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Darwin: "On the Origin of Species"

Since the 1830s, scientists have been toying with the idea of the origin of species. In nature, you can see minor differences in animals and plants. Gregor Mendel is currently crossbreeding pea plants and creating the science of genetics. Crossbreeding of dogs has been ongoing for centuries, so there must be a natural mechanism at work too. An extremely popular book came out in 1844 entitled, "Vestiges of Creation." Its scientific basis was weak, but it created a public interest in the origin of animals, plants and perhaps... humankind. Charles Darwin has been searching for a theory that will explain the natural process of creating a species when he reads a paper on the Malthusian theory that human population growth reaches its limit when war, poverty, disease take its human toll. Something clicks and Darwin see a war in the animal and plant kingdoms where survival of the fittest and sometimes blind chance is the rule. He publishes "On the Origin of Species" at just the right time. His theory has flaws, but it pulls existing ideas together into a comprehensive whole and the public picks it up and runs with it... much to the dismay of many of the clergy and the joy of eugenicists. [1] [2] [3] [4]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
Every time I try to have an adult conversation on this subject, people's heads explode, so adjust your cranial pressure value. Here we go. Darwin did a good first pass on the origin of species, but his theory has flaws. The most glaring is that it takes too long for all of this stuff to happen naturally. Just look at how long it took to breed the wolf out of dogs... and we were doing that ON PURPOSE! This doesn't make Darwin's theory wrong, but it creates an opening for "Intelligent Design", which is the idea that an intelligent force (oh... I don't know... someone like GOD, maybe) is pushing things along. Without the God-idea, the explanations become complex... and sound a lot like a carnival barker's patter on how I could win that big teddy bear for my girl by tossing a ping-pong ball into a glass bowl. On the TV science show "Cosmos," Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson attempted a slight-of-hand by explaining that life began somewhere else, and Earth ran into a cloud of it. Then the Earth blew up when it was hit by the Moon, but then life reestablished itself... from space! It could happen.... when pigs fly! I am really pulling for pigs to fly, but the Doctor's explanation was so unlikely that it actually made the God-idea scientifically reasonable. (In calculus, as x approaches infinitely unlikely, God becomes definitely reasonable.) I am willing to wait for scientists to figure it out, but quit treating me like I'm a five-year-old asking why the sky is blue. [5] [6]

John Brown's Raid on Harpers Ferry

The US Arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia is under attack by men led by the militant abolitionist, John Brown. Brown is attempting to instigate a slave revolt, but as with any revolt, guns come in handy. His plan calls for renting a house and living in the area to become familiar with the armory and with the people of the area. The people of the area are mostly armorers. Oddly enough, the armorers are not armed because raids seem unlikely. (Oops!) A single guard is on hand to call for help in case of a fire. At 10 PM, Brown and his men subdue the guard and take over the armory. They have a list of critical hostages to take so they go into town and arrest them. As dawn breaks, the plan breaks down. The townspeople realize something is wrong, but they can only look on helplessly. Finally, one of the armorers remembers that they had moved some guns above the flood line when recent rains threatened. They use the guns against Brown and his men and chase them into the engine room. They call upon Colonel Robert E. Lee and the US Marines to take the engine room. John Brown is taken prisoner. One Marine is killed and another injured. Brown is unrepentant. He is given a trial and hanged. [7] [8] [9]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
I read the official report on the Raid. The US government clearly looked upon John Brown as a nut and they were glad to hang him. One less thing to do. You know? That was a mistake. It seems unclear what John Brown expected to accomplish once he took the armory. He had made no provision to load up the guns and carry them away. So what was he expecting? Would the revolutionaries simply show up and ask for a musket or rifle? Was he expecting to die? He certainly accomplished martyrdom. His death became a rallying point. Brown said he was acting on behalf of God, and the helpless poor. When I read the transcript my sense was that Brown was not crazy at all. He took the words of the Bible seriously, and he feared a just God. That requires some explanation: if God is a just God, that means we all get punished exactly for what we deserve. In the case of slavery, John Brown feared that the just punishment would be paid in blood. With his impending hanging he saw clearly that there was no way for the slave-owners to avoid God's justice. They were gong to bleed. Apparently, like Uncle Tom, John Brown was fighting for the slave-owner's soul, and like Uncle Tom, he was willing to die for it. [10]

Port Sa'id and the Suez Canal

Work on the Suez canal begins this year. The actual work is to establish Port Sa'id as a starting point. There are no local resources, per se. It isn't even a good location for a port, but a rock outcropping is found off shore and a wooden pier is constructed. We are talking about a canal from the Mediterranean Sea to the Gulf of Suez which is about 120 miles. Everything will have to be shipped in. Napoleon had originally commissioned a feasibility study to see if it could be done economically, but some mistakes were made in the study, so it came back negative. Napoleon dropped the project. Now the French have returned and reevaluated. There is only a 4 foot difference in sea levels. (The Gulf of Suez is higher.) If they go through the Bitter Lakes, that should balance out. The French make a deal with the current ruler of Egypt, Muhammad Sa'id Pasha, for 22% ownership. The rest of the shares are sold mainly to French citizens. One of the first things they build is the Sweet Water Canal to provide fresh water to Port Sa'id. The Suez Canal will be open for business in 10 years. [11]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
I recall the Suez Canal being a major point of contention over the years. A war in the Middle East always seemed to begin with a blockade of the Suez Canal. President Eisenhower was really torqued off when Egypt, under President Abdel Nasser, nationalized the Suez Canal in 1956 and then refused Israel passage through the canal. This led to the Suez Crisis. Israel invaded and then Britain and France. While this was happening, Mao Zedong was siding with Egypt in competition with the Soviet Union. (Mao was not getting along with Stalin. Stalin actually thought Mao was crazy... which was fairly frightening in itself.) Mao offered 250,000 Chinese soldiers to help Nasser. Nasser refused which was a good thing because China had no way to get them to Egypt. (Mao was like that.) This was also the time of Russia's invasion of Hungary, so as you can see... it was busy times and it was easy for smaller things to slip through the cracks... like... Elvis Presley entering the music charts with "Heartbreak Hotel". Nuke 'em. Nuke 'em all. [12] [13]

In Other News

  • The Planet Vulcan is discovered. An amateur astronomer finds a planet closer to the Sun than Mercury. It is called "Vulcan", but it is all a big mistake. Vulcan lives on today as the home planet of Mr. Spock in the Star Trek series. [14]
  • Vaseline is discovered. Oil workers have been using "rod wax" to heal wounds and burns. After collecting samples and extracting the petroleum jelly, a Brooklyn manufacturer starts selling it as a medicinal cure under the name "Vaseline". [15]
  • One of the largest solar coronal mass ejections hits Earth. Telegraph operators receive shocks, the aurora's light can be seen in Cuba and some people wake up believing it is dawn. In modern times this event would cause a major disruption to electronics and to the electrical grid. [16] [17] [18]

This Year in Wikipedia

Year 1859, Wikipedia.

See Also


  1. Grun, Bernard. The Timetables of History: A Horizontal Linkage of People and Events. Simon and Schuster, 422-423. 
  2. On the Origin of Species - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 13 August 2016. “On the Origin of Species, published on 24 November 1859, is a work of scientific literature by Charles Darwin which is considered to be the foundation of evolutionary biology. Darwin's book introduced the scientific theory that populations evolve over the course of generations through a process of natural selection. It presented a body of evidence that the diversity of life arose by common descent through a branching pattern of evolution. Darwin included evidence that he had gathered on the Beagle expedition in the 1830s and his subsequent findings from research, correspondence, and experimentation.”
  3. Autobiography of Charles Darwin, The. Gutenberg.org (2016). Retrieved on 29 August 2016.
  4. Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, The. gutenberg.org (2016). Retrieved on 26 August 2016. “I see no good reasons why the views given in this volume should shock the religious feelings of any one. [...] remember that the greatest discovery ever made by man, namely, the law of the attraction of gravity, was also attacked by Leibnitz, "as subversive of natural, and inferentially of revealed, religion."”
  5. Neil deGrasse Tyson - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 29 August 2016. “In 2014, he hosted the television series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, a successor to Carl Sagan's 1980 series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.”
  6. Expelled! No Intelligence Allowed. youtube.com (2016). Retrieved on 29 August 2016.
  7. John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry - Wikipedia (2014). Retrieved on 28 December 2014.
  8. American Gun. William Morrow. 
  9. 150 Years Ago Today: Abolitionist John Brown Raided Arsenal at Harpers Ferry in Attempt to Start Slave Insurrection in South. Democracy Now! (October 16, 2009). Retrieved on 29 August 2016. “Had I interfered in the manner which I admit...had I so interfered in behalf of the rich, the powerful, the intelligent, the so-called great, or in behalf of any of their friends, [either] father, mother, brother, sister, wife, or children, or any of that class, and suffered and sacrificed what I have in this interference, it would have been all right, and every man in this Court would have deemed it an act worthy of reward rather than punishment. This Court acknowledges, as I suppose, the validity of the law of God. I see a book kissed here which I suppose to be the Bible, or, at least, the New Testament. That teaches me that all things 'whatsoever I would that men should do unto me, I should do even so to them.' [...] I endeavored to act up to that instruction. I say, I am yet too young to understand that God is any respecter of persons. I believe that to have interfered as I have done, as I have always freely admitted I have done, in behalf of His despised poor, was not wrong, but right. Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children, and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I submit: so let it be done!”
  10. Floyd, John B. (September 1909). "Official Report of John Brown's Raid upon Harper's Ferry, Virginia, October 17-18, 1859". The Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society (Oregon Historical Society) 10 (3): 314-324. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20609805. Retrieved 29 August 2016. 
  11. Suez Canal - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 29 August 2016. “17 November 1869 – The canal is opened, owned and operated by Suez Canal Company.”
  12. Mao: The Unknown Story. Anchor. ISBN 9780679746324. 
  13. Suez Crisis - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 29 August 2016. “The Suez Crisis, also named the Tripartite Aggression and the Kadesh Operation, was an invasion of Egypt in late 1956 by Israel, followed by the United Kingdom and France. The aims were to regain Western control of the Suez Canal and to remove Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser from power. After the fighting had started, the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Nations forced the three invaders to withdraw. The episode humiliated Great Britain and France and strengthened Nasser.”
  14. Vulcan (hypothetical planet) - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 21 July 2015. “In December 1859, Le Verrier received a letter from a French physician and amateur astronomer called Edmond Modeste Lescarbault, who claimed to have seen a transit of the hypothetical planet earlier in the year. Le Verrier took the train to the village of Orgères-en-Beauce, some 70 kilometres southwest of Paris, where Lescarbault had built himself a small observatory. Le Verrier arrived unannounced and proceeded to interrogate the man.”
  15. Vaseline - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 21 July 2015. “In 1859, Chesebrough went to the oil fields in Titusville, Pennsylvania, and learned of a residue called 'rod wax' that had to be periodically removed from oil rig pumps. The oil workers had been using the substance to heal cuts and burns. Chesebrough took samples of the rod wax back to Brooklyn, extracted the usable petroleum jelly, and began manufacturing the medicinal product he called Vaseline.”
  16. Solar storm of 1859 - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 26 August 2016. “On September 1–2, 1859, one of the largest recorded geomagnetic storms (as recorded by ground-based magnetometers) occurred. Aurorae were seen around the world, those in the northern hemisphere as far south as the Caribbean; those over the Rocky Mountains in the U.S. were so bright that their glow awoke gold miners, who began preparing breakfast because they thought it was morning.”
  17. Solar storm of 2012 - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 21 July 2016. “The solar storm of 2012 was an unusually large and strong coronal mass ejection (CME) event that occurred on July 23 that year. It missed the Earth with a margin of approximately nine days, as the Earth orbits the Sun, and the Sun rotates around its own axis with a period of about 25 days.”
  18. Coronal mass ejection - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 22 July 2016. “The first detection of a CME as such was made on 14 December 1971, by R. Tousey (1973) of the Naval Research Laboratory using the seventh Orbiting Solar Observatory (OSO-7).”

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