The Grandmother Hypothesis

Generations

The grandmother hypothesis of evolution has been knocking around for a while now.  It posits the theory that human development was aided by the existence of grandparents in tribal groups.  Grandmothers are post-menopausal and reduce tribal stress around sexual competition.  At the same time they are active in the care of infants and young children, freeing up parents for productive work.  Grandmothers and Grandfathers are oracles of tribal experience and pass on skills long after they are physically capable of doing physical exertion themselves.

A new string to the grandmother hypothesis has recently emerged, and it might be called the “Poor sleeper grandparent hypothesis”.  It ask the question: why do teenagers never get out of bed in the morning?  It also raises a valid evolutionary advantage why old people rattle around the house at 5 in the morning.

If you live as a tribal group in the wild it’s unhealthy for the tribe if everyone is sound asleep at the same time.  That represents a risk to the tribe of attack by other tribal groups, or from wild animals or natural disasters.  It is healthy for the tribe if the teenagers talking around the fire at two in the morning notice that the river is in flood.  It is healthy for the tribe if granddad is relieving his bladder at five in the morning and notices a pride of lions stalking the cattle pen.

It is long known that our association with Dogs, going back over 300,000 years, arose from a symbiosis.  Their acute senses of smell and hearing complimented human sight.  Dogs rapidly became our guard dogs.  But there is no point in having a good guard dog if everyone is fast asleep.  Dogs won’t assess the danger of the river rising in flood the way a human can.  Sometimes the dog needs the guard human.

Any new parents recognise the value of having someone who is awake at six in the morning who can pick up the baby and stop it from crying, letting them get much needed rest.  Granny being awake early is a further reinforcement of the Grandmother Hypothesis.

Link to a New Scientist article on the theory -> HERE

 

 

 

Burning the Books

Diego_de_Landa

Diego de Landa was a Fransiscan Friar and Archbishop of Yucatán during the initial phase of conquest by Spain.  He appears to have been a scholarly man and did his best to document Mayan culture.  Sadly his original works were lost over time and what remains to us are fragments of copies pieced together.  He had royal scribes decipher the Maya script and tried to produce a Maya to Spanish translator by simple substitution of Maya Characters with Spanish letters.  Anyone who played with Google Translate for more than five minutes can see the flaws in this approach.

Unfortunately well over 90% of what we now know about the Maya comes from this priest.

In 1562 he learned that some of his Catholic Converts were continuing to observe Mayan practices, in particular Idol worship.  He also claimed to have uncovered evidence of ritual human sacrifice.  But this was in response to contemporary criticism of his subsequent actions which ran counter to Crown policy and Inquisition procedure.  His apologists were his own priests.

Bishop de Landa rounded up as many idols as he could find and held an act of faith – “Auto de fé” – the famous public expression of faith of the Spanish Inquisition.

Hundreds of Mayan nobles were tortured by the Spaniards by hoisting, also called La Corda or Strappado.  They were interrogated while suspended in a manner that causes the shoulders to dislocate.  The process is helped along by beating the victim, tying weights to their feet and by repeatedly raising and dropping them.  In this way the Maya were brought into the loving arms of Jesus.

On July 12th 1562 the Archbishop set fire to a pile of about 5,000 Maya idols.  He also then committed the greatest sin in the history of scholarship.  He burned every Maya holy book he could find.  He claimed to have burned 27 Mayan Codices on that day.  He then sent his priests out across the land to copy his example, and burn every Maya Codex they could find.

To give perspective on this act we now have three Mayan Codices and 10 pages of a fourth remaining today.  Nobody knows how many were destroyed.

This being a Sunday let’s say a Hail Mary for the eternal soul of Bishop Diego de Landa, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19)

Happy Birthday Jacques Cousteau

Cousteau

As a scuba diver myself I am eternally grateful to the father of the Aqualung, the pioneer of sport diving Jacques Cousteau.  Born on this day in Aquitaine, France in 1910.

His contribution to diving, and to marine conservation, cannot be overstated.  He was also hugely influential in the film industry and bringing nature documentaries to a mainstream audience.

If you look up the town of Kilkee in Ireland on Wikipedia you will see a note that Cousteau considered Kilkee the finest dive site in Europe.  He probably said it too.  He regularly dived there with the local Scuba fanatic, the owner of the fish and chip shop: Manuel Dilucia.   As you can tell from his surname Manuel was not a Kilkee native; he was born in Belfast.  Indeed so were his parents.  It was his grandparents who emigrated from Italy.

Manuel’s was the “good” chipper in Kilkee.  A bit more expensive but worth it if you had a spare penny.  Manuel Dilucia was involved in all things marine in Kilkee.  He brought his love of seafood to the Irish people, who rated the fruits of the sea low on the scale of things to eat.  Manuel brought his Italian delight of seafood together with his love of marine sport.  He eventually opened a gourmet seafood restaurant in Kilkee when the locals were ready for more than battered cod after the pub.

He helped the Gardai with underwater searches, he pioneered scuba diving, he worked tirelessly on conservation of the natural environment and he founded the marine rescue service. It is no surprise that Jacques Cousteau would seek him out if he was interested in diving the West of Ireland.  So it may be unaccredited but I believe that Jacques Cousteau said that Kilkee was the best place to dive in Europe.

 

Dover Beach; by Matthew Arnold

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
upon the straits; on the French coast the light
gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
listen! you hear the grating roar
of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
at their return, up the high strand,
begin, and cease, and then again begin,
with tremulous cadence slow, and bring
the eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
of human misery; we
find also in the sound a thought,
hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
retreating, to the breath
of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
and naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
to one another! for the world, which seems
to lie before us like a land of dreams,
so various, so beautiful, so new,
hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
and we are here as on a darkling plain
swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
where ignorant armies clash by night.

Stranger Children

ho-chi-minh

A friend of mine wrote a sci-fi story called Stranger Children based on the quote “Politics makes for strange bedfellows”.  She thought that strange bedfellows would make for even stranger children.  There is truth in that.  Some very strange situations have emerged from political couplings.  If it is strangeness you desire play on, if it is history you seek you will gain little satisfaction from this tissue of lies.

I digress; back to strange situations, and none stranger than the American relationship with a man born on this day in 1890 by the name of Nguyễn Sinh Cung.  In the course of his life and his travels the Vietnamese revolutionary leader claimed four different birthdays and dozens of names, aliases and nicknames, from 50 to 200 names.  To his own people he is fondly remembered as Bác Hó (Uncle Ho) or simply Bác (Uncle).

In the western world he is recognised by some as Colonel Saunders, and by people who know something about history as Hó Chí Minh.  Honestly he never worked in KFC, although he did work in the USA as a cook, and a baker and as a supervisor in General Motors.  That is possibly where he learned how to be a General.

Ho Chi Minh came to be recognised by the American people as the face of Vietnam during the Vietnam War.  That was a strange war indeed.  The Americans refused to accept it was a war and tried to classify it as a police action, or technical support to defend the democratically elected government of South Vietnam against global communism.

John McCain, the Presidential Candidate, learned to his regret the very rocky ground on which you stand as a US Bomber Pilot when you are shot down over a country with which you are not at war.  He spent almost 6 years under house arrest in the 5 star Hilton Hotel in Hanoi, North Vietnam.  But he put his time to good use and he invented McCain’s Oven Chips, possibly inspired by Ho Chi Minh’s Southern Vietnamese Fried Chicken.

To the North Vietnamese, and to many in the South this was simply a war of independence.  Ho Chi Minh himself said that his loyalty was to independence and not to communism.  And this is attested to by what happened during WW2.

Ho Chi Minh helped the Americans to defeat the Japanese during the second world war.  He hoped the Americans, that bastion of freedom and democracy, would help the Vietnamese to shake off the colonial chains of their French occupiers after the war.  So in the 1940’s the USA and Ho Chi Minh were strange bedfellows.  Indeed the USA saved Uncle Ho’s life by treating him for malaria.  They saved his life so they could fight him later.  The OSS officers may also have given him the recipe for Southern Fried Chicken during this period.

The origin of the strange bedfellows quote is actually William Shakespeare in the Tempest when Trinculo, a shipwrecked sailor, beds down with Caliban, a beast, remarking “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows”.

 

What have we here? A man or a fish?
Dead or alive? A fish.
He smells like a fish, a very ancient and fish-like smell,
a kind of not-of-the-newest poor-john.
A strange fish!
Were I in England now, as once I was,
and had but this fish painted,
not a holiday fool there but would give a piece of silver.
There would this monster make a man.
Any strange beast there makes a man.
When they will not give a doit to relieve a lame beggar,
they will lay out ten to see a dead Indian.
Legged like a man and his fins like arms!
Warm, o’ my troth. I do now let loose my opinion,
hold it no longer: this is no fish,
but an islander that hath lately suffered by a thunderbolt.

Thunder.

Alas, the storm is come again! My best way is to creep under his gaberdine.
There is no other shelter hereabouts.
Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.
I will here shroud till the dregs of the storm be past.

(crawls under gaberdine)

Weatherglaze

Monoyer

If I ask if you know about Ferdinand Monoyer I’m sure I will get blank looks.  Monoyer was born on this day back in 1836 and you have probably looked at and through variants of his work many times in your life.  He invented two major things in his field of ophthalmology.  Firstly he invented the unit of measurement of the optical power of a lens: the dioptre (or diopter for Americans).

Secondly he invented an eye test chart, properly called a Monoyer Chart.  You will know if you are looking at a genuine original Monoyer chart by two clues.  Firstly the largest letters appear at the bottom.  Secondly if you read from the bottom, first letter of each row is Monoyer, and he has inserted his Christian name at the other end of the line.

Monoyer’s eponymous chart lost the competition to become the standard of the industry to a chart developed by a Dutchman named Snellen in 1862.   This has been refined to become the Logarithm of the minimum angle of resolution and that mouthful is now called the LogMAR chart.

The title of this post “weatherglaze” was the name of the largest double glazing brand in Ireland in the 1970’s when I needed to get glasses at the age of 12.  It was routinely hurled as an insult to us bespectacled boys along with other terms such as “speccy four eyes” and “double-glaze”.  Glasses were vital for me to see the blackboard in school.  I wonder how many boys (and girls) failed to achieve their potential because they could not take the bullying and let their grades slip instead.

These days in the business world we talk a lot about “lenses” as a way of seeing things clearly, bringing data into focus by looking at it through the proper “lens”.  I spend many of my days pivoting data.  So it probably comes as little surprise that when I set up my own business I chose the name Lionsai, which is the Irish Language translation of “lenses” and my logo was based on the concept of using the right lens to focus on the correct target.

FINAL LIONSAI LOGO

Courage to face despair.

argoo

Tim Severin’s reconstruction of The Odyssey Ship

Jessie Redmon Fauset was born this day, April 27th in 1882 and was one of the contributing poets to the Harlem Renaissance.   More importantly her work portrayed images of African-Americans as working professionals, challenging embedded racial stereotypes.  As literary editor of the NAACP magazine “The Crisis” she promoted the work of writers including Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen and Claude McKay.

She taught a generation of African-Americans to honestly represent their racial qualities and to celebrate them; to be black, and be proud.  She challenged the inbuilt racism of African-Americans themselves where lighter toned people looked down upon the darker and few drops of mongrel white blood were valued over pure black ichor.

She tried but was arguably less successful at teaching women to represent their gender qualities and to celebrate them.  She is now recognised for her work as a feminist and her promotion of feminist writers.

The poem below derives from Homers Odyssey and the tale of the Lotus Eaters.  But it appears Fauset has taken her cue from Alfred Lord Tennyson who wrote of Ulysses as opposed to Odysseus and used the ‘Lotos’ spelling in his poem “The Lotos-Eaters”.

Let us swear an oath, and keep it with an equal mind,
in the hollow Lotos-land to live and lie reclined
on the hills like Gods together, careless of mankind.

 

‘Courage!’ He Said; by Jessie Redmon Fauset

ULYSSES, debarking in the Lotos Land,
struck the one note that the hapless Ithacans
travel-sick, mazed, bemused, could understand,
and understanding, follow.

‘Courage,’ he said, ‘remember, is not Hope!’
He left the worn, safe ship, spume-stained and hollow.
‘To be courageous is to face despair.’
And through the groves and ‘thwart the ambient air
resounded reedy echoes:
‘Face despair!’
But this they understood.
And plunging on prepared for best, and most prepared
for worst, found only in their stride
a deep umbrageous wood,
and grassy plains where they disported; eased
and bathed lame’ feet within a purling stream
and murmured: ‘Here, Odysseus, would we fain abide!’
But neither the stream’s sweet ease
nor the shade of the vast beech-trees,
nor the blessed sense
of the sweet, sweet soil
beneath feet salt-cracked and worn
brought to them even then,
(still fainting and frayed and forlorn),
such complete recompense
as the knowledge that once again
facing the new and untried,
they had kept the courage of men!

President Planck

planking_01

Planking Craze of 2008-2011

Max Karl Ernst Ludwig Planck is famous for many things, but he had nothing to do with the Planking craze that swept the globe in the late noughties.

Born on April 23rd, 1858 Max Planck was the foremost German physicist of his day.  Nobel prize winner in 1918 for his work in quantum theory.  He was a president of the Prussian Academy of Sciences, the German Physical Society and the Kaiser Wilhelm Society which became the Max Planck Society which operates 87 Max Planck Institutes for research into the sciences.

It was Arthur Conan Doyle who said: Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius.  He could have directed it at Planck.  When Albert Einstein published his three epoch defining papers in 1905 Planck was one of the first to recognise their worth.  With the influence he carried in German academia it guaranteed recognition for Einstein.

He kept company with the premier quantum physicsts of his day, often hosting them in his own home.  The Copenhagen set of Bohr, Heisenberg and Pauli and the opposing team of Schrödinger, Laue, and Einstein with whom Planck aligned.

Religious fundamentalists love to quote Planck.  He said “As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about atoms this much: There is no matter as such. All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent spirit. This spirit is the matrix of all matter.

He also said: “Both religion and science require a belief in God. For believers, God is in the beginning, and for physicists He is at the end of all considerations… To the former He is the foundation, to the latter, the crown of the edifice of every generalized world view

But the fundamentalists avoid this one: “.. ‘to believe’ means ‘to recognize as a truthand the knowledge of nature, continually advancing on incontestably safe tracks, has made it utterly impossible for a person possessing some training in natural science to recognize as founded on truth the many reports of extraordinary occurrences contradicting the laws of nature, of miracles which are still commonly regarded as essential supports and confirmations of religious doctrines, and which formerly used to be accepted as facts pure and simple, without doubt or criticism. The belief in miracles must retreat step by step before relentlessly and reliably progressing science and we cannot doubt that sooner or later it must vanish completely“.

Happy Birthday Michael D. Higgins

Happy 77th birthday, President Higgins - Top 10 Michael D moments

Michael D. Higgins was born on this day in 1941.

He is the 9th president of Ireland and is in every way the polar opposite of the chimp in chief who currently serves as President of the U.S.A.

Higgins, a son of Limerick,  is a successful Galway University academic with post-graduate degrees awarded in the USA.  He is a fluent speaker of English, Irish and Spanish.  He gave up his academic career to concentrate on politics in the 1970’s.  He served the Labour party in Ireland and is a lifelong socialist.

He served as a Senator, a TD (Irish Member of Parliament), Government Minister and  Mayor of Galway before being elected President of Ireland.

He uses his time in the presidency to address issues of justice, social equality, social inclusion, anti-sectarianism, anti-racism and reconciliation. He made the first state visit by an Irish president to the United Kingdom in April 2014.  He has welcomed the British Royal Family to his home in the Phoenix Park.  He is famous for his two beautiful dogs who seem to participate in every state occassion at the Park.

As president he demonstrates understanding, leadership, care for the common good, tolerance, inclusion and collaboration – as I say the exact opposite of POTUS on every measure.  He is modest, accessible and approachable.  He casts a very long shadow for a man of small stature.  He is the very best of Ireland.  And he is a poet.

Take Care; by Michael D. Higgins

In the journey to the light,
the dark moments
should not threaten.
Belief
requires
that you hold steady.
Bend, if you will,
with the wind.
The tree is your teacher,
roots at once
more firm
from experience
in the soil
made fragile.
Your gentle dew will come
and a stirring
of power
to go on
towards the space
of sharing.
In the misery of the I,
in rage,
it is easy to cry out
against all others
but to weaken
is to die
in the misery of knowing
the journey abandoned
towards the sharing
of all human hope
and cries
is the loss
of all we know
of the divine
reclaimed
for our shared
humanity.
Hold firm.
Take care.
Come home
together.

Michael D Higgins Reveals His Dog Died And Was Secretly Replaced

We are what we do.

Change the World for a Fiver by We Are What We Do

In 2004 an organisation called WeAreWhatWeDo.Org published a book on how to change the world for a fiver.  At the heart of this philosophy is the concept of the “Parlour General, Field Deserter” so beautifully encapsulated by Marge Piercy (Happy Birthday Marge)

The Parlour General is also called a slacktivist.  Slacktivism is defined as: the practice of supporting a political or social cause by means such as social media or online petitions, characterized as involving very little effort or commitment.

The Slactivist is the person who constantly forwards touchy feely motivational posts on social media, wears the French Flag and sticks “Je Suis Charlie” on their profile, tags posts with #MeToo or #IBelieveHer but never actually gets off their backside to do anything about these causes.

So today figure out the cause that is most important to you and ask “What can I do?”  Not on social media.  What can you actually do?  The answer today is nothing because you are in lockdown, but prepare for the day you can get out.  Then act.

 

To Be Of Use; by Marge Piercy

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

Dissemination of Information

Chinese Typewriter

In every era, in every area, there emerge individual geniuses.  In economic terms the success of society lies in harnessing the output of these individuals, and this seems to come down to three major considerations:  Dissemination, Collaboration and Enabling.

Europe had no great advantage in the world of the High Middle Ages.  China and the Ottoman Empire enjoyed many advantages over the Europeans.  What changed the game for Europe was the printing press, which disseminated information widely.

The printing press was a chinese invention.  The chinese long used wood carved block prints to copy books and playing cards etc.  They even invented a moveable type block printing press.  But the technology was unsuited to the Chinese alphabet.  As an example look at the photo of a Chinese typewriter above.  It is a laborious and time consuming process to hunt down the correct character and type it onto the page.  Touch typing is not an option and speed typing is out of the question.

Out of pure serendipity the moveable type press was perfectly suited to European alphabets.  Once it was trialled it became clear immediately that printed books, pamphlets and periodicals were here to stay.

What followed was an explosion in the availability of knowledge.  When Petrarch wanted books in the 14th Century he had to delve into the basements of churches all over Europe to unearth old copies of Roman and Greek originals.  150 years later Erasmus was able to buy books from a printer.  Universities could expand their libraries from 100’s to 1,000’s of texts.

Universities were the centres of the second consideration; collaboration.  Before the arrival of the university collaboration occured only when a wealthy patron collected scholars in his court.  Usually this was done by rulers because few people have the resources to bankroll a room full of scholars.

A university is a financial model which takes income from students to bankroll the collaborative research of the senior academics.  It is the perfect collaboration engine.  These days we also have collaboration in other forms, but behind closed doors.  When the military brings “intelligence” together they have no intention of sharing the results widely.  Similarly private corporations are motivated to protect their intellectual property from the competition.  Only Universities, with the “publish or perish” mantra are motivated first and foremost by collaboration to expand the human body of knowledge.

Enabling is the final consideration of the three.  A salutory lesson in how important enabling is lies with the Arabic world.  When the first European presses were printing bibles and selling like hot cakes a printer in Venice looked east for a fresh market.  He printed a Koran.

When the Ummah, the controlling body of Islam, saw this first attempt they were horrified.  As with early bibles the printed Koran contained errors.  Instead of working to fix the errors the Sultanate banned printing in the Ottoman Empire.  The result of this decision was to plunge the Arab world into a technological backwater.  From being one of the most advanced centres of maths, astronomy, physics, geography etc they lost pace against the West becoming the “Sick Man of Europe”.

Enabling academics involves accepting that they can have some theories that people find uncomfortable.  During the “McCarthy Era” with Reds under the Beds and the Hollywood blacklist in operation many academics with socialist leanings in the USA found themselves under investigation.  That is not the environment that stimulates research.

Today, in particular in the USA, certain pressure groups use social media to “expose” academics in an attempt to close them down.  These attacks mostly come from the religious right and many are motivated by a distinctly anti-academic faith based approach to learning which runs exactly counter to scientific method.  The 1925 Scopes trial on the teaching of Darwinism in Highschool is the most famous instance, and these attacks persist to this day.

Anti-intellectualism is a universal tool of populism of both the left and the right.  Nazis and Communists are equally enthusiastic in the burning of books they dislike.  They share this fetish with religous fundamentalists of all creeds.

Beware anyone who opposes the dissemination of information.