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Title: Blog by Novelist William S. Frankl, MD

Archive for the ‘History’ Category

George Washington Elected

Sunday, April 14th, 2019

On Februart 4, 1789, the first Electoral College convened and elected George Washington as the first president of the United States. Only 10 states were represented in the college. Some had not held their presidential election yet, and others hadn’t yet ratified the Constitution and were therefore ineligible to vote. Congress finally certified the results on April 6, after a quorum was established. Each elector had two votes: all 69 electors present cast one of their votes for Washington. The second vote went toward determining who would be the vice president. John Adams was the runner up, with 34 votes. He provided balance to the ticket, too: he was from Massachusetts, and Washington was from Virginia, which was the largest state at that time.

Washington had led the Continental army to victory in the American Revolution, and he had served as the president of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, so he was an easy choice, and perhaps the only choice. But he really didn’t want the job. He wrote to a friend, “My movements to the chair of Government will be accompanied with feelings not unlike those of a culprit who is going to his place of execution: so unwilling am I, in the evening of a life nearly consumed in public cares, to quit a peaceful abode for an Ocean of difficulties …”

At his inauguration on April 30, Washington wore a simple suit of brown broadcloth. According to the journal of a senator who was present at his swearing in, Washington was very nervous: “This great man was agitated and embarrassed more than ever he was by the leveled cannon or musket.” Washington admitted as much in his inaugural address to Congress: “Among the vicissitudes incident to life, no event could have filled me with greater anxieties than that of which the notification was transmitted by your order.”

The details of the office — and indeed, the entire system of American government — were still being hammered out when he took office. Throughout his presidency, Washington took great pains to distance himself from the monarchical customs and ceremonies of Britain. When the Senate asked him how he wanted to be addressed, and offered “His Highness” as an option, he turned them down in favor of the less lofty “Mr. President.” He didn’t wear a military uniform or any robes of state to official functions, appearing instead in a black velvet suit.

Washington served two terms and then stepped down in 1797, despite many calls for him to continue in office. He believed that it was crucial to set the precedent for a peaceful transition, and he longed for a quiet retirement at Mount Vernon, his Virginia plantation. He composed his 32-page farewell address with the help of Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. In his speech, he urged the nation to think of itself as a unified body. He said that partisanship “serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passion.”

Washington only got to enjoy the quiet life at Mount Vernon for two years. He died of epiglottitis, a severe throat infection, in 1799.

 

Robert Koch

Sunday, April 14th, 2019

It was a remarkable day. On March 24, 1882, a German doctor and early microbiologist, Robert Koch, announced that he had found the bacterium responsible for tuberculosis.

Historically, tuberculosis has been one of the world’s most dangerous diseases. At the time of Koch’s discovery, one in seven people died of it. For many years, tuberculosis was believed to be an inherited condition. Koch, however, strongly believed that it was a contagious illness spread by a pathogen. Koch’s previous work had already identified the bacteria responsible for cholera and anthrax poisoning, respectively. This work had also led him to create four “postulates” of criteria for linking a specific bacterium to an infectious disease.

Koch worked on guinea pigs to fulfill his four postulates and eventually isolated the cause of tuberculosis as Mycobacterium tuberculosis. He delivered his results to a crowd of scientists in a lecture hall. He brought his entire laboratory to the room to replicate his method on the spot, and the room was left stunned by his work. At the end, there were no questions; instead, the scientists lined up to see the bacteria for themselves through the microscope. Paul Erlich, a future Nobel Prize winner in chemistry, called the lecture “the most important experience of my scientific life.”

Koch himself was awarded the Nobel Prize, in Physiology or Medicine, in 1905 for his work with tuberculosis. Today, thanks to antibiotic treatment, the disease’s death rate hovers at a much smaller 4 percent.

 

Schopenhauer

Sunday, April 14th, 2019

March 22 was the birthday of German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer , born in Danzig — now Gdańsk, Poland — in 1788. Schopenhauer believed that we live in a dual universe: the one that we perceive with our limited human senses and reasoning, and the universe as it truly is, which is unknowable and may or may not conform to our construct of “reason.” He was also pessimistic, believing that happiness is an illusion, our desires can never truly be satisfied, and the only way to attain peace of mind is by maintaining very low expectations. He was interested in Eastern religions and agreed with the Buddhist viewpoint that the nature of life is suffering, so happiness was simply freedom from it. His views on women influenced early feminists, who rejected his claim that women were childish and meant to obey. Schopenhauer never married.

 

Spinoza/Philosopher/Theologian

Tuesday, February 19th, 2019

Benedict Spinoza was born on November 24, 1632 in Amsterdam. He was a philosopher, the descendent of Portuguese Jews who immigrated to the Netherlands seeking religious tolerance. Young Spinoza studied Hebrew, the Old Testament, the Talmud, and Cabalaist traditions of mysticism and miracle. Fluent in five languages, Spinoza wrote in Latin, which he learned from Christian teachers who introduced the young scholar to mathematics and philosophy.

By age 24, Spinoza had developed his own ideas. He asserted that everything in the universe was made from the same divine substance, possessing infinite characteristics. He defined God and the laws of nature as one and the same, a part of this infinite substance. All of this was too far-flung from the dominant vision of an almighty, singular godhead for Spinoza’s religious contemporaries to tolerate, and Spinoza was excommunicated.

This did not deter him from his intellectual pursuits. He said, “Do not weep; do not wax indignant. Understand. He left Amsterdam and supported himself grinding lenses while writing books of philosophy. He lived in solitude and studied the work of Bacon, Boyle, Descartes, and Huygens. Spinoza published three books while he was alive, though more of his writings were published later by friends. The only book that named him as an author was Principles of the Philosophy of René Descartes (1663). He withheld much of his work because he feared retribution from a group of theologians who had publicly accused him of atheism.

For more than a century after his death, Spinoza’s work was widely considered heretical and atheistic. But toward the end of the 18th century, his ideas underwent a revival. Thinkers called him holy and a man intoxicated with the divine. He influenced philosophers such as Goethe, Herder, Lessing, and Novalis. According to the philosopher Hegel, “to be a philosopher, one must first become a Spinozist.”

Spinoza said, “The highest activity a human being can attain is learning for understanding, because to understand is to be free.”

And, If you want the future to be different from the present, study the past.”

 

H.G.Wells/ Great Sci-fi Writer

Thursday, January 31st, 2019

 September 21,1866 was the birthdate of H.G. Wells , born Herbert George in London . He is the sci-fi writer most known for The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, and War of the Worlds. Wells wasn’t the first to write about time travel or alien invasions, but his brand of sci-fi was uniquely realistic. He wanted to make the made-up science as believable as possible. Wells called this his “system of ideas” — today we would call it suspension of disbelief. Wells said: “As soon as the magic trick has been done the whole business of the fantasy writer is to keep everything else human and real. Touches of prosaic detail are imperative and a rigorous adherence to the hypothesis. Any extra fantasy outside the cardinal assumption immediately gives a touch of irresponsible silliness to the invention”. H.G. Wells died in 1946.

 

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