BOB'S BITS

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"Virus, virus shining bright, In the phosphotungstic night, What immortal hand or eye, Dare frame thy fivefold symmetry." June Almeida, paraphrasing William Blake, in a 1963 research article.

June Almeida, who became one of the world’s leading virologists, was born June Dalziel Hart on October 5, 1930 on the northeastern outskirts of working-class Glasgow. There wasn’t much chance she’d go to university, and she didn’t, but she was bright enough that when she left school at 16 she was taken on as a pathology lab technician at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, waged at £1.25 weekly (then about $6). Soon she moved to a similar job in London, married, and moved with her Venezuelan husband to Toronto. There she worked in an electron microscopy lab attached to a cancer institute. At this point, it seems, her intelligence and enthusiasm took over, and before too long this mere lab tech appeared as co-author in a string of scientific papers on the structure of viruses. In 1957 June Almeida was recruited back to the University of London’s postgraduate medical school where her publications won her a DSc. So her only degree is a doctorate. This triumph was awarded mainly for her substantive discoveries but also for new methods she’d devised for applying electron microscopy to virological studies. Notably, given our present problems, she applied detergents to discover that viruses had two distinct structures, an outer shell and an inner ‘core,’ each with distinct immunological implications. This in turn took her into collaborative work during which she and her colleagues (in London and in Salisbury) discovered and classified the coronavirus family of viruses, first in work on the common cold. Her desire and ability to pass these techniques on, free of charge so to speak, led to work (starting in 1970, in London) with scientists from the USA’s National Institutes of Health (including Albert Kapikian and Stephen Feinstone). Down the road a bit, this led to important discoveries concerning Hepatitis A and SARS. Meanwhile, Almeida had (among other accomplishments) divorced, remarried (a virologist), and on the side had become an expert in Yoga instruction. Not bad at all, for a bus-driver’s daughter who’d left school in her teens for a $6/week job in a science lab. June Almeida died in 2007, at home, of a heart attack. But in a very immediate sense, Almeida’s work on viruses and their vulnerabilities continues to this day. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

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"Never make fun of someone who speaks broken English. It means they know a better language.” Saying (Anon.).

English, a bastard cousinage of languages, was by no means fated to become the mother tongue of the southern parts of Great Britain, let alone the 20th century’s lingua franca. The Norman conquest (1066 and all that) introduced a late entry which became the language of the nobility and the kings, and lingered on (in the form of “law French”) in judicial proceedings until past Shakespeare’s time. Some give Geoffrey Chaucer (ca. 1340-1400) credit for our language’s rescue, and I’ll leave that judgment to the scholars who’ve made it, but there was another runner, born about the time of Chaucer’s dotage, on October 6, 1392 (or possibly 1393, but certainly on St. Margaret’s Day), one Osbern Bokenham, also a poet of Middle English, and very conscious of it, too, even proud, as he put it of “spekyn & wrytyn pleynly aftyr the language of Suthfolk speche.” Little is known of him other than his poetry (and maybe also some prose), but he was born at Bokenham in Norfolk and lived most of his adult life at a Benedictine friary in Suffolk, probably took a degree at Cambridge, and thus certainly “declaryd in latyn,” but chose, instead, to put forth his thoughts in what it’s OK to call “English,” “Suthfolk” talk. Osbern Bokenham’s chief surviving work is a long, poetic meditation on, and narrative about, the lives of female saints, the Legendys of Hooly Wummen. It is, I am told, pretty good poetry, but in terms of the survival of the English language what strikes me is that some of its 13 chapters (each on a saintly female) were commissioned by noble ladies. For instance the chapter on St. Elizabeth was written at the request of Elizabeth de Vere, countess of Oxford, St. Katherine’s tribute was done for Katherine Howard, duchess of Norfolk. One presumes, therefore, that these ladies could read “Suthfolke speche.” Not proof positive, of course, but at the very least they were willing to hear it. Bokenham had a few male patrons too, gentry and aristocrat, so the whole business shows that the “best people” of early 15th-century England thought it meet to sink their money into the furthering of a literature in English. And so our mongrel language, now safely baptized by Chaucer and Bokenham, waited for Will Shakespeare to proclaim its maturity. ©
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"God has a soft spot for sinners. His standards are quite low." Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

“Truly, I say unto you, no prophet is acceptable in his own country.” (Luke 4:24) That was and has been generally true, for prophets speak truth to power, and power (as we’ve recently relearned) is often no friend to truth. But in modern society power wears many cloaks, and so it was that in South Africa a talented Anglican cleric could speak truth to state power and yet rise in his church to become, in 1986, the first black Archbishop of Cape Town and thus the spiritual leader of about 2 million South Africans, white and black. He is Desmond Mpilo Tutu, born October 7, 1931 in the midst of the Klerksdorp goldfields at the heart of Boer South Africa. Like mining country everywhere, the region had attracted a mix of people, and his parents were ‘intertribal.’ His dad was not a miner but a teacher in a local Anglican mission school. This gave Desmond a good start in an education which led ultimately to an MA in theology at the University of London. His churchly career included stints with the African and then the World Council of Churches, but also increasingly senior appointments in the South African Anglican church. And it included speaking truth to power, in public, often putting his life on the line as a potential sacrifice for, he hoped, a multi-racial democracy. Without honor in apartheid South Africa, he gained worldwide acceptance for the anti-Apartheid movement, and his nearly unwavering support for non-violence (as against the daily violence of apartheid) brought him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. He should have won it again when, after the fall of the racial regime, President Nelson Mandela asked Archbishop Desmond Tutu to chair the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Its task was, inherently and in its title, both brutal and delicate, and in its astonishing successes it stands today as a modern miracle of witness and statecraft. Watching Tutu’s career from Britain, we learned to love his gravelly voice and admire his smiling face, one that clouded into prophetic anger as he confronted white power in his beloved country. He retired at age 79, and, one hopes, will today fully enjoy his 89th birthday. ©.
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Re: BOB'S BITS

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"America is not a blanket woven from one thread, one color, one cloth." Jesse Jackson.

Today is the Reverend Jesse Jackson’s birthday. He was born on October 8, 1941, in Greenville, South Carolina. In many respects, I admire him. Born out of wedlock, he was lovingly raised by his very young mother and his step-father, but also enjoyed a good relation with his natural father. That helped Jesse to gain confidence and, despite Jim Crow segregation, that confidence helped him get a good education and a master’s in theology. He then pursued a mainly creditable career in church and state, including an active civil rights career and a surprisingly successful run for the Democratic party’s presidential nomination in 1988. I regard him as an admirable man, even though I have severe doubts about self-proclaimed men of God who (somehow) always find that God is on their side. But I used Jackson to explain, or rather to measure, my parents’ political migration from loyal Republicans to radical Democrats. My earliest political memory (I am sure) was my dad’s coming home from an election party full of despair (and surprise) at Harry Truman’s famous victory in 1948. Both came from solidly Republican families. Mom’s grandpa had been a Republican congressman, and although dad had run the 1946 political campaign of Iowa’s Governor Robert Blue, a Democrat, he was soon back in the GOP fold, voting for Dewey in ’48 and then he liked Ike in ’52. Only 40 years later, in 1988, mom and dad both backed Jesse Jackson in the Iowa caucus campaign. Indeed they were there when Jackson opened his Iowa HQ, and it was their granddaughter Kate (tender young thing, aged 5, my niece!!) who snipped the ceremonial ribbon. Wow. What a change!! And of course I credited the old folks for having the ability and courage to change their minds. On reflection, I realized that what I was measuring was, also or instead, the drift (or was it a stampede?) rightwards of the Republican Party, something mom and dad saw early on. Their own foundation values stayed pretty much the same. They were (by birth and breeding) progressive Republicans, and they realized sooner than most that that phrase had become oxymoronic. In later life discussions, I discovered that dad last voted Republican in 1952, mom in 1956. But they had never deserted the party. In their view, it deserted them. In ’88, they backed Jesse Jackson because he spoke their language, an American tongue. ©
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"There is another, darker side to our work. This side is expressed in the suffering and mental anguish associated with those afflicted with devastating illness." Peter Mansfield, 2003, accepting the Nobel Prize for his invention of Magnetic Resonanc...

If you had stumbled in to one of our Senior Common Room coffee (AM) or tea (PM) breaks at Lancaster University in the 1970s and early 80s, you might have thought us a bunch of academic idlers talking through their collective hat. Of course you’d have been right; mostly it was Aston Villa football or Lancashire v. Yorkshire cricket. But the collegiality of the conversations insured that work also ‘happened.’ So I was charmed to read that the conversation that would, in the end, produce Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) began in a tea break chat (Lent term, 1972) in the physics faculty common room at Nottingham University, where three academic idlers (a prof, a post-doc, and a graduate student) discussed a bottleneck, or perhaps a dead end, in their work on the inner structures of calcium flouride. Inspired, Peter Mansfield (the prof) rushed off to his room to write up notes on where they might go. That led to foundational work, mainly at Nottingham but also at Heidelberg, then a Medical Research Council grant, and by the mid-1980s a working MRI lab. It led also to Peter Mansfield’s knighthood and his 2003 Nobel Prize in Physics. The route to that tea break chat began with Mansfield’s birth, into a working-class family, in south London, on October 9, 1933, a schooling much-interrupted by the Blitz, and by an odd chance to a BSc at Queen Mary College, London. In grad school and after, Mansfield’s career was enriched by collaborative chat (and work), not only at Nottingham and Heidelberg, but at universities and institutes in the USA, Poland, and India. His Nobel bio is a modest summing up of all the contacts and collaborations that led to the invention of his (often) life-saving diagnostic tool. As for me, my MRI encounters (three, once in Lancaster, twice in St. Louis) have so far been lucky. And it is very nice to think that it all began with a tea break chat among three academic idlers. In his Nobel notes, Mansfield sadly remembered that the Nottingham tearoom was no more. Its disappearance at Lancaster was also a tribute to Thatcherite efficiency and cost-cutting. If it signifies progress, I suppose it might be worth it. Somehow, I think not. To me it signifies meanness, and we’ve always had enough of that. ©
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"He patiently taught and served mankind, whilst they were shrinking from his coldness, or mocking his peculiarities." From an early biography of Henry Cavendish.

The eminent Cavendishes have
left their mark in most generations and in many ways. Since 1688, when a Cavendish had the good luck to be one of the seven who invited William & Mary to the throne, the eldest male heirs of the senior branch have been dukes of Devonshire, generally successful stewards of their wealth and power. One measure of both is their magnificent Derbyshire estate, Chatsworth, itself the subject of umpteen breathless documentaries. But a more consequential monument is the Cavendish Laboratories at Cambridge University, which has overseen the work of many Nobel laureates (30 and counting), including such names as Thomson, Bragg (2 of those), Crick, Watson, and Perutz. ‘The Cavendish’ grew out of a 19th-century gift to the University from its then-chancellor, the 7th duke, but he did not name it after himself. Rather it was named for a Cavendish of a cadet branch, Henry Cavendish, born on October 10, 1731. The second son of a third son, Henry was well out of the running for the dukedom; instead he became one of the most notable scientists of his age. His father, Lord Charles Cavendish, was himself a serious amateur scientist, both patron and active member of the Royal Society, and Lord Charles set Henry up with his own laboratory, in London, in the early 1750s. There, for nearly six decades, Henry Cavendish pottered away, usually alone (for he was an odd bird), to make a number of critically important advances. Among many such groundbreaking discoveries, Cavendish showed that heat resulted from molecular motion, that hydrogen (he called it ‘Inflammable Air’) was an element in water, and that the earth itself had a mass that could be measured (and he got it right, almost). However. Henry (besides being painfully rich) was painfully—pathologically—shy, and he rarely even talked of his discoveries, let alone published them. It remained to James Clerk Maxwell (the first director of the Cavendish) to publish Henry’s papers and demonstrate to the world that naming a scientific laboratory after this particular Cavendish was not a case of aristocratic overreach or vainglory. Instead, it signified twin aspirations: to discover and to publish. ©
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"As Friendship then is independent of Love, why may it not subsist, from its own Purity, between Persons of different Sexes? tho' with more Delicacy on one Side, and more Respect on the other?" Letter XIII, from Frances to Henry.

In Shakespeare, romantic love (when it appears) is usually a fantasy or a tragedy, but in the 18thcentury it became a working ideal, and not only for those who could afford it. In the colonies, it bubbled to the surface in the early 1760s courtship of John Adams and Abigail Smith who greatly enjoyed reading Shakespeare’s plays aloud and, presumably, with feeling. Perhaps John and Abigail also read A Series of Genuine Letters between Henry and Frances (London, 1757) which took London by storm. It was by that ubiquitous author, Anon., but those letters were written by genuine lovers who, though poor and without immediate prospects, had thrown caution to the winds, fallen deeper yet in love, and married, as they say, “anyway” (and in secret). She who had written the real “Frances” letters (and probably drafted the book) was Elizabeth Griffith, born on October 11, 1727. The daughter of a Dublin actor-manager (of the Smock Street Theatre), Elizabeth was taught to read, write, and recite in several languages, but probably she was not taught to fall in love with an impecunious (if well-connected and quite captivating) Kilkenny farmer’s son, Richard Griffith. Both self-taught, the will-be lovers engaged in a long courtship by letter in which each displayed their literary chops and (as auto-didacts will) complimented the other on their fine prose skills. Well, Richard and Elizabeth did at length marry, impecuniously if not impulsively, and as Richard’s schemes went bust Elizabeth became the chief breadwinner, in minor roles in the London theatre but mainly as a writer of essays, plays, and novels, the latter including two works drawn from the Genuine Letters. These all sold well enough to keep the Griffiths in rude comfort, not all of the time, but then in a genuine deus ex machina the couple’s only son (also Richard) went out to India, came home rich, and settled his aging parents on his County Kildare estate in what, I hope, was romantic comfort. As I say, those Secret Letters and the novels that arose from them went through many editions. I like to think that one showed up in Braintree, MA, even that another landed in the Austen household in Steventon, Hants. After all, didn’t Jane Austen name her finest heroine “Elizabeth”? That would be really romantic.
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"Crazy Bet"--the wonderful witch of Richmond.

The Virginian novelist Ellen Glasgow (1873-1945) recalled that in her Richmond childhood she and her friends were told to avoid and shun the neighborhood witch, “Crazy Bet.” That was Elizabeth Van Lew, then eking out a frugal and isolated life amid the crumble and decay of the Van Lew mansion. Van Lew was born on October 12, 1818, her family’s wealth and status (like Glasgow’s) substantially derived from slavery and the products of slave labor. But Van Lew’s maternal grandfather had been a Philadelphia abolitionist, and Van Lew’s Quaker education (in Philadelphia) turned her further against the south’s ‘Peculiar Institution.’ When Van Lew’s father died in 1843, she, her brother, and her mother freed all their slaves, kept some on as well-paid servants, and turned the family’s wealth to the endless task of buying enslaved persons and then freeing them. Since they did not have endless money, they concentrated on two kinds of purchase, one to avoid families being broken up at the auction block, the other to purchase and free relatives and friends of the Van Lews’ former slaves. Come secession and Civil War, Van Lew continued her struggle against the Slave Power by forming a spy ring in Richmond itself, capital city of the Confederacy. In this exceedingly dangerous work, Van Lew was astoundingly successful, including (probably) placing one of her former slaves, Mary Bowser, among President Jefferson Davis’s domestic staff. Van Lew also aided Union prisoners of war to escape to the Union lines, setting up a network of safe houses along her escape routes. Her spy ring, the “Richmond Underground,” with agents even in government departments, gathered vital intelligence and found ways to pass it to Union commanders, including (latterly) an Illinois general called Ulysses S. Grant. After Appomattox and then as president, Grant rewarded Van Lew with civil service appointments, but these could not restore the family fortunes. Then, as Reconstruction ended, the Lost Cause myth and a revival of racial hatred at the core of southern politics made Elizabeth Van Lew a marked woman—or, for the kids in Ellen Glasgow’s posh neighborhood, a witch. Van Lew lived on, defiantly, supported with gifts from northern friends who, in 1900, paid for her grave marker. It still stands, and legend has it that Elizabeth Van Lew was buried with her body pointing north, towards freedom. ©
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" . . . my children glean in fields they have not sown, and feed on bitter fruit." From "A Black Man Talks of Reaping," by Arna Bontemps.

Pacific Union College, Napa County, CA, is one of only two Seventh-Day Adventist colleges in the USA. That religious tie has recently led to trouble concerning instruction in science and psychology, but it’s also why the college from very early on admitted students of color and was home to at least one black fraternity. So that’s where Arna Bontemps went, in 1919, even though he was an Angeleno. He graduated in 1923, in English, and went on to become a noted poet, novelist, and scholar. Then, (after further graduate work at the University of Chicago) he finished his career as long-time Director of Libraries at Fisk University where (among other things) he collected and catalogued a notable archive of African-American manuscripts and materials. Going south to Fisk was almost going back home, for Arna Bontemps was born in Alexandria, Louisiana on October 13, 1902. His creole parents thought opportunity (for them and their kids) beckoned westwards, and so they moved to Los Angeles when Arna was 3. He did well in integrated public schools and then went north to Pacific Union, where he caught the literary disease and began to write. But like most writers, he needed a day job, and like many male writers, he needed a wife, and he found both in Harlem, New York, where he taught school and became an important figure in the Harlem Renaissance. His first published poem appeared in Crisis, the NAACP magazine, and there followed many works of many sorts, poetry, fiction and non-fiction, and children’s books including one entitled You Can’t Pet a Possum (1934). That and several other works, including a novel about Gabriel’s rebellion, were written after Bontemps, his wife Alberta, and their six children had moved south. And there they stayed (except for his graduate study in Chicago, circa 1940-43). After a 20+ year career at Fisk, Bontemps enjoyed visiting positions at Yale and Illinois and several honorary degrees. He died in 1973. He is remembered at the Arna Bontemps African American Museum and Cultural Center, in the house where he was born, in Alexandria, Louisiana. ©
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"Remember the Ladies . . ." Abigail Adams to John Adams, March 31, 1776.

In Britain and in the US, and doubtless elsewhere, ‘second-wave feminism’ has had many positive effects, not least the discovery or rediscovery of female pioneers, women of talents (various) who breached or at least broached the gender barriers raised to keep them out of or down in their various fields. Many now appear in the NYTimes ‘overlooked no more’ series of ex post facto obituaries; others have surfaced in Britain’s Dictionary of National Biography. In the latter you can now find a sketch of Victoria Alexandrina Drummond, born to a Drummond of Megginch and his English aristocrat wife, an Amherst of that barony, on October 14, 1894. So Victoria Drummond qualified as well-born, underlined by the fact that Queen Victoria was her godmother, her Drummond-of-Megginch father being the Empress’s groom-in-waiting. But back then even royal goddaughters could not do anything they wanted, and Victoria Drummond wanted to be a ship’s engineer. Luckily, so to speak, for her, WWI created vacancies and added demand, so she apprenticed in 1916 and first sailed (as 10th engineer) in 1920. Tall, strong, and confident, Victoria climbed up the ranks, but in the British merchant marine the top two ranks (2nd and 1st engineer) require rigorous exams, and that proved a barrier. Sailing all the while, Victoria jumped the 2nd engineers’ hurdles on her fourth attempt, but after 37 goes at the 1st engineer tests Victoria decided (one thinks correctly) that her gender was what failed her, and so she obtained Panamanian certification instead. Then along came another war, and now Victoria Drummond sailed as first engineer under the British flag. Into the bargain she became a civilian war hero when, under heavy enemy fire, she alone manned (pardon the word) the engine room of the SS Bonita and brought her (pardon the word) safely through to harbor. Immediately a London rest station (for rescue workers in the Blitz) was named after her; and then for the rest of her life Victoria Alexandrina Drummond, MBE, enjoyed many engineering appointments, and on all sorts of ships. The rest station is long gone, but today you can find her grave monument at Megginch Castle, Perthshire, where in 1978 she was nestled in with her parents and her three sisters. Victoria’s story rouses my curiosity about what those sisters did. ©.
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"Now . . . tell me just one thing more. Why do you hate the South?" Shreve's question to Quentin Compson, last page of William Faulkner's Absalom! Absalom! (1936).

On my 14th birthday, our next-door neighbor, Jean Lodwick, asked me how old I was. I’m sure she knew, but when I told her she whipped out her gifts, Steinbeck’s Cannery Row (1945) and Sweet Thursday (1954), and said “then you’re old enough to read these.” I think Jean must have meant the sex, what with Doc, Lee Chong, and the Bear Flag’s tender-hearted prostitutes; but in truth I’d already cut those teeth on several James Street novels, five in all, in which sex did occasionally rear its head. Those novels were my dad’s, and he’d encouraged me to read them for their serial, fictional history of the Dabney family, Mississippi planters of the Civil War era and yet dissenters from the Old Cause (slavery and all that), and out-and-out Unionists in the Civil War. Successive Dabney patriarchs (at this remove, I remember only Mingo Dabney) ruled the family roost. They certainly had occasional sex, but were chiefly memorable for their individualities and the way they fit (or mis-fit) southern history. Dad referred to Street as “the poor man’s Faulkner,” and when I went to Penn I found out how appropriate that was when, under the brilliant tutelage of Hennig Cohen and then Phyllis Rackin, I encountered the real William Faulkner. As it turns out, James Street was an interesting character on his own merits. He was born in Lumberton, MS, on October 15, 1903, the son of a liberal Catholic lawyer (an Atticus Finch figure, maybe?) and so, I suppose, already a misfit. Street then rebelled himself into being (he claimed) the nation’s youngest Baptist preacher (at 19), then became a local journalist (for small-town dailies in Mississippi and Arkansas) before hitting it rich enough through his fiction to make a career of writing in Hollywood, New York City, and then back to home base in the South, at Chapel Hill, also once Unionist territory. It was also back to newspapers, for at Chapel Hill (before his early death, aged 50) Street did much to shape the University of North Carolina’s journalism program. That’s probably another reason that my father admired James Street, although I have only just today realized that. Maybe one day I’ll get back to Street, now that I am really old enough to appreciate him. ©
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"Here I am. I still go on, you know. Like the tides." Angela Lansbury.

The role of Lady Bracknell (in Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, 1895) has become a coveted one for actors of a certain age. In many ways, she makes the comedy, and among her great one-liners possibly the most famous is---“A handbag?!”—usually loudly, with feeling, although Maggie Smith once delivered it in a horrified whisper. Among other greats who’ve played it one must include Edith Evans and Judith Dench (both of them on stage and in film), and I would have loved to have seen David Suchet in it, in 2015. And yet another gala Bracknell performance was given, just last year and in her honor, by Angela Lansbury. Whether that will be the last acting role in her career I can’t know, but she was then 94, having been born on October 16, 1925, in the not-entirely-unusual circumstances of an upper middle class Communist home, her dad being at the time possibly the wealthiest member of the British Communist Party. Her grandpapa, also a Lansbury, was a leading member of the British Labour Party, and throughout her life Angela Lansbury has maintained that more moderate loyalty, Labour first and then, in the USA, “Democratic from the ground up”—except she went for Romney in 2012. From her first big role (in Gaslight, 1944, supporting Ingrid Bergman), Lansbury never graduated into the very top rank enjoyed by the likes of Bergman, Evans, Dench, or Smith, she’s done really very, very well, and over a great many years, both for herself and for us. Perhaps the pinnacle of her stage success was as the lead in the musical Mame (1966), for which she surprised critics with the breadth of her talents and won many awards, including a Tony. American audiences undoubtedly know her best as the writer Jessica Fletcher in the long-running television series, Murder, She Wrote (1984-1996), which in the UK we watched, pretty regularly, on the BBC. That enriched her in many ways, including directly when her own production company took it over. So for her many gifts (her own and those she has given), let’s wish a very happy 95th birthday to Angela Lansbury.
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"Why am I trying to become what I don't want to be?" Biff Loman to Willy Loman, Death of a Salesman, 1947.

I met Arthur Miller once, at a London reception held (in 1989 as I recall it) to celebrate the founding of the Arthur Miller Centre for American Studies at the University of East Anglia. It was, I hasten to add, a much greater thrill for me than it was for Miller, the greatest American playwright of his or any century. And Arthur Miller nearly spanned the century, born in New York City on October 17, 1915, and died in Connecticut in 2005. Miller’s childhood was spent on a rising tide of prosperity, his immigrant father a successful clothier, but it came crashing down in 1929 and left teen-ager Arthur delivering groceries to help make ends meet—but also to earn enough money to attend the University of Michigan, where he began to write in public, though as a student journalist. After graduation, Miller moved back East to fall in with a bunch of misfits including Izzy Stone, Dashiel Hammett, and Lillian Hellman. Miller’s most miraculous decade came after the war, with a batch of prize-winning plays. I’ve seen restaged and also filmed versions of four of them, All My Sons (1947), Death of a Salesman (1949), The Crucible (1953), and A View from the Bridge (1955 in its first, verse version and then 1956 in prose). I suspect that, nowadays, you can find them all on stream, but if you do, and want to take them on, I would suggest a ration of not more than one per week. When well done, or even passably. they are withering experiences, especially the first two. Many historians see the plays as a commentary on the hypocrisies of Cold War America, and I’ll buy that, especially with respect to The Crucible, which anachronistically (if artfully) wrenches the Salem Witchcraft horror into the HUAC hearing rooms. But they are more than that. Far more memorably, in the self-told stories of Joe Keller (the father of all his sons) and Willy Loman (salesman to the bitter end), we have two parables of the moral destruction that can be wrought—perhaps especially on men—by our cult of success. I can’t remember what I said to Arthur Miller in London, probably “glad to meetcha” or something alike, but what I really meant was, “thank you so much for Willy Loman.” ©
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"Be he could play a guitar just like a ringin' a bell." Chuck Berry, 1958.

Music flowed through Chuck Berry and out into the wider, whiter youth culture of the 1950s and 1960s (and beyond), and so he gets a long bio in the online Encyclopedia Britannica, but one that offers not a peep about Berry’s after life (so to call it) in St. Louis, during which he often played at his (white) friend Joe Edwards’s joints just north of our University City house, Blueberry Hill and, latterly, The Pageant. It was our sadness that we never went (we tried often but they were sellouts). Charles Edward Anderson Berry (or Chuck) was born on October 18, 1926, in St. Louis, MO. His family was rock-solid respectable, resident in The Ville, and Chuck drew from them a lot of pride but he may first have disappointed them, jugged for armed robbery from age 18 to 21. But he did sing in the church choir and he did play music, too, and after his release (and some work as an apprentice hairdresser that you could still see on top even as he balded late in life) he turned those talents to black gold. One’s memory plays tricks, but I can remember “Maybellene” breaking in on me when I was 12 or 13—and not liking it very much, and I know my dad didn’t like “Roll over Beethoven.” But then I liked “Rock and Roll Music” enough to be angered by his (racist-tinged) prosecution and second imprisonment in the early 60s. If the idea was to rid the country and its airways of Chuck, it didn’t work. Buoyed up I am sure by clear evidence of his influence on all sorts (the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Stones, latterly even Springsteen) Chuck Berry climbed up all over his former self and made his mark again. And then again. Abroad he sang for the BBC in 1972. At home he played for Jimmy and Rosalynn at the White House in 1979, an appropriate enough venue for the son of a Baptist deacon dad and a school principal mom, perhaps also for a bad “Johnny B. Goode.” Awash in cash and never one to moderate his persona, Berry moved “to the outskirts of town,” a blues song but a very white suburb, but often he’d drive down in one of his very white Cadillacs to mesmerize St. Louis at venues which just happened to sit on the city’s Delmar Divide. He died at 90, but one can still see Chuck’s statue, electricity in bronze, just on the north (black) side of Delmar, opposite Blueberry Hill. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

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"We learn in the midst of plagues that there are more things to admire in men than to despise." Dr. Rieux, in Camus' La paste (1947).

If we have sense and sensibility, we realize than among our blessings we must count the people who, in and out of hospitals, treat and care for those infected or killed by the coronavirus. Their courage and their solicitude for others puts them in danger, and yet they persist in their chosen work. Their existential courage was limned in fiction by Albert Camus, whose Dr. Bernard Rieux (in La peste, 1947) kept to his duty despite its futilities and dangers. Camus described Rieux as a dark man, young, clean-shaven, early to spot the plague and late to flee it. Put a beard on Rieux, make him an Italian, but also give him an infectious grin (for the name “Rieux” does suggest laughter), and you’ve got Dr. Carlo Urbani, a hero of the SARS epidemic of 2002-3. Born in Castelplanio on October 19, 1956, Urbani became an MD with a specialism in tropical medicine and an expertise in parasitical infections. Married and a parent (of 3 children), Urbani was drawn also to commit to a medical mission, and after work with an Italian Catholic NGO (‘Mani Tese’, which translates to ‘outstretched hands’) he became aged 43 the Italian director of Médecins sans Frontières and a front-line medic for the World Health Organization, based in Hanoi, Vietnam. It was in that guise that he met up with a new viral infection, in his words (in his emergency message to WHO in Geneva) “an unknown infectious disease.” Although he was a parasite guy, he stuck around the patient (very quickly, the patients), did some vital tracing and tracking, and made sure his hospital (the French Hospital, in Hanoi) instituted the best possible isolation regime. Through Urbani’s work (and the work of many others), SARS was tamed and—so far, anyway—beaten. Dr. Urbani paid a price for his cheerful courage. Traveling to Bangkok to do further work on tracking and treating SARS, he fell ill himself and was hospitalized. After seeing to his own isolation, receiving last rites, and donating his lungs to medical research, Dr. Carlo Urbani died on March 29, 2003, an early victim of the disease he had identified. ©.
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"I think we shall have to make a real search for the neutron." James Chadwick to Ernest Rutherford, 1924.

James Chadwick (after 1945, Sir James) was born on October 19, 1891, into a family whose downwards mobility left young James unable to accept his scholarship to the prestigious Manchester Grammar School. However, at a state school nearby his aptitudes were noticed and James entered Manchester University (as a budding mathematician) at age 16. There he mistakenly enrolled in first-year Physics, whereupon the professor, none other than Ernest Rutherford, also noticed something special about the lad and made James, while still an undergraduate, his project assistant. James Chadwick took some noticing, because he was painfully, almost pathologically shy, reluctant to speak in class, slight of build and not in the best of health. Then two further life-changing events intruded. While doing graduate work in Germany, he was interned (1914-1918) as an enemy alien, and despite unspeakable conditions in his camp (which further broke his physical health) he discovered a talent in organizing people, including providing fellow internees with math classes and laboratory work. Studying the deepest of problems with the simplest of methods remained one of his finest traits. Then, returning to England after the armistice, Chadwick joined Rutherford at Cambridge to make some startling discoveries, including not least the vivacious, outgoing Aileen Stewart-Brown, a stockbroker’s daughter from Liverpool. It’s probably best to say that they bowled each other over, meeting and then marrying within the space given by the few warm months of 1925. Given their varied strengths, we can call it a complementary marriage. Thus armed with support from Aileen, Ernest, and a legion of colleagues at the Cavendish, Chadwick embarked on a career that included dramatic work on the atom and further cultivation of his own personal qualities—although he never did learn to master completely the terrors of public speaking. Among other things, Chadwick’s talents and his partnerships brought him a Nobel Prize in Physics (1935, for his 1932 discovery of the neutron), a professorship at Liverpool, the mastership of a Cambridge college (Gonville and Caius), and not least a critical—and foundational—role in the Manhattan Project. Finally, James and Aileen retired to a North Wales solitude where (quietly?) they pursued the trout, the thrip, and the aphid. ©
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"Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are." Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, La physiologie du gout . . ., 1826.

In Britain we were told, often, that “privations” of wartime and post-war rationing had in fact produced the best- nourished generations in British history. All this arose from circumstances that, taken together, make one consider serendipity as a major force in human affairs. The person who ties it all together was Elsie May Widdowson, born to a south London grocer’s clerk and his missus on October 21, 1906. It must have been an unusual household, Chance #1, for Elsie’s younger sister Eva went on to achieve a PhD in Physics while Elsie got hers (1933) in chemistry. To be precise, her PhD was on the chemistry of the apple, because she’d already figured out that nutrition science might be the best route forward for a female chemist. Chance #2 came when Elsie met Robert McCance, MD, pointing out to him, casually as it were, that some of his findings were amiss. Charmed rather than offended, McCance took Elsie with him to Cambridge and a 60-year science partnership which produced much of the basic food chemistry that, today, populates various sorts of dietary handbooks, including my kidney diet. Come the war, Chance #3, Widdowson & McCance were taken on by the UK government to make rationing recommendations which, come the peace, were then also applied to the very pressing problem of mid-European malnutrition (including among concentration camp survivors) and then to take on similar issues with respect to African and Asian food problems. Throughout they matched calories to chemistries to make sure that what people did consume actually did them some good. In the process, Widdowson especially became interested what happened to all those chemicals and vitamins once ingested. Usually under Medical Research Council auspices, she embarked on studies of the chemistry of digestion. Researching animals and humans, she took special interest in the nutritional chemistry of pregnancy and birth, doing work on human fetal tissues and still-birth corpses that today would probably not be allowed but which, every day, helps to insure healthy pregnancies and vigorous babies. Widdowson’s work rate fell off when (in her late 80s) Dr. McCance died. She herself passed in 2000, dying from a stroke suffered while on an Irish hiking holiday with her sister, Dr. Eva Widdowson Crane, beekeeper extraordinaire. But Eva’s is another Widdowson story. ©
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"Whatever is not nailed down is mine, and what I can pry loose is not nailed down." Collis P. Huntington. in a conversation invented by a friend of Leland Stanford's.

The founders of American industrial capitalism continue to excite attention and controversy. Were they ‘captains of industry’ or were they ‘robber barons’? A sub-set of controversies has to do with the question of whether they were really “self-made men,” real-life riffs on the American dream? Many of them liked to think so, and eagerly invented romances about their rags-too-riches successes, but the whole idea, statistically, was torpedoed a long time ago. Most of them began life rich, or at least very comfortable, and then became richer. There were exceptions, to be sure, Andrew Carnegie being the big one. And then there was Collis Potter Huntington, born poor in Connecticut on October 22, 1821. Having no prospect of farming, Huntington became an itinerant peddler, and did well enough at buying cheap and selling dear (in upstate New York) that, when he heard of the California Gold Rush, he went west not to mine gold but rather to supply hopeful men with what they needed to mine gold. Whether they succeeded or not, buying cheap and selling dear quickly made Huntington one of the richest men in Sacramento, in a dry goods partnership with Mark Hopkins. Then the Civil War brought new opportunities and the outrageous idea that the union could be better bound together by steel rails, and in this venture Hopkins and Huntington joined Leland Stanford and Charles Crocker. They were called the Big Four and—self-made and otherwise—they continued to buy even cheaper and sell even dearer. Their speciality was to control railway companies (among others, the Central Pacific and the Southern Pacific) and sell to the railways (at inflated costs) their privately-owned construction services. Should the railway go bankrupt or its stock prices fall drastically, they could then buy it up cheap. Since that is pretty much what happened, they qualify as robber barons, although at the very end it was Huntington who robbed Stanford. But perhaps Stanford and Huntington both deserve a better reputation. They, after all, left us national institutions of great value, Stanford University and the Huntington Library. Between them they also passed down to us two sharply contrasting (and therefore inconclusive) glosses on the rags-to-riches theme. To settle that one, you must fall back on statistics. ©

[I remember once reading a quotation about the time Standard Oil had its HQ in New Jersey because of the favourable regulatory climate there. It was said that the only thing they didn't refine was the State Legislature.]
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Re: BOB'S BITS

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"NATURE and Nature’s Laws lay hid in Night: God said, “Let Newton be!” and all was light. " Alexander Pope, ca. 1727.

We have a very big birthday to celebrate today, for it has been calculated that God created the world on October 23, 4004 BC. This finding, published in 1658 by James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh in the (Protestant) Church of Ireland, was arrived at with all due attention to biblical chronology (remember all those “begats”?) and to what was then known about ancient middle eastern history. Some years ago the evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould praised Ussher’s scholarship, indeed his science, but I don’t recall Gould noting how heavily Ussher depended on the previous (1646) work of John Lightfoot, whose work Ussher revised. In his new calculation (inserted as a marginal note in a great many editions of the King James Bible), Ussher modified Lightfoot’s calculation in several details, including changing the clock time of the Creation of the World, which (Ussher wrote) actually occurred in the evening preceding the first day. Lightfoot had claimed 9:00AM on Day 1, which (poetically) makes more sense to me. Today many, perhaps most creationists (Christian, Jewish, and Muslim) have abandoned that sort of precision, but what strikes me as really interesting is another aspect of the timing of Ussher’s work, coming as it did in the century of ‘the scientific revolution,’ the beginnings of modern, experimental, measurable science. In those senses, Ussher’s labors were in fact very timely. The Bible considered as a databased narrative had not yet been taken apart, literally dismantled, by (mainly German) philologists and theologians, so Ussher’s arithmetic made good scientific sense. More importantly, it’s too easy to forget the vital role religion and the Bible played in the lives of many people we now regard as “scientists” (a classification that did not even exist in the 1600s). To take one example only, Isaac Newton, he who took the motions of the planets out of God’s hands; Newton spent more energy working on the date of the Second Coming and the End of Time than he did on his laws of physics, and in these labors Newton’s main source was, like Ussher’s, the Bible, though in Isaac’s case it was not so much Genesis as it was Revelation. Pun intended. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

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Sorry for the hiatus. Nothing received from Uncle Bob since Friday and no reply to an email I sent him.
I shall keep trying!
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Still nothing, I have mailed him again.....
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Quite worrying. On the couple of occasions that I emailed him, he replied very promptly.
Born to be mild. . .
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I asked Paulette. She says I can tell you he is unwell. More later when she has time.
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No more detail on Uncle Bob. I'll let you know as soon as I know anything.
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Re: BOB'S BITS

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Still no word. I am not nagging Paulette, I think she might have quite enough to cope with.... Last I heard he was in ICU after a fall from a ladder. I'll report as soon as I hear anything.
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