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Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Random banned books

I disagree with the practice in some places of banning books, which I view as a generally stupid and anti-educational practice (there would be certain exceptions of course, borderline pornographic romance novels would be one example I could think of, but even then…). Thankfully, there are groups that seem to want to fight back against this sort of thing, which is something I highly approve of and should be clearly encouraged. Something that does peak my interest is some of the weird choices in books people have campaigned to ban are. Some of them have at least some reasonably logical basis, such as having considerably racist language as they were written during periods when social inequality was the norm such as Huckleberry Finn. This doesn’t mean I agree with doing so however, as these books in context can be perfectly useful in an educational context. Consider banning the study of the Holocaust in WW2 or the American Civil Rights movement because students might be exposed to anti-semitic or racist ideas during the course of studying the events.

Some of the choices include:

Handford, Martin, Where’s Waldo, 1988 for having a picture of a woman who is lying topless on the beach. Now, I’m probably going to guess that there isn’t actually any breast involved here and that’s she’s probably face down (I’m not certain) and if that’s the case, it’s truly a weird thing to ban the book for.

Lewis, C S, The lion, the witch and the wardrobe for being overly violent and filled with people getting killed. Now, I’ll grant you that in my old age I can’t stomach this book as it literally beats you over the head with poorly disguised Christian allegory and morality (and in my opinion, horrifically mangles the message as well with a terrible deus ex machina plot twist), but when I read it at the age of 9 or so, I thought it was great. Apparently the book got banned as it doesn’t ascribe to “Good Christian values”*, which could be argued as the books are fairly bloody but then again you’d have to wonder if they had read the bible while making this complaint? I think that’s fairly ridiculous and whatever I may think of the book now, it’s good reading for children and at least can encourage them to start reading, itself fairly difficult.

Paterson, Katherine, Bridge to Terabithia, 1977 gets banned for having concepts like secular humanism and similar values. I imagine, though TVNZs article doesn’t list them, that you’d also find the “His Dark Materials” trilogy of books (which include the Golden Compass, recently made into a movie) in there as well for similar reasons. Again though, there are some weird reasons for banning the book, like “death being a part of the plot”, which just makes me scratch my head as to why that is so objectionable considering many of the best stories, myths and such involve death in some way (Frankenstein, the Hunchback of Notre Dame and the Lord of the Rings to name a few of my favorites).

Seuss, Dr, The Lorax, 1971 generates a series WTF from me. The book was banned for being political commentary on the state of the logging industry?!? Shall we ban the Butter Battle Book as potential political commentary on the war in Iraq? The Cat in the Hat for encouraging socially unacceptable behavior with household pets? This is just stupidity.

Frank, Anne, Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, is apparently banned because it’s depressing in one case and has sexually explicit passages in another. I recall, back in the days of 3rd form English being forced to read through this book and thinking that it should have been studied in a better context in history, because as a novel it’s really not that engaging (not regarding that the history and situation they found themselves in is incredibly tragic, of which the diary Anne kept provides important insight into what it was like to be hiding from the gestapo, but it’s not a good book on its own). But again, I can’t fathom why someone would ban a book simply because it lacks the standard Hollywood happy ending that people seem to love and the sexually explicit passages, from what I remember are particularly tame (but natural for someone in that situation with only one young fellow around her).

The list of banned books is larger than this, I just picked these out as they either seemed particularly silly or the reasons for their banning were just ridiculous. Ideally books wouldn’t be banned and instead, in the case of examples like Huckleberry Finn, their historical context and reasons for the language they use should be explained- not just banned.

*Whatever this is supposed to mean anyway

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Darwin day

Happy Darwin day to everyone and have a good time reflecting upon the role of this great mans theory in enhancing our understanding of biology today! Scientificblogging and the Pandas thumb will both be collecting some interesting posts on Darwin over the day or so. One I’ve found that I particularly liked, was by Josh Rosenau describing Abraham Lincoln and how Darwin viewed the Norths movement to abolish slavery in the United States. Although not on the scientific achievements of Darwin, it’s an interesting piece of history that I didn’t actually know myself before now.

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Animalcules: A history lesson

Although some visitors may wonder if the blogs title “Animalcules” is spelt incorrectly, as it certainly is a funny way of spelling “animals”, it’s actually a homage to one of the most significant early microbiologists, Antoni van Leeuwenhoek. Van Leeuwenhoek was a remarkable man, as he observed many previously unknown microorganisms, most importantly bacteria, without having had any formal scientific training and in fact was a professional draper (fabric merchant). Born in Delft, Holland on October 24, 1632, he eventually came to own his own drapery and around 1668 had began to produce his own simple microscopes. The production of his own microscopes seems to have been inspired by reading a copy of Robert Hookes book micrographia, where Robert Hooke had illustrated pictures of fruiting structures of common molds in 1665. He would go on to produce over 500 microscopes, though only a few survive to this day (sadly) and are comparatively rather simple being powerful magnifying glasses as compared to the complex compound microscopes used today*.

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A portrait of Antony van Leeuwenhoek (left) and one of the simple microscopes that he produced (right).

In order to get a good view of what he was looking at using these microscopes he had to spend a considerable amount of time fiddling with various settings and a lot of patience. In the end he did in fact succeed and with the help of a hired artist, described and had drawings done of many of the small structures he could analyse with his microscope. In 1673 he began to write letters to the newly formed Royal Society of London and one of the first things he sent was a letter detailing the structure of a bees stinger. Over the next fifty years, he would have quite a large amount of correspondence with the Royal Society, who would translate his letters from Dutch and publish them in Latin or English. He would go on to analyse a large number of structures, such as the gills of an eel, but from my point of view by far the most interesting things that he described were unicellular organisms.

For example he discovered a great number of protists, including Vorticella a cilliate that can be found in pond water and has a taste for bacteria. By far one of his most important discoveries and rather remarkable given the primitive microscopes he had available, was his discovery of bacteria in 1676 while analysing pepper-water infusions. Unknown to him at the time as bacteria, he drew many of them and published the findings with the Royal Society of London calling them “wee animalcules”**. His original drawings contain many of the basic forms that bacteria take, including spirochetes, cocci (spherical) and rod shapes (noting that the links are all to modern images, I couldn’t find a readily available picture of van Leeuwenhoeks original drawings). While his observations of bacteria and other microorganisms were confirmed by others later down the track, it took a considerable amount of time (over 150 years) for the significance of these ‘wee animacules’ to be truly understood by the scientific community. None the less, Antoni van Leeuwenhoek was a truly remarkable man and continued his observations all the way until his death in 1723, setting important groundwork for later microbiologists to follow.

*It’s worth noting that compound microscopes did exist during his day, but these were very difficult to produce and were not as effective as todays, only being able to magnify things up to 20 or 30x.

**I am aware he spelt it “Animalcules” and this blog does not incorporate the other L. Oh dear. There is a highly compelling and extremely satisfying answer to this question as to why I forgot the other L. I am just not sure what it is.

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