DARWIN AND LINCOLN. Two influential figures, both born 200 years ago.

How stand things today?

Although the idea of complex adaptive systems shaped by mutation, selection, and adaptation meets with less resistance today, there is still argument about which systems we might accept as being so shaped, and plenty of room for lively discussion of the extent to which humans are able to influence the mutation, selection and adaptation.

As President, Mr Lincoln might have been more reviled than any of the men who have held that office. (Go to the Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield and see for yourself.) His decision to advocate full citizenship rights for freed slaves persuaded John Wilkes Booth to kill him. Those rights took a long time to come, but they did make President Obama's story possible, something he noted in Springfield this evening.

In the Land of Lincoln, his Republican Party is in disarray, but the same Democratic organization that put Mr Obama forward also put forward the recently impeached-and-removed governor Rod Blagojevich.

Somehow that observation about the power of people to influence applies to the political scene as well. Does "far above our poor power to add or to detract" work?

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