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Good News on This Day in History – November 7

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119 years ago today, Konrad Lorenz, the father of modern ethnology and Nobel laureate, was born in Vienna. In 2002, he was ranked as the 65th most-cited scholar of the 20th century, largely because of his work on several foundational behavior patterns in animals, particularly birds. While he held membership in the Nazi party, his membership in the army was involuntary. He regretted both following the war which interrupted his scientific work. READ More… 

Konrad Lorenz (right) and his Nobel Prize co-winner Nikolaas Tinbergen (left), in the gardens of Max Planck University, Munich. CC 3.0. Max Planck Univ.

Lorenz studied instinctive behavior in animals, especially in greylag geese and jackdaws. Working with geese, he investigated the principle of imprinting, the process by which some nidifugous birds (i.e. birds that leave their nest early) bond instinctively with the first moving object that they see within the first hours of hatching, whether mother goose, or a scientist.

He argued that animals have an inner drive to carry out instinctive behaviors, and that if they do not encounter the right stimulus they will eventually engage in the behavior with an inappropriate stimulus.

Fundamental to Lorenz’s theory of ecology is the function of negative feedback mechanisms, which, in hierarchical fashion, dampen impulses that occur beneath a certain threshold.

“To gain a desired prey, a dog or wolf will do things that, in other contexts, they would shy away from: run through thorn bushes, jump into cold water and expose themselves to risks which would normally frighten them. All these inhibitory mechanisms… act as a counterweight to the effects of learning mechanisms… The organism cannot allow itself to pay a price which is not worth paying.”

In his later years he joined the Austrian Green Party, and protested a powerplant construction on the Danube that would have degraded the surrounding ecosystem. He also became quite philosophical, writing that best hope for mankind lies in our looking for mates based on the kindness of their hearts rather than good looks or wealth.

More Good News on this Date:

  • The London Gazette, the oldest surviving journal, was first published (1665)
  • US legislation established the Corporation for Public Broadcasting as a federally-funded nonprofit to ensure universal access to non-commercial, high-quality content—like Mister Rogers—earmarking 70% of funds to 1,400 locally owned public stations (1967)
  • Congress overrode President Nixon’s veto of the War Powers Resolution to limit presidential power to wage war without congressional approval (1973)
  • Hillary Rodham Clinton was elected to the United States Senate, becoming the first former First Lady to win public office in the United States (2000)
  • Nancy Pelosi became the first woman speaker of the house in United States history, third in line to the president (2006)
  • Keith Ellison, a Democrat from Minnesota, became the first Muslim elected to Congress (2006)
  • Wisconsin voted to elect Tammy Baldwin to become the country’s first openly gay U.S. senator, by a margin of 51-46 (2012)
  • First-time candidate Danica Roem in Virginia became the first openly transgender woman in the nation to win a seat in a state legislature (2017)

55 years ago today, Elton John and his songwriting partner Bernie Taupin were signed by DJM publishing. Their signatures had to be witnessed by their parents because they were both under 21 years of age.

Taupin answered an advertisement for a lyric writer that appeared in the New Musical Express—and the pair have since collaborated on over 30 albums. (1967)

33 years ago today, Doug Wilder in Virginia became the first elected African-American governor in United States history.

The attorney and veteran was a state senator and lieutenant governor and, later, the mayor of Virginia’ capital city, Richmond… Also, on the same day, David Dinkins was elected as the first African-American mayor of New York City. (1989)

And 32 years ago today, Irishwoman Mary Robinson became the first woman to be elected President of the Republic of Ireland. The Independent politician was the seventh President of Ireland, serving through 1997. She is widely regarded as a transformative figure for Ireland—and for the Irish presidency—revitalizing and liberalizing a previously conservative, low-profile political office.

Now 77 years-old, Mary Robinson also served as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and in 2010 set up The Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice, which aimed to advocate on the struggle to secure global justice for victims of climate change “who are usually forgotten.”

In 2007, GNN covered her collaboration with Nelson Mandela, Graça Machel, and Desmond Tutu in a group called The Elders—formed with the hopes that their wisdom, independent leadership, and integrity could help tackle some of the world’s toughest problems. (1990)

And, Happy Birthday to Joni Mitchell who turns 78 today.

Joni, at a 2019 California concert starring Blondie and Elvis Costello

The Canadian singer-songwriter and painter is one of the most influential female musicians of the late 20th century. Her many hit songs include ”Both Sides Now,” “Chelsea Morning,”  “Big Yellow Taxi,” “A Case of You,” “River,” “California,” and “Free Man in Paris”—all recorded before she was 32.

Her distinctive open-tuned guitar was prompted by her childhood bout with polio which afflicted her fingers. Joni said the improvised tuning freed her songwriting, and was “a tool to break free of standard approaches to harmony and structure”.

Four years ago she suffered a brain aneurysm and she also suffers from a rare disorder called Morgellons disease. She just released a new book of drawings and writings, Morning Glory on the Vine: Early Songs and Drawings, and a biography about her life, Reckless Daughter, was released in 2017. Wish her a happy birthday at WeLoveYouJoni.com. (1943)

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