It’s a snowy Sunday in Chicago (December 18, 2016), with seven shopping days until Christmas and the first day of Koynezaa. As for food, it’s both National “I Love Honey” Day and National Roast Suckling Pig Day, I have some lovely homemade honey that I’ll have on toast, but there’s no pig—suckling or otherwise—in sight. It’s also International Migrants Day as decreed by the UN, and we should be mindful of those who leave everything they’ve known behind in search of a better life–often one without the fear of death or murder. Those who spurn migrants should consider what they would do in the same situation.
It’s not a day in history on which much happened. On this day in 1892, Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker had its premiere in Saint Petersburg, Russia; it’s now a Christmas staple most everywhere. And, in 1916, the Battle of Verdun ended with 337,000 casualties: a staggering number. It’s no wonder that a generation of British and American writers tried to come to terms with the situation of much of a generation of young men killed for no good (or comprehensible) end.
Notables born on this day include Nobel Laureate J. J. Thompson (1856), Joseph Stalin (1878), Paul Klee (1879), Ty Cobb (1886), Betty Grable (1916), Cicely Tyson (1924), Harold Varmus (1939), and Brad Pitt (1963). Also born on this day in 1946 was Steve Biko, the famous anti-apartheid activist murdered in 1977 while under torture by the South African police. Biko coined the phrase “Black is beautiful”, Google has a Doodle for him today (below), and Wikipedia says this about his death (remember, his activism was nonviolent):
On 18 August 1977, Biko was arrested at a police roadblock under the Terrorism Act No 83 of 1967 and interrogated by the Port Elizabeth security police, including officers Harold Snyman and Gideon Nieuwoudt. The interrogation took place in Police Room 619 of the Sanlam Building in Port Elizabeth. The 22-hour interrogation included torture and beatings, sending Biko into a coma. He suffered a major head injury while in police custody at the Walmer Police Station in a suburb of Port Elizabeth, and was chained to a window grille for a day.
On 11 September 1977, police loaded him into the back of a Land Rover, naked and manacled, and drove 1,100-kilometre (680 mi) to Pretoria to a prison that had hospital facilities. He was nearly dead from his injuries. He died shortly they arrived at the Pretoria prison on 12 September. Police said his death was the result of an extended hunger strike, but an autopsy revealed multiple bruises and abrasions and found that he succumbed to a brain hemorrhage from massive head injuries.
Those who died on this day include Antonio Stradivari (1737), Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1829), Richard Own (1892), and my academic grandfather Theodosius Dobzhansky (1975). I started graduate school as Dobzhansky’s student at Rockefeller University in New York, but then I was drafted as a conscientious objector and had to work in a hospital. When I became free (after taking the government to court), Dobzhansky had moved to the University of California at Davis and was no longer taking students. I remember when I interviewed and met him: he took me into his office, where there was a huge framed portrait of Darwin over his desk. Doby (that’s what many called him, along with “Dodak) put his arm around my shoulders, pointed to the portrait and said, in his high, nasal voice, “See? There’s the old boy who started it all!” I couldn’t help but feel that there was a line of succession, then, extending from Darwin to Dobzhansky, with me in the next generation. But of course I never had pretensions to be as good as either of those guys.
Here’s a picture of Dobzhansky working in Death Valley, where I continued the work begun by the people in the photo. Left to right: Dobzhansky, Steve Bryant (kneeling), my Ph.D. advisor Dick Lewontin (Dobzhansky’s student), a hippy-ish Steve Jones (Lewontin’s postdoc), and my postdoc advisor Tim Prout, also a Dobzhansky student. Dobzhansky died not long after this photo was taken.
Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili shows she’s use any excuse to get noms:
Hili: A hot radiator stimulates appetite.A: Interesting.Hili: Yes, warming up the tail improves the taste of food.
Hili: Ciepły grzejnik pobudza apetyt.
Hili: Tak, podgrzewanie ogona poprawia smak jedzenia.