Daily Update: Thursday, January 19th, 2017

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2017 and 01-19 - The Poe Toaster

Today we have no Saints to honor; instead, it is the Second Day in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, with the overall theme for 2017 being Reconciliation – The Love of Christ Compels Us (2 Corinthians 5:14-20) and with our Meditation being “Live No Longer For Themselves” (2 Corinthians 5:15). And today is the birthday of Edgar Alan Poe (1809), and the date on which the Poe Toaster used to  come / no longer comes / once again on this approximate date comes/ to Poe’s grave in the Westminster Hall and Burying Ground in Baltimore, Maryland.

Our Meditation on this Second Day of the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is “Live No Longer For Themselves” (2 Corinthians 5:15); we pray, “God our Father, in Jesus Christ you have freed us for a life that goes beyond ourselves. Guide us with your Spirit and help us to orient our lives as sisters and brothers in Christ, who lived, suffered, died and rose again for us, and who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.” Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19th, 1809 and died in 1849, and was duly interred in the Westminster Hall and Burying Ground in Baltimore, Maryland. Starting in the 1950’s (possibly earlier), in the early hours of January 19th each year, a shadowy mysterious figure, dressed in black with a wide-brimmed hat and white scarf, would enter the graveyard, pour himself a glass of cognac and raise a toast to Poe’s memory at Poe’s original gravesite, then vanish into the night, leaving three roses in a distinctive arrangement and the unfinished bottle of cognac. Onlookers gathered annually in hopes of glimpsing the elusive Toaster, who did not seek publicity and was rarely seen or photographed. Occasionally the Poe Toaster would leave a cryptic note, with the note in 1999 stating that the tradition had been passed on to “a son”. In 2006 a group of onlookers unsuccessfully attempted to intercept the Poe Toaster. Aside from that incident, spectators, out of respect for the tradition, never interfered with the Toaster’s entry, tribute ritual, or departure, nor was any concerted effort made to identify the individual. In 2008 Jeff Jerome, former curator of the Poe House and Museum, reported that nearly 150 people gathered to observe the Toaster’s appearance. 2009 marked the bicentenary of Poe’s birth; despite this milestone, the crowd was smaller than in past years, and the Toaster left no note; that was the last year that the Toaster appeared. In 2015 the Maryland Historical Society organized a competition to select a new individual to resurrect the annual tribute in a modified, tourism-friendly form. The new Toaster—who will also remain anonymous—made his first appearance during the daylight hours of January 16th, 2016 (a Saturday, three days before Poe’s birthday), wearing the traditional garb and playing Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre on a violin. After raising the traditional cognac toast and placing the roses at Poe’s current grave, he intoned, “Cineri gloria sera venit” (“Glory paid to one’s ashes comes too late”, from an epigram by the Roman poet Martial), and departed. (I’m glad they resurrected – so to speak – the tradition, but I wish they would have continued to have the new Toaster do his thing by night in the early hours of January 19th, not on a Saturday convenient for tourism.)

Our New Orleans Pelicans in their NBA game beat the Orlando Magic by the score of 118 to 98. Also, our LSU Tigers lost their College Basketball game with the Auburn Tigers by the score of 74 to 78; our LSU Tigers (9-8, 1-5) will next play an Away College Basketball game with the Arkansas Razorbacks (14-4, 3-3) on Saturday, January 21st, 2017.

When he woke up Richard gathered up the trash and wheeled the trash bin out to the curb, then he left for Baton Rouge. I woke up at 10:30 am, did my Book Devotional Reading, and then read the Thursday paper (our local paper was totally soaked in the rain).While I was reading the paper Richard came home, sans phone; it was not at Butch’s apartment, and he thinks someone must have taken it at the gas station we stopped at on the west side of the river on our way home yesterday. We left the house at 11:45 am, and went to Verizon, where he got a Galaxy 7 and various accessories for his new phone. (He is still not up to our son’s level, who managed to lose three phones in one year as a teenager.) We then went to Wal-Mart, where Richard got a 128-g SD card for his phone, and I got my salad supplies. We got home at 1:15 pm, and I made my lunch salads for Friday and Sunday. I then came to the computer and did Advance Daily Update Drafts while Richard set up his new phone (and watched Sons of Anarchy on Netflix). The Last Quarter Moon arrived at 4:14 pm. At 4:30 pm we watched Jeopardy!, and he called his sister Susan in Iowa to talk about Butch and to get Butch’s phone number (which I now have). And I will now finish this Daily Update and take a bath and do some reading before going to bed. Our LSU Lady Tigers (14-4, 3-2) will be playing a Home College Basketball game with the Kentucky Lady Wildcats (12-6, 3-2), and I will record the score of the game in Friday’s Daily Update.

Tomorrow is the Optional Memorial of Saint Fabian, Pope and Martyr (died c. 250), the Optional Memorial of Saint Sebastian, Martyr (died 288), and the Eve of Saint Agnes. It is also the Third Day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, with the overall theme for 2017 being Reconciliation – The Love of Christ Compels Us (2 Corinthians 5:14-20), and with our meditation being “We Regard No One From A Human Point of View” (2 Corinthians: 5:16). Tomorrow is also Inauguration Day, when Donald John Trump will begin his four-year term as the 45th President of the United States. And tomorrow is Louisiana Arbor Day. We will return to the casino for the start of our work week. (To recap: we work 3:00 am to 11:00 am, Friday through Tuesday, so it’s a regular 40-hour a week job; I just have to wake up early to get ready for work.) Our New Orleans Pelicans (17-26, 1-6) will be playing a home NBA game with the Brooklyn Nets (8-33, 0-9), and I will record the score of the game in Saturday’s Daily Update.

This Thursday Afternoon our Parting Quote comes to us from Richard Levins, philosopher of science. Born in 1930 in Brooklyn, New York City, New York, he was of Ukrainian Jewish heritage. He reportedly had read Paul de Kruif’s Microbe Hunters (1926) at age 8 (in 1938), was inspired at the age of ten by the essays of the Marxist biological polymath J. B. S. Haldane, and read the first of Charles Darwin’s books at age 12 (in 1942). Levins studied agriculture and mathematics at Cornell. He married Puerto Rican writer Rosario Morales in 1950. Blacklisted on his graduation from Cornell, he and his wife moved to Puerto Rico, where they farmed and did rural organizing. They returned to New York in 1956, where he earned his PhD at Columbia University (awarded 1965). Levins taught at the University of Puerto Rico from 1961 to 1967 and was a prominent member of the Puerto Rican independence movement. He visited Cuba for the first time in 1964, beginning a lifelong scientific and political collaboration with Cuban biologists. He wrote “The Strategy of Model Building in Population Biology”, for American Scientist in 1966. His active participation in the independence and anti-war movements in Puerto Rico led to his being denied tenure at the University of Puerto Rico, and in 1967 he and his wife and their three children moved to Chicago, where he taught at the University of Chicago and constantly interacted with evolutionary geneticist Richard Lewontin. One story of his Chicago years is that, in order to understand his lectures, his graduate students each needed to attend Levins’ courses three times: the first time to acclimate themselves to the speed of his delivery and the difficulty of his mathematics; the second to get the basic ideas down; and the third to pick up his subtleties and profundities. Prior to Levins’ work, population genetics had assumed the environment to be constant, while mathematical ecology assumed the genetic makeup of the species involved to be constant. Levins modelled the situation in which evolution is taking place while the environment changes. One of the surprising consequences of his model is that selection need not maximize adaptation, and that species can select themselves to extinction. He encapsulated his major early results in Evolution in Changing Environments: Some Theoretical Explorations (1968), a book based on lectures he delivered in Cuba in the early 1960s. Levins made extensive use of mathematics, some of which he invented himself, although it had been previously developed in other areas of pure mathematics or economics without his awareness of it. The term metapopulation was coined by Levins in 1969 to describe a “population of populations”. Populations inhabit a landscape of suitable habitat patches, each capable of hosting a local sub-population. Local populations may become extinct and be subsequently recolonized by immigration from patches; the fate of such a system of local populations (i.e., the metapopulation) depends on the balance between extinctions and colonizations. Levins introduced a model consisting of a single differential equation, nowadays known as the Levins model, to describe the dynamics of average patch occupancy in such systems. Metapopulation theory has since become an important area of spatial ecology, with applications in conservation biology, population management, and pest control. With Lewontin and others in the late 1970s Levins had co-authored a number of satirical articles criticizing sociobiology, systems modeling in ecology, and other topics under the pseudonym Isadore Nabi; Levins and Lewontin managed to place a ridiculous biography of Nabi and his achievements in American Men of Science in 1981, thereby showing how little editorial care and fact-checking work went on in that respected reference work. Levins wrote a number of articles on methodology, philosophy, and social implications of biology with Lewontin; many of these are collected in The Dialectical Biologist (1985). Both Levins and his wife later moved to Harvard with the sponsorship of E. O. Wilson, with whom they had later disputes over sociobiology. Levins was elected member of the US National Academy of Sciences but resigned because of the Academy’s role in advising the US military during the war. He had been a member of the US and Puerto Rican Communist Parties, the Movimiento Pro Independencia (the Independence movement in Puerto Rico), and the Puerto Rican Socialist Party, and he was on an FBI surveillance list. In the early 1990s Levins and others formed the Harvard Working Group on New and Resurgent Diseases. Their work showed that alarming new infections had sprung from changes in the environment, either natural or caused by humans. Until his death, Levins was John Rock Professor of Population Sciences and head of the Human Ecology program in the Department of Global Health and Population of the Harvard School of Public Health. During his final two decades, Levins had concentrated on application of ecology to agriculture, particularly in the economically less-well-developed nations of this planet. As a member of the OXFAM-America Board of Directors and former chair of their subcommittee on Latin America and the Caribbean, Levins worked from a critique of the industrial-commercial pathway of development and promoted alternative development pathways which focused attention upon (a) economic viability with (b) population equity, (c) ecological and social sustainability, and (d) empowerment of the dispossessed. In 2007 Levins and Lewontin published a second thematic collection of essays titled Biology Under the Influence: Dialectical Essays on Ecology, Agriculture, and Health. Levin’s last work was published in 2015 (died 2016): “The world is stranger than we can imagine and surprises are inevitable in science. Thus we found, for example, that pesticides increase pests, antibiotics can create pathogens, agricultural development creates hunger, and flood control leads to flooding. But some of these surprises could have been avoided if the problems had been posed big enough to accommodate solutions in the context of the whole.”

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