Daily Update: Monday, May 30th, 2016

Joan of Arc and 05-30 - Memorial Day (Traditional) and Memorial Day

Today is the Optional Memorial of Saint Joan of Arc, Virgin and Martyr (died 1431). We also celebrate Memorial Day on its Traditional date, and since today is the Last Monday in May, it is also the date when (since 1971) we celebrate Memorial Day, remembering the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.

Today’s Saint was born in 1412 in Greux-Domremy, Lorraine, France. She was a shepherdess and mystic; from the age of 13 she received visions from Saint Margaret of Antioch, Saint Catherine of Alexandria, and Michael the Archangel. At this time, England, in alliance with Burgundy, controlled most of what is modern France. In May 1428 Joan’s visions told her to find the true king of France and help him reclaim his throne. She resisted for more than three years, but finally went to Charles VII in Chinon and told him of her visions. Carrying a banner that read “Jesus, Mary”, she led troops from one battle to another. She was severely wounded, but her victories from February 23, 1429 to May 23, 1430 brought Charles VII to the throne. Captured by the Burgundians during the defence of Compiegne, she was sold to the English for ten thousand francs. She was put on trial by an ecclesiastical court conducted by Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais, a supporter of England, and was executed as a heretic at the age of nineteen in 1431. In 1452 her case was re-tried, and Joan was acquitted in 1456 (25 years too late). Although semi-legendary for centuries, she was not beatified until 1909, and she was canonized in 1920. She is the Patron Saint of France, of martyrs, captives, military personnel, and people ridiculed for their piety, and of women who have served in the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) and the Women’s Army Corps. And today is also the traditional date of Memorial Day. It was known as Decoration Day when it was begun, just after the American Civil War, to decorate the graves of the Union War dead. The date of May 30th was chosen in 1868, the third year of the observance, because it was not the anniversary of any battles. The alternative name of “Memorial Day” was first used in 1882. It did not become more common until after World War II, and was not declared the official name by Federal law until 1967. On June 28th, 1968, the United States Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill, which moved three holidays from their traditional dates to a specified Monday in order to create a convenient three-day weekend. The holidays included Washington’s Birthday, now celebrated as Presidents’ Day; Veterans Day; and Memorial Day. The change moved Memorial Day from its traditional May 30th date to the last Monday in May. The law took effect at the federal level in 1971. The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) advocate returning to the original date. The late Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawai’i, a World War II veteran, in 1987 introduced a measure in Congress to return Memorial Day to its traditional date, and he introduced the measure every year thereafter until his death in 2012. And, because today is also the last Monday in May, we observe Memorial Day today, on the traditional date. Many people observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries and memorials remembering the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. Since 2000, a National Moment of Remembrance takes place at 3:00 pm local time; during this Moment, 200 Amtrak trains blast their whistles, approximately 500,000 Major League Baseball fans are joined in silence, and countless other participants make a vow to remember those who died in defence of our country. Another tradition is to fly the flag of the United States at half-staff from dawn until noon local time. Volunteers often place American flags on each grave site at National Cemeteries. Members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars take donations for poppies in the days leading up to Memorial Day; the poppy’s significance to Memorial Day is the result of the John McCrae poem “In Flanders Fields.” In addition to remembrance, Memorial Day is also used as a time for picnics, barbecues, family gatherings, and sporting events. Some Americans view Memorial Day as the unofficial beginning of summer and Labor Day as the unofficial end of the season, and if you are part of the Shoe Police, you know that one can only wear white shoes between Memorial Day and Labor Day. (In SouthWestCentral Louisiana, it makes more sense to deem that summer begins with the occurrence of Daylight Savings Time on the second Sunday of March, and ends when Daylight Savings Time ends on the first Sunday in November, but that does not seem to extend White Shoe Season.)

Yesterday the Indianapolis 500 was won by rookie Alexander Rossi.

Upon waking up I did my Book Devotional Reading, posted to Facebook that today was Memorial Day (Traditional), and that today was Memorial Day (Observed). (For those keeping track, it will not be until 2022 that both Memorial Days are on the same day.) I decided against wearing a Patriotic Shirt to work today. I then put out the flag in honor of Memorial Day while Richard gathered up the trash and wheeled the trash bin out to the curb. On our way to work I did my Internet Devotional Reading. Today at the casino was the second Heavy Business Volume Day period for the Memorial Day holiday, and a Paid Holiday (meaning that associates get time-and-a-half pay for their hours worked today). Today was also the first day of the current two-week pay period. Richard was on Pai Gow all day; I was first the Relief Dealer for Mississippi Stud, Three Card Poker, and Let It Ride, then I became the Relief Dealer for the second Mississippi Stud table, Mississippi Stud, and Three Card Poker.

On our way home Richard checked to see if our auto garage was open (it was, but was busy), and to see if Fantastic Sam’s was open (it was not). Once home I ate my lunch salad and read the morning paper, and Richard went to the auto garage to get the tires rotated on the truck. When he got back home he mowed the grass. Meanwhile, I decided to come to the computer and to go ahead and do today’s Daily Update, because when I am done with the computer I will go to bed for the duration. And in the College World Series, LSU will play Utah Valley at 3:00 pm on Friday in the Regional at Alex Box Stadium. (The Regionals are double-elimination; let us hope that our LSU Tigers win all of their games!)

Tomorrow is the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We will head to work for our Friday, and in the afternoon I will take a nap, and do my Exercise Walking late in the afternoon (hopefully, it will be cooler then, but in SouthWestCentral Louisiana, that is not always the case).

Our Parting Quote on this Memorial Day afternoon comes to us from Andrew Huxley, English physiologist and biophysicist. Born in 1917 in Hampstead, London, he was the youngest son of the writer and editor Leonard Huxley by his second wife Rosalind Bruce, and hence half-brother of the writer Aldous Huxley and fellow biologist Julian Huxley, and grandson of the biologist T. H. Huxley. At the age of twelve he and his older brother David were given a lathe by their parents; Huxley soon became proficient at designing, making and assembling mechanical objects of all kinds, from wooden candle sticks to a working internal combustion engine. He used these practical skills throughout his career, building much of the specialized equipment he needed for his research. He was educated at University College School and Westminster School in Central London, where he was a King’s Scholar. Upon graduation in 1935 he won a scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge to read natural sciences. He had intended to become an engineer but switched to physiology after taking the subject to fulfill an elective. He graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in 1938. In 1939 physiologist and biophysicist Alan Lloyd Hodgkin returned from the United States to take up a fellowship at Trinity College, and Huxley became one of his postgraduates students. Hodgkin was interested in the transmission of electrical signals along nerve fibers. Beginning in 1935 in Cambridge, he had made preliminary measurements on frog sciatic nerves suggesting that the accepted view of the nerve as a simple, elongated battery was flawed. Hodgkin invited Huxley to join him researching the problem. The work was experimentally challenging. One major problem was that the small size of most neurons made it extremely difficult to study them using the techniques of the time. They overcame this by working at the Marine Biological Association laboratory in Plymouth using the giant axon of the Atlantic squid (Loligo pealei) which have the largest neurons known. The experiments were still extremely challenging as the nerve impulses only last a fraction of a millisecond, during which time they needed to measure the changing electrical potential at different points along the nerve. Using equipment largely of their own construction and design, including one of the earliest applications of a technique of electrophysiology known as the voltage clamp, they were able to record ionic currents. In 1939 they jointly published a short paper in Nature reporting on the work done in Plymouth and announcing their achievement of recording action potentials from inside a nerve fibre. Their research was abandoned at the start of World War II, and Huxley was recruited by the British Anti-Aircraft Command where he worked on radar control of anti-aircraft guns. Later he was transferred to the Admiralty to do work on naval gunnery and worked in a team lead by Patrick Blackett. Hodgkin, meanwhile, was working on the development of radar at the Air Ministry. When he had a problem concerning a new type of gun sight, he contacted Huxley for advice, who did a few sketches, borrowed a lathe, and produced the necessary parts. Huxley was elected to a research fellowship at Trinity College, Cambridge in 1941. In 1946 he was able to resume his collaboration with Hodgkin on understanding how nerves transmit signals. Continuing their work in Plymouth they were, within six years, able to solve the problem using equipment they built themselves. The solution was that nerve impulses, or action potentials, do not travel down the core of the fiber, but rather along the outer membrane of the fiber as cascading waves of sodium ions diffusing inward on a rising pulse and potassium ions diffusing out on a falling edge of a pulse. In 1952 they published their theory of how action potentials are transmitted in a joint paper, in which they also described one of the earliest computational models in biochemistry. This model forms the basis of most of the models used in Neurobiology during the following four decades. In 1952, having completed work on action potentials, Huxley was teaching physiology at Cambridge and became interested in the difficult and unsolved problem of how muscles contract. To make progress on understanding the function of muscle, new ways of observing how the network of filaments behave during contraction were needed. Prior to the war Huxley had been working on a preliminary design for interference microscopy, which at the time he believed to be original, though it turned out to have been tried 50 years before and abandoned. Huxley, however, was able to make interference microscopy work and to apply it to the problem of muscle contraction with great effect. Using microscopes of his own design, he was able to view muscle contraction with greater precision than conventional microscopes, and to distinguish types of fiber more easily. By 1954 he had begun to develop the sliding filament theory of muscle contractions. He synthesized his findings, and the work of colleagues into a detailed description of muscle structure and how muscle contraction occurs and generates force that he published in 1957. Although the details of Huxley’s theory of muscle contraction have not been unequivocally proven, it remains the accepted explanation of how muscles function. In 1953 Huxley worked at Woods Hole, Massachusetts as a Lalor Scholar. He was an editor of the Journal of Physiology from 1950 to 1957 and also of the Journal of Molecular Biology. In 1955 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. He gave the Herter Lectures at Johns Hopkins Medical School in 1959. He continued to hold college and university posts in Cambridge until 1960, when he became head of the Department of Physiology at University College London, and served on the Council of the Royal Society from 1960 – 1962. In 1961 he lectured on Neurophysiology at Kiev University as part of an exchange scheme between British and Russian professors. In 1963 he was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Hodgkin for his part in discoveries concerning the ionic mechanisms of the nerve cell. He gave the Jesup Lectures at Columbia University in 1964, and in 1969 he was appointed to a Royal Society Research Professorship in the Department of Physiology at University College London. He was knighted in 1974, and in 1980 was elected as President of the Royal Society, a post he held until 1985. In his Presidential Address in 1981, he chose to defend the Darwinian explanation of evolution, as his ancestor T.H. Huxley had in 1860. In 1983 he defended the Society’s decision to elect Margaret Thatcher as a fellow on the ground of her support for science even after 44 fellows had signed a letter of protest. In 1984 he was elected Master of Trinity, following his long time collaborator, Sir Alan Hodgkin. His appointment broke the tradition that the Master of Trinity alternates between a man of science and a man of arts. He remained Master until 1990, and was fond of reminding everyone that Trinity had more Nobel Prize winners than the whole of France (died 2012): “I am very conscious that there is no scientific explanation for the fact that we are conscious.”

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