National embarrassment, national tragedy

April 17, 2007

Celebrate the hero, please.

He survived the Holocaust, arrested by the Nazis and sent to a concentration camp to die — he survived, instead. He survived the Communists, refusing to bow to demands he join the Communist party in post-war Romania; though a good engineer, his career was short-circuited by his stand on principle. He finally escaped Romania in 1978, emigrated to Israel, and then took a sabbatical to teach engineering at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. And he stayed on.

Yesterday, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, Liviu Librescu used his own body to jam the doors into his classroom, yelled at his students to leave through the windows, and gave up his life to a depressed kid bent on murder. Prof. Librescu was 76 years old. He was the oldest victim, and a hero.

Survived the Nazis, survived the communists. Died to the excesses of the Second Amendment and a culture that seems to create enough disturbed people to make mass murder a serious problem, not a rare event. Librescu was already a hero. It’s embarrassing he had to rise to heroic actions to protect his students. It’s embarrassing to us that he died the victim of an act of senseless violence.

It’s a national embarrassment. Survived the Nazis. Survived the communists. Killed by an out-of-control student with a gun in the U.S.

It’s a national embarrassment. What are we going to do about it?

Richer historians, richer history: The Pulitzers

April 17, 2007

Columbia University unveiled the Pulitzer Prize winners yesterday.

In U.S. history, the prize went to The Race Beat:The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation, by Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff (Alfred A. Knopf). Cover, The Race Beat, Roberts & Klibanoff, Pulitzer 2007

Other finalists for U.S. History were: Middle Passages: African American Journeys to Africa, 1787-2005 by James T. Campbell (The Penguin Press), and Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick (Viking).

Roberts and Klibanoff share $10,000.

In Biography, the $10,000 first prize was awarded to The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher, by Debby Applegate (Doubleday).

Finalists for the biography prize included two other great books: John Wilkes: The Scandalous Father of Civil Liberty by Arthur H. Cash (Yale University Press), and Andrew Carnegie by David Nasaw (The Penguin Press).

In the category of general non-fiction, where evolution has triumphed over anti-science bigotry in recent years, history is rampant in 2007, also. The prize for general non-fiction was snagged by The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11″ by Lawrence Wright (Alfred A. Knopf). Other finalists for the general non-fiction prize were Crazy: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness by Pete Earley (G.P. Putnam’s Sons), and Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq by Thomas E. Ricks (The Penguin Press).  Cover, The Looming Tower

High school history and other social studies teachers would do well to read each of these winners and the finalists.  They will be significant additions to any serious history curriculum, or government, and perhaps economics.

Searching for origins of life in Yellowstone’s hot springs

April 17, 2007

A few hours ago I posted a notice on satellite studies of the uplifting of a part of the Yellowstone Caldera, and I suggested some (weak) links to how to use it in the classroom. In passing I noted that the volcanic rock site southwest of Yellowstone, the Craters of the Moon National Monument, had been used to show astronauts what the Moon would be like when they landed Apollo missions there.

Yellowstone and especially its volcanic features also provided dramatic insights to the origins of life on Earth, especially the rise of life in hot water. These findings advanced the science we now call astrobiology, or the search for life on other planets.

This evening I stumbled across an interesting feature: A full text of a classic 1978 book on thermophilic life in Yellowstone, explaining in greater detail the research conducted there and its significance in astrobiology and evolution. Thomas D. Brock’s book, Thermophilic microorganisms and life at high temperatures (Springer-Verlag, New York, 1978; 465 pages) is just sitting there, online, for anyone to read. Thermophilic microorganisms, book cover
In this book there is more real science to this one tiny facet of the study of the evolution of life than there is in the entirety of the intelligent design political movement.

I wonder what other gems there may be in that digital collection at the University of Wisconsin.

Below the fold: The frontispiece. Read the rest of this entry »

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