Tag Archives: History

October 22, 1996 (a Tuesday)

Church/State sign.

On this date, Pope John Paul II, in an address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, said:

In his Encyclical Humani generis (1950), my predecessor Pius XII had already stated that there was no opposition between evolution and the doctrine of the faith about man and his vocation, on condition that one did not lose sight of several indisputable points…Today, almost half a century after the publication of the Encyclical, fresh knowledge has led to the recognition that evolution is more than a hypothesis. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favour of this theory.

October 22, 1783 (a Wednesday)

Constantine Samuel Rafinesque

On this date, the naturalist Constantine Samuel Rafinesque was born in Galata, a suburb of Constantinople. Throughout his life he traveled extensively, collecting specimens wherever he went, and wrote and published constantly. He was an overly enthusiastic but accurate observer driven by a monomaniacal desire to name every object he encountered in nature. His scientific work has been gaining more and more recognition in recent years.

Rafinesque’s family moved to France the year following his birth, and at age nineteen Rafinesque became an apprentice in the mercantile house of the Clifford Brothers in Philadelphia. He returned to Europe in 1805 and spent the next decade in Sicily, where he was secretary to the U. S. consul. During this time his first scientific books were published. He returned to the United States in 1815 and remained in America the rest of his life, becoming a naturalized citizen in 1832. He was professor of botany and natural science at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky from 1819 to 1826.

The early conclusion by Rafinesque that the taxonomic categories called species and genera are man-made generalizations which have no physical existence led to his deep appreciation of variation in plants. He understood that such variation, through time, will lead to the development of what we call new species. But he had no explanation for the cause of variation, though he did consider hybridity a possible mechanism and, without calling it that, he had what appears to be some perception of mutation. Hence, he never developed a theory of evolution earlier than Darwin, as sometimes has been claimed, because Rafinesque had no inkling of natural selection and his understanding of geological time was far too shallow.

October 20, 1790 (a Wednesday)

On this date, the Scottish fruit-grower Patrick Matthew was born. He is notable for having proposed the principle of natural selection as a mechanism of evolution over a quarter-century earlier than did Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace. However, Matthew failed to develop or publicize his ideas and Darwin and Wallace were unaware of Matthew’s work when they synthesized their own.

Patrick Matthew (1790)

Matthew’s work entitled, On Naval Timber and Aboriculture, which was published in 1831, presented in sufficiently recognizable detail “this natural process of selection among plants” (see pages 307 to 308). In an appendix to the book, he wrote:

There is a law universal in nature, tending to render every reproductive being the best possible suited to its condition that its kind, or organized matter, is susceptible of, which appears intended to model the physical and mental or instinctive powers to their highest perfection and to continue them so. This law sustains the lion in his strength, the hare in her swiftness, and the fox in his wiles. As nature, in all her modifications of life, has a power of increase far beyond what is needed to supply the place of what falls by Time’s decay, those individuals who possess not the requisite strength, swiftness, hardihood, or cunning, fall prematurely without reproducing—either a prey to their natural devourers, or sinking under disease, generally induced by want of nourishment, their place being occupied by the more perfect of their own kind, who are pressing on the means of subsistence . . .

There is more beauty and unity of design in this continual balancing of life to circumstance, and greater conformity to those dispositions of nature which are manifest to us, than in total destruction and new creation. It is improbable that much of this diversification is owing to commixture of species nearly allied, all change by this appears very limited, and confined within the bounds of what is called species; the progeny of the same parents, under great differences of circumstance, might, in several generations, even become distinct species, incapable of co-reproduction.

In 1860, Matthew read a review of Darwin’s Origin of Species in the Gardeners’ Chronicle, including its description of the principle of natural selection. This prompted him to write a letter to the publication, calling attention his earlier explication of the theory. Darwin then wrote a letter of his own to the Gardener’s Chronicle, stating:

I freely acknowledge that Mr. Matthew has anticipated by many years the explanation which I have offered of the origin of species, under the name of natural selection. I think that no one will feel surprised that neither I, nor apparently any other naturalist, has heard of Mr. Matthew’s views, considering how briefly they are given, and that they appeared in the Appendix to a work On Naval Timber and Arboriculture. I can do no more than offer my apologies to Mr. Matthew for my entire ignorance of his publication.

However, there are nearly as many deep differences between Matthew’s theory and Darwin’s as there are similarities. Matthew was a catastrophist; his geological theories were very close to those of Cuvier. According to Matthew, the earth had periodically been rocked by upheavals, which left an “unoccupied field. . . for new diverging ramifications of life.” Evolutionary change took place right after these upheavals; between catastrophes, species did not change,and natural selection would act to stabilize species, not alter them:

A particular conformity, each after its own kind, . . . no doubt exists to a considerable degree. This conformity has existed during the last 40 centuries [4,000 years]. Geologists discover a like particular conformity – fossil species – through the deep deposition of each great epoch, but they also discover an almost complete difference to exist between the species or stamp of life on one epoch from that of every other.

Matthew’s theory lacked Darwin’s concept of evolution as an ongoing, continuous process. Matthew did not see evolution as the gradual accumulation of favorable variations leading to adaptation, nor did he believe in extinction except by catastrophe. Matthew saw species as classes of similar organisms, not as interbreeding populations. He also never relinquished his belief in natural theology; he wrote to Darwin in 1871 that “a sentiment of beauty pervading Nature. . . affords evidence of intellect and benevolence in the scheme of Nature. This principle of beauty is clearly from design and cannot be accounted for by natural selection.”

October 19, 1932 (a Wednesday)

Depression-era U.S. poster advocating early syphilis treatment. Although treatments were available, participants in the study did not receive them.

On this date, Dr. Raymond A. Vonderlehr arrived in Montgomery, Alabama, following a rainy drive from Washington, DC. After meeting Dr. Oliver C. Wenger, both men drove down to Tuskegee, checking into the only hotel for whites in town – the Carr Hotel. Here they intended to spread the word to Macon County’s black population that a new syphilis control demonstration was about to begin. In actuality, this was the beginning of what was to become the notorious Tuskegee Syphilis Study, a non-therapeutic, observational study of the effects of untreated sexually-transmitted syphilis in poor, rural black men who thought they were receiving free health care from the U.S. government.

Investigators enrolled in the study a total of 600 impoverished, African-American sharecroppers from Macon County, Alabama; 399 who had previously contracted syphilis before the study began, and 201 without the disease. For participating in the study, the men were given free medical care, meals, and free burial insurance. They were never told they had syphilis, nor were they ever treated for it. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the men were told they were being treated for “bad blood,” a local term used to describe several illnesses, including syphilis, anemia and fatigue.

The 40-year study was controversial for reasons related to ethical standards, primarily because researchers knowingly failed to treat patients appropriately after the 1940s validation of penicillin as an effective cure for the disease they were studying. Choices available to the doctors involved in the study might have included treating all syphilitic subjects and closing the study, or splitting off a control group for testing with penicillin. Instead, the Tuskegee scientists continued the study without treating any participants and withholding penicillin and information about it from the patients. In addition, scientists prevented participants from accessing syphilis treatment programs available to others in the area. The study continued under numerous U.S. Public Health Service supervisors until 1972, when a leak to the press by Peter Buxtun, a PHS venereal disease investigator, eventually resulted in its termination.

The Tuskegee Syphilis Study has been called “arguably the most infamous biomedical research study in U.S. history.”

References:

  • James H. Jones. Bad Blood (Simon & Schuster, 1992) pp. 113-114.

October 16, 1923 (a Tuesday)

Cyril Ponnamperuma

On this date, the Ceylonese-American chemist and exobiologist Cyril Ponnamperuma, who was a leading authority on the chemical origins of life, was born. Ponnamperuma’s interest in prebiotic synthesis began during his undergraduate days at Birckbeck College, University of London, where he studied under J. D. Bernal, receiving his B.Sc. in 1959. He then joined Melvin Calvin’s group at the University of California, Berkeley, receiving his Ph.D. in 1962, before moving to NASA Ames Research Center as a postdoctoral associate. In 1963, he became director of the program in Chemical Evolution in the Exobiology Division at Ames. In 1971, he joined the faculty at the University of Maryland.

Ponnamperuma, along with others, regarded the evolution of life as almost inevitable given the right starting conditions. For example, in the preface to Exobiology (1972), he wrote that:

[O]ur primary objective becomes the understanding of the origin of life in the universe. This is the scientifically broader question before us. If we can understand how life began on the Earth, we can argue that the sequence of events which lead to the appearance of terrestrial life may be repeated in the staggering number of planetary systems in our universe.

He built on the work of Miller and Urey studying chemical reactions in “primordial soup” experiments. Ponnamperuma focused on producing compounds related to the nucleic acids and offered a convincing theory about series of chemical reactions that gave rise to precursors of life on earth. He demonstrated that nucleotides and dinucleotides can be formed by random processes alone. In another achievement, he showed the formation of ATP, a compound critical to the use of energy within a cell.

October 15, 1825 (a Saturday)

Charles Darwin by G Richmond.

On or about this date, Charles Darwin was sent to the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, known as having one of the best medical schools in all of Europe. Charles went at the insistence of his father Robert, who, concerned that his son might otherwise “go astray,” had decided that Charles will pursue a medical career as he and his grandfather had before him. Once there, he joined his brother Erasmus, who had finished most of his medical studies at Cambridge. They took lodgings together in 11 Lothian Street, right across from the University. Darwin did not particularly like medical studies – the fear of the sight of blood being a major hindrance, but the primary reason for his aversion appears to be that he found the study of medicine incredibly boring.

October 12, 1998 (a Monday)

The horrific events that took place shortly after midnight on Wednesday, 7 October 1998, went against everything that Matthew Shepard embodied. Two men, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, lead him to a remote area east of Laramie, Wyoming. He was tied to a split-rail fence where the two men severely assaulted him. He was beaten and left to die in the cold of the night. Almost 18 hours later, he was found by a bicyclist who initially mistook him for a scarecrow. Matt died on this date at 12:53 AM at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado with his family by his side.

We never knew Matthew Shepard.

But he was our family.

Please, stop killing our family.
________________________________________________________


________________________________________________________

October 11, 1978 (a Wednesday)

Ban the Chinese Government

In October 1978, Huang Xiang was feeling restless and one day was moved to take out of concealment the political poems he had written during the Mao Years. He then conceived of going to Beijing to post them so people could see them, in spite of the danger still inherent in anti-Mao sentiments. Word of Huang Xiang’s plan got around in his circle of friends, and soon three of them – Mo Jiangang, Li Jiahua, and Fang Jiahua – decided to accompany him on the 1,500 mile trip to Beijing.

On October 11, 1978, with a bucket of flour paste, they proceeded to an alley off Wangfujing Avenue in downtown Beijing near the offices of The People’s Daily, and began to glue up the hundred-odd sheets of Huang Xiang’s poetry. The four brushed as big characters a series of Huang Xiang’s poems collectively referred to as “The Fire God Symphony”. According to Huang, those poems were meant “to oppose the idol worship of Mao Zedong and his personal cult, to criticize romanticism, feudalism, fascism, and modern emperorship, to completely negate the Cultural Revolution, and to appeal publicly for freedom, democracy, and human rights.”

Huang Xiang, aged 63. The largest character that appears on his front door is “door” in Chinese.

The well-constructed poems of “The Fire God Symphony” are united in their coherent references to fire symbolism – fire, light, torch, fire god – to express a compelling discontent with reality and an open advocacy of democracy and human rights. In terms of articulating an infectious spirit of defiance and rebellion, Huang Xiang at his best stands shoulder to shoulder with other famous poet-rebels such as Guo Moruo and Walt Whitman. Huang demonstrates a rare political prescience in his frontal assault on the idolatry of Chairman Mao and his suffocating ideology. For example, in “The Fire God Symphony” he writes:

Why can one man control the wills of millions of people
Why can one man prescribe life and death everywhere
Why should we bow and worship an idol
Letting blind faith confine our will to live, our thoughts and emotions

[...]

Let man be restored to his dignity
Let life become life once again
Let music and virtue be the soul’s inner essence
Let beauty and nature be man’s once again

Later on October 11, a curious crowd gathered in the alley off Wangfujing Avenue and soon spilled out onto the avenue, causing a huge traffic jam. Sympathizers linked arms to protect the four from the surge of the crowd. Huang Xiang, encouraged by the crowd, recited all of his poems from memory (some six hundred lines). That night people crowded the alley trying to read the poems by torch light.

Later recalling these events, Huang Xiang wrote:

We “set fire” on Wangfujing Avenue in Beijing. Myself and my three friends, Li Jiahua, Fang Jiahua, and Mo Jiangang, put up my poem “The Fire God Symphony” in big character posters. This first batch of posters lit a spark for seeking enlightenment and freedom in Communist China. We founded and published the first independent periodical ever, called Enlightenment, and staged a poetic campaign to advocate human rights and freedom of expression.

On November 24, 1978 they returned and posted big character posters (dazibao) on seventy yards of fence near Mao Zedong’s mausoleum in Tiananmen Square. Huang Xiang then brushed two big character posters on the spot, “The Cultural Revolution Must Be Reevaluated!” and “Mao Zedong was thirty percent right and seventy percent wrong!” Both were absolute heresies even two years after Mao’s death. These astonishing statements, in full sight of the usual people lined up to enter Mao’s mausoleum, caused a sensation.

By December 1978, cultural and political activists had gravitated to Xidan, west of Tiananmen Square. Many posters appeared on a wall next to a busy bus stop. The wall soon acquired its historic name, the Democracy Wall.

The Democracy Wall Movement quickly spread from the Xidan Wall in Beijing to other walls in the city and to other cities: ­Shanghai, Guangzhou, Wuhan, Huangzhou and Qingdao. While most focused on economic issues and Cultural Revolution grievances, a small number emphasized political issues. Participants coordinated their actions in each city and sometimes between cities. By mid-1979, activists were beginning to set up connections between regions, which developed into a loose network. Although the activists were small in number, several hundred to several thousand at any one time, their posters, debates and magazines attracted tens of thousands of readers and listeners. Officials as well as ordinary people, who shared their revulsion at Mao’s use of terror and chaos for his own political purposes and also sought to reform the political system were among the readers and discussants at the walls.

From 1959 to 1997, Huang was incarcerated six times for political dissent and spent a total of 12 years in jail. He continued to write even though he was tortured for his work, which was completely banned in China. He has lived in exile in the United States since 1997. Huang has published poems and essays, and a bilingual edition of his Out of Communist China was published in 2003.

References:

October 11, 1993 (a Monday)

Richard J. Roberts

On this date, the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine jointly to Richard J. Roberts and Phillip A. Sharp, who in 1977 independently discovered that individual genes could be discontinuous, that is, a given gene could exist in the genetic material not as one continuous segment of DNA but as several, well-separated segments. A gene may thus consist of several segments, usually termed exons, separated by intervening, irrelevant stretches of DNA called introns. Such “split genes” are typically found in eukaryotes but not in prokaryotes, which have very compact genomes.

Phillip A. Sharp

The discovery of split genes has radically changed our view on how the genetic material has changed during the course of evolution. Previously, it was thought that only minor alterations (mutations) occur within genes, producing gradual change in the genetic material. However, now it seems likely that higher organisms, in addition to undergoing mutations, may utilize another method that changes the genetic material: rearrangement or shuffling of exons that produces proteins with new functions. This can take place through crossing-over during gamete formation. This hypothesis was bolstered by the later finding that individual exons in several cases correspond to building modules (domains) in proteins and each domain has a specific function. An exon in the gene would thus correspond to a particular subfunction in the protein, and the shuffling of exons could result in a new combination of subfunctions in a protein. This kind of genetic recombination could accelerate evolution significantly.

October 10, 1881 (a Monday)

Charles Darwin

On this date, Charles Darwin published The Formation of Vegetable Mold Through the Action of Worms. He considered the work a more important accomplishment than his The Origin of Species (1859), which turned out to be one of the most influential and controversial books in history.

October 9, 1676

Anton Van Leeuwenhoek

In 1673 Regnier de Graaf, a brilliant young physician in Delft, Holland, wrote a letter of introduction about Anton Van Leeuwenhoek to Henry Oldenburg, Secretary of the Royal Society in London. De Graaf said that Leeuwenhoek had devised microscopes that were far superior to any then known.  Accompanying De Graaf’s letter was the first letter to the Royal Society written by Leeuwenhoek, which dealt with observations on the structure of mold, as well as the structure of the bee and the louse.  Leeuwenhoek’s letter was published in Philosophical Transactions of the Society, and Oldenburg wrote to the author requesting further communications. Over the next fifty years, Leeuwenhoek wrote more than three hundred letters to the Royal Society.

On today’s date, Anton Van Leeuwenhoek wrote his most famous letter to the Royal Society, communicating the results of a series of experiments on water infused with pepper. Leeuwenhoek began by examining some snow-water that he had kept sealed for three years. He noted no creatures. He then added some peppercorns to the solution in what might have been an attempt to discover “the cause of the hotness or power whereby pepper affects the tongue.” Three weeks later, on 24 April 1676, Leeuwenhoek discovered the sudden appearance of a tremendous number of “very little animals.” Judging by his calculations of their number and size, historians have surmised that Leeuwenhoek had become the first person to see bacteria. Leeuwenhoek wrote:

The 31th of May, I perceived in the same water more of those Animals, as also some that were somewhat bigger. And I imagine, that [ten hundred thousand] of these little Creatures do not equal an ordinary grain of Sand in bigness: And comparing them with a Cheese-mite (which may be seen to move with the naked eye) I make the proportion of one of these small Water-creatures to a Cheese-mite, to be like that of a Bee to a Horse: For, the circumference of one of these little Animals in water, is not so big as the thickness of a hair in a Cheese-mite.

Previously, the existence of single-celled organisms was entirely unknown. Thus, even with his established reputation with the Royal Society as a reliable observer, his observations of microscopic life were initially met with skepticism. Eventually, in the face of Van Leeuwenhoek’s insistence, the Royal Society arranged to send an English vicar as well as a team of respected jurists and doctors to Delft to determine whether it was in fact Van Leeuwenhoek’s ability to observe and reason clearly, or perhaps the Royal Society’s theories of life itself that might require reform.

Finally, in 1680, Van Leeuwenhoek’s observations were fully vindicated by the Society. Although he neither lectured nor wrote formal scientific papers, he was recognized as an original scientist and was admitted as a Fellow to the Royal Society. Given contemporary medical theories, it did not occur to Leeuwenhoek that what he saw with his microscope was in any way connected to disease, but his observations laid a foundation on which further investigations were born.

References:

  • Letter to H. Oldenburg, 9 Oct 1676. In The Collected Letters of Antoni van Leeuwenhoek (1957), Vol. 2, 75.

October 8, 2010 (a Friday)

All dictatorships like to proclaim patriotism but dictatorial patriotism is just an excuse to inflict disasters on the nation and calamities on its people.

— Liu Xiaobo, “The [Communist Party of China's] Dictatorial Patriotism” (2005)

[China] provides large quantities of economic assistance to dictatorships such as North Korea, Cuba, and Myanmar, offsetting to some degree the impact of Western economic sanctions and enabling these remaining despotic regimes on their last legs to linger on.

— Liu Xiaobo, “The Negative Effects of the Rise of Dictatorship on World Democratization” (2006)

Zen stones

The prominent dissident writer Liu Xiaobo, one of the first signers of Charter 08.

Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波), 54, the prominent independent intellectual and long-time democracy advocate, was awarded the Nobel peace prize on 8 October 2010, for his “long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.” The first resident citizen of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to win a Nobel prize, Liu becomes only the second person to win the peace prize while incarcerated, following German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky, who won it in 1935 while jailed by the Nazis. In its press release, the Norwegian Nobel Committee noted:

. . . [T]here is a close connection between human rights and peace. Such rights are a prerequisite for the “fraternity between nations” of which Alfred Nobel wrote in his will.

Over the past decades, China has achieved economic advances to which history can hardly show any equal. The country now has the world’s second largest economy; hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty. Scope for political participation has also broadened.

China’s new status must entail increased responsibility. China is in breach of several international agreements to which it is a signatory, as well as of its own provisions concerning political rights. Article 35 of China’s constitution lays down that “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration”. In practice, these freedoms have proved to be distinctly curtailed for China’s citizens.

For over two decades, Liu Xiaobo has been a strong spokesman for the application of fundamental human rights also in China. He took part in the Tiananmen protests in 1989; he was a leading author behind Charter 08, the manifesto of such rights in China which was published on the 60th anniversary of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 10th of December 2008. The following year, Liu was sentenced to eleven years in prison and two years’ deprivation of political rights for “inciting subversion of state power”. Liu has consistently maintained that the sentence violates both China’s own constitution and fundamental human rights.

The campaign to establish universal human rights also in China is being waged by many Chinese, both in China itself and abroad. Through the severe punishment meted out to him, Liu has become the foremost symbol of this wide-ranging struggle for human rights in China.

Liu Xiaobo.

Liu is one of the leaders of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre (ICPC), a group of writers that promotes freedom of expression. The ICPC is among 145 member centers of the International PEN, a human rights organization and international literary organization founded in 1921. Liu’s writing is banned in China but his books are sold in Hong Kong. “Awarding Liu Xiaobo the Nobel Peace Prize is an affirmation of the central importance to everyone of freedom of expression, of which he is a courageous exponent,” states PEN International President, John Ralston Saul. “Charter 08 contains this phrase: We must stop the practice of viewing words as crimes,” says Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of PEN International‘s Writers in Prison Committee. “Liu is serving 11 years for that simple credo, and his belief in democracy for the Chinese people. We fervently hope that Liu’s winning of the Nobel Prize furthers those causes.”

“Liu Xiaobo is a worthy winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, we hope it will keep the spotlight on the struggle for fundamental freedoms and concrete protection of human rights that Liu and many other activists in China are dedicated to,” said Catherine Baber, Amnesty International USA‘s Deputy Director for the Asia-Pacific region. “This award can only make a real difference if it prompts more international pressure on China to release Liu, along with the numerous other prisoners of conscience languishing in Chinese jails for exercising their right to freedom of expression”, said Baber.

Harry Wu, former Chinese political prisoner and founder of Laogai Research Foundation, said of the decision, “the Nobel Committee has sent a clear message to China that it will not be intimidated by its economic and political might.” He added, “for decades, Liu Xiaobo has advocated for freedom. It’s time that the Chinese government releases him from prison and listens to his suggestions.”

“This award comes at a critical historical crossroads in China and constitutes a powerful affirmation for the voices calling for change,” said Sharon Hom, Executive Director of Human Rights in China. “As Liu Xiaobo and other Chinese advocates for change have pointed out, the only sustainable road ahead for China is one towards greater openness and political reform. This has most recently even been publicly stated by senior Chinese officials [Ed.: See transcript of interview with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on 28 September 2010].”

I agree. Amnesty International has documented widespread human rights violations in China:

  • An estimated 500,000 people are currently enduring punitive detention without charge or trial.
  • Millions are unable to access the legal system to seek redress for their grievances.
  • Harassment, surveillance, house arrest, and imprisonment of human rights defenders are on the rise.
  • Censorship of the Internet and other media has grown.
  • Repression of minority groups, including Tibetans, Uighurs and Mongolians, and of Falun Gong practitioners and Christians who practice their religion outside state-sanctioned churches continues.
  • While the recent reinstatement of Supreme People’s Court review of death penalty cases may result in lower numbers of executions, China remains the leading executioner in the world.

Furthermore, the totalitarian nature of China’s government makes it nearly impossible to effect change in the notoriously oppressive government of North Korea (DPRK), essentially a puppet state of China. Human rights in China is a prerequisite to human rights in North Korea.

Not surprisingly, China’s foreign ministry last week warned that Liu was not suited for the Nobel Peace Prize as he was “sentenced to jail by Chinese judicial authorities for violating Chinese law.” The Chinese government told reporters the committee had violated its own principles by giving the award to a “criminal.” Of course, the Chinese don’t get it: Liu is a political prisoner, not a criminal. In the run-up to the decision, China warned Norway that selecting Liu would affect mutual ties and dispatched a Foreign Ministry official to Oslo to press its case. The two countries are in the process of negotiating a free-trade deal, and Norway’s oil industry — a crucial sector of its economy — wants to boost its business dealings in China. In a sign that it was unwilling to be cowed, however, Norway’s government chose to publicize the Beijing official’s ostensibly private visit.

____________________________________________________________


____________________________________________________________

Liu was born on 28 December 1955 in Changchun, Jilin Province. He received a BA in literature from Jilin University, and an MA and PhD from Beijing Normal University, where he also taught.

In April 1989, he left his position as a visiting scholar at Columbia University to return to Beijing to participate in the 1989 Pro-Democracy Movement. On 2 June, Liu, along with Hou Dejian, Zhou Duo, and Gao Xin, went on a hunger strike in Tiananmen Square to protest martial law and appeal for peaceful negotiations between the students and the government. In the early morning of 4 June 1989, the four attempted to persuade the students to leave Tiananmen Square. After the crackdown, Liu was held in Beijing’s Qincheng Prison until January 1991, when he was found guilty of “counter-revolutionary propaganda and incitement” but exempted from punishment.

In 1996, he was sentenced to three years of Reeducation-Through-Labor on charges of “rumor-mongering and slander” and “disturbing social order” after drafting the “Anti-Corruption Proposals” and letters appealing for official reassessment of the June Fourth crackdown.

“There was never a question for him of abandoning the struggle, although he was very critical about the [1989 student] movement,” said Jean-Philippe Béja, of the Paris-based Centre for International Studies and Research, who first met Liu in the early 90s.

“He is a person who wants to live in truth.”

Zen stones

TAKE ACTION HERE: Demand that China release Nobel Peace Prize activist Liu Xiaobo!

AND HERE: Demand that China release Nobel Peace Prize activist Liu Xiaobo!

Zen stones

October 7, 1998 (a Wednesday)

Fence where Matthew Shepard was beaten and left to die (cross added posthumously).

Shortly after midnight (12:00 AM) on this date, two men, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, having led 21-year old college student Matthew Wayne Shepard to a remote area east of Laramie, Wyoming, tied him to a buck fence and brutally beat him and then abandoned him in the cold of the night. They later admitted that they had targeted him because he was gay. Still tied to the fence almost 18 hours after the horrific beating, Matthew was discovered by Aaron Kreifels, who initially mistook him for a scarecrow. At the time of discovery, Matthew was still alive in a coma.

Matthew Shepard sometime in 1998.

Matthew had suffered fractures to the back of his head and in front of his right ear. He had severe brain stem damage, which affected his body’s ability to regulate heart rate, body temperature, and other vital functions. There were also about a dozen small lacerations around his head, face, and neck. His injuries were deemed too severe for doctors to operate. Matthew never regained consciousness and remained on full life support until he died on October 12 at 12:53 AM at a hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado. His entire family was by his side for the last few days of his life. His funeral was attended by friends and family from around the world and gained the appropriate media attention that brought Matthew’s story to the forefront of the fight against hate.

In response to Matthew’s murder, many gay people, especially youth, reported going back into the closet, fearing for their safety, experiencing a strong sense of self-loathing, and upset that the same thing could happen to them because of their sexual orientation. The reaction to his murder underscores the fact that, from a psychological perspective, hate crimes are worse than regular crimes without a prejudiced motivation. The time it takes to mentally recover from a hate crime is substantially longer than it is for a regular crime, and gay people often feel as if they are being punished for their sexuality, leading to higher incidence of depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress disorder.

Matthew was not a martyr. He was a victim of homophobia.

Rescue party reaches crash site of United Airline Flight 409 on October 7, 1955.

Ironically, yesterday was the anniversary of another tragedy that occurred at Laramie, Wyoming. On October 6, 1955, a jetliner slammed into a nearby mountain peak killing everyone on board, at that time the deadliest accident in U.S. commercial aviation history. Some say the pilot became disoriented in the clouds. Now that the crash site is more than 50 years old, it is federally protected and no one may legally remove pieces of the wreckage. On August 25, 2001, a memorial plaque was dedicated nearby, which reads “In memory of the 66 passengers and crew that perished on Medicine Bow Peak October 6, 1955.” The aftermath of the crash gave birth to new laws for aeronautical safety and new technologies for improved navigation.

In 2009, after repeated obstruction over the years by homophobic politicians like Senator Jesse Helms (who died in 2008), the federal hate crime law was finally expanded by passage of The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity. However, unlike the crash of the jetliner in 1955, NO memorial of any kind has been established to mark where Matthew was beaten and left to die. In fact, the names of the nearby roads were changed in an effort to make the location more difficult to find. Even the fence at the site has been removed by the landowner.

It seems this is one tragedy Laramie would like to forget …

Suggested Reading:

  • Monique Noelle, “The ripple effect of the Matthew Shepard murder: Impact on the assumptive worlds of members of the targeted group,” American Behavioral Scientist, Vol. 46, No. 1, pp. 27-50 (2002).

October 6, 1892 (a Thursday)

Alfred Lord Tennyson

On this date, Lord Alfred Tennyson, poet laureate of England, died at 1:35 a.m. Tennyson’s life had spanned much of the nineteenth century, and he is remembered for producing one of the greatest literary expressions of the eclipse of the static and providential worldview of natural theology by the new dynamic and historical worldview of evolutionary biology, with its emphasis on the succession of types, extinction, and the “struggle for existence”:

Are God and Nature then at strife,
That Nature lends such evil dreams?
So careful of the type she seems,
So careless of the single life;

That I, considering everywhere
Her secret meaning in her deeds,
And finding that of fifty seeds
She often brings but one to bear,

I falter where I firmly trod,
And falling with my weight of cares
Upon the great world’s altar-stairs
That slope thro’ darkness up to God,

I stretch lame hands of faith, and grope,
And gather dust and chaff, and call
To what I feel is Lord of all,
And faintly trust the larger hope.

‘So careful of the type?’ but no.
From scarpèd cliff and quarried stone
She cries, ‘A thousand types are gone:
I care for nothing: all shall go.

‘Thou makest thine appeal to me:
I bring to life, I bring to death:
The spirit does but mean the breath:
I know no more.’ And he, shall he,

Man, her last work, who seem’d so fair,
Such splendid purpose in his eyes,
Who roll’d the psalm to wintry skies,
Who built him fanes of fruitless prayer,

Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law—
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed—

Who loved, who suffer’d countless ills,
Who battled for the True, the Just,
Be blown about the desert dust,
Or seal’d within the iron hills?

No more? A monster then, a dream,
A discord. Dragons of the prime,
That tare each other in their slime,
Were mellow music match’d with him.

Lord Tennyson was buried in Westminster Abbey in London.

October 5, 1989 (a Thursday)

Tibet celebrates the birthday of HH the Dalai Lama in July 2011.

On this date, the Dalai Lama, the exiled religious and political leader of Tibet, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his nonviolent campaign to end the Chinese domination of Tibet.

After more than four decades of exile, the Dalai Lama continues to travel, publicizing the Tibetan cause.

Suggested Reading:

  • Dalai Lama XIV, Freedom in Exile: The Autobiography of the Dalai Lama (San Francisco, CA: Harper, 1991).

October 4, 4004 B.C.E. (a Monday)

*The Creation of Adam* by Michelangelogo

On this date, the Earth was created by God, according to an Irish theologian, Archbishop of Armagh, James Ussher [or Usher] (1581-1656), in his Chronologies of the Old and New Testaments, which was first published 1650-1654. Ussher arrived at his conclusion by carefully counting the “begats” in the Bible. His contemporary, Sir John Lightfoot (1602-1675), Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University, arrived at the same date through independent calculation and added the detail that the world began at 9:00 AM Greenwich Meridian Time (GMT), or midnight Garden-of-Eden time.

Needless to say, modern scientific research has discovered that the Earth is, in fact, much, much, older.

October 3, 1981 (a Saturday)

Church/State sign.

On this date, Pope John Paul II, in an address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, said:

Cosmogony itself speaks to us of the origins of the universe and its makeup, not in order to provide us with a scientific treatise but in order to state the correct relationship of man with God and with the universe. Sacred Scripture wishes simply to declare that the world was created by God, and in order to teach this truth, it expresses itself in the terms of the cosmology in use at the time of the writer. The sacred book likewise wishes to tell men that the world was not created as the seat of the gods, as was taught by other cosmogonies and cosmologies, but was rather created for the service of man and the glory of God. Any other teaching about the origin and makeup of the universe is alien to the intentions of the Bible, which does not wish to teach how heaven was made but how one goes to heaven.

October 2, 1836 (a Sunday)

Charles Darwin by G Richmond.

On this date, HMS Beagle with Charles Darwin on board arrived back in her home port, having spent four years, nine months, and five days circumnavigating the globe. Darwin wrote in his diary:

After a tolerably short passage, but with some very heavy weather, we came to anchor at Falmouth.—To my surprise and shame I confess the first sight of the shores of England inspired me with no warmer feelings, than if it had been a miserable Portuguese settlement. The same night (and a dreadfully stormy one it was) I started by the Mail for Shrewsbury.

October 1, 1944 (a Sunday)

On this date, the first of two sets of medical experiments involving castration were performed on homosexuals at the Buchenwald concentration camp, near Weimar, Germany.

Buchenwald was one of the first concentration camps established by the Nazi regime. Although not technically a death camp, in that it had no gas chambers, nevertheless hundreds of prisoners died monthly, from malnutrition, beatings, disease, and executions.

The camp boasted a sophisticated-sounding facility on its grounds called the “Division for Typhus and Virus Research of the Hygiene Institute of the Waffen SS”. In truth, it was a chamber of horrors where medical experiments of the cruelest kind were carried out on prisoners against their will. Victims were often intentionally infused with various infections to test out vaccines. Euthanasia was also performed regularly on Jews, Gypsies, and mentally ill prisoners.

Dr. Carl Peter Værnet, serving as a doctor at Buchenwald concentration camp, performed medical experiments on inmates who were convicted under Germany’s notorious Paragraph 175 — the statute against male homosexuality. According to Richard Plant’s The Pink Triangle:

Since surviving entries are spotty, if not nearly illegible, one can only conclude that on October 1, 1944, a group of seven homosexuals was operated on, and a second group, consisting of eleven more, on October 10. Additional tests may have been administered because Værnet visited Buchenwald again in December. … Some subjects became ill; some, so it seems, must have died, because new names appear on the rosters of those actually castrated. Værnet carefully filled out order forms for chloroform, bandages, and new medical instruments, and handed out instruction sheets explaining how Buchenwald physicians should continue the castration-hormone tests without him. No final report has survived that notes the results of the experiments on the castrated men.

Buchenwald was liberated by the Allies on April 11, 1945. Ironically, it was later used by the Soviet Union as a concentration camp for the “enemies” of East Germany.

After World War II, Værnet was captured by the British and handed over to Danish authorities. At some point, he was transferred to a hospital after claiming to suffer from a heart ailment. He told doctors there that his problem could only be treated in Sweden. Despite being accused of war crimes, he was allowed to go to Sweden, where he contacted a Nazi escape network and fled to Argentina where he worked in the Ministry of Health. He was never tried for his crimes. He died on November 25, 1965. His grave was located in Argentina’s Britanico Cemetery in April, 1998.

References:

October 1, 1846 (a Thursday)

Charles Darwin by G Richmond.

Ten years after his voyage on HMS Beagle, Charles Darwin had finally completed his descriptions of the Beagle specimens, except for one species of barnacle. He was anxious to return to his work on transmutation (evolution), and thought he could quickly finish a description of this barnacle. Instead, the study of this barnacle exploded into one of the most intense research projects of his career, lasting nearly eight years and resulting in four volumes on living and fossil Cirripedes (barnacles). For his observations, he had a single lens microscope made to his own specifications. Intended to be more practical than the Beagle microscope, it did not have fine focusing and had a larger stage in order to take shallow dishes for aqueous dissections.

September 30, 1861 (a Monday)

Archaeopteryx lithographica, a specimen displayed at the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin. (This image shows the original fossil – not a cast.)

On this date, the German paleontologist Christian Erich Hermann von Meyer christened the fossil he had found in 1860 in the Solnhofen limestone (Upper Jurassic) near Eichstatt, Germany as Archaeopteryx lithographica. He wrote:

Additional to my writing of the fifteenth of last month, I can notify you that I have inspected the feather from Solenhofen closely from all directions, and that I have come to the conclusion that this is a veritable fossilisation in the lithographic stone that fully corresponds with a birds’ feather. Simultaneously, I heard from Mr. Obergerichtsrath Witte, that the almost complete skeleton of a feather-clad animals had been found in the lithographic stone. It is reported to show many differences with living birds. I will publish a report of the feather I inspected, along with a detailed illustration. As a denomination for the animal I consider Archaeopteryx lithographica to be a fitting name [...]

Archaeopteryx lithographica, fossilized single feather found 1860. (This image shows the original fossil – not a cast.)

The discovery of Archaeopteryx did not escape the notice of Charles Darwin, of course, who had published The Origin of Species only two years earlier. In a letter to American geologist and zoologist James D. Dana dated 7 January 1863 he wrote:

The fossil Bird with the long tail & fingers to its wings (I hear from Falconer that Owen has not done the work well) is by far the greatest prodigy of recent times. It is a grand case for me; as no group was so isolated as Birds; & it shows how little we know what lived during former times. Oh how I wish a skeleton could be found in your so-called Red Sandstone footstep-beds.—

Because it exhibits both avian and reptilian characteristics, Archaeopteryx is usually considered a transitional form, most likely one of the close relatives of an ancestor of the modern bird.

The fossilized feather is currently located at the Natural History Museum in London, having been bought by Richard Owen shortly after. It is generally assigned to Archaeopteryx and was the initial holotype, but whether it actually is a feather of this species or another, as yet undiscovered, proto-bird is unknown. There are some indications it is indeed not from the same animal as most of the skeletons (the “typical” A. lithographica).

References:

  • Hermann von Meyer, “Archaeopteryx lithographica”, Neues Jahrbuch für Mineralogie, Geologie und Paläontologie (1861), 678-9.

September 28, 1698

Maupertuis

On this date, Pierre-Louis Moreau de Maupertuis was born at Saint-Malo, France. Maupertuis published on many topics, including mathematics, geography, moral philosophy, biology, astronomy and cosmology. In 1741, he published a book called Essai de Cosmologie, in which he introduced the concept of stronger animals in a population having more offspring, an idea that prefigured Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection a century later. Another important publication on natural history was Vénus Physique, published anonymously in 1745, in which Maupertuis wrote:

Could one not say that, in the fortuitous combinations of the productions of nature, as there must be some characterized by a certain relation of fitness which are able to subsist, it is not to be wondered at that this fitness is present in all the species that are currently in existence? Chance, one would say, produced an innumerable multitude of individuals; a small number found themselves constructed in such a manner that the parts of the animal were able to satisfy its needs; in another infinitely greater number, there was neither fitness nor order: all of these latter have perished. Animals lacking a mouth could not live; others lacking reproductive organs could not perpetuate themselves… The species we see today are but the smallest part of what blind destiny has produced…

In his book Systeme de la Nature (1751), he theorized on the nature of heredity and how new species come into being. He thought that speciation took place by chance events in nature, rather than by spontaneous generation as was believed at the time.

Some historians of science see this series of conjectures as an early version of the theory of evolution. Indeed, if Maupertuis had taken his conjectures forward and developed them into a more fully formed theory, he might now be recognised as putting forward the foundations of the theory of evolution. Darwin’s fame rests on being the first to develop and publish the concept as a well-supported scientific theory, rather than being the first to suggest the concept.

Despite his many accomplishments, Maupertuis was considered arrogant by many of his fellow countrymen. He became a target of German mathematician Samuel Koenig, who accused him of plagiarism, and of French author Voltaire, whose satirical writings about Maupertuis were so savage that Maupertuis eventually left France. In 1759, Maupertuis died in virtual exile in Basel, Switzerland, in the home of Swiss mathematician Johann Bernoulli.

September 28, 1838 (a Friday)

Charles Darwin by G Richmond.

On this date, Charles Darwin first had an insight into the mechanism of evolution in nature. He wrote in his autobiography in 1876:

In October 1838, that is, fifteen months after I had begun my systematic enquiry, I happened to read for amusement Malthus on Population, and being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence which everywhere goes on from long-continued observation of the habits of animals and plants, it at once struck me that under these circumstances favourable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The result of this would be the formation of new species. Here, then, I had at last got a theory by which to work.

Below is the famous passage from Darwin’s notebook where these ideas were first recorded:

[Sept] 28th.[1838] Even the energetic language of «Decandoelle» does not convey the warring of the species as inference from Malthus.— «increase of brutes, must be prevented soley by positive checks, excepting that famine may stop desire.—» in Nature production does not increase, whilst no checks prevail, but the positive check of famine & consequently death..
…—The final cause of all this wedging, must be to sort out proper structure, and adapt it to change.—to do that for form, which Malthus shows is the final effect by means however of volition of this populousness on the energy of man. One may say there is a force like a hundred thousand wedges trying [to] force every kind of adapted structure into the gaps in the economy of nature, or rather forming gaps by thrusting out weaker ones.

References:

  • Charles Darwin, The Autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809-1882 (London: Collins, 1958).
  • Charles Darwin, Notebook D [Transmutation of species (1838.07.15-1838.10.02)] 134e-135e.

September 25, 1866 (a Tuesday)

Thomas Hunt Morgan

On this date, the American embryologist and geneticist Thomas Hunt Morgan was born in Lexington, Kentucky. At Columbia University (1904-28), he began his revolutionary genetic investigations of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster (1908). In 1910, he discovered a white-eyed mutant in Drosophila. At that time, it was generally assumed that chromosomes could not be the carriers of the genetic information. Initially skeptical of Gregor Mendel’s research, Morgan performed rigorous experiments eventually demonstrating that genes are linked in a series on chromosomes and are responsible for identifiable, hereditary traits. When he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1933, he was the first person awarded the Prize for genetics, for demonstrating hereditary transmission mechanisms in D. melanogaster.

September 24, 1835 (a Thursday)

Charles Darwin by G Richmond.

HMS Beagle spent this day in the Galapagos Archipelago surveying the waters around Charles Island, which was populated by a small colony of about 250 political prisoners from the Republic of Equator (established in 1829). Darwin went on shore with Covington to collect plants and birds and climbed the highest hill — about 1,800 feet above sea level. He also examined a few curious lava chimneys. During his stay on the island, Darwin was informed by Mr. Nicholas Lawson, an Englishman in charge of the prison colony, that one can tell which island a tortoise came from by looking at its shell.

Galapagos tortoise

Later, when Darwin was completing his ornithological notes some time between mid-June and August 1836, he wrote:

When I recollect the fact, that from the form of the body, shape of scales & general size, the Spaniards can at once pronounce from which Isd. any tortoise may have been brought: — when I see these Islands in sight of each other and possessed of but a scanty stock of animals, tenanted by these birds but slightly differing in structure & filling the same place in Nature, I must suspect they are only varieties. The only fact of a similar kind of which I am aware is the constant asserted difference between the wolf-like Fox of East & West Falkland lsds. — If there is the slightest foundation for these remarks, the Zoology of Archipelagoes will be well worth examining; for such facts would undermine the stability of species.

The first stirrings of doubt about the immutability of species had evidently struck Darwin by now.

References: