Daily Update: Tuesday, May 30th, 2017

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

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 at sunset today the Jewish feast of Shavuot begins.

Today’s Saint was born in 1412 in Greux-Domrémy, Lorraine, France. She was a shepherdess and mystic; from the age of thirteen 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 23rd, 1429 to May 23rd, 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. Finally, the two-day Jewish holiday of Shavuot is connected to the season of the grain harvest in Israel. In ancient times the grain harvest lasted seven weeks and was a season of gladness (Jer. 5:24; Deut. 16:9-11; Isa. 9:2). It began with the harvesting of the barley during Passover and ended with the harvesting of the wheat. Shavuot was thus the concluding festival of the grain harvest, just as the eighth day of Sukkot (Tabernacles) was the concluding festival of the fruit harvest. During the existence of the Temple in Jerusalem an offering of two loaves of bread from the wheat harvest was made on Shavuot. Shavuot was also the first day on which individuals could bring the Bikkurim (first fruits) to the Temple in Jerusalem (Mishnah Bikkurim 1:3). The Bikkurim were brought from the Seven Species for which the Land of Israel is praised: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates. Shavuot commemorates the anniversary of the day God gave the Torah to the entire Israelite nation assembled at Mount Sinai, although the association between the giving of the Torah (Matan Torah) and Shavuot is not explicit in the Biblical text. The custom of all-night Torah study goes back to 1533 when Rabbi Joseph Caro, author of the Shulchan Aruch, then living in Ottoman Salonika, invited his Kabbalistic colleagues to hold a night-long study vigil, in the course of which an angel appeared before them and commanded them to go live in Eretz Yisrael. According to a story in the Midrash, the night before the Torah was given, the Israelites retired early to be well-rested for the momentous day ahead, but they overslept and Moses had to wake them up because God was already waiting on the mountaintop. To rectify this flaw in the national character, religious Jews stay up all night to learn Torah on this night.

I woke up half an hour early to get ready for work, and posted to Facebook that today was the traditional date of Memorial Day. I did my Book Devotional Reading, and we kept the flag out (we had put it out yesterday in honor of Memorial Day (Observed). We drove ourselves separately to work; once waiting in the hallway for the Early Out list, I did my Internet Devotional Reading and said the Fifth Day of my Pentecost Novena. We signed the Early Out list, and when we clocked in Richard was on Blackjack and I was on the $5.00 Minimum Bet Blackjack table. We were not at our respective tables for long, as we got out at 3:15 am. We drove home (in separate vehicles), and Richard got gas for the truck. Once home at 4:15 am, I went back to bed.

Along about 8:00 am Richard’s alarm went off (he had joined me in bed), and he left for Baton Rouge. I woke up at 11:00 am, ordered a Peta T-shirt (People for the Eating of Tasty Animals) from Redbubble.com, started my laundry, and read the morning paper while eating Ritz crackers with peanut butter. I then watched MST3K Episode 209 The Hellcats (After a cop is killed by a drug boss, his fiancée and brother join a drug-running woman-led biker gang to uncover the boss’s operation and get justice). Richard called me to say he was on his way home from doing appointments and stuff with Butch in Baton Rouge. I then watched MST3K Episode 210 King Dinosaur (Two carefully-chosen scientist couples investigate a mysterious new planet and are menaced by dinosaurs, which are actually giant iguanas; the scientists then blow up the dinosaur island with an atomic bomb) with the short film X Marks the Spot (The short reviews the vehicular misdeeds of an accident victim in a Heaven-like courtroom). I then finished my laundry, did a couple of Advance Daily Update Draft for this weblog, watched Jeopardy! with Richard at 4:30 pm, then did some more Advance Daily Update Drafts. We left the house at 6:15 pm and ate dinner at D.C.’s Sports Bar and Steakhouse, then returned home at 7:30 pm. I then sent out my Third Tuesday Book Club reminder Email to everyone in my book club. And I will now finish this Daily Update and do some reading before going to sleep.

Tomorrow the Jewish feast of Shavuot continues, and tomorrow is the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I will do the Weekly Computer Maintenance and iron my casino pants, apron, and shirts; I will then head to Lafayette for the day.

Our Parting Quote on this Traditional Memorial Day evening 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 (the author of the novel Brave New World, 1931) 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 fifty 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 forty-four 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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