is desired to deter him must be calculated to produce evil to someone else. The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute.

The sole dissenter from the majority’s recommendation, James Adair, disassociated himself from the Wolfenden Report, declaring that relaxing the law on homosexuality would be regarded by many homosexuals as “licensing licentiousness.”

Interestingly, despite the testimony of numerous psychiatrists and psychoanalysts, the committee refused to classify homosexuality as a mental illness requiring psychiatric intervention. It found that “homosexuality cannot legitimately be regarded as a disease, because in many cases it is the only symptom and is compatible with full mental health in other respects.” It did, however, urge continued research into the causes and potential cures of homosexuality, such as hormone treatments and psychiatric therapy.

The recommendation to decriminalize homosexuality was widely condemned by many religious and political leaders and by a host of newspapers. The committee’s refusal to declare homosexuality a disease provoked the condemnation of psychiatrists. On the other hand, the British Medical Association, the Howard League for Penal Reform, and the National Association of Probation Officers supported the committee’s recommendations. Somewhat surprisingly, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Fisher, made an eloquent plea on behalf of the recommendations, declaring that:

There is a sacred realm of privacy… into which the law, generally speaking, must not intrude. This is a principle of the utmost importance for the preservation of human freedom, self-respect, and responsibility.

The home secretary, Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe, was deeply disappointed in the Wolfenden Report. He no doubt expected the committee to recommend additional ways of controlling homosexual behavior, rather than decriminalizing it. In any case, he expressed doubt that the general population would support reform and declined to take action to implement the committee’s recommendation, calling instead for “additional study.” In fact, it took a good ten years for the recommendations in the Report to become law with the new Sexual Offences Act in 1967.

References:

September 3, 1945 (a Monday)

In the early hours on this date, Wilfred Graham Burchett entered Hiroshima alone, less than a month after the atomic bombing of the city. He was the first Western journalist — and almost certainly the first Westerner other than prisoners of war — to reach Hiroshima after the bomb and was the only person to get an uncensored story out of Japan. The story which he typed out on his battered Baby Hermes typewriter, sitting among the ruins, remains one of the most important Western eyewitness accounts, and the first attempt to come to terms with the full human and moral consequences of the United States’ initiation of nuclear war. It was published in the London Daily Express on September 5 and appears below in its entirety:

30th Day in Hiroshima: Those who escaped begin to die, victims of
THE ATOMIC PLAGUE
I write this as a Warning to the World
DOCTORS FALL AS THEY WORK
Poison gas fear: All wear masks

In Hiroshima, 30 days after the 1st atomic bomb destroyed the city and shook the world, people are still dying, mysteriously and horribly — people who were uninjured in the cataclysm from an unknown something which I can only describe as the atomic plague.

Hiroshima does not look like a bombed city. It looks as if a monster steamroller has passed over it and squashed it out of existence. I write these facts as dispassionately as I can in the hope that they will act as a warning to the world.

In this first testing ground of the atomic bomb I have seen the most terrible and frightening desolation in four years of war. It makes a blitzed Pacific island seem like an Eden. The damage is far greater than photographs can show.

When you arrive in Hiroshima you can look around for twenty-five and perhaps thirty square miles and you can see hardly a building. It gives you an empty feeling in the stomach to see such man-made destruction.

I picked my way to a shack used as a temporary police headquarters in the middle of the vanished city. Looking south from there I could see about three miles of reddish rubble. That is all the atomic bomb left of dozens of blocks of city streets, of buildings, homes, factories and human beings.

STILL THEY FAIL

There is just nothing standing except about twenty factory chimneys — chimneys with no factories. A group of half a dozen gutted buildings. And then again, nothing.

The police chief of Hiroshima welcomed me eagerly as the first Allied correspondent to reach the city. With the local manager of Domei, the leading Japanese news agency, he drove me through, or perhaps I should say over, the city. And he took me to hospitals where the victims of the bomb are still being treated.

In these hospitals I found people who, when the bomb fell suffered absolutely no injuries, but now are dying from the uncanny after-effects. For no apparent reason their health began to fail. They lost appetite. Their hair fell out. Bluish spots appeared on their bodies. And then bleeding began from the ears, nose, and mouth. At first, the doctors told me, they thought these were the symptoms of general debility. They gave their patients Vitamin A injections. The results were horrible. The flesh started rotting away from the hole caused by the injection of the needle. And in every case the victim died. That is one of the after-effects of the first atomic bomb man ever dropped and I do not want to see any more examples of it.

THE SULPHUR SMELL

My nose detected a peculiar odor unlike anything I have ever smelled before. It is something like sulphur, but not quite. I could smell it when I passed a fire that was still smoldering, or at a spot where they were still recovering bodies from the wreckage. But I could also smell it where everything was still deserted.

They believe it is given off by the poisonous gas still issuing from the earth soaked with radioactivity by the split uranium atom.

And so the people of Hiroshima today are walking through the forlorn desolation of their once proud city with gauze masks over their mouths and noses. It probably does not help them physically.

But it helps them mentally.

From the moment that this devastation was loosed upon Hiroshima, the people who survived have hated the white man. It is a hate, the intensity of which is almost as frightening as the bomb itself.

‘ALL CLEAR’ WENT

The counted dead number 53,000. Another 30,000 are missing, which means certainly dead. In the day I have stayed in Hiroshima — and this is nearly a month after the bombing — 100 people have died from its effects.

They were some of the 13,000 seriously injured by the explosion. They have been dying at the rate of 100 a day. And they will probably all die. Another 40,000 were slightly injured.

These casualties might not have been as high except for a tragic mistake. The authorities thought this was just another Super-Fort raid. The plane flew over the target and dropped the parachute which carried the bomb to its explosion point.

The American plane passed out of sight. The all-clear was sounded and the people of Hiroshima came out from their shelters. Almost a minute later the bomb reached the 2,000 foot altitude at which it was timed to explode — at the moment when nearly everyone in Hiroshima was in the streets.

Hundreds and hundreds of the dead were so badly burned by the terrific heat generated by the bomb that it was not even possible to tell whether they were men or women, old or young.

Of thousands of others, nearer the center of the explosion, there was no trace. The theory in Hiroshima is that the atomic heat was so great that they burned instantly to ashes — except that there were no ashes.

If you could see what is left of Hiroshima, you would think that London had not been touched by bombs.

HEAP OF RUBBLE

The Imperial Palace [Hiroshima Castle], once an imposing building, is a heap of rubble three feet high, and there is one piece of the wall. Roof, floors and everything else is dust.

Hiroshima has one intact building — the Bank of Japan. This in a city which at the start of the war had a population of 310,000.

Almost every Japanese scientist has visited Hiroshima in the past three weeks to try to find a way of relieving the people’s suffering. Now they themselves have become sufferers.

For the first fortnight after the bomb dropped they found they could not stay long in the fallen city. They had dizzy spells and headaches. Then minor insect bites developed into great swellings which would not heal. Their health steadily deteriorated.

Then they found another extraordinary effect of the new terror from the skies.

Many people had suffered only a slight cut from a falling splinter of brick or steel. They should have recovered quickly. But they did not.

They developed an acute sickness. Their gums began to bleed and then they vomited blood. And finally they died.

All these phenomena, they told me, were due to the radioactivity released by the atomic bomb’s explosion of the uranium atom.

WATER POISONED

They found that the water had been poisoned by chemical reaction. Even today every drop of water consumed in Hiroshima comes from other cities. The people of Hiroshima are still afraid.

The scientists told me they have noted a great difference between the effect of the bombs in Hiroshima and in Nagasaki.

Hiroshima is in perfectly flat delta country. Nagasaki is hilly. When the bomb dropped on Hiroshima the weather was bad, and a big rain-storm developed soon afterwards.

And so they believe that the uranium radiation was driven into the earth and that, because so many are still falling sick and dying, it is still the cause of this man-made plague.

At Nagasaki on the other hand the weather was perfect, and scientists believe that this allowed the radioactivity to dissipate into the atmosphere more rapidly. In addition, the force of the bomb explosion was, to a large extent, expended in the sea, where only fish were killed.

To support this theory, the scientists point to the fact that, in Nagasaki, death came swiftly and suddenly, and that there have been no after-effects such as those that Hiroshima is still suffering.

Burchett’s firsthand account was censored throughout the United States but had been wired around the world. On the morning of September 7th at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, senior U.S. officials called a press conference to refute his story, which Burchett attended. Brigadier General Thomas Farrell, deputy head of the super-secret Manhattan Project, explained that the atomic bomb had been exploded at a sufficient height over Hiroshima to avoid any risk of “residual radiation.” Burchett’s first question to the briefing officer was, “Have you been to Hiroshima?”

“No,” he replied, but then added, “Those I had seen in the hospital were victims of blast and burn, normal after any big explosion. Apparently the Japanese doctors were incompetent to handle them or lacked the right medication.” He discounted allegations that those who had not been in the city at the time of the blast were later affected.

Burchett asked, “Why were fish still dying a month after the blast?”

Giving a pained expression, the spokesman replied, “I’m afraid you’ve fallen victim to Japanese propaganda.”

Burchett later recounted that he was then “whisked to a U.S. Army hospital where doctors told me my low white-corpuscle count was caused by antibiotics I had been given for a knee infection.” Years later he found out this condition was related to radiation sickness.

Shortly before he died of cancer in 1983, Burchett’s book entitled Shadows of Hiroshima was published.

References:

September 3, 1907 (a Tuesday)

Loren Corey Eiseley

On this date, the highly respected anthropologist, ecologist, science writer, and poet Loren Corey Eiseley was born. He published books of essays, biography, and general science in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s.

Eiseley is best known for the poetic essay style called the “hidden essay”. He used this to explain complex scientific ideas, such as human evolution, to the general public. He is also known for his writings about humanity’s relationship with the natural world. These helped inspire the environmental movement.

Eiseley’s first book, The Immense Journey: An Imaginative Naturalist Explores the Mysteries of Man and Nature (1946), a collection of writings about the history of humanity, established him as a writer with the unique ability to combine science and humanism. In the essay from it entitled “The Snout”, he wrote:

The door to the past is a strange door. It swings open and things pass through it, but they pass in one direction only. No man can return across that threshold, though he can look down still and see the green light waver in the water weeds.

Eiseley’s book, Darwin’s Century (1958), focuses on the development of the theory of evolution and was awarded the Phi Beta Kappa Science prize in 1959. His other books include The Unexpected Universe (1969), The Night Country (1971), the memoir All The Strange Hours: The Excavation of a Life (1975), and Darwin and the Mysterious Mr. X: New Light on the Evolutionists (1979).

When Loren Eiseley was 3 his father held him up to watch Halley’s Comet blaze across the sky and told his son to look for its return in 75 years. But Loren Eiseley did not live that long. He died July 9, 1977, having used his brief seventy years to leave behind a heritage that continues to enrich the lives of all who come to know his work.

September 3, 1939 (a Sunday)

On this date, two days after the outbreak of World War II, the anti-war novel Johnny Got His Gun, written by Dalton Trumbo, was published by J. B. Lippincott.

September 3, 1838 (a Monday)

Frederick Douglass in 1845.

On this date, Frederick Douglass successfully escaped slavery by boarding a train to Havre de Grace, Maryland. He was dressed in a sailor’s uniform and carried identification papers provided by a free black seaman. He crossed the Susquehanna River by ferry at Havre de Grace, then continued by train to Wilmington, Delaware. From there he went by steamboat to “Quaker City” — Philadelphia, Pennsylvania — and eventually reached New York; the whole journey took less than 24 hours.

And so began the remarkable career of an American abolitionist, women’s suffragist, editor, orator, author, statesman, and reformer. Called “The Sage of Anacostia” and “The Lion of Anacostia”, Douglass is one of the most prominent figures in African-American and United States history. He was a firm believer in the equality of all people, whether black, female, Native American, or recent immigrant. Douglass was fond of saying, “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”

One of my personal favorites is an excerpt from a speech Douglass delivered at Corinthian Hall in his adopted hometown, Rochester, New York, on July 5, 1852, entitled “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”:

But the church of this country is not only indifferent to the wrongs of the slave, it actually takes sides with the oppressors. It has made itself the bulwark of American slavery, and the shield of American slave-hunters. Many of its most eloquent Divines. who stand as the very lights of the church, have shamelessly given the sanction of religion and the Bible to the whole slave system. They have taught that man may, properly, be a slave; that the relation of master and slave is ordained of God; that to send back an escaped bondman to his master is clearly the duty of all the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ; and this horrible blasphemy is palmed off upon the world for Christianity.

For my part, I would say, welcome infidelity! welcome atheism! welcome anything! in preference to the gospel, as preached by those Divines! They convert the very name of religion into an engine of tyranny, and barbarous cruelty, and serve to confirm more infidels, in this age, than all the infidel writings of Thomas Paine, Voltaire, and Bolingbroke, put together, have done!

The historian David W. Blight has said of this speech, “If Uncle Tom’s Cabin is the fictional masterpiece of American abolitionism, a book Abraham Lincoln would later acknowledge as powerful enough to ’cause this big war,’ then Douglass’s Fourth of July address is abolition’s rhetorical masterpiece.”

The bust of Ludwig Feuerbach owned by Frederick Douglas that he displayed at his home in Washington, D.C. in later life.

One might wonder, based on the excerpt above: was Douglas an atheist?   Apparently not in 1852, but a letter dated May 15, 1871 by his friend Ottilie Assing, written to the German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach, reveals that Douglas did in fact years later make the leap:

Personal sympathy and concordance in many central issues brought us together; but there was one obstacle to a loving and lasting friendship—namely, the personal Christian God. Early impressions, environments, and the beliefs still dominating this entire nation held sway over Douglass. The ray of light of German atheism had never reached him, while I, thanks to natural inclination, training, and the whole influence of German education and literature, had overcome the belief in God at an early age. I experienced this dualism as an unbearable dissonance, and since I not only saw in Douglass the ability to recognize intellectual shackles but also credited him with the courage and integrity to discard at once the old errors and, in this one respect, his entire past, his lifelong beliefs, I sought refuge with you. In the English translation by Mary Anne Evans we read the Essence of Christianity together, which I, too, encountered for the first time on that occasion. This book—for me one of the greatest manifestations of the human spirit—resulted in a total reversal of his attitudes. Douglass has become your enthusiastic admirer, and the result is a remarkable progress, an expansion of his horizon, of all his attitudes as expressed especially in his lectures and essays, which are intellectually much more rich, deep, and logical than before. While most of his former companions in the struggle against slavery have disappeared from the public stage since the abolition, and, in a way, have become anachronisms because they lack fertile ideas, Douglass now has reached the zenith of his development. For the satisfaction of seeing a superior man won over for atheism, and through that to have gained a faithful, valuable friend for myself, I feel obliged to you, and I cannot deny myself the pleasure of expressing my gratitude as well as my heartfelt veneration.

Frederick Douglas had first met Ottilie Assing when she traveled to Rochester in 1856 as a German journalist for the prestigious German newspaper Morgenblatt für gebildete Leserto to interview him. She then spent the next 22 summers with the Douglass family, working on articles, the translation project, and tutoring his children.

At the same time, Anna Douglass, Frederick’s wife, was somewhat older than Frederick, illiterate, and ill much of the time. She shared little of her husband’s intellect or interests, and seemed unable to cope with the large household.

Assing, on the other hand, was a passionate abolitionist, was politically astute, and contributed a great deal to Douglass’ work.  The affair was never confined to the domestic sphere, and it was never a secret. For most of their 26 year friendship, when apart, Frederick and Ottilie weekly wrote each other.  Assing was confident that, upon Anna’s death, Douglass would marry her.  However, when Anna died in 1882, Douglass wed another woman – white, bright and 20 years his junior.  Heartbroken and ill with breast cancer, Assing walked into a park, opened a tiny vial and swallowed the potassium cyanide within.  Still, Ottilie left Frederick Douglass as the sole beneficiary in her will.

References:

  • Diedrich, Maria. Love across Color Lines: Ottilie Assing and Frederick Douglass (New York: Hill and Wang, 1999), pp. 259-260. Original German letter published in Ausgewälte Briefe von und an Ludwig Feuerbach, ed. Hans-Martin Sass (Stuttgart: Friedrich Frommann, 1964), vols. 12/13, pp. 365-366.
  • Assing, Ottilie. Radical Passion: Ottilie Assing’s Reports from America and Letters to Frederick Douglass, edited, translated, and introduced by Christoph Lohmann. (New York: Peter Lang, 1999). (New Directions in German American Studies; v. 1)

September 2, 1998 (a Wednesday)

The Contracting Parties confirm that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and punish.

– Article I of the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide

Zen stones

Bodies of murdered Tutsis from Rwanda, pulled from Lake Victoria by Ugandan fishermen. The bodies had traveled more than 200 miles by river from Rwanda.

On this date, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (a court established by United Nations Security Council Resolution 955 on 8 November 1994) found Jean-Paul Akayesu, the former mayor of the small Rwandan town of Taba, guilty of 9 counts of genocide and crimes against humanity (Prosecutor v. Jean-Paul Akayesu, ICTR-96-4), marking the first time that the 1948 law banning genocide was enforced. Because mass killings had occurred in several countries since the law went into effect, the UN received heavy criticism for waiting 50 years before finally enforcing it.

After the Rwandan genocide began on April 7, 1994, Akayesu initially kept his town out of the mass killing, refusing to let militia operate there and protecting the local Tutsi population. But following an April 18 meeting of mayors with interim government leaders (those who planned and orchestrated the genocide), a fundamental change took place in the town and apparently within Akayesu. He seems to have calculated that his political and social future depended on joining the forces carrying out the genocide. Akayesu exchanged his business suit for a military jacket, literally donning violence as his modus operandi: witnesses saw him incite townspeople to join in the killing and turn former safe havens into places of torture, rape, and murder.

Sentencing occurred on October 2, 1998, when Jean-Paul Akayesu was given life imprisonment for his role in the deaths of 2,000 Tutsis who had sought his protection, as well as 80 years in prison for other violations, including rape. Although Akayesu claimed that he was powerless to stop the killings, Judge Laity Kama ruled that the mayor was “individually and criminally responsible for the deaths.” The ruling not only marked the first time a guilty verdict was handed down on the basis of the 1948 Genocide Convention, but also the first time in international law that mass rape was considered an “act of genocide.” This judgement was upheld on appeal.

References: