A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘human beings

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

  • Anthropology.net notes the discovery of some Neanderthal skeletons showing signs of having had the flesh carved off of them.
  • Centauri Dreams looks at the messages carried by the New Horizon probe.
  • Crooked Timber makes the case for the continued relevance of Bob Marley.
  • The Dragon’s Tales looks at recurrent streams on Mars carved by perchlorate-laced water.
  • A Fistful of Euros’ Edward Hugh argues that Spain is still digging out of the long crisis.
  • Joe. My. God. notes the story of a Louisiana trans man fired from his job for not detransitioning.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes that China is not really a revisionist power.
  • Justin Petrone looks at ways in which young Estonian children are demonstrating and developing a fear of Russia.
  • The Planetary Society Blog examines the failure of the Dragon rocket.
  • Towleroad notes that the Russian-language version of Siri is quite homophobic.
  • Understanding Society looks at the criticial realist social theory of Frédéric Vandenberghe.
  • Window on Eurasia looks at trends in violence in the North Caucasus and warns of Central Asian alienation from Russia.

[BLOG] Some Friday links

  • At Acts of Minor Treason, Andrew Barton is very unhappy with the misuse of the Hugo Award.
  • Anthropology.net notes that DNA has been retrieved from an ancient and mostly fossilized Neanderthal fossil.
  • Centauri Dreams examines the early history of the Milky Way Galaxy.
  • Crooked Timber looks at the controversies over religious liberty.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze considers how extraterrestrial life can be detected through disequilibria in exoplanet atmosphere and notes the recent Alpha Centauri B study.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes that by 2018 a laser will be deployed on a drone.
  • Geocurrents shares slides from a recent lecture on Yemen.
  • Language Hat examines the Yiddish word “khnyok”.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money considers the Republican race.
  • Marginal Revolution notes the unpopularity of political jobs among young Americans.
  • The Planetary Society Blog notes SpaceX’s problem with retrieving the first stages of its rockets.
  • Torontoist looks at beekeeping in Toronto.
  • Towleroad notes a Kickstarter fundraiser for Emil Cohen’s photos of queer life in Providence.
  • Transit Toronto notes the expansion of free WiFi throughout the subway system.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy notes that divorce papers can be served via Facebook if it is the most practical alternative.
  • Window on Eurasia fears a summertime Russian attack on Ukraine, notes Russian fears of rebellion at home, and looks at Russian Internet censorship.
  • The World’s Gideon Rachman wonders if the Greek demand for Second World War reparations will bring the Eurozone crisis to a head.
  • Yorkshire Ranter Alex Harrowell notes the essential lack of difference on government spending between Labour and the Tories and looks at flawed computer databases.

[BRIEF NOTE] On how the Germanwings crash shows how much we depend on trust

The news today that the crash in the French Alps of Germanwings Flight 9525 was almost certainly caused intentionally by co-pilot Andreas Lubitz was the talk of much of the world today. News media around the world, and investigators in Europe, are already dissecting the life of one apparently normal young man who not only decided to kill himself but to murder 149 other people. Why did he do this?

When I first heard of the plane’s odd course yesterday, its calm preprogrammed descent into a cold mountainside, I thought of William Langewische’s November 2001 article in The Atlantic examining the 1999 crash EgyptAir Flight 990. That plane, too, was intentionally crashed by its pilot, one Gameel al-Batouti. The consensus seems to be that al-Batouti killed hundreds of people because of personal problems, the consequences of reprimands from his employers at EgyptAir ranking highly. What will we find out about Lubitz?

This intentional crash, this mass murder, seems to have created a certain sense of unease. Philip Gourevitch’s essay in The New Yorker, “A Bewildering Crash”, caught the reality that, from the perspective of victims and non-victims alike, this seemed almost a random occurrence. These people died for no reason, and nothing could have been done to prevent this.

They could have been any of us, anywhere—whoever flies or rides a train or takes a bus or in any way entrusts her life to strangers, as we all must regularly and routinely to get through this world. That sense of investment in calamity—it could have been me—is true, of course, of accidents and targeted acts of terrorism as well. But to be told that a scene of mass death is the result of an accident or terrorism is to be given not only an explanation of the cause but also an idea of how to reckon with the consequence–through justice, or revenge, or measures meant to prevent a recurrence. After the massacre at Sandy Hook, we could at least dream of gun control. But the story of Lubitz, suddenly in control of a plane flying all those aboard to their deaths, offers us only a cosmic meaninglessness and bewilderment.

It would almost be more comforting if the Germanwings crash did turn out to be some sort of terrorist attack, after all, if this terrible action can trace its roots to some sort of dark conspiracy. It would almost be nice if, as seems quite possible, this wasn’t the action of a single man who had a single bad morning and decided, kilometres above the ground, to commit mass murder. Then, there would be a proportionality between the act and its origins. Things would match up. As things stand, as James Follows observed earlier today, there really is very little that can be done to prevent future occurrences of this sort.

But then, this sort of thing is common in all catastrophes of this kind. Look at September 11th conspiracy theories, particularly the ones alleging the active involvement of the American government. Yes, it would be a terrible thing if there was a conspiracy by powerful people in the United States to destroy two skyscrapers at the cost of thousands of lives in order to manipulate global politics, but at least the terrible outcomes of 9/11 would seem to have proportionately weighty origins. The reality of 9/11–the fact that a couple dozen men working on a shoestring budget directed by people on the other side of the planet could wreak such havoc, could change the world–demonstrates how fragile our civilization is.

If Germanwings 9525 means anything, it is as an illustration of the reality that modern globalized civilization relies on the good will of its members to avoid catastrophe. Knowing about this fragility is unsettling, I grant, but it’s rather better to know about this than to remain in ignorance. We need to be prepared.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 27, 2015 at 3:47 am

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

  • Gerry Canavan produces his own compendium of interesting links.
  • Centauri Dreams speculates about the colours indicative of extraterrestrial life, and ecologies.
  • Crooked Timber takes a look at Northern Ireland and the legacies of past violence.
  • The Dragon’s Tales reports on a hominid fossil that may indicate a much greater diversity in our ancestral gene pool than we thought.
  • A Fistful of Euros’ Edward Hugh wonders when the European Central Bank will start to taper interest rates.
  • The Frailest Thing warns that the promises of tech giants to free people from the shackles of the past should be seen critically.
  • On St. Patrick’s Day, Joe. My. God. and Michael in Norfolk both note the extent to which attitudes towards GLBT people in Ireland have changed.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money wonders about the good sense of going off of anti-depressants.
  • Marginal Revolution’s Tyler Cowen proclaims Scarborough to be one of the world’s best food cities.
  • Savage Minds makes the case for anthropologists to aid the post-cyclone people of Vanuatu.
  • Spacing interviews the NDP’s Thomas Mulcair on urban issues.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy’s David Bernstein is unhappy at the consequences for Israel of Netanyahu’s reelection, while Lawyers, Guns and Money looks at income disparities in Israel.
  • Window on Eurasia argues that high inequality and low social mobility in Russia will doom the country, notes the potential for water-driven conflict in Central Asia, and notes Russian interest in acquiring more slots of Muslim pilgrims after Crimea’s annexation.

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

  • The Big Picture looks at the uses of oil barrels around the world.
  • blogTO wonders if the Annex is ready for a condo boom.
  • Centauri Dreams features a guest post from Andrew Lepage noting how odd spectra on Mars were misidentified as proof of life.
  • Crooked Timber notes a student occupation of the University of Amsterdam’s headquarters.
  • Discover‘s The Crux makes a poor argument that space probe visits to Pluto and Ceres will lead to the redefinition of these worlds as planets.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze looks at an odd pulsating hot subdwarf B star with a brown dwarf.
  • The Dragon’s Tales suggests chemical mechanisms for life on Titan, and explains the differences in water plumes between Europa and Enceladus.
  • A Fistful of Euros notes political conflict in Germany.
  • Discover‘s Inkfist notes that birds from harsher climates are smarters.
  • Joe. My. God. shares Madonna’s critique of ageism.
  • Languages of the World examines the genesis of the English language.
  • Marginal Revolution notes Japanese funerals for robots, suggests Facebook usage makes people less happy, and notes family formation in Europe.
  • John Moyer examines punctuation.
  • Steve Munro maps out routes for a Scarborough subway.
  • The Planetary Society Blog looks at science on Pluto.
  • pollotenchegg maps the distribution of ethnically mixed households in Ukraine.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer looks at how Panama successfully made use of price controls, and why.
  • Progressive Download’s John Farrell wonders what is the rush for three-parent IVF therapy.
  • Transit Toronto explains how old TTC tickets can be exchanged.
  • Window on Eurasia notes the importance of Belarus for the Baltic States, notes the newly-debatable borders of the former Soviet Union, suggests Tatarstan is unhappy with Russian federalism, and looks at the small grounds for Russian-Ukrainian hostilities.

[LINK] “Real Paleo Diet: Early Hominids Ate Just About Everything”

At IFL Science, Ken Sayers notes that, far from cleaving to the paleo diet in vogue now, early hominids have a diverse omnivorous diet.

Reconstructions of human evolution are prone to simple, overly-tidy scenarios. Our ancestors, for example, stood on two legs to look over tall grass, or began to speak because, well, they finally had something to say. Like much of our understanding of early hominid behavior, the imagined diet of our ancestors has also been over-simplified.

Take the trendy Paleo Diet which draws inspiration from how people lived during the Paleolithic or Stone Age that ran from roughly 2.6 million to 10,000 years ago. It encourages practitioners to give up the fruits of modern culinary progress – such as dairy, agricultural products and processed foods – and start living a pseudo-hunter-gatherer lifestyle, something like Lon Chaney Jr. in the film One Million BC. Adherents recommend a very specific “ancestral” menu, replete with certain percentages of energy from carbohydrates, proteins and fats, and suggested levels of physical activity. These prescriptions are drawn mainly from observations of modern humans who live at least a partial hunter-gatherer existence.

But from a scientific standpoint, these kinds of simple characterizations of our ancestors’ behavior generally don’t add up. Recently, fellow anthropologist C. Owen Lovejoy and I took a close look at this crucial question in human behavioral evolution: the origins of hominid diet. We focused on the earliest phase of hominid evolution from roughly 6 to 1.6 million years ago, both before and after the first use of modified stone tools. This time frame includes, in order of appearance, the hominids Ardipithecus and Australopithecus, and the earliest members of our own genus, the comparatively brainy Homo. None of these were modern humans, which appeared much later, but rather our distant forerunners.

We examined the fossil, chemical and archaeological evidence, and also closely considered the foraging behavior of living animals. Why is this crucial? Observing animals in nature for even an hour will provide a ready answer: almost all of what an organism does on a daily basis is simply related to staying alive; that includes activities such as feeding, avoiding predators and setting itself up to reproduce. That’s the evolutionary way.

[. . .]

Researchers Tom Hatley and John Kappelman noted in 1980 that hominids have bunodont – low, with rounded cusps – back teeth that show much in common with bears and pigs. If you’ve watched these animals forage, you know they’ll eat just about anything: tubers, fruits, leafy materials and twigs, invertebrates, honey and vertebrate animals, whether scavenged or hunted. The percentage contribution of each food type to the diet will depend (you guessed it) on the energetic value of specific foods in specific habitats, at specific times of year. Evidence from the entirety of human evolution suggests that our ancestors, and even we as modern humans, are just as omnivorous.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 2, 2015 at 10:18 pm

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

  • blogTO notes that loads of new streetcars should arrive this year for the TTC.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to one paper examining the impact of colliding stellar winds in a close binary on habitable planets, links to another examining how habitable planets gets their water, and wonders about the insights provided by the HR 8799 planetary system into water delivery.
  • The Dragon’s Tales links to a paper arguing that Enceladus’ subsurface ocean is made of alkaline soda water.
  • Joe. My. God. notes a claim by some British scientists that it may be possible, with foreseeable genetic engineering, to create children with two same-sex parents.
  • Languages of the World’s Asya Perelstvaig looks into what Broca’s area of the brain actually means for human language.
  • Marginal Revolution notes that the woman-dominated area of health care is a growth area for middle-class employment in the United States.
  • Otto Pohl notes that yesterday was the 71st anniversary of the deportation of the Chechens and the Ingush.
  • pollotenchegg maps industrial production in Ukraine.
  • Will Baird argues at The Power and the Money that the Minsk Accord is crumbling and examines the reasons for Chinese support of Russia.
  • Spacing Toronto’s John Lorinc worries about corporate sponsorship of ice rinks.
  • Torontoist notes that Massey Hall has begun its renovations.
  • Towleroad notes a Texan legislator who wants to make it illegal for trans people to use public washrooms.
  • Transit Toronto observes that the Union-Pearson Express is undergoing test runs.
  • Window on Eurasia worries about the potential for a minority of Russians in Latvia’s eastern Latgale province to start trouble.
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