BOB'S BITS

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Stanley
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 16 Aug 2019, 11:02

“All sorts of things can happen when you’re open to new ideas and playing around with things.” Stephanie Kwolek, explaining her discovery of Kevlar.

In the early 2000s there was a great uproar from people who believed that the HPV vaccine was part of a plot to frustrate God’s just punishment for promiscuity, a role thought to be played by cervical cancer. It was a belief without scientific foundation, for the human papilloma virus causes several kinds of cancer, among both males and females, and electron microscopy has failed to find in it any moral (or amoral) agent. Their feverish anxiety was also historically amiss, for the vaccine is a long-term result of fundamental research that, against the odds and contrary to decades of received wisdom, proved that some viruses do cause some cancers. The heroine of that history was a Mexican-American scientist, Dr. Sarah Elizabeth Stewart, born in Tecalitlán, Jalisco, on August 16, 1905. Her father George was a mining engineer, her mother was Maria Andrade of Tecalitlán. George, Maria, Sarah, and her two siblings had to flee Mexico in 1911, and Sarah began her education in the USA. Her interest in science was not encouraged by her schools, or her teachers, so her first degree (1927, University of New Mexico) was in Home Economics. As a woman she scored several firsts or near firsts in her progress towards her PhD (at Chicago, 1939) and her MD (Georgetown, 1949). Somewhere along the way, she’d got hold of the unorthodox, very nearly heretical view that some cancers might have their origins in viruses. This was another reason (along with her gender) that it took her so long to get her degrees and even longer to get significant research funding. But eventually Elizabeth Stewart and her research colleague Dr. Bernice Eddy proved their point: a revolutionary one, although as befitted a scientific paper their conclusion (in Virology, April 1957) was suitably modest: “the most reasonable hypothesis is that it is a virus.” Their particular virus caused 21 kinds of tumors, and the virus now bears their name. More importantly, the knowledge that viruses might cause cancers meant that the search was on for vaccines and so today we have HPV vaccine. If you have an 11 or 12 year-old child in your family (a girl or a boy) you should seriously consider it. ©
Stanley Challenger Graham
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"Beware of certitude" (Jimmy Reid)
The floggings will continue until morale improves!

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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 17 Aug 2019, 12:07

"I hardly knew how I loved her, or how my whole existence seems bound up with her." Queen Victoria, writing about her mother, 1859.

The British (ITV) docudrama, Victoria, now airing on PBS, gives the great queen’s “Ma” a bad press. She may well have deserved it, but in history the matter was not so clear. Once Victoria came into her own, as queen, and married (she married Ma’s nephew, Prince Albert), mother-daughter relations settled down. “Ma” was also a Victoria, in her case the Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saafeld, and she was born on August 17, 1786. Her second marriage (to the Duke of Kent, a younger son of George III) made her Duchess of Kent and produced a daughter, the future queen, and the daughter’s place in the royal succession was one root of the Duchess’s troubles. Another source of trouble was her civil list funding, always insufficient after the duke’s death. And the third fly in her ointment was Sir John Ponsonby Conroy, who managed her household, and who seems to have deserved all the bad press he gets in the PBS series. He it was who kept the young Victoria in close quarters, isolated from the court and bereft of possible allies or even friends. Victoria blamed them both (they were “Ma and JC” in her diary). “JC” hoped King William would die before Victoria was of age, setting “Ma” up as regent-in-fact and himself as the power behind the throne. But the king lived until June 1837 and Victoria succeeded as an adult. Three years on Queen Victoria married Prince Albert, and sent JC packing, his schemes in ruins and his reputation in tatters. Ma lived on in the household, settled down as a dutiful and affectionate grandparent to the rapidly growing royal brood, and became “Mama,” a kind of rhetorical promotion. After Mama’s death in early 1861, Victoria read her diaries, discovered a new narrative of her own childhood and broke down in grief and guilt. Mama, it seemed, had not been so bad after all. And then, only a few months later, Albert himself died, and Victoria mourned for the rest of her long life. ©
Stanley Challenger Graham
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"Beware of certitude" (Jimmy Reid)
The floggings will continue until morale improves!

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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 18 Aug 2019, 11:43

"If I can hit it, it's not a bad ball." Roberto Clemente.

If you want to get a direct, nearly visceral, sense of American history, visit the online “American Memory” section of the Library of Congress. There I’ve used documents and pictures, mainly in teaching, but the collection holds artifacts, too, and in 2012 the Smithsonian Museum put on a special “American Memory” exhibition. Among its 100+ objects were the original Kermit (a frog, of course), Judy Garland’s red slippers from Oz, and a black baseball helmet with a gothic “P” on it. It was scarred from use and years, for it belonged to Roberto Clemente, the black Puerto Rican immigrant who took Pittsburgh to his heart, and in return—at length—was taken in. Roberto Enrique Clemente Walker was born on August 18, 1934. Branch Rickey brought him to the Pirates in 1955, just 8 years after Rickey brought in Jackie Robinson (at Brooklyn) to break baseball’s color line. At the Pirates, Clemente was the man of the .300+ batting average (for all but one of his 18 seasons) and the clothesline throw (from right field to 3rd base was his trademark). He hit plenty of homers but fundamentally he was a hitter, peppering all sorts of pitches into all parts, an immaculate fielder, and a fierce but fair team player. MLB’s annual Clemente Award is for the player who best exemplifies that sort of partisan sportsmanship. I like, too, the fact that he was only hit by pitches 35 times in his 18 seasons with the Pirates. The man knew how to duck. Off the field he served the community (in Pittsburgh, Puerto Rico, and elsewhere) in many guises, not least as a long-time Marine Corps reservist, but he became best known for his charity work. It killed him, for on December 31, 1972, his rented DC-7 (rickety and too heavily laden with food, medicine, and clothing destined for earthquake victims in Nicaragua) crashed just off his home island. All they ever found of Roberto Clemente was his battered suitcase and a sock. That memorial baseball helmet he’d left back in Pittsburgh, ready for the ’73 season when, probably, he’d have batted .300+, won a Golden Glove, and caught that runner at 3rd with a steaming throw all the way in from deep right. ©
Stanley Challenger Graham
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"Beware of certitude" (Jimmy Reid)
The floggings will continue until morale improves!

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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 19 Aug 2019, 11:51

Playing at bowls and "transcendental numbers." Alan Baker, mathematician, 1939-2018.

I very rarely celebrate mathematicians in these daily notes, mainly because I find the mind games they play incomprehensible. But here’s one whose mind games broke into idiomatic English. I still don’t understand it, but at least I have a foothold. Alan Baker was born in London on August 19, 1939; bad timing, you might say, but his dad, Barney Baker, was good enough at maths to understand that the boy had a talent in that direction and to encourage Alan to pursue it. The pursuit took him to University College, London, where he won first class honours in mathematics, and then to a Cambridge PhD (1965). There he stayed the rest of his life, first a fellow at Trinity, becoming Professor of Pure Mathematics in 1974 (a very early chair) and then emeritus in 2006. He lived frugally in Trinity, occupying the college’s best flat, leaving it to tutor, to lecture, and to join friends at bowling on the green in the Fellows’ Garden. At an international conference (in Zurich) called to honor Professor Baker on his 60th birthday, he gave a little speech regretting the fact that he’d never married, but he seems to have been happy enough traveling and spending visiting time at other institutions, notably the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. And he was famous, at least among mathematicians, for several reasons, in 1970 winning the Fields Medal (the Nobel of maths) for his formulaic proof of the Gauss Conjecture, in which he used “Diophantine” equations. Don’t ask me what that means, but Baker used similar methods to “square the circle,” an old problem in maths and an insoluble one in English metaphor. Indeed, squaring the circle was among several “unsolvables” given me by Mr. Walker, my 10th-grade geometry teacher, in the spring of 1959 as he bade me farewell into Miss Cain’s intermediate algebra class. Mr. Walker expressed considerable confidence that I would never solve it, and he was right. ©
Stanley Challenger Graham
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"Beware of certitude" (Jimmy Reid)
The floggings will continue until morale improves!

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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 20 Aug 2019, 11:12

“We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far." H P Lovecraft,

The older I get, the more I realize that some of my great lacunae will never be filled, and that among those are several that I don’t even want to fill: “voluntary vacuums,” perhaps. One such is horror, a genre in literature and film. I know enough about it, from friends, from my own brief encounters, to know that I am missing something, but thanks all the same. So while I have been vaguely aware of the works of H. P. Lovecraft and his unkind fates (poverty, obscurity, early death) the former has never excited my curiosity nor the latter my sympathy. But for those who do care, Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born in Providence, RI, on August 20, 1890, in circumstances that were straitened and unhappy. When Howard was 3, his father was committed to an asylum, where he stayed until his death in 1898, probably from complications of syphilis. Howard was then brought up by his doting but dotty mother, her father, and a gaggle of aunts, out of which he distilled an obsession with science (particularly astronomy), a timid, retiring personality, and a tendency to severe depression. Still a child, he made up (and wrote for) his own astronomy journal, and he also started in as a poet and, fatefully, as a reader of pulp fiction of the weirder sort. As he moved away from astronomy and electricity, he embraced a darker vision, a vision threatened by materialism, modernity, democracy, and by lesser breeds than his own, notably immigrants from eastern and southern Europe and blacks migrating up from the American south. Out of these influences, Lovecraft fashioned whole imaginative worlds, fantastic and horrific, both in one-off fictions and in serial form, which never sold enough to lighten his life but after his death (in 1937) have attracted much attention from many and cultish devotion from some. Today the Lovecraft industry includes the suggestively-named Necronomicon Press, where you can find out more about him than (I think) you need to know. ©
Stanley Challenger Graham
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"Beware of certitude" (Jimmy Reid)
The floggings will continue until morale improves!

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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 21 Aug 2019, 11:25

"May not our posters claim kinship with the galleries . . . (and, recollect, no gate money, no catalogue)?" Aubrey Beardsley, in The Art of the Hoarding, 1894.

Artistic modes, like so much else, go in and out of fashion. In the 1960s, when I first came under the fine arts tutelage of my wife, ‘art nouveau’ was all the rage, its practitioners heroes (with a few heroines), its works the subject of museum exhibits, t-shirts, and posters. Among them all, Aubrey Beardsley stood out, fitted for the hero’s (or martyr’s) role by his ethereal appearance and early death (aged only 25), as well as by the fertile fury of his creativity. Aubrey Vincent Beardsley was born in Brighton on August 21, 1872, into a mixed marriage (a tradesman father and a wealthier mother). Aubrey contracted tuberculosis at an early age, which contributed to his wan, rather spiritual appearance, and perhaps also to his private endeavors in drawing, poetry and music. At school, in Brighton, he wrote and drew for the school magazine, and although his talents were noticed by established artists, we may call him self-taught. He broke into London’s artistic scene partly because of his friendships (notably with the outrageous Oscar Wilde) but mostly because he was chosen to illustrate a new, and ‘arty,’ edition of Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. His work there (and in the famous Yellow Book, of which he was co-founder) was not universally popular. Nor did he suffer fools gladly. When one journalist judged him “unclean and sexless,” Beardsley publicly invited the critic to watch him at his morning bath and thus to settle both charges. Just as Beardsley was influenced by art nouveau, so he shaped the style himself. His black & white drawings, their organically flowing lines, their attention to theme and purpose (when they were book illustrations), and their eroticism made his art into a virtual trademark. In today’s climate, Beardsley’s eroticism is judged as subtle. But in 1896, desperately ill, Beardsley retired to France, converted to Roman Catholicism and, famously, directed that all his “obscene” drawings be destroyed. Luckily, his wishes were not followed, and Beardsley himself became a figure for the ages. ©
Stanley Challenger Graham
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"Beware of certitude" (Jimmy Reid)
The floggings will continue until morale improves!

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