Mar 132019

Today is the birthday (1593) of Georges de La Tour, a French Baroque painter, who spent most of his working life in the Duchy of Lorraine, which was temporarily absorbed into France between 1641 and 1648. He painted mostly religious chiaroscuro scenes lit by candlelight. His style is reminiscent of Caravaggio, whose chiaroscuro paintings I particularly like, and try to replicate the feeling sometimes in my photography.

Georges de La Tour was born in the town of Vic-sur-Seille in the diocese of Metz, which was technically part of the Holy Roman Empire, but had been ruled by France since 1552. Baptismal records show that he was the son of Jean de La Tour, a baker, and Sybille de La Tour, née Molian. La Tour’s educational background is unclear, but it is assumed that he traveled either to Italy or the Netherlands early in his career. He may possibly have trained under Jacques Bellange in Nancy, the capital of Lorraine, although their styles are very different. Although his paintings reflect the Baroque naturalism of Caravaggio, the ideas probably reached him through the Dutch Caravaggisti of the Utrecht School and other Northern (French and Dutch) contemporaries.

In 1617 he married Diane Le Nerf, from a minor noble family, and in 1620 he established his studio in her quiet provincial home-town of Lunéville, part of the independent Duchy of Lorraine which was occupied by France, during his lifetime, in the period 1641–1648. He painted mainly religious and some genre scenes. He was given the title “Painter to the King” (of France) in 1638, and he also worked for the dukes of Lorraine in 1623–4, but the local bourgeoisie was his main market. He is not recorded in Lunéville between 1639 and 1642, and may have traveled again at this point. He was involved in a Franciscan-led religious revival in Lorraine, and over the course of his career he moved to painting almost entirely religious subjects, but in treatments with influence from genre painting. The entire de La Tour family died in 1652 in an epidemic in Lunéville.

La Tour is best known for the nocturnal light effects which he developed much further than his artistic predecessors had done, and transferred their use in the genre subjects in the paintings of the Dutch Caravaggisti to religious painting in his. Unlike Caravaggio his religious paintings lack dramatic effects. He painted these in a second phase of his style, perhaps beginning in the 1640s, using chiaroscuro, careful geometrical compositions, and very simplified painting of forms. His work moves during his career towards greater simplicity and stillness—taking from Caravaggio very different qualities than Jusepe de Ribera and his Tenebrist followers did.

He often painted several variations on the same subjects, and his surviving output is relatively small. His son Étienne was his pupil, and distinguishing between their work is difficult. The version of the Education of the Virgin in the Frick Collection in New York is an example, as the Museum itself admits. Another group of paintings (example left), of great skill but claimed to be different in style to those of La Tour, have been attributed to an unknown “Hurdy-gurdy Master”. All show older male figures (one group in Malibu includes a female), mostly solitary, either beggars or saints.

After his death at Lunéville in 1652, La Tour’s work was forgotten until rediscovered by Hermann Voss, a German scholar, in 1915; some of La Tour’s work had in fact been confused with Vermeer, who underwent his own rediscovery in the nineteenth century.

Here is your gallery:

The cooking of Lorraine is akin to neighboring Alsace, and, of course, is well known for quiche Lorraine which I have given a recipe for already. There are also posts with recipes for other Lorraine specialties. Here, instead, is a video focusing on the wine making region of the Moselle valley (with some hokey stuff about Roman times). At around 9:20 is a section on making various kinds of flammkuchen, a Moselle regional specialty.


Mar 122019

Today is the birthday (1864) of William Halse Rivers (W.H.R) Rivers, FRCP, FRS, an English anthropologist, neurologist, ethnologist and psychiatrist, who has two claims to fame: first as an ethnographer and second in treating First World war officers who were suffering from “shell shock” (post-traumatic stress disorder).

Rivers had a quirky and illustrious family background, including an uncle who lost a leg on HMS Victory at the battle of Trafalgar, kin who studied stammering and also anthropology, and rafts of distinguished clergymen. His childhood was also noteworthy. After the age of 5, he had no ability to form visual memories, and, ironically, given the family history, had a pronounced stammer. Rivers was set to follow family tradition and take his University of Cambridge entrance exam, possibly with the aim of studying Classics, but his plans were thwarted when, at the age of 16, he was struck down by typhoid fever and forced to miss his final year of school. Without a scholarship, his family could not afford to send him to Cambridge.

His illness had been a bad one, entailing long convalescence and leaving him with effects which at times severely handicapped him. Whilst recovering from the fever, Rivers had formed a friendship with one of his father’s speech therapy students, a young army surgeon, and through the friendship decided to study medicine and apply for training in the Army Medical Department. He studied at University of London and St Bartholomew’s Hospital. He qualified as a physician in 1886 but was found physically unfit for military service, so, instead, he signed on as a ship’s surgeon, journeying to Japan and North America, and beginning a lifetime of world travel.

On his return to England, Rivers qualified as a specialist in neurology and began to take an interest in the nascent field of psychology. He delivered papers to the Abernethian Society of St. Bart’s on “Delirium and its allied conditions” (1889), “Hysteria” (1891), and “Neurasthenia” (1893). In 1892, Rivers traveled to Jena to expand his knowledge of experimental psychology. Whilst in Jena, Rivers became fluent in German and attended lectures, not only on psychology but on philosophy as well. In his diary he wrote: “I have during the last three weeks come to the conclusion that I should go in for insanity when I return to England and work as much as possible at psychology.”

In 1893 he was offered a teaching post at Cambridge, but he continued to lecture at Bart’s and University College, London. With ill equipped facilities at Cambridge he embarked on studies of sensory perception, especially color vision, and then on the effects of coffee, tea, alcohol, and tobacco on muscular and mental endurance. In the latter case, he was aware that there were psychosomatic effects as well as purely physical ones, and so invented the double blind test (in which neither the tester nor the subject being tested knows whether the substance being taken is an active drug or a control placebo). In 1904 with the assistance of professor James Ward, Rivers founded and subsequently edited the British Journal of Psychology.

In 1898 Alfred Cort Haddon made Rivers first choice to head an expedition to the Torres Straits. Rivers’ first reaction was to decline, but he soon agreed on learning that C.S Myers and William McDougall, two of his best former students, would participate. The other members were Sidney Ray, C.G Seligman, and a young Cambridge graduate named Anthony Wilkin, who was asked to accompany the expedition as photographer.

From Thursday Island, several of the party found passage, soaked by rain and waves, on the deck of a crowded 47-foot ketch. In addition to sea sickness, Rivers had been badly sunburnt on his shins and for many days had been quite ill. On 5th May, in a bad storm nearing their first destination of Murray Island, the ship dragged anchor on the Barrier Reef and the expedition almost met disaster. When the ketch dropped anchor, Rivers and Ray were at first too ill to go ashore. However, the others set up a surgery to treat the native islanders and Rivers, lying in bed next-door tested the patients for color vision. He developed positive feelings for the work and a deep concern for the welfare of Melanesians for the rest of his life.

In the course of his examinations of the visual acuity of the locals, Rivers showed that color blindness did not exist or was very rare, but that the color vision of Papuans was not the same type as that of Europeans; they possessed no word for blue, and applied the same name to the brilliant blue sea or sky as to the deepest black. Rivers also began collecting family histories and constructing genealogical tables. At this point his purpose appears to have been more biological than ethnological since such tables seem to have originated as a means of determining whether certain sensory talents or disabilities were hereditary. However, these simple tables soon took on a new perspective. It was at once evident to Rivers that the names applied to the various forms of blood relationship did not correspond to those used by Europeans, but belonged to what is now known as a ‘classificatory system’ whereby some kin are given terms based on their social relationship, not on blood relationship. This was a revolutionary finding, still of great importance in anthropological kinship studies. The Torres Straits expedition was revolutionary in many other respects as well. For the first time, British anthropology had been removed from its armchair theorizing and placed on a sound empirical basis, providing the model for future anthropologists to follow.

The expedition ended in October 1898 and Rivers returned to England. Subsequently he went to Egypt to run tests on the color vision of Egyptians, but he wanted a demographically small, fairly isolated people, comparable to the island societies of the Torres Strait, where he might be able to get genealogical data on each and every individual. The Todas in the Nilgiri Hills of Southern India suited his needs, and he ended up producing a detailed ethnography of them that became a model for subsequent ethnographers.

From 1908 until the outbreak of the First World War  Rivers was mainly preoccupied with ethnological and sociological problems. He relinquished his official post as lecturer in experimental psychology in favor of Charles Samuel Myers, and now held only a lectureship on the physiology of the special senses. By degrees he became more absorbed in anthropological research. But though he was now an ethnologist rather than a psychologist he always maintained that what was of value in his work was due directly to his training in the psychological laboratory. In the laboratory he had learnt the importance of exact method.

During 1907–8 Rivers traveled to the Solomon Islands, and other areas of Melanesia and Polynesia. His two-volume History of Melanesian Society (1914), presented a diffusionist thesis for the development of culture in the south-west Pacific. In the year of publication he made a second journey to Melanesia, returning to England in March 1915, to find that war had broken out. When Rivers returned to England in spring 1915, he had trouble at first finding a place for himself in the war effort. He signed up to serve as a civilian physician at the Maghull Military Hospital near Liverpool. Upon his arrival in July 1915, he was appointed as a psychiatrist to treat “insanity” in soldiers, by which was meant working with soldiers who had been diagnosed as suffering from any of a wide range of symptoms, which were collectively referred to as “shell shock.” These soldiers were known to demonstrate symptoms such as temporary blindness, memory loss, paralysis, and uncontrollable crying. As such, by the time Rivers was assigned to Maghull War Hospital, it was known as the “centre for abnormal psychology,” and many of its physicians were employing techniques such as dream interpretation, psychoanalysis and hypnosis to treat shell shock, also known as “war neuroses.” After about a year of service at Maghull War Hospital, Rivers was appointed a captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps, and was transferred to Craiglockhart War Hospital near Edinburgh. There, Rivers treated officers who had been diagnosed with “shell shock,” and he also began formulating his theory regarding the origin and treatment of the war neuroses.

Rivers, following Freud in practice but not in theoretical underpinnings, formed his own version of the “talking cure” which was primarily based on catharsis: the idea that bringing repressed memories into the light of consciousness rids memories and thoughts of their power. As a result, Rivers spent most of his days talking with the officers at Craiglockhart, guiding them through a process Rivers referred to as autogonosis. Rivers’ autogonosis consisted of two parts. The first part included “re-education,” or educating the patient about the basics of psychology and physiology. River’s method also consisted of helping a soldier comprehend that the illness he was experiencing was neither strange nor permanent.

Rivers’ approach to treating the war neuroses made him a pioneer in his day. While he was not the first to advocate humane treatment methods for the war neuroses, he was one of the few to do so in a time when there was much debate over the cause and thus the “correct” treatment for shell shock. Rivers encouraged his patients to express their emotions in a time when society encouraged men to keep a “stiff upper-lip.” River’s method, and his deep concern for every individual he treated, made him famous among his clients. Both Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves wrote highly of him during this time.

Rivers had visited his Cambridge college frequently during the war although, having resigned his position as lecturer, he held no official post. However, upon his return from the Royal Air Force in 1919, the college created a new office for him – “Praelector of Natural Science Studies” – and he was given a free rein to do as he pleased. He formed a group called The Socratics and brought to it some of his most influential friends, including H. G. Wells, Arnold Bennett, Bertrand Russell and Sassoon. Sassoon (Patient B in Conflict and Dream), remained particularly friendly with Rivers and regarded him as a mentor. Having already been made president of the anthropological section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1911, after the war he became president of The Folklore Society (1920), and the Royal Anthropological Institute (1921–1922). He was also awarded honorary degrees from the universities of Manchester, St. Andrews and Cambridge in 1919.

Rivers died of a strangulated hernia in the summer of 1922, shortly after being named as a Labour candidate for the 1922 general election. He had been taken ill suddenly in his rooms at St John’s on the evening of Friday 3rd June, having sent his servant home to enjoy the summer festivities. By the time he was found in the morning, it was too late yet he was selfless to the last. There is a document granting approval for the diploma in anthropology to be awarded as of Easter term, 1922, to an undergraduate student from India. It is signed by Haddon and Rivers dated 4th June 1922. At the bottom is a notation in Haddon’s handwriting:

Dr. Rivers signed the report on this examination on the morning of the day he died. It was his last official act. A.C.H

Rivers signed the papers as he lay dying in the Evelyn Nursing Home following an unsuccessful emergency operation. He had an extravagant funeral at St. John’s in accordance with his wishes as he was an expert on funeral rites and his cremated remains were interred in the Parish of the Ascension Burial Ground in a grave with a large stone cross. Sassoon was deeply saddened by his death and collapsed at his funeral. His loss prompted him to write two poems: “To A Very Wise Man” and “Revisitation.”

Here is a recipe from Thursday Island in the Torres Strait called nummus. It is very similar to Peruvian ceviche.

Thursday Island Nummus


500 gm white fish fillets, thinly sliced
white vinegar
½ cup of fresh lime or lemon juice
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp raw sugar
5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
5 tbsp fresh ginger, freshly chopped
1 -2 fresh chile peppers, chopped (or to taste)
1 large onion, peeled and sliced


Place the fish in a mixing bowl and pour about half a cup of vinegar over it. Turn the fish around in the vinegar with your hands, pushing and kneading. After a few minutes add half the lime of lemon juice and continue to knead for another minute. Add the salt and continue to knead for two more minutes. Add sugar, chile, garlic, ginger, onion, and mix well.

Chill for several hours or overnight.

 Posted by at 4:40 pm
Mar 112019

Today is the birthday (1915) of Joseph Carl Robnett Licklider, known simply as J. C. R. or “Lick,” a US psychologist and computer scientist who is considered one of the most important figures in computer science and general computing history. Chances are that you have never heard of him. If you are knowledgeable about the workings of the internet, you might know that LTP stands for Licklider Transmission Protocol. If I have lost you already, then I am sure you have zero idea concerning his importance. Lick is particularly remembered for being one of the first to foresee modern-style interactive computing and its application to all manner of activities; and also as an Internet pioneer with an early vision of a worldwide computer network long before it was built. He did much to initiate this by funding research which led to many innovations, including today’s canonical graphical user interface, and the ARPANET, the direct predecessor to the Internet. He has been called “computing’s Johnny Appleseed”, for planting the seeds of computing in the digital age. Licklider conceived of computers as becoming much more than complex number crunchers, and, instead, being extensions of all manner of human needs and occupations from games to general interaction.

Licklider was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the only child of Joseph Parron Licklider, a Baptist minister, and Margaret Robnett Licklider. He studied at Washington University in St. Louis, where he received a B.A. with a triple major in physics, mathematics, and psychology in 1937 and an M.A. in psychology in 1938. He received a Ph.D. in psychoacoustics from the University of Rochester in 1942. Thereafter, he worked at Harvard University as a research fellow and lecturer in the Psycho-Acoustic Laboratory from 1943 to 1950. He became interested in information technology, and moved to MIT in 1950 as an associate professor, where he served on a committee that established MIT Lincoln Laboratory and a psychology program for engineering students. While at MIT, Licklider worked on Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE), a Cold War project to create a computer-aided air defense system. The SAGE system included computers that collected and presented data to a human operator, who then chose the appropriate response. Licklider worked as a human factors expert, which helped convince him of the great potential for human/computer interfaces.

Licklider became interested in information technology early in his career. His ideas were the forerunners of graphical computing, point-and-click interfaces, digital libraries, e-commerce, online banking, and software that would exist on a network and migrate wherever it was needed. Licklider’s contribution to the development of the Internet consists of ideas, not inventions. He foresaw the need for networked computers with easy user interfaces.

Licklider was instrumental in conceiving, funding and managing the research that led to modern personal computers and the Internet. In 1960 his seminal paper on “Man-Computer Symbiosis” foreshadowed interactive computing, and he went on to fund early efforts in time-sharing and application development, most notably the work of Douglas Engelbart, who founded the Augmentation Research Center at Stanford Research Institute and created the famous On-Line System where the computer mouse was invented. He also did some seminal early work for the Council on Library Resources, imagining what libraries of the future might look like, which he had described as “thinking centers” in his 1960 paper.

In “Man-Computer Symbiosis”, Licklider outlined the need for simpler interaction between computers and computer users. Licklider has been credited as an early pioneer of cybernetics and artificial intelligence (AI), but unlike many AI practitioners, Licklider never felt that humans would be replaced by computer-based entities. As he wrote in that article: “Men will set the goals, formulate the hypotheses, determine the criteria, and perform the evaluations. Computing machines will do the routinizable work that must be done to prepare the way for insights and decisions in technical and scientific thinking”. This approach, focusing on effective use of information technology in augmenting human intelligence, is sometimes called Intelligence amplification (IA).

During his time as director of ARPA’s Information Processing Techniques Office (IPTO) from 1962 to 1964, he funded Project MAC at MIT. A large mainframe computer was designed to be shared by up to 30 simultaneous users, each sitting at a separate “typewriter terminal”. He also funded similar projects at Stanford University, UCLA, UC Berkeley, and the AN/FSQ-32 at System Development Corporation. Licklider played a similar role in conceiving of and funding early networking research, most notably the ARPAnet. He formulated the earliest ideas of a global computer network in August 1962 at BBN, in a series of memos discussing the “Intergalactic Computer Network” concept. These ideas contained almost everything that the Internet is today, including cloud computing.

In 1967 Licklider submitted the paper “Televistas: Looking ahead through side windows” to the Carnegie Commission on Educational Television. This paper describes a radical departure from the “broadcast” model of television. Instead, Licklider advocates a two-way communications network. The Carnegie Commission led to the creation of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Although the Commission’s report explains that “Dr. Licklider’s paper was completed after the Commission had formulated its own conclusions,” President Johnson said at the signing of the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, “So I think we must consider new ways to build a great network for knowledge—not just a broadcast system, but one that employs every means of sending and of storing information that the individual can use”. His 1968 paper “The Computer as a Communication Device” illustrates his vision of network applications and predicts the use of computer networks to support communities of common interest and collaboration without regard to location.

All well and good. We know the capacity of the internet to store and make available mountains of information. Before the internet I needed a good academic library to do my research. Now I can do about 80% of my research online, which is wonderful because it means I can live in Cambodia and still have access to a vast array of information from around the world. I still need to travel to libraries for certain research because the materials I need to consult have not been digitized or are not publicly available. That’s the other 20%. Unfortunately the ready availability of masses of information does not make people any smarter. Having information is one thing, knowing how to use it is quite another.

In my last comment I am reminded of recipes as general blocks of information. You need to know how to read a recipe and how to interpret its instructions. Having a recipe by itself is not enough information if you don’t know what to do with it. If you are an experienced cook, I can give you a list of ingredients and some very general ideas and you can create a dish. If you have little or no experience, I have to go to extraordinary lengths to make that information usable. About 8 years ago, I was living in Buenos Aires and my son had it in mind to make a roast goose for Christmas dinner, and asked me how to do it. All through his growing up, I had roast a goose for Christmas, and this was his first year alone. If he had been an experienced cook, I could have explained in a few sentences, but he had only basic knowledge, so I ended up writing 2 pages of notes for him, and on Christmas Day I was on the phone with him 3 times explaining aspects of the process he was struggling with. Even as I write, I am periodically sending text messages to a former student in China who has decided that she wants to learn how to cook and has been going to the market after work and then sends me photos of what she has bought, and wants to know what to do with what she has. There is so much more to cooking than simply having basic information.

I’ll leave you with a puzzle. My Chinese student sent me photos of what she bought: ground beef, onions, leeks, tomatoes, Chinese greens, asparagus and mushrooms. What would you suggest she make for dinner?

Mar 102019

Today is the birthday (1628) of Marcello Malpighi, an Italian biologist and physician, who is sometimes referred to as the “father of microscopical anatomy, histology, physiology and embryology”. Malpighi was born in Crevalcore near Bologna, son of well-to-do parents. He studied a variety of subjects including Aristotelian philosophy, physics, and medicine at the University of Bologna, and took positions in both Bologna and Pisa teaching philosophy and physics before settling to the study of anatomy in 1660.

Although he conducted some of his studies using vivisection and others through the dissection of corpses, his most productive efforts appear to have been based on the use of the microscope. Because of this work, many microscopic anatomical structures are named after Malpighi, including a skin layer (Malpighi layer) and two different Malpighian corpuscles in the kidneys and the spleen, as well as the Malpighian tubules in the excretory system of insects. Although a Dutch spectacle maker created the compound lens and inserted it in a microscope around the turn of the 17th century, and Galileo had applied the principle of the compound lens to the making of his microscope patented in 1609, its possibilities as a microscope had remained unexploited for half a century, until Robert Hooke improved the instrument ( ). Following this, Malpighi, Hooke, and two other early investigators associated with the Royal Society, Nehemiah Grew and Antoine van Leeuwenhoek were fortunate to have a virtually untried tool in their hands as they began their investigations.

Working on frogs and extrapolating to humans, Malpighi demonstrated the structure of the lungs, previously thought to be a homogeneous mass of flesh, and he offered an explanation for how air and blood mixed in the lungs. Malpighi also used the microscope for his studies of the skin, kidneys, and liver. For example, after he dissected a black male, Malpighi made some groundbreaking headway into the discovery of the origin of black skin. He found that the black pigment was associated with a layer of mucus just beneath the skin. Malpighi seems to have been the first author to have made detailed drawings of individual organs of flowers. In his Anatome plantarum is a longitudinal section of a flower of Nigella (his Melanthi, literally, honey-flower) with details of the nectariferous organs. He adds that it is strange that nature has produced on the leaves of the flower shell-like organs in which honey is produced.

Malpighi had success in tracing the ontogeny of plant organs, and the serial development of the shoot. He specialized in seedling development, and in 1679, he published a volume containing a series of exquisitely drawn and engraved images of the stages of development of Leguminosae (beans) and Cucurbitaceae (squash, melons). Later, he published material depicting the development of the date palm. Linnaeus named the genus Malpighia in honor of Malpighi’s work with plants; Malpighia is the type genus for the Malpighiaceae, a family of tropical and subtropical flowering plants.

Because Malpighi was concerned with teratology (the scientific study of the visible conditions caused by the interruption or alteration of normal development) he expressed grave misgivings about the view of his contemporaries that the galls of trees and herbs gave birth to insects. He conjectured (correctly) that the creatures in question arose from eggs previously laid in the plant tissue. Malpighi’s investigations of the lifecycle of plants and animals led him into the topic of reproduction. He created detailed drawings of his studies of chick embryo development, seed development in plants (such as the lemon tree), and the transformation of caterpillars into insects. His discoveries helped to illuminate philosophical arguments surrounding the topics of emboîtment, pre-existence, preformation, epigenesis, and metamorphosis.

In 1691 pope Innocent XII invited him to Rome as papal physician. He taught medicine in the Papal Medical School and wrote a long treatise about his studies which he donated to the Royal Society of London.

Marcello Malpighi died of “apoplexy” (probably stroke) in Rome on 29th September 1694, at the age of 66. In accordance with his wishes, an autopsy was performed. He is buried in the church of the Santi Gregorio e Siro, in Bologna, where nowadays can be seen a marble monument to the scientist with an inscription in Latin remembering – among other things – his “SUMMUM INGENIUM / INTEGERRIMAM VITAM / FORTEM STRENUAMQUE MENTEM / AUDACEM SALUTARIS ARTIS AMOREM” (great genius, honest life, strong and tough mind, daring love for the medical art).

Given Malpighi’s studies of Leguminosae and Cucurbitaceae here is a recipe for an Italian bean and squash soup.

Tuscan Bean and Squash Soup


1 lb dried borlotti beans
3 quarts beef stock
½ cup chopped canned tomatoes
2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
¼ cup chopped celery leaves
dried oregano
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
2 lb butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
crushed red pepper


Soak the beans overnight.

Drain and rinse the beans, then transfer them to a stock pot. Cover with stock and bring to a simmer over moderate heat. Cook the beans until almost tender, about 1 hour. Add the tomatoes, garlic, celery leaves, oregano to taste, and ¼ cup of the olive oil. Season to taste with salt. Continue cooking until the beans are very tender, about 1 to 1 ½ hours longer.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the remaining ¼ cup of olive oil. Add the onion and cook over medium heat until softened but not browned. Add the squash and 1 cup of water, cover and simmer over low heat until the squash is barely tender, about 10 minutes.

When the beans are fully cooked, stir in the squash mixture. Season crushed red pepper to taste and simmer for 5 minutes. Serve with crusty bread.


Mar 092019

An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, usually simply called The Wealth of Nations, by Adam Smith was first published on this date in 1776, while the Agricultural Revolution was in full swing and the Industrial Revolution was cranking up. Smith concerned himself with the question of why some nations had more wealth than others, the division of labor, free markets, the law of supply and demand, competition, profit, and productivity, and the book is considered a founding work of classical economics. It influenced governments and organizations, setting the terms for economic debate and discussion for the next century and a half.

The Wealth of Nations was the product of 17 years of notes and earlier works, as well as conversations among economists of the time concerning economic and societal conditions during the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Smith sought to offer a practical application for reformed economic theory to replace the mercantilist and physiocratic economic theories that were becoming less relevant in a time of industrial innovation. The book influenced economists, politicians, mathematicians, biologists, and scholars in a wide variety of fields. The Wealth of Nations was as foundational in the field of economics, as Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica for physics, Antoine Lavoisier’s Traité Élémentaire de Chimie for chemistry, or Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species for biology.

Smith’s main tenet is that some nations are wealthier than other nations, not because some countries work harder or have better resources, but because of the judicious exploitation of free trade. Smith argues that free trade allows countries to import goods that are expensive to produce within their borders and export goods that are cheap to produce. Opening borders is better in the long term because the long-term cost of production is lower. One of the central ideas of Smith’s economics is what he calls “the invisible hand of the market place.”  The “invisible hand” in some ways foreshadows the concept of culture in anthropology: that is, there are natural forces at work that regulate communities (and markets) regardless of conscious involvement. People who create products will always work to make the biggest profit. This spells success all around, because when business owners have the long view in mind, they will put out their best work. He gives the example of a butcher. If a butcher sells bad cuts of meat, his customers will not come back. He might make a profit in the short term, but in the long term, it is better to sell a good product for a price people are willing to pay. The invisible hand of the market ensures a prosperous system that works for the good of the majority. Smith acknowledges that some will become super rich, and some will stay poor, but for him, this is a logical price to pay for a thriving economic system. In order for freedom to prevail, and for the majority to pursue their happiness and goals, the system must allow for some measure of inequality.

Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations in response to the prevailing economic theory of the time, mercantilism. Mercantilism stated that international trade results in a collection of winners and losers. For one country to get rich, it is necessary that another country be poor. Because resources are limited a country will have to put in measures to ensure its prosperity at the expense of another. This theory meant that countries tried hard to bring money and resources within their borders, but blocked free exchange so that money stayed inside. Countries would levy tariffs on goods coming from outside countries, sometimes at the expense of their own long-term good. If another country produces something more cheaply than your country can, you can place tariffs on imports, so that the product made inside the country is competitive. The problem is that this action raises prices.

We could argue about the merits of Smith’s advocacy of free trade and laissez-faire economics for a long time. In the nineteenth century in Britain, unregulated capitalism without social safety nets led to catastrophic urban poverty, with political economists such as Karl Marx providing a very different analysis running counter to Smith’s. Smith, himself, also put limits on completely unregulated production. He believed that some taxation was needed to provide for services, such as roads, that benefitted everyone, and he was also strongly opposed to monopolies that circumvented the natural processes of free market competition and artificially forced up prices. Thus, economic systems always needed some regulation. How much regulation and taxation is a continuing debate.  Smith’s basic premise that all people are self-interested and striving for the best for themselves and this fact drives markets and individuals to maximize benefits for all concerned, is deeply contested to this day.

Here is a frugal Scots recipe for apples and oats that I make once in a while when I want a quick dessert.

Apples and Oats


1½ oz butter
2 oz brown sugar
4 oz rolled oats
4 cooking apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
1 tbsp lemon juice


Preheat the oven to 300°F.

Melt the butter in a pan and add the oats and sugar. Mix well. Spread out in a shallow tin and toast in the oven until they are golden brown. Keep an eagle eye on them, and shake periodically. They will brown quickly and unevenly if not shaken.

Toss the apples in the lemon juice and put them in a casserole with a tight-fitting lid. Bake in the oven until the apples are soft and fluffy (about 30 minutes). Beat in the sugar to taste and allow to cool.

In a loaf pan, arrange a layer of oats, then apples and repeat until all are used up, with a layer of oats on top. Let rest for at least an hour. Serve with whipped cream.

Mar 082019

Today is the birthday (1822) of Jan Józef Ignacy Łukasiewicz, a Polish pharmacist, engineer, businessman, inventor, and one of the most prominent philanthropists in the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, crown land of Austria-Hungary. Łukasiewicz was a visionary who saw the potential of petroleum products at a time when the chief fuel powering the Industrial Revolution was coal. He built the world’s first modern oil refinery, discovered how to distill kerosene from seep oil, invented the modern kerosene lamp (1853), created the first modern street lamps in Europe (1853), and constructed the world’s first modern oil well (1854). Chances are you have never heard of Łukasiewicz, yet his inventions changed the world. It should be noted, in small mitigation, that kerosene can be made in different ways and was known in antiquity. While Łukasiewicz perfected his method, others were working in Canada and the US on the production of kerosene from coal as a byproduct of gas production.

Ignacy Łukasiewicz was born in Zaduszniki, near Mielec, in the Austrian Empire (after the Partitions of Poland) as the youngest of five children. His family was of Armenian origin. His parents were Apolonia, née Świetlik, and Józef Łukasiewicz, a member of the local intelligentsia nobility entitled to use the Łada coat of arms and a veteran of Kościuszko’s Uprising. The family rented a small manor in Zaduszniki but, soon after Ignacy’s birth, was forced by financial difficulties to relocate to the nearby city of Rzeszów. There Ignacy entered the local secondary school (Konarski’s Gymnasium), but failed to pass the examinations and left in 1836. In order to help his parents and financially support all the relatives, he moved to Łańcut, where he began work as a pharmacist’s assistant. Toward the end of his life, Łukasiewicz often described his childhood as happy; the home atmosphere was patriotic and somewhat democratic, and he commonly recalled his first tutor, Colonel Woysym-Antoniewicz, who resided in their house.

Upon moving to Łańcut, Łukasiewicz also became involved in several political organizations that supported the idea of restoring Polish sovereignty and independence and participated in many political gatherings around the area. In 1840 he returned to Rzeszów, where he continued working at Edward Hübl’s private pharmacy. In 1845 he met diplomat and activist Edward Dembowski, who admitted Łukasiewicz to the illegal “Centralization of the Polish Democratic Society”, a party that focused on radical policies and supported a revolt against the Austrian government. The organization’s aim was to prepare an all-national uprising against all three partitioning powers. Since the movement was seen as a possible danger to the Austrian monarchy, on 19th February 1846 Łukasiewicz and several other members of the party were arrested by the Austrian authorities and imprisoned in the city of Lwów. However, on 27th December 1847 Łukasiewicz was released from prison due to lack of evidence, but for the rest of his life he was regarded as “politically untrustworthy” and often observed by local police who held his records. He was also ordered to remain in Lwów with his elder brother Franciszek.

On 15th August 1848 he was employed at one of the biggest and best pharmacies in Austrian Galicia (so-called “Austrian Poland”); the Golden Star (Pod Złotą Gwiazdą) Pharmacy in Lwów, owned by Piotr Mikolasch. In 1850, a handheld pharmaceutical almanac and a precious document entitled manuskrypt, the joint work of Mikolasch and Łukasiewicz was published. Because of this achievement, the authorities granted him a permit to continue pharmaceutical studies at the Royal Jagiellonian University in Kraków. After several years of studies, financed mostly by Mikolasch, he passed all his university examinations except for that in pharmacognosy (natural plant medicine), which prevented him from graduating. Finally, on 30th July 1852 Łukasiewicz graduated from the pharmacy department at the University of Vienna, where he earned a master’s degree in pharmaceutics. As soon as he returned to the pharmacy of Piotr Mikolasch in Lwów, he began a new phase of his life devoted to the studies of exploiting kerosene.

While oil was known to exist for a long time in the Subcarpathian-Galician region, it was more commonly used as an animal drug and lubricant, but Łukasiewicz was the first person to distill the liquid and was able to exploit it for lighting and to create a brand new industry.

In autumn of 1852 Łukasiewicz, Mikolasch and his colleague John Zeh analyzed the oil, which was provided in a few barrels by traders from the town of Drohobycz.  In early 1854 Łukasiewicz moved to Gorlice, where he continued his work. He set up many companies together with entrepreneurs and landowners. That same year, he opened the world’s first oil “mine” at Bóbrka, near Krosno (still operational in the 21st century). At the same time Łukasiewicz continued his work on kerosene lamps. Later that year, he set up the first kerosene street lamp in Gorlice’s Zawodzie district. In subsequent years he opened several other oil wells, each as a joint venture with local merchants and businessmen. In 1856 in Ulaszowice, near Jasło, he opened an “oil distillery” — the world’s first industrial oil refinery. As demand for kerosene was still low, the plant initially produced mostly artificial asphalt, machine oil, and lubricants. The refinery was destroyed in an 1859 fire, but was rebuilt at Polanka, near Krosno, the following year.

By 1863 Łukasiewicz, who had moved to Jasło in 1858, was a wealthy man. He openly supported the January 1863 Uprising and financed help for refugees. In 1865 he bought a large manor and the village of Chorkówka. There he established yet another oil refinery. Having gained one of the largest fortunes in Galicia, Łukasiewicz promoted the development of the oil industry in the areas of Dukla and Gorlice. He gave his name to several oil-mining enterprises in the area, including oil wells at Ropianka, Wilsznia, Smereczne, Ropa, and Wójtowa. He also became a regional benefactor and founded a spa resort at Bóbrka, a chapel at Chorkówka, and a large church at Zręcin.

As one of the best-known businessmen of his time, Łukasiewicz was elected to the Galician Sejm. In 1877 he also organized the first Oil Industry Congress and founded the National Oil Society. Ignacy Łukasiewicz died in Chorkówka on 7th January 1882 of pneumonia and was buried in the small cemetery at Zręcin, next to the Gothic Revival church that he had financed.

All my life (until recently) I’ve had at least one kerosene lamp and a kerosene stove – for emergencies and for camping. I had pressure lamps and stoves because simple ones with nothing but wicks can produce a fair amount of soot. Pressure equipment provides a more complete combustion of the kerosene as well as a brighter light and stronger heat for cooking. Growing up in Australia we had a kerosene stove in the living room as our sole heating for the winter months, and camping with the boy scouts we used kerosene lamps at night. You could honor Łukasiewicz with a Polish recipe, and a scan through my posts will provide ample selection. Instead, here’s a video on cooking on a kerosene stove (not pressurized), to show how effective even the simplest equipment is. His technique for cooking of eggs is not to be imitated!!

Mar 072019

On this date in 1965, an estimated 525 to 600 civil rights marchers headed southeast out of Selma, Alabama on U.S. Highway 80. The march was led by John Lewis of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Reverend Hosea Williams of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), followed by Bob Mants of SNCC and Albert Turner of SCLC. The protest went according to plan until the marchers crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where they encountered a wall of state troopers and a county posse waiting for them on the other side.

County Sheriff Jim Clark had issued an order for all white males in Dallas County over the age of twenty-one to report to the courthouse that morning to be deputized. Commanding officer John Cloud told the demonstrators to disband at once and go home. Rev. Hosea Williams tried to speak to the officer, but Cloud curtly informed him there was nothing to discuss. Seconds later, the troopers began shoving the demonstrators, knocking many to the ground and beating them with nightsticks. Another detachment of troopers fired tear gas, and mounted troopers charged the crowd on horseback.

Televised images of the brutal attack presented North American and international audiences with horrifying images of marchers left bloodied and severely injured, and roused support for the Selma Voting Rights Campaign. Amelia Boynton, who had helped organize the march as well as marching in it, was beaten unconscious. A photograph of her lying on the road of the Edmund Pettus Bridge appeared on the front page of newspapers and news magazines around the world. In all, 17 marchers were hospitalized and 50 treated for lesser injuries. The day soon became known as “Bloody Sunday” within the African-American community, and now is known universally by that name.

Whilst I could go into greater detail concerning the leadup to the march and the aftermath of the events, I’ll leave you to read elsewhere about that and instead pause to underscore some critical facts.  Chief of these is that Bloody Sunday is not ancient history, it is an event well within living memory. I remember it, and I was not even living in the US at the time. Many of the participants are now dead, of course, but not all, and a great many people my age who lived through those times are now in positions of power. These are people who went to segregated schools, lived in segregated communities, and championed racist policies.

Slavery ended after the US Civil War, it is true, but the emancipation of slaves by no means ended the subjugation of former slaves and their descendants. For 100 years Jim Crow and miscegenation laws along with enforced segregation continued a pattern of oppression for African-Americans so that it is supremely disingenuous for contemporary pundits to tell African-Americans that it is time to “get over” slavery, as I have heard repeatedly in recent times. At this stage of the game, slavery is not the issue; it’s what followed that is the continuing gaping wound which so many talking heads would like to pretend does not exist. The current president of the United States and his father were taken to court for refusing to rent certain properties to African-Americans, so we are not talking about the distant past or even the more recent past; we are talking about present realities.

I lived in a coastal North Carolina village in 1978 when the laws against segregation had theoretically changed the social situation, but not much had changed in terms of actual social conditions. The schools in the county were integrated by law, seemingly without much of a fight, but everything else was de facto segregated. There was a Black church (AME Zion) and a White church (Southern Baptist) with zero interaction between congregations. In fact, the Baptist church had held a congregational meeting to forbid African-American members, although I had never come across an example of an African-American attending services, let alone applying for membership. When I returned to the village in 1990, the situation was still the same. The African-American families in the village still lived in complete isolation in a sector surrounding the AME Zion church, and rarely, if ever, interacted with the White community. I vividly recall a day when I was living in the village when an old respected member of the African-American community bought something in the general store and for a few minutes sat on one of the benches in the store where old timers gathered throughout the day to shoot the breeze, and it was such a momentous event that it was talked about for days afterwards (not necessarily in a negative way, but just as a wonder that it happened at all).

What I experienced in that village could have been replicated in tens of thousands of villages across the country in those days – and not just in the South. De facto segregation was, and is, an everyday fact of life in the US. It is certainly true that from 1965 onwards, great strides have been made, but the war is far from over. This post (and others of its ilk) is meant to serve as a reminder that although the 1960s were a turning point, we are talking about a bend in the road not a 180° turn.

Perhaps you’ll appreciate the unsubtle irony of presenting a video on Alabama White BBQ sauce on this date:

Mar 062019

Today is the birthday (1619) of Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac, French novelist, playwright and epistolarian with a penchant for fighting duels. The facts of his life and ancestry are shrouded in mystery and obfuscation such that he is known nowadays more from Edmond Rostand’s, drama, Cyrano de Bergerac, which is more invention than confirmed biography. I’ll leave you to sort through the conflicting information if you are interested, and simply hit some points that amuse me.

Cyrano’s baptismal record (which was not discovered until relatively recently, since it for a long time it was not clear where he was born), reads (in translation):

The sixth of March one thousand six hundred and nineteen, Savinien, son of Abel de Cyrano, squire, Lord of Mauvières, and of the lady Espérance Bellenger, the godfather, nobleman Antoine Fanny, King’s Counsellor and Auditor in his Court of Finances, of this parish, the godmother the lady Marie Fédeau, wife of nobleman Master Louis Perrot, Counsellor and Secretary to the King, Household and Crown of France, of the parish of Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois.

In 1622, Abel de Cyrano left Paris with his family and went to settle on his lands at Mauvières and Bergerac in the Vallée de Chevreuse, which had come to him in part after the death of his mother in 1616.

His possessions, situated on the banks of the Yvette River in the parish of Saint-Forget, had been purchased by Savinien I de Cyrano forty years earlier from Thomas de Fortboys, who had bought them himself in 1576 from Lord Dauphin de Bergerac (or Bergerat), whose ancestors had possessed them for more than a century. Cyrano began his basic education in rural schools, but because he paid so little attention to his studies in this setting, his father sent him to school in Paris. Where he went to school is unknown. In 1636, his father sold his estate and returned to Paris. It is not at all certain that Cyrano moved back in with them. At the age of 19, he entered a corps of the guards, serving in the campaigns of 1639 and 1640. As an officer he was notorious for his dueling and boasting. He is said to have left the military and returned to Paris to pursue literature, producing tragedies cast in the orthodox classical mode.

The model for the Roxane character of the Rostand play was Bergerac’s cousin, who lived with his sister, Catherine de Bergerac, at the Convent of the Daughter of the Cross. As in the play, Bergerac did fight at the Siege of Arras (1640) a battle of the Thirty Years’ War between French and Spanish forces in France (though this was not the more famous final Battle of Arras, fought 14 years later). One of his confrères in the battle was the baron Christian of Neuvillette, who married Cyrano’s cousin. However, the plotline of Rostand’s play, involving Roxane and Christian, is entirely fictional.

Cyrano de Bergerac’s works L’Autre Monde: ou les États et Empires de la Lune (Another World, or the States and Empires of the Moon), published posthumously, (1657) and Les États et Empires du Soleil (The States and Empires of the Sun, 1662) are classics of early modern science fiction. In the former, Cyrano travels to the moon using rockets powered by firecrackers (it may be the earliest description of a space flight by use of a vessel that has rockets attached) and meets the inhabitants. The moon-men have four legs, firearms that shoot game and cook it, and talking earrings used to educate children. His mixture of science and romance in these two works furnished a model for many subsequent writers, among them Jonathan Swift, Edgar Allan Poe and probably Voltaire. Corneille and Molière freely borrowed ideas from Le Pédant joué.

Rostand’s play suggests that Cyrano was injured by a falling wooden beam in 1654 while entering the house of his patron, the Duc D’Arpajon. However, the editor of Cyrano’s works, Madeleine Alcover, uncovered a contemporary text which suggests an attack on the duke’s carriage in which a member of his household was injured. It is as yet inconclusive as to whether or not his death was a result of the injury, or an unspecified disease. He died over a year later on July 28th, 1655, aged 36, at the house of his cousin, Pierre De Cyrano, in Sannois. He was buried in a church in Sannois. However, there is strong evidence to support the theory that his death was a result of a botched assassination attempt as well as further damage to his health caused by a period of confinement in a private asylum, orchestrated by his enemies, who succeeded in enlisting the help of his own brother Abel de Cyrano.

Food features as a motif in Rostand’s play, but not in Cyrano’s actual works, so here is a 17th century recipe from Le cuisinier royal et bourgeois (1691). It’s a relatively simply fish salad dressed with what was called “ramolade” but this dressing is much simpler than the later remoulade of haute cuisine.

Salades de poissons

À plusieurs filets de poisson on fait une sausse qu’on appelle ramolade, composée de persil haché de ciboule hachée, des anchois hachés, des câpres hachées, le tout mis dans un plat, avec un peu de sel, de poivre, de muscade, d’huile & de vinaigre bien délayez ensemble : & après avoir dressé vos filets dans son plat, on les arrose de cette ramolade ; & à quelques plats on y ajoute du jus de citron, pour les servir froids.

Fish salad

For all kinds of fish fillets you prepare a sauce that is called ‘ramolade’, consisting of chopped parsley, chopped chives, chopped anchovy, chopped capers. Put all this on a plate with a little salt, pepper, nutmeg, oil and vinegar, well mixed together. And after having arranged the fillets on their plates, sprinkle this ramolade over them. To some plates you can add lemon juice to serve them cold.

Mar 052019

Today is the birthday (1637) of Jan van der Heyden, a Dutch Baroque-era painter, glass painter, draughtsman and printmaker, as well as engineer. Van der Heyden was born in Gorinchem, the son of a Mennonite father and the third of eight children. His father was by turns an oil mill owner, a grain merchant, and a broker. The family moved to Amsterdam in 1646 and van der Heyden’s father acquired local citizenship. Van der Heyden himself never became a citizen of Amsterdam even though he lived there most of his life.

Jan van der Heyden may have received his initial artistic training in the studio of a relative, perhaps his eldest brother, Goris van der Heyden, who made and sold mirrors. He had joined Goris in his mirror producing and selling business. He may also have learned drawing from a glass painter. It is possible that his teacher may have been one of the most admired glass painters of the time, Jacob van der Ulft, who was also originally from van der Heyden’s hometown. Several examples of van der Heyden’s paintings on glass (verre eglomisé) have survived and probably date from this early part of his career.

Van der Heyden married Sara ter Hiel of Utrecht on 26th June 1661 in Amsterdam. At the time of his marriage, he lived on the most fashionable canal in Amsterdam, Herengracht. He was then already a practicing artist. His earliest dated works are two drawn portraits of his brother-in-law Samuel ter Hiel and his bride, Jacquemijntje van der Passe date 1659. His earliest dated painting is from 1663.

As a young man he witnessed the fire in the old town hall which made a deep impression on him. He later would describe or draw 80 fires in almost any neighborhood of Amsterdam. In 1668 Cosimo III de’ Medici bought one of his paintings, a view of the town hall with a manipulated perspective.  Painting was not his sole occupation and interest. In fact, he never joined Amsterdam’s painters’ guild. Even while his work was in great demand, he did not rely on his art to make a living. His principal source of income was, in fact, not painting. Rather he was employed as engineer, inventor and municipal official. He was clearly greatly preoccupied with the problem of how to fight fires effectively, and, with his brother Nicolaes, devoted much time between 1668 and 1671 to inventing a new, highly successful water pumping mechanism. He also devised a street-lighting system for Amsterdam and was in 1669 appointed director of street lighting. In 1673 the two brothers received official appointments to manage the city’s fire-fighting equipment and organization. The appointments were sufficient to ensure their financial security.

Van der Heyden moved in 1680 to the Koestraat near the St. Anthonismarkt. Here he built a new family home and a factory for producing fire equipment. In collaboration with his eldest son Jan, he published in 1690 an illustrated book on fire-fighting, entitled ‘Beschrijving der nieuwlijks uitgevonden en geoctrojeerde Slangbrandspuiten’ (‘Description of the recently invented and patented hose fire engines’).

Jan van der Heyden died a wealthy man in 1712. His wife survived her husband by only a month. The inventory of the estate made soon after her death includes more than 70 of his own paintings. His only known pupil was his son Jan.

Van der Heyden was one of the first Dutch painters to dedicate most of his output to cityscapes and other depictions of groups of buildings. In addition, he also painted approximately 40 pure landscapes, of which two on glass. At the end of his career he painted still lifes in indoor settings. His most frequent subject was various views of Amsterdam. In addition, he painted vistas of other Dutch, Flemish and German cities (in particular the region near the Dutch–German border), country houses and estates and landscapes. It is believed that he visited these places personally. A painting of an Italian scene is believed to have been based on a drawing by Daniël Schellinks. Other foreign scenes may have been based on drawings of other artists. Van der Heyden often painted country estates. Several views exist of Goudestein, a country estate owned by Joan Huydecoper II, the Amsterdam burgomaster. A set of 14 paintings depicting scenes in and around the village of Maarssen were likely also made on commission for Joan Huydecoper II, who had developed real estate around that village.

Van der Heyden also created completely imaginary architectural fantasies, so-called capricci. An example is An Architectural Fantasy (c. 1670, National Gallery of Art), which appears to be a product of pure imagination. Italian influences are visible in the classical structure recalling the buildings of Palladio and the decorative sculptural elements. The figures, probably painted by Adriaen van de Velde, on the other hand, are unmistakably Dutch. While the great house with its sunlit formal gardens evokes an idealized world, at the elaborate gateway of the brick walls surrounding the gardens, an elegant gentleman encounters a beggar with her baby. The inclusion of these discordant elements undermining the country idyll set van der Heyden apart from his contemporary Gerrit Berckheyde. Various of his compositions include out-of-place statuary, stray farm animals or even urban shepherdesses, which add a feeling of anomaly and contradiction. These elements contribute to the feeling of modernity typical for his works. Only one painting known as the Triumph of Mordecai (Staatliches Museum Schwerin), depicts a history scene. It is probably an early work.

Despite the apparently naturalistic style, which was so detailed that every single brick was visible, the artist did not strive for topographical accuracy in his city views. Even in his depictions of recognizable sites he regularly adapted and rearranged the architecture and setting to fit his overall compositional goals. Topographical accuracy was clearly not his primary objective. Rather he strove to present an idealized vision of the world around him. Despite the attention to detail, Jan van der Heyden’s primary aim was to achieve an overall harmony in his compositions. Van der Heyden’s scenes are usually bathed in a brilliant, crisp light of almost unnatural clarity.

The people in his paintings was often added by other artists such as Johannes Lingelbach, Adriaen van de Velde and Eglon van der Neer. He most often collaborated with the accomplished painter of figures and animals Adriaen van de Velde. The two artists had an especially successful partnership built on their complementary skills: Adriaen van de Velde contributed his lively and well-characterized figures to van der Heyden’s exquisitely painted architectural settings. A fine example of their collaboration is The Dam and Damrak (c. 1663, Fogg Museum). The composition depicts the Dam and Damrak bathed in a late afternoon sun, which casts long shadows on the cobblestones of the Dam. The Damrak, the waterway that linked the Dam to Amsterdam’s harbor, terminates at the far left of the composition.

Jan van der Heyden painted still lifes in the beginning and at the end of his career. Nine of his still lifes survive. One of his earliest dated still lifes is a Still life with a bible (signed and dated 1664, Mauritshuis). This and other early still lifes typically depict a bible and other objects on a table with a carpet. An example of his early works in this genre is the Still Life with Globe, Books, Sculpture, and Other Objects (c. 1670, Academy of Fine Arts Vienna). This painting stands in a long tradition of Dutch still life paintings depicting vanitas symbols. These symbols include not only hourglasses, skulls and smoking candles but also attributes of scholarship and intellectual inquiry assembled in an amateur collector’s cabinet or the study of a humanist scholar.

Unfortunately van der Heyden did not paint any typical Dutch Baroque still lifes of food, so I cannot use one of them as a springboard for today’s recipe. Instead I give you a classic dessert from the region where he was born, bossche bol, a kind of chocolate smothered profiterole

Mar 042019

No, today’s post is not about the sitcom (which I detest), it is about George Gamow who was born on this date in 1904 and was an early advocate and developer of Lemaître’s Big Bang theory of the origins of the cosmos. So, buckle up for some real physics, not TV playacting (seasoned with perpetual mistakes).

Gamow was born Georgiy Antonovich Gamov in Odessa in the Russian empire. He was educated at the Institute of Physics and Mathematics in Odessa (1922–23) and at the University of Leningrad (1923–1929). Gamow studied under Alexander Friedmann for some time in Leningrad, until Friedmann’s early death in 1925. He aspired to do his doctoral thesis under Friedmann, but had to change dissertation advisors. At the University, Gamow made friends with three other students of theoretical physics, Lev Landau, Dmitri Ivanenko, and Matvey Bronshtein. The four formed a group known as the Three Musketeers, which met to discuss and analyze the ground-breaking papers on quantum mechanics published during those years. He later used the same phrase to describe the Alpher, Herman, and Gamow group.

On graduation, he worked on quantum theory in Göttingen, where his research into the atomic nucleus provided the basis for his doctorate. He then worked at the Theoretical Physics Institute of the University of Copenhagen from 1928 to 1931, with a break to work with Ernest Rutherford at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge. He continued to study the atomic nucleus (proposing the “liquid drop” model), but also worked on stellar physics with Robert Atkinson and Fritz Houtermans.

In 1931, Gamow was elected a corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR at age 28 – one of the youngest in the history of this organization. During the period 1931–1933, Gamow worked in the Physical Department of the Radium Institute (Leningrad) headed by Vitaly Khlopin. Europe’s first cyclotron was designed under the guidance and direct participation of Igor Kurchatov, Lev Mysovskii and Gamow. In 1932, Gamow and Mysovskii submitted a draft design for consideration by the Academic Council of the Radium Institute, which approved it. The cyclotron was not completed until 1937. In the early 20th century, radioactive materials were known to have characteristic exponential decay rates, or half-lives. At the same time, radiation emissions were known to have certain characteristic energies. By 1928, Gamow in Göttingen had solved the theory of the alpha decay of a nucleus via tunneling, with mathematical help from Nikolai Kochin. The problem was also solved independently by Ronald W. Gurney and Edward U. Condon, although Gurney and Condon did not achieve the quantitative results Gamow did.

Classically, the particle is confined to the nucleus because of the high energy requirement to escape the very strong nuclear potential. Also classically, it takes an enormous amount of energy to pull apart the nucleus, an event that would not occur spontaneously. In quantum mechanics, however, there is a probability the particle can “tunnel through” the wall of the potential well and escape. Gamow solved a model potential for the nucleus and derived from first principles a relationship between the half-life of the alpha-decay event process and the energy of the emission, which had been previously discovered empirically and was known as the Geiger–Nuttall law. Some years later, the name Gamow factor or Gamow–Sommerfeld factor was applied to the probability of incoming nuclear particles tunneling through the electrostatic Coulomb barrier and undergoing nuclear reactions.

Gamow worked at a number of Soviet establishments before deciding to flee the Soviet Union because of increased oppression. In 1931, he was officially denied permission to attend a scientific conference in Italy. Also in 1931, he married Lyubov Vokhmintseva (Любовь Вохминцева), another physicist in Soviet Union, whom he nicknamed “Rho” after the Greek letter. Gamow and his new wife spent much of the next two years trying to leave the Soviet Union, with or without official permission. Niels Bohr and other friends invited Gamow to visit during this period, but Gamow could not get permission to leave.

Gamow later said that his first two attempts to defect with his wife were in 1932 and involved trying to kayak: first a planned 250-kilometer paddle over the Black Sea to Turkey, and another attempt from Murmansk to Norway. Poor weather foiled both attempts, but they had not been noticed by the authorities. In 1933, Gamow was suddenly granted permission to attend the 7th Solvay Conference on physics, in Brussels. He insisted on having his wife accompany him, even saying that he would not go alone. Eventually the Soviet authorities relented and issued passports for the couple. The two attended and arranged to extend their stay, with the help of Marie Curie and other physicists. Over the next year, Gamow obtained temporary work at the Curie Institute, University of London, and the University of Michigan.

In 1934, Gamow and his wife moved to the United States. He became a professor at George Washington University (GWU) in 1934 and recruited physicist Edward Teller from London to join him at GWU. In 1936, Gamow and Teller published what became known as the “Gamow–Teller selection rule” for beta decay. During his time in Washington, Gamow published major scientific papers with Mário Schenberg and Ralph Alpher. By the late 1930s, Gamow’s interests had turned towards astrophysics and cosmology. George Gamow became a naturalized US citizen in 1940.

During World War II, Gamow did not work directly on the Manhattan Project producing the atomic bomb, in spite of his knowledge of radioactivity and nuclear fusion. He continued to teach physics at GWU and consulted for the U.S. Navy. Gamow was interested in the processes of stellar evolution and the early history of the solar system. In 1945, he co-authored a paper supporting work by German theoretical physicist Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker on planetary formation in the early solar system. Gamow published another paper in the British journal Nature in 1948, in which he developed equations for the mass and radius of a primordial galaxy (which typically contains about one hundred billion stars, each with a mass comparable with that of the Sun).

Gamow’s work led to developments in the hot big bang theory of the expanding universe. He was the first to employ Alexander Friedmann’s and Georges Lemaître’s non-static solutions of Einstein’s gravitational equations describing a universe of uniform matter density and constant spatial curvature. Gamow’s crucial advance provided a physical reification of Lemaître’s idea of a unique primordial quantum. Gamow did this by assuming that the early universe was dominated by radiation rather than by matter. Most of the later work in cosmology is rooted in Gamow’s theory. He applied his model to the question of the creation of the chemical elements and to the subsequent condensation of matter into galaxies, whose mass and diameter he was able to calculate in terms of the fundamental physical parameters, such as the speed of light c, Newton’s gravitational constant G, Sommerfeld’s fine-structure constant α, and Planck’s constant h.

Gamow’s interest in cosmology arose from his earlier interest in energy generation and element production and transformation in stars. This work, in turn, evolved from his fundamental discovery of quantum tunneling as the mechanism of nuclear alpha decay, and his application of this theory to the inverse process to calculate rates of thermonuclear reaction. At first, Gamow believed that all the elements might be produced in the very high temperature and density early stage of the universe. Later, he revised this opinion on the strength of compelling evidence advanced by Fred Hoyle et al. that elements heavier than lithium are largely produced in thermonuclear reactions in stars and in supernovae. Gamow formulated a set of coupled differential equations describing his proposed process and assigned, as a PhD. dissertation topic, his graduate student Ralph Alpher the task of solving the equations numerically. These results of Gamow and Alpher appeared in 1948 as the Alpher–Bethe–Gamow paper (read it out loud if you do not get the joke). Bethe later referred to this paper as being “wrong”. Before his interest turned to the question of the genetic code, Gamow published about twenty papers on cosmology. The earliest was in 1939 with Edward Teller on galaxy formation, followed in 1946 by the first description of cosmic nucleosynthesis. He also wrote many popular articles as well as academic textbooks on this and other subjects.

Gamow continued his teaching at the University of Colorado Boulder and focused increasingly on writing textbooks and books on science for the general public. After several months of ill health, surgeries on his circulatory system, diabetes and liver problems, Gamow was dying from liver failure, which he had called the “weak link” that could not withstand the other stresses. In a letter written to Ralph Alpher on August 18th, he had written, “The pain in the abdomen is unbearable and does not stop”. Prior to this, there had been a long exchange of letters with his former student, in which he was seeking a fresh understanding of some concepts used in his earlier work, with Paul Dirac. Gamow relied on Alpher for deeper understanding of mathematics.

On August 19th, 1968, Gamow died at age 64 in Boulder, Colorado, and was buried there in Green Mountain Cemetery. The physics department tower at the University of Colorado at Boulder is named for him.

I first came across Gamow by accident as a teen when I had swapped science and mathematics education for Classics, but I was still interested, and came across a copy of his One, Two, Three . . . Infinity, which considers a number of topics including Georg Cantor’s ( ) explorations of the types of infinity as well as his analysis of the nature of infinity (or infinities), plus his analysis of cosmological puzzles, genetics, topology, entropy, nuclear physics, and much more. The book kept my interest in the philosophical aspects of science and mathematics alive as my academic interests shifted. I still use his analogies to explain rudimentary number theory and the nature of infinity to students.

Odessa, Gamow’s birthplace, is a culinary joy with influences on the local cuisine from Russia, Greece, Turkey, Hungary, Moldova, and France. Here is a complex mushroom dish that shows off the influences on Odessa cooking. You should use whatever mix of mushrooms is available, especially wild ones. The ones in the ingredient list are for cooks with limited market choices. Branch out if you can.

Odessa Mushroom Zhulien


2 tbsp butter
1 onion, peeled and minced
1 ½ lb button mushrooms, chopped
1 lb porcini mushrooms, chopped
¼ cup dry white wine
½ cup cream
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp chopped chives
½ tbsp ground fennel seed
salt and freshly ground pepper
fresh nutmeg


Heat the butter in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until soft. Then add the mushrooms and continue to sauté until they release some juice. Add the wine and cream and bring to a simmer. Next add the cheese and stir until the cheese has melted and combined with the sauce. Season with the chives and fennel seed, and add salt pepper and freshly grated nutmeg to taste. Simmer for about 5 minutes, and serve hot.