Archive for December, 2008
Saturday, December 20th, 2008
When the 26 year-old Charles Darwin sailed into the Galapagos Islands in 1835 on board the HMS Beagle, he took little notice of a collection of birds that are now intimately associated with his name. He actually misclassified as grosbeaks some of the birds that are now known as Darwin’s finches. After Darwin returned to England, the artist John Gould began to make illustrations of a group of preserved bird specimens brought back by Darwin, and the artist recognized them all to be different species of finches. From this work, Darwin came to understand how the beak size of the finches must have changed over the generations to accommodate differences in the size of seeds or insects consumed on the various islands.
Twenty years later, Darwin would translate his understanding of finch adaption to conditions on different islands into a fully formed a theory of evolution, emphasizing the power of natural selection to ensure that more favorable traits endure in successive generations. Darwin’s theory, core features of which have withstood critical scrutiny from scientific and religious critics, constituted only the starting point for an endlessly rich set of research questions that continue to inspire present-day scientists.
This year, 2009, marks the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth. In this anniversary year, Darwin’s greatest bequest can be found in the enormous body of research and theorizing that extend directly from his writings. It also serves to underline how evolution itself has undergone radical alterations in the past 150 years, a merger of the original theory with the science of the gene, which Darwin had as little understanding of as the ancients did.
Well, in any event, I wish anyone stumbling on this blog: a Happy Christmas, a jubilant Hanukkah, and a Merry New Year.
Saturday, December 20th, 2008
Dr. Michael Ellis DeBakey died on July 11, 2008. He was a world-renowned surgeon, scholar, researcher, educator, inventor, leader, soldier, statesman, humanitarian, and philanthropist with a lifetime of accomplishments so enormous as to be almost inconceivable.
His medical inventions began while he was a medical student at Tulane University. He invented the roller pump for use in blood transfusions. Years later it became an indispensable part of the heart-lung machine that launched open heart surgery.
In 1942, he enlisted in the United States Army and was assigned to the office of the surgeon general. Throughout World War II and early thereafter, he helped establish Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals( MASH Units), a registry for war injuries, the Veteran Administration Hospitals, and the National Library of Medicine.
In 1948, Dr. DeBakey became chairman of the Department of Surgery at Baylor University College of Medicine in the newly formed Texas Medical Center in Houston. He and his associates pioneered and advanced the field of cardiovascular surgery, making the Texas Medical Center a health care mecca that offered new life-saving operations and therapies even to the present day.
In 1964, Dr. DeBakey obtained the initial National Institutes of Health funding to develop a total artificial heart. Two years later, he performed the first successful implantation of a left ventricular assist device for the treatment of heart failure. In 1968, he was among the first in the United States to establish a heart transplant program. In 1969, he became the first president of the Baylor College of Medicine while still serving as chairman of the Department of surgery. In 1975, Dr. DeBakey participated in this establishment and funding of the National Heart and Blood Vessel Research Development Centers. He was also instrumental in creating the Michael E. DeBakey High School for Health Professions, a magnet school combining the best of the Houston Independent School District with on-site training at the Baylor College of Medicine.
Dr. DeBakey performed about 60,000 surgeries. His awards, recognitions, and achievements are too numerous to list. However, several deserve mention: the Albert Lasker Clinical Research Award; the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction presented by President Lyndon B. Johnson; the National Medal of Science presented by President Ronald Reagan; and the Congressional Gold Medal presented by President George W. Bush.
Dr. DeBakey died unexpectedly on July11, 2008, just short of his 100th birthday, September 7, 2008.
His achievements were enormous. Medical giants such as he are rare, especially these days. He will be missed.
Saturday, December 20th, 2008
December, 2008 has not been a great month for me. Upper respiratory infections, planning for a two week trip to Israel ( never been there) during Christmas and Hanukkah. So, not much time to blog. My New Year’s resolution is to blog daily and work on finishing my new novel, Donovan’s Run. I hope to finish it by the end of May.
I just finished Anne Rice’s, Interview with a Vampire. A well-written book. She’s head and shoulders above Stephen King as a writer of the Gothic. Finally, I’m going post a couple of items about a great man who died this year, and about 2009 as the 200th anniversary of a man who changed biology. So, please read on.
Sunday, December 7th, 2008
Today’s post, this 67th anniversary, is filled with thoughtful remembrance and an acknowledgement that the United States of America has changed remarkably, and not necessarily for the better, since December 7th, 1941. That was the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, brought us into World War II, and destroyed our Pacific naval fleet. It was the day that President Franklin Roosevelt called “A day that will live in infamy.” Congress declared war on Japan , Germany , and Italy –– the Axis powers. I was 13 years old. Our country was united. After 12 years of economic doldrums, we forged a gigantic manufacturing effort that produced tanks, planes, and armaments that supplied our army and navy with the tools to win a world wide war. Our technology produced atomic weapons. Conscription into the armed forces was taken for granted by the vast majority of young men. There were no marches in the street, no protests against the war, no efforts to sabotage our fight against fascism.
How different things are today. A volunteer army backed up by our National Guard. Our country divided socially, politically, and ideologically. Although I was too young to enter the armed forces during World War II, I served during the Korean conflict and was proud to do so. Today we have a small cadre of dedicated men and women who are willing and anxious to serve. We owe them our deepest gratitude, and if we step back and view our history through a long lens, we can only wonder if we could have won World War II with today’s altered attitudes. Many of our brave men and women died when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Many of our brave men and women died on September 11th, 2001. Would that we had mustered the same anger and determination that we had that day in 1941.