Friday, August 24, 2018

Once upon a time in Siberia

The photograph shows the view from Denisova cave in Siberia, the only place where fossils of Neanderthals and Denisovans have been found together. Credit MPI-EVA for this photograph and BBC News for this story.
To truly know who you are
you must know your origins
Once upon a time a very / very / very long time ago, two early humans of different ancestry met at a cave in Russia.
Some 50,000 years later, scientists have confirmed that they had a daughter together. DNA extracted from bone fragments found in the cave show the girl was the offspring of a Neanderthal mother and a Denisovan father.
The discovery, reported in Nature, gives a rare insight into the lives of our closest ancient human relatives. Neanderthals and Denisovans were humans like us, but belonged to different species.
"We knew from previous studies that Neanderthals and Denisovans must have occasionally had children together," says Dr. Viviane Slon, researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI-EVA) in Leipzig, Germany. "But I never thought we would be so lucky as to find an actual offspring of the two groups."
Present-day, non-African humans have a small proportion of their DNA that comes from Neanderthals. Some other non-African populations, depending on where they live, also have a fraction of their DNA that comes from an Asian people known as Denisovans. The fact the genes have been passed down the generations shows that interbreeding must have happened.
However, the only known site where fossil evidence of both Denisovans and Neanderthals has been found is at Denisova cave in the Altai Mountains of Siberia. And very few -- less than 20 -- so-called archaic humans (those belonging to species other than our own, Homo sapiens) have had their genomes sequenced.
"Out of this very little number we find one individual that has half-and-half mixed ancestry," Dr. Slon told BBC News. When other studies are taken into account, "you start to get a picture that over all of our evolutionary history humans always mixed with each other."
The cave was inhabited by a hermit, Dionisij (Denis), in the Eighteenth Century and was named after him. In the 1970s, Soviet scientists discovered paleoarcheological remains in the cave that led to further explorations. So far, 22 strata have been identified, with archeological artifacts that cover the time from Dionisij back to about 125,000–180,000 years ago.
Neanderthals and Denisovans are known to have overlapped in time in Eurasia. The two groups lived until about 40,000 years ago; Neanderthals in the west and Denisovans in the east. As Neanderthals migrated eastwards, they may have encountered Denisovans at times, as well as early modern humans.
"Neanderthals and Denisovans may not have had many opportunities to meet," says Svante Pääbo, director of MPI-EVA. "But when they did, they must have mated frequently -- much more so than we previously thought."
The girl's story has been pieced together from a single fragment of bone found in the Denisova cave by Russian archaeologists several years ago. It was brought to Leipzig for genetic analysis.
"The fragment is part of a long bone, and we can estimate that this individual was at least 13 years old," says Bence Viola of the University of Toronto.
The researchers deduced that the girl's mother was genetically closer to Neanderthals who lived in western Europe than to a Neanderthal individual who lived earlier in Denisova Cave. This shows that Neanderthals migrated between western and eastern Europe and Asia tens of thousands of years before they died out. Genetic tests also revealed that the Denisovan father had at least one Neanderthal ancestor further back in his family tree.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

A perennial candidate & Brazilian music

Harold Edward Stassen wanted to be president of the United States. He kept on trying .... and trying .... and trying .... never to attain his no doubt burning ambition. The photograph on the left shows Stassen around 1950 when he was in his early forties; the second photograph shows him a number of years later. I do not know exactly how many years, but he looks pretty much as he did when I interviewed him. And, yes, that is a wig / a toupee he is wearing. It was not a good one and I thought he looked rather comical with it on .... but, he was his own man and did what wanted to please himself.
I ordinarily have a relationship or association of sorts between the words and the illustration and the music. There is none this time .... at least none I can imagine. Victor and Leo are a Brazilian sertanejo duo made up of the brothers Vitor Chaves Zapalá Pimentel and Leonardo Chaves Zapalá Pimentel. The brothers did a tour in the United States in 2009 and another was announced for this year .... but, so far, evidently nothing has been scheduled. I think their music is interesting and pleasing .... how about you?
The man who would be president
Ever hear of Harold Stassen?
Probably not.
Unless you are from Minnesota or, maybe, from Pennsylvania or a student of political history.
Harold Edward Stassen was famous -- or infamous, as some would say -- in Minnesota as a perennial candidate.
Stassen was born in West Saint Paul, graduated from the University of Minnesota and became district attorney for Dakota County (in which I currently am hanging out) and, in 1938 at age thirty-one (31), he was elected governor -- the youngest individual to hold that office in Minnesota.
Stassen won re-election in 1940 and 1942, but then resigned to serve in the United States Navy during World War II. He became president of the University of Pennsylvania after the war. In 1948, he sought the Republican presidential nomination and actually had a number of delegates at the convention. Thomas Dewey was the man chosen by the GOP to represent that party against Harry Truman of the Democratic Party. I think we all know who won that presidential race.
Stassen went on to unsuccessfully campaign for positions as the governor of both Pennsylvania and Minnesota, for mayor of Philadelphia, and for both representative and senator in Minnesota. He did some of these things multiple times.
Was that enough to deter Stassen? Not by a longer than long shot.
Stassen continuously ran for the Republican nomination for the presidency: 1964, 1968, 1976, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000 ....
For those unaware, candidates for political office have a habit of turning up at newspapers, radio stations and television buildings just as they do on residential doorsteps. The wiser or, perhaps, the craftier ones contact the offices to arrange a time convenient for both parties, but "walk-ins" are very common.
I had the opportunity (assignment, actually) to interview Stassen during his final presidential bid when he did an unannounced walk-in at the newspaper where I worked. My thought as the interview began was, "Lucky me, interviewing a man who does not know when the time has arrived for him to fade quietly away."
As the interview went on, I began to admire Stassen for his persistence and his unwillingness to let go of what obviously was a lifelong ambition -- to be president of the U.S. -- and to wonder where he found the strength and the will to do it after encountering defeat after defeat.
Stassen died at age ninety-three (93) in Bloomington, Minnesota, an unfulfilled man -- at least in a presidential sense. He was a Baptist who said much of his political thought came from his religious beliefs and who gained a reputation as a liberal. In 1963, for instance, he joined Martin Luther King in his march on Washington, D.C.
I am not at all sure why the thought of Harold Stassen entered my mind a few days ago. I suppose it is because I sense I am at another turning point in my life -- another crossroad -- and wonder what someone like Stassen would have done: Toss in the towel of surrender and fade away gracefully or persist onward toward whatever ....
Silly (as in "idiotic") question .... I know what Stassen did .... he stayed true to himself until death claimed him. Just as I know what I will do .... press ever onward and forward to whatever is there waiting for me ....

Saturday, August 18, 2018

"There's never been any reason"

Today is Buddy Boy's sort of birthday. Being a shelter/rescue dog, there is no record that I have been able to locate which has his date of birth, but he arrived here to live with me on August 18, 2016, so "we" decided that date could be his ex officio birthday. He is shown here reclining on one of his birthday presents (a duramesh, elevated bed) while chewing on another (a bacon-flavored bone). He seems pleased with his gifts .... his party will begin promptly at 7:00 p.m., with cake served at 8:00, if any of you happen to be in the neighborhood. The "entertainment" this time is a blend of a poem by Rudyard Kipling and two songs, one from the band, Head East, and the other by Ricky Nelson. Buddy and I like them; we hope you do, too ....
Lines from the song
"Garden Party"
composed & recorded
by Ricky Nelson
But it's all right now,
I've learned my lesson well
you see, you can't please everyone,
so you've got to please yourself ....
How does one measure one's relevance?
If you see a man staring rather intently at you, it might be me.
Somewhere along the road, I began to notice the absolute differences in individual faces. Possibly, that is one reason the word "individual" was born. Actually, one dictionary cites this as the origin of the word: "Late Middle English (in the sense 'indivisible'): from medieval Latin individualis, from Latin individuus, from in- 'not' + dividuus 'divisible' (from dividere 'to divide')."
Got that straight?
Prior to my sort of obsession with the differences among people, I was focused on their similarities. I think it was an early interest in genetics in the sense of the complexity of human origins and the absolutely fantastic numbers of primates (of which we are one) who have roamed the Earth which led me onto the trail of differences. The evolutionary tree which leads to us includes the Ardipithecus, the Australopithecus, the Paranthropus and the Homo groups.
Our "little clan" of Homo sapiens has been around only for an estimated 300,000 years, but because of the billions of years of evolution, humans share genes with all living organisms. (I do not hold all this information in my "memory banks," but innate curiosity and learned ability to read come in handy quite often .... in fact, I think of them as indispensable tools.)
An interesting element regarding DNA testing is that it is quickly realized everyone has varying as well as similar genetic patterns, even brothers and sisters of the same parents.
If you ever wish to measure your relevance, try to put your lifetime in perspective to those numbers and to the generations of individual "evolving creatures" which have come and gone during them. The weight of the thought of them and of their collective experiences of happiness and sorrow / pleasure and pain / victory and defeat crushes me emotionally and, in a sense, spiritually .... my mind is too puny to grasp it all ....
I suppose the sum and substance of this is that as I began to learn more about how different we all are from each other inside our bodies, I began to take greater notice of the differences outside our bodies -- especially in the obvious .... in the faces .... make sense?




Friday, August 10, 2018

View from Inspiration Point in Yosemite

Being the curious sort, I searched for a photograph of the Jeffery Pine by Carleton Watkins, the first to publish such a print. Unable to find one, I selected another from Watkins which offers the same view of Yosemite National Park as the one taken by Ansel Adams and which appeared here on August 6. Yosemite became a state park in 1864 and a national park in 1890. This photograph was taken in 1879 and is displayed at the Princeton University Art Museum. Watkins, although not well known beyond photographic circles, was one of the premier early western photographers.
In 1933 Ernest Hemingway published a short story entitled, "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place." In it are the lines: "He disliked bars and bodegas. A clean, well-lighted café was a very different thing. Now, without thinking further, he would go home to his room. He would lie in the bed and finally, with daylight, he would go to sleep." Those lines and the story itself are very profound in the sense of seeing into the core of the soul of some individuals.
I sort of think of vistas that way. Views of humankind monuments made to themselves are something I do not much care for; views revealing the splendor of Nature are something I find magnificent and adore. This panorama is one such sight .... it sort of reminds me of the final lines in a 1913/1914 poem about trees by Joyce Kilmer:
"Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree."  
Well, do you?
What is the "prime of life?"
There probably is no real answer to that question, only a number of words which sort of define elements of it.
Simone Lucie Ernestine Marie Bertrand de Beauvoir wrote a book using those words as the title. It was the second book of a four-volume autobiography. In a sentence, she was the "girl friend" of Jean-Paul Sartre. In a longer sentence, she was the writer of novels, essays, biographies, autobiography and monographs on philosophy, politics and social issues -- and, the companion / the confidant of Jean-Paul Sartre. I did not remember all the types of material she wrote .... I ran across them on the internet. Actually, I have read very little of her work, which, I suppose, is my loss. She obviously was a very talented woman who lived a very fascinating life.
Whatever .... this post is about the "prime of life," not about Simone .... another day, maybe, for her.
I have been thinking about the "prime of life" in context to myself and my own. I suppose this sort of stuff should fall under the category of not taking oneself too seriously .... which is difficult for me since everything about life seems complicated and serious to me.
Whatever ....
I think the bottom line is that although it has taken more than a few years, I finally have figured out that I will not live forever and have come to accept it.
Better late than never .... right?
Then again, I suppose it is possible I am imagining and/or dreaming things and that I will live forever .... maybe?
As Henry II said at the close of the play, "The Lion in Winter," to Eleanor of Aquitaine: "You know, I hope we never die."
Eleanor: "I hope so, too."
Henry: "You think there's any chance of it?"
The play ends then with no response from Eleanor .... do you? Think there is any chance of it?

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Three days in a row .... three

Today's entry from the camera of Ansel Adams is (was) the Jeffery Pine on Sentinel Dome in Yosemite National Park. Adams took this photograph in 1940. I use the word "was" because the tree toppled in 2003. Carleton Watkins, one of the most highly acclaimed early western photographers, was the first to publish a photograph of the tree in 1867. It was estimated to be about four hundred (400) years old at the time of its demise.

Our musical selection this time around is, "Try Me." This song is, I think, one of the most beautiful ballads ever composed. This song is among the reasons I believe UFO should be given much more recognition as one of the great bands of its era. Michael Schenker, Paul Raymond and Phil Mogg wrote this piece. I hope you will take the time to listen to it. I cannot imagine that you would not like it ....

That guy is a scallywag
Remember when I wrote about interpretations of the word "silly?" Well, back to this sort of stuff again with another word: Scallywag = variant of scalawag.
Different sources provide varying definitons:
  • A person who behaves badly, but in an amusingly mischievous rather than harmful way; a rascal.
  • A bad person -- a person who does harm to others.
  • A scoundrel, villain -- a wicked or evil person; someone who does evil deliberately.
  • One who is playfully mischievous.
These do not include the original historical use of the word, which is (was): "A white Southerner who collaborated with northern Republicans during Reconstruction, often for personal profit. The term was used derisively by white Southern Democrats who opposed Reconstruction legislation."
If someone uses the word without further elaboration, especially in a written context, how is another going to interpret the word? Almost certainly not in the historical context. Based on my own education and experience, I probably would think/choose either the second or the third examples, as opposed to the first or the fourth.
Or, having a background in studying and teaching and extensively reading history, I might think of the historical definition. Not likely, but, whatever .... and, who would know with certainty without elaboration?

Monday, August 6, 2018

Three days in a row .... two

The second offering from the camera of Ansel Adams is this view of the majestic scenery within Yosemite National Park. Visible in the photograph are some of the notable landmarks within the park: El Capitan (left), Sentinel Rock (sort of center in the far distance), Cathedral Rocks (three of them center/right) and Bridalveil Fall (sort of closest center/right). I am not at all certain if my attempt at describing the location of these landmarks helped, but I tried ....

The UFO performance for today is from a 1974 concert -- four songs and twenty minutes of "wish I had been there." Michael Schenker, one of the "gods of the guitar" (I write those words with a chuckle), is the long-haired, blonde, teenage kid playing lead guitar. He still is performing today and I saw him a couple of years ago when the "Michael Schenker Band" swung through the Twin Cities for a one-night stand.

A very brief history of the shower

As I was taking a shower this morning (not too early, mind you), I began to wonder when they originated. No doubt, before the dawn of history, I surmised, as I had visions of Neanderthals and Denisovans and even pre-human ancestors standing in enchantment with a broad smile beneath a waterfall admiring the wonders of Nature and enjoying the marvelous feeling of water running over their bodies.

This, obviously, was the case. Being a bit more curious, I turned to the oracle of today -- the internet -- and learned recorded evidence demonstrates that Egyptians and Mesopotamians had indoor shower rooms. And, everyone (I assume) is aware of the "Old Greeks" and their propensity for bathing and showering, and that the ancient Romans took with them their "thermae" -- bathhouses -- wherever they went in the world as they knew it then.

Moving to the North American continent, I can sort of visualize the Native Americans of ages past and, more recently, early explorers standing beneath Bridalveil Fall in Yosemite National Park as seen in the far distance of the photograph by Ansel Adams accompanying this post.

In terms of the "modern/mechanical" shower, it was patented in England in 1767 by an individual named William Feetham. For that, I enthusiastically and sincerely thank you, Willie ....

Personally, I cannot imagine life without the presence of the shower. There are times when I think of the billions who have existed since humankind and its predecessors came down out of the trees who never experienced a shower during their lifetimes. I feel sorry for them .... I mean, really, I do ....

When I am in a shower, I never want to leave it. No amount of adjectives can describe the physical and the mental feelings/pleasures derived from being within a shower. I guess I will say a shower is absolute delight, and let it go at that ....

There is no need to thank me for this bit of Monday morning enlightment. I consider it to be my sort of "good deed" for the day. So, now .... rock on, baby ....

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Three days in a row .... one

It is said imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. It also is said that some forms of imitation are plagiarism and against the law. Well .... whatever ....
Beginning today, I am running three photographs by Ansel Adams -- one each day, three days in a row. If you never have heard of him, do some research. If you think of yourself as a serious photographer and never have heard of him, shame on you. When I fancied myself as sort of a semi-serious photographer, I admired his work and "stole" some of his ideas (which he probably had stolen from someone else, such as photographing the same view during different seasons and under differing conditions). Today's entry is one of his many shots from Yosemite National Park, obviously under cloudy circumstances on a wintery, snowy day.
Accompanying Adam's photographs will be some random thoughts from me and a song each of the three days from UFO, one of the legend bands among rock 'n' roll aficionados and a group which I believe is vastly underrated, but greatly influential.
Ever hear of ????
Ever read anything by Victor Davis Hanson?
Perhaps, I should ask, ever heard of Victor Davis Hanson?
He is an anomaly in the sense that he is a teacher of classicism and a writer and a military historian (among other things) who is a registered member of the Democratic Party while advocating traditional conservative positions. He, like me, maintains that today's Democrats are not your grandparent's Democrats. My favorite quote by Hanson is this: "The Democratic Party reminds me of the Republicans circa 1965 or so -- impotent, shrill, no ideas, conspiratorial, reactive, out-of-touch with most Americans, isolationist, and full of embarrassing spokesmen."
Do not panic .... do not even worry. I am not about to launch into a tirade about the Democratic Party or fill you with tedious facts about the life and times and beliefs of Hanson. I merely wanted to alert you to his existence and to suggest you might want to read a book or two he has written. The man turns out books faster than I can read them.
Two of his books I would recommend are: "Bonfire of the Humanities: Rescuing the Classics in an Impoverished Age," and, "The Savior Generals: How Five Great Commanders Saved Wars That Were Lost -- From Ancient Greece to Iraq."
If you do delve into Hanson, my advice would be for you to be prepared for some serious stuff and to enter with an open mind ....

Something special ....