How many ways can we say happy birthday to a great scientist born on Pi Day? So, an encore post.
Happy Einstein Day! to us. Albert’s been dead since 1955 — sadly for us. Our celebrations now are more for our own satisfaction and curiosity, and to honor the great man — he’s beyond caring.
Almost fitting that he was born on π Day, no? I mean, is there an E=mc² Day? He’s 138 years old today, and famous around the world for stuff that most people still don’t understand.
Fittingly, perhaps, March 14 now is celebrated as Pi Day, in honor of that almost magical number, Pi, used to calculate the circumference of a circle. Pi is 3. 1415~, and so the American date 3/14 got tagged as Pi Day.
Albert Einstein was born on March 14, 1879, in Ulm, Germany, to Hermann and Pauline Einstein.
26 years later, three days after his birthday, he sent off the paper on the photo-electric effect; that paper would win him the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921.
In that same year of 1905, he published three other papers, solving the mystery of Brownian motion, describing what became known as the Special Theory of Relativity and solving the mystery of why measurements of the light did not show any effects of motion as Maxwell had predicted, and a final paper that noted a particle emitting light energy loses mass. This final paper amused Einstein because it seemed so ludicrous in its logical extension that energy and matter are really the same stuff at some fundamental point, as expressed in the equation demonstrating an enormous amount of energy stored in atoms, E=mc².
Any one of the papers would have been a career-capper for any physicist. Einstein dashed them all off in just a few months, forever changing the fields of physics. And, you noticed: Einstein did not win a Nobel for the Special Theory of Relativity, nor for E=mc². He won it for the photo-electric effect. Irony in history. Nobel committee members didn’t understand Einstein’s other work much better than the rest of us today.
117 years later, Einstein’s work affects us every day. Relativity theory at some level I don’t fully understand makes possible the use Global Positioning Systems (GPS), which revolutionized navigation and mundane things like land surveying and microwave dish placement.
Development of nuclear power both gives us hope for an energy-rich future, and gives us fear of nuclear war. Sometimes, even the hope of the energy rich future gives us fear, as we watch and hope nuclear engineers can control the piles in nuclear power plants damaged by earthquakes and tsunami in Japan.
If Albert Einstein was a genius at physics, he was more dedicated to pacifism. He resigned his German citizenship to avoid military conscription. His pacifism made the German Nazis nervous; Einstein fled Germany in the 1930s, eventually settling in the United States. In the U.S., he was persuaded by Leo Szilard to write to President Franklin Roosevelt to suggest the U.S. start a program to develop an atomic weapon, because Germany most certainly was doing exactly that. But while urging FDR to keep up with the Germans, Einstein refused to participate in the program himself, sticking to his pacifist views. Others could, and would, design and build atomic bombs. (Maybe it’s a virus among nuclear physicists — several of those working on the Manhattan Project were pacifists, and had great difficulty reconciling the idea that the weapon they worked on to beat Germany, was deployed on Japan, which did not have a nuclear weapons program.)
Einstein was a not-great father, and probably not a terribly faithful husband at first — though he did think to give his first wife, in the divorce settlement, a share of a Nobel Prize should he win it. Einstein was a good violinist, a competent sailor, an incompetent dresser, and a great character.
His sister suffered a paralyzing stroke. For many months Albert spent hours a day reading to her the newspapers and books of the day, convinced that though mute and appearing unconscious, she would benefit from hearing the words. He said he did not hold to orthodox religions, but could there be a greater show of faith in human spirit?
When people hear clever sayings, but forget to whom the bon mots should be attributed, Einstein is one of about five candidates to whom all sorts of things are attributed, though he never said them. (Others include Lincoln, Jefferson, Mark Twain and Will Rogers). Einstein is the only scientist in that group. So, for example, we can be quite sure Einstein never claimed that compound interest was the best idea of the 20th century. This phenomenon is symbolic of the high regard people have for the man, even though so few understand what his work was, or meant.
A most interesting man. A most important body of work. He deserves more study and regard than he gets, in history, diplomacy and science.
Does anyone know? What was Albert Einstein’s favorite pie?
- American Institute of Physics (AIP) on-line exhibit on the life and work of Einstein — good stuff!
- Einstein’s biography at the Nobel Foundation website
- NPR’s Talk of the Nation show on Einstein’s birthday in 2005, featuring New York Times science correspondent Dennis Overbye, author of Einstein in Love
- Effect Measure at SciBlogs had a nice tribute today
- History Channel’s series, 10 Days that Unexpectedly Changed America featured a film on the letter Einstein wrote to FDR, “Einstein’s Letter.” Here’s a teachers guide
- The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History in Albuquerque will hold its 15th Annual Einstein Gala Dinner on March 17, at the Hotel Albuquerque; “Dr. Lisa Randall has been named the recipient of the 2012 National Award of Nuclear Science and History, which is presented annually by National Atomic Museum Foundation to a prominent person that has had an impact on nuclear issues.”
- How Einstein Proved the Size and Existence of Atoms [Video] (gizmodo.com)
- 11 Unserious Photos of Albert Einstein (mentalfloss.com)
- Happy Birthday Einstein (nextbigwhat.com)
- Einstein > π (mathjokes4mathyfolks.wordpress.com)
- Celebrating Einstein’s birthday on Pi Day (sciencelens.wordpress.com)
- Of course, there is Einstein on the Beach, “an opera in four acts (framed and connected by five ‘knee plays’ or intermezzos), scored by Philip Glass and directed by theatrical producer Robert Wilson.”
- 15 quotes from Einstein, on his birthday, from the Christian Science Monitor (these should be accurate, if we go by the reputation of this venerable old paper-gone-electric; however, the feature does NOT include citations . . . see any problems?
- New York Times article on Einstein’s death, April 18, 1955 (the paper is from April 19)
- HuffPo list of 10 facts about Einstein; accurate?
- Einstein’s desk and office in Princeton, New Jersey (no typewriter; can you find a telephone?)
- Quote of the moment: Einstein on nature’s secrecy
Malaria’s scourge hobbled economic progress across the Americas, and critically in World War II, that hobbled the war effort to defeat the Axis powers, Germany and Japan.
U.S. government recruiting of Hollywood film makers to produce propaganda films hit a zenith in the war. Even animated characters joined in. Cartoonists produced short subject cartoons on seeveral topics.
In 1943 the Disney studios distributed this film starring the Seven Dwarfs, among the biggest Disney stars of the time. The film was aimed at Mexico, Central America and South America, suggesting ways people could actually fight malaria. Versions were made in Spanish and English (I have found no Portuguese version for Brazil, but I’m still looking.)
the lost Disney described the film:
The first of a series of health-related educational shorts produced by the Disney studios and the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs for showing in Latin America. It was also the only one to use established Disney characters (the Seven Dwarfs).
In this propaganda short, the viewers are taught about how the mosquito can spread malaria. A young mosquito flies into a house and consumes the blood of an infected human. She then consumes the blood of a healthy human, transmitting the disease into him. It turns out that this is actually a film within a film and the Seven Dwarves are watching it. They volunteer to get rid of the mosquito by destroying her breeding grounds.
A Spanish-language version of the film:
Fighting malaria in the U.S. became a grand campaign in Franklin Roosevelt’s administration. Roosevelt administration officials saw malaria as a sapper of wealth, especially in the rural south. Part of the charge of the Tennessee Valley Authority was to wipe out malaria. By 1932, public health agencies in malaria-affected counties were beefed up to be able to promptly diagnose and treat human victims of malaria. TVA taught methods of drying up mosquito breeding places around homes and outdoor work areas. Sustained campaigns urged people to make their homes tighter, against weather, and to install screens on windows and doors to prevent mosquito entry especially at peak biting periods, dusk to after midnight.
U.S. malaria deaths and infections plunged by 90% between 1933 and 1942 — just in time to allow southern military bases to be used for training activities for World War II. After the war, the malaria-fighting forces of the government became the foundation for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). With the introduction of DDT after 1945, CDC had another weapon to completely wipe out the remaining 10% of malaria cases and deaths.
It’s worth noting that in the end, it is the disease malaria that is eradicated, not the mosquitoes. In most places in the world, eradication of a local population of disease carriers is a temporary thing. A few remaining, resistant-to-pesticide-or-method mosquitoes can and do quickly breed a new population of hardier insects, and often surrounding populations will contribute new genetic material. Eradication of a vector-borne disease requires curing the disease in humans, so that when the mosquitoes come roaring back, they have no well of disease from which to draw new infection.
- Another Disney short for the Americas, “Health for the Americas: The Unseen Enemy,” a film about microbes and microscopic pathogens that bring disease
When students claim to find fantastic conjunctions of dates that they claim show worldwide conspiracies, sometimes centuries in existence, I point them to the internet to find what happened on that date (whatever date it is) and note coincidences “a suspicious mind” might find compelling.
Almost every date on the calendar produces astonishing coincidences. But that’s all they are.
Right? It’s not as if there are such conspiracies, or that the gods conspire to send us messages by making momentous things occur on the same day, right?
January 30 is a momentous date, according to the AP list of events that occurred on this day.
A suspicious mind might reel at these coincidences.
Beginning: Franklin Roosevelt, the only president of the U.S. to break the tradition of getting elected to two terms only, was born on January 30, 1882, in Hyde Park, New York. (Both Ulysses Grant and his cousin, Theodore Roosevelt, had tried to break the two-term tradition before.) Roosevelt served at the 32nd president, winning election in 1932, 1936, 1940, and 1944. During his first term the date of presidential inaugurations was moved from March 21 to January 21, partly in appreciation for the period of time the nation drifted seemingly deeper into depression between Roosevelt’s election in November 1932 and his inauguration in March 1933. Roosevelt contracted polio in 1921, won election as New York’s governor in 1928, and then won the 1932 presidential race. His death on April 12, 1945, pushed Harry Truman into the presidency for three years before he had to face the electorate.
End of the beginning: On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler took office as chancellor of Germany. A World War I veteran, Hitler had spent time in prison for trying to overthrow the government. Hitler was seven years younger than FDR, but their careers occasionally coincided on key years. Hitler’s assuming power in January 1933 gave him a two-month jump on FDR; at the time, few people, if anyone noticed the coincidental rise, nor could see the significance of the events of the year. According to The History Place:
Germany was a nation that in its history had little experience or interest in democracy. In January 1933, Adolf Hitler took the reins of a 14-year-old German democratic republic which in the minds of many had long outlived its usefulness. By this time, the economic pressures of the Great Depression combined with the indecisive, self-serving nature of its elected politicians had brought government in Germany to a complete standstill. The people were without jobs, without food, quite afraid and desperate for relief.
Now, the man who had spent his entire political career denouncing and attempting to destroy the Republic, was its leader. Around noon on January 30th, Hitler was sworn in.
“I will employ my strength for the welfare of the German people, protect the Constitution and laws of the German people, conscientiously discharge the duties imposed on me, and conduct my affairs of office impartially and with justice to everyone,” swore Adolf Hitler.
Democratic-based government in Germany was doomed for the foreseeable future. Few foresaw that.
Beginning of the end: On January 30, 1968, during the Vietnamese new year celebration known as Tet, Vietcong and North Vietnamese army regulars kicked off the Tet Offensive, striking targets all over Vietnam simultaneously. Caught nearly completely by surprise, U.S. and South Vietnamese forces lost control of Saigon, the South Vietnamese capital for a time. While the U.S. and South Vietnamese eventually won these many battles and pushed out the invading forces, the simple fact that the thought-to-be-decimated forces of Ho Chi Minh could pull of the offensive at all sent the chilling message that victory in this guerrilla did not yet belong to South Vietnam and the U.S., nor had a tide been turned. After tumultuous elections in the U.S., Richard Nixon’s presidency could not turn the tide, either. A “peace” was negotiated, mostly between North Vietnam and the U.S., in 1973, but it did not hold. In 1975 relations between North Vietnam and South Vietnam hit crisis again, and the U.S. pulled out the last forces left in South Vietnam in April. Vietcong and North Vietnamese forces defeated the rapidly dissipating military of the South, and the country was united under communist, North Vietnam rule.
An end: Hindu extremist Nathuram Godse shot and killed Mohandas K. Gandhi in India, on January 30, 1948. Gandhi was known as “Mahatma,” which means “Great Soul.” Gandhi campaigned for India’s independence and end of British colonial rule for most of the 1920s, including a period of time in prison for subversive activities. Gandhi’s great contribution to political change is the massive use of non-violent, non-cooperation. Non-violent tactics tend to highlight the moral positions of groups in conflict, and make the non-violent side appear to have the stronger case. Such tactics expose hypocrisy and despotic government rules. Though he resigned from his political party in 1934, Gandhi remained a key icon of the drive for India’s independence. When violence broke out over the Mountbatten plan to grant independence in 1947, creating two nations of Pakistan and India divided along religious, Gandhi again appealed for peace, but became the most famous victim of the religious violence that still roils the region today. Committed to peace and non-violence, Gandhi himself did not ever win the Nobel Peace Prize, perhaps because his life was cut short. His work inspired other Nobel Peace laureates, including the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1964), the Dalai Lama (1989), Aung San Suu Kyi (1991), Nelson Mandela (with Frederik Willem deKlerk, 1993), and U.S. President Barack Obama (2009).
On January 30, 2011, when I first noted these coincidences here, much of the world held its breath, watching events in North Africa, including especially Tunisia and Egypt. I wondered, which of these traditions would that day follow, to peace, or toward war?
On January 30, 2017, the installation of Hitler and the Tet Offensive remind us of hubris of world leaders and really bad decisions that can have disastrous results, soon, and for a long time after.
Coincidence? What do you think?
National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, 2016
NATIONAL PEARL HARBOR REMEMBRANCE DAY, 2016
– – – – – – –
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Seventy-five years ago, Japanese fighter planes attacked the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, destroying much of our Pacific Fleet and killing more than 2,400 Americans. The following day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt called on the Congress to declare war and “make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.” In that spirit, Americans came together to pay tribute to the victims, support the survivors, and shed the comforts of civilian life to serve in our military and fight for our Union. Each year on National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, we honor those whose lives were forever changed that December morning and resolve to uphold the legacy of all who stepped forward in our time of need.
From the docks of Pearl Harbor to the beaches of Normandy and far around the world, brave patriots served their country and defended the values that have sustained our Nation since its founding. They went to war for liberty and sacrificed more than most of us will ever know; they chased victory and defeated fascism, turning adversaries into allies and writing a new chapter in our history. Through their service and unparalleled devotion, they inspired a generation with their refusal to give in despite overwhelming odds. And as we reflect on the profound debt of gratitude we owe them for the freedoms we cherish, we are reminded of the everlasting responsibilities we have to one another and to our country.
In memory of all who lost their lives on December 7, 1941 — and those who responded by leaving their homes for the battlefields — we must ensure the sacrifices they made in the name of liberty and democracy were not made in vain. On this solemn anniversary, there can be no higher tribute to these American patriots than forging a united commitment to honor our troops and veterans, give them the support and care they deserve, and carry on their work of keeping our country strong and free.
The Congress, by Public Law 103-308, as amended, has designated December 7 of each year as “National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.”
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim December 7, 2016, as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. I encourage all Americans to observe this solemn day of remembrance and to honor our military, past and present, with appropriate ceremonies and activities. I urge all Federal agencies and interested organizations, groups, and individuals to fly the flag of the United States at half-staff this December 7 in honor of those American patriots who died as a result of their service at Pearl Harbor.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this sixth day of December, in the year of our Lord two thousand sixteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-first.
It was a tragedy in 1941, but before the U.S. could develop a serious policy response to Germany’s action, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Within a week after that, our policy towards Germany was set by Germany’s declaration of war on the U.S.
It’s important history for a couple of reasons.
- The sinking was part of the massive, years-long Battle of the Atlantic, which the Allies won only by building ships faster than Germany could sink them. Had the Allies lost this battle, the war would have been lost, too.
- While the USS Reuben James was a Navy destroyer, the key weapons of the Battle of the Atlantic were Merchant Marine cargo ships, carrying goods and arms to Britain and other Allied nations. “Civilians” played a huge role in World War II, supplying the soldiers, armies, navies and air forces.
- Recently, politicians took to making claims that the U.S. declared war on Germany without any hostile action having passed between them, without Germany having perpetrated any hostilities toward the U.S. Look at the dates, it’s not so.
- Woody Guthrie wrote a song about the event, giving us a touchstone to remember.
Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub covered the event with longer, detailed articles in past years, including these, which you should see especially if you are a student in a history class or a teacher of one:
- “We remember: U.S.S. Reuben James sunk October 31, 1941”
- “Woody Guthrie’s ‘Sinking of the Reuben James'”
Europe has changed. The world has changed. The U.S. has changed. War has changed. We should remember, especially those people who died defending the merchants who defended the idea of the Four Freedoms.
Where did the ship get its name? From a Barbary War hero:
Reuben James was born in Delaware, Ohio about 1776. He joined the U.S. Navy and served on various ships, including the frigate USS CONSTELLATION. It was during the infamous Barbary Wars that the American frigate PHILADELPHIA was captured by the Barbary pirates. Having run aground in the pirate capital of Tripoli on the southern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, the crew had to abandon ship and formulate a plan of attack. Lieutenant Stephen Decatur, along with a group of volunteers which included Boatswain’s Mate Reuben James, entered Tripoli harbor under the cover of darkness in an attempt to set the PHILADELPHIA to the torch so that the pirates could not make use of her.
The American volunteers boarded the PHILADELPHIA on 16 February 1804 and were met by a group of the savage Barbary pirates who were guarding their prize. A furious battle ensued, and during the bloody chaos of hand-to-hand combat, a villanous pirate made ready to end the life of Lieutenant Decatur. Reuben James, with both of his hands already wounded, in an act of selfless dedication and courage did throw his hand before the pirate’s cleaving blade! Willing to give his life in defense of his captain, Reuben James took the blow from the sword!
Having proved to the world over the courage and dedication of United States Sailors, Reuben James also hammered home the fact that US Sailors are undefeatable by not only surviving, but recovering from his wounds and continuing his career in the U.S. Navy! After spending many more years with Decatur, James was forced to retire in January 1836 because of declining health brought on because of past wounds. He died on 3 December 1838 at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Washington, D.C.
- Liveblogging World War II: October 31, 1941: The Torpedoing of the U.S.S. Reuben James (delong.typepad.com)
- This day in history for Oct. 31 (goerie.com)
- Divers locate Battle of the Atlantic lost shipwrecks from the Second World War (warhistoryonline.com)
- Book Review: Engineers of Victory, by Paul Kennedy (historynet.com)
Another good reason to follow the National Archives on Twitter, Tumblr and other media: Great updates.
Like this one on the explosive arrival of the Atomic Age:
On July 16, 1945 the United States tested a nuclear device, code named “Trinity”, for the first time in White Sands Proving Ground, New Mexico.
Above: [“Jumbo” atomic device being positioned for “Trinity” test at Alamogordo, New Mexico.], 1945
Below: [“Trinity” explosion], 07/16/1945
It’s astonishing to think anyone could hide the explosion today. Near the end of World War II, after Germany had surrendered to end the war in Europe, no one really knew just what at atomic explosion would look or sound like. The test occurred near dawn in a very desolate part of New Mexico’s southern desert, a then sparsely populated state. A few thousand may have seen the flash; a few hundred may have heard or felt the explosion. No one in government confirmed any report of a weapon.
- Gen. Leslie Grove’s memorandum describing the results of the test, at PBS’s American Experience site, history of President Harry Truman
- Trinity+67 Years: the Explosion of the First Atomic Bomb, Alamogordo, New Mexico, 1945 (longstreet.typepad.com)
- Trinity, July 16, 1945 (sandwalk.blogspot.com)
- July 16, 1945: Trinity Blast Opens Atomic Age (wired.com)
- Dinosaurs of the Atomic Age! (blogs.scientificamerican.com)
- James B. Conant on Trinity (1945) (nuclearsecrecy.com)
- Weatherwatch: Mushroom-shaped clouds and their causes (guardian.co.uk)
- Nuclear Explosions – I am become Death [34 Pics] (amazfacts.com)
- History pamphlet given to visitors to the Trinity site