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Miscellaneous Items from 2014:                        to enlarge a photo, click on it

Going to hell in a hand basket      A start of Harry's tree    An attribution error   Talking Neanderthals    Cowslip    Tulips in Kolomiya    Crater Lake myth   In praise of vacations    A new altas of Inuit trails   Muslim headgear   Goldfinches   The Ig Noble Prizes  The dust bowl  Prince Charles goof Hating the poor     new

To hell in a hand basket
I hear people lament that the world is 'going to hell in a hand basket'. We have been doing it for a long time.
Socrates started what may have been the first technology scare. In the "Phaedrus," he lamented the invention of books, which "create forgetfulness" in the soul. Instead of remembering for themselves, Socrates warned, new readers were blindly trusting in "external written characters." The library was ruining the mind.
Needless to say, the printing press only made things worse. In the 17th century, Robert Burton complained, in "The Anatomy of Melancholy," of the "vast chaos and confusion of books" that make the eyes and fingers ache. By 1890, the problem was the speed of transmission: one eminent physician blamed "the pelting of telegrams" for triggering an outbreak of mental illness. And then came radio and television, which poisoned the mind with passive pleasure. Children, it was said, if you believe it, have stopped reading books. Socrates would be pleased. But Prof Greenfield is sure that computers, video games and other electronics is ruining children's minds.
The other day Harry and I were discussing how little you need to remember today. Between our computers and the Internet, all we need to know about anything is enough to write a Google search string. And in fact it is not that I am getting old but I find myself wanting to know a fact and looking it up, using it, and then almost deliberately forgetting it. If I need it again, I'll ask again. I seem to no longer make an effort to retain information. My attitude to information has changed to. Now I don't expect what I read to be necessarily true and I do not expect even reliable information to be as true tomorrow as it is today.
Although I live in a world of disembodied, electronic, written language, I am still very interested in the pre-Socrates world of oral knowledge and its transmission down the generations. When each piece of knowledge took effort to protect, the useless and false was constantly being culled. There were people who dedicated their lives to remembering and reciting the vehicles of knowledge. I have always been attracted to 'lore'. But that doesn't stop me from enjoying today's abundance of information – I don't feel like we are going downhill.

A start of Harry's tree
Harry's sister said that their mother's German family in Munchenthal were associated with the names Presch and Schonhoefer. I have found a family tree produced by the Schnerch family. Some members of this family lived in Munchenthal and were original colonists there. They came for Steiermark in southern Austria. There is an implication that all the Schnerchs were related and all the original colonists may have come from the same area.
One of these Schnerch colonists was Joannes Schnerch:
  1. Joannes Schnerch b. 1786 d. 20.12.1848 colonist, wife: Veronica Jestadt colonist b. 1790 d. 5.11.1848;
            children:
            2. Marianna Schnerch b. 1813 d. 27.10.1813.
            2. Joannes Schnerch b. 10.11.1814 d. 11.08.1814. (house 130),
            2.
Joseph Schnerch b. 8.04.1816 d. 3.11.1886, (no record of I) II mariage: 1835 wife: Susanna Lenius b. 20.01.1817 in Ebenau d. 1.03.1886, parents: Adam Lenius and Elisabeth Geroni.

                    Joseph & Susanna had 13 children:
                    3. Schnerch Nicolaus b. 24.09.1826 d. 4.12.1836,
                    3. Schnerch Michael b. 1836 ?,
                    3. Schnerch Anna Elisabetha b.22.10.1837 d. 26.01.1864 - II wife of Filip Runge b. ab.1822 Stare Sioło Olerzyce parents: Joannis Runge & Catharina Sangler,
                    3. Schnerch Joannes Baptista b.22.06.1839 d. 15.07.1839,

                    3. Schnerch Catharina Elisabetha b. 23.05.1840 Muzylowice. d. ?, I mariage: 9.02.1862 - Joseph Schönhöfer b. 24.01. 1813 d. 24.01.1875 ; had 8 ?
                        children:

                        4. Schonhofer Apolonia b. 27.01.1863 d. 1.03.1863,
                        4. Schonhofer Elżbieta b. 15.03.1864 marriage: 15.02.1885,
                        4. Schonhofer Josephus b. 2.08.1865 d. 17.04.1866,
                        4. Schonhofer Catharina b. 25.12.1866 d.14.10.1867,
                        4. Schonhofer Ewa b. 1.08.1868,
                        4. Schonhofer Weronika b. 22.02.1870,
                        4. Schonhofer Apollonia b. 17.06.1871 d. 18.06.1872,
                        4. Schonhofer George b. 15.08.1873,
                        II mariage: 8.08.1875 Muzylowice - Mathias Presch b. 20.01.1848 Fehlbach - Potok Jaworowski, parents: Henry & Maria Koch,

                        children:
                        4. Presch Francis (b. 18.07. 1876 d. 5.08.1876),
                        4. Presch Joannes b. 24.06.1877 d. 23.09.1878,
                        4. Presch Catherina b. 20.05.1880,
                        4. Presch Henryk b. 10.03.1882,
                        4. Presch Catherina b. 1889 d. 1919 marriage: Henry (1882 -1940),

As a guess, I would think that Stephania's grandmother was Catherina Elisabetha Schnerch and her mother was born in the first marriage, possibly she was Weronika Schonhofer. But Irene says her mother said the name was Catherina. The only Catherina is Catherina Presch, born in 1880. She would have been 27 when Stephania was born.
She would have married Szczerba. Irene says his first name was Bronislav and he had a sister Julia. Stephania would have been their child. When she was orphaned she would have lived with her grandmother, Catherina Presch.


An attribution error
My mother was almost perfect, of course. But I did notice when I came back to Canada in my 40s that she did have some minor faults. Recently I ran across a description of one of these faults, 'the fundamental attribution error'. We all do it but Mom had a particular way of doing it.
The first time I noticed it was when Mom was figuring out what to give Aunt Lura for Christmas. She was really upset. She was upset because Lura had all her walls bare white with nothing on them. Mom had given Lura something to hang on the wall for the previous three Christmases and they were in a closet at Lura's house and the walls were still bare. Did I have any idea what to get that she would put on her walls. I said I thought she wanted the walls as they were. Mom said why would she want that and I said because she has trouble seeing, maybe it is easier for her to make things out if the background isn't cluttered. 'Lights came on' and Mom got her a different sort of present.
The second time was when I was typing out things for Mom when she was editing the Lang book. There was a great pile and I was working through the letters, pieces of paper and clippings. Mom looked at the one I was typing and said to leave that one because she didn't think it should go in the book. It was a poem by a blind man who had lived in the hotel. It named all the people he knew in Lang. It was not much of a poem but interesting and informative about Lang at a particular time. He was now dead but it had been sent in by someone else with a note about the man. I asked why she didn't want it in and she said that it was obvious that he didn't give a hoot for the people he mentioned because he had even taken the trouble to spell their names right. I said that was he was blind, he would not know how the names were spelled. Mom was then ready to include the poem but wanted me to write something more than that he was blind so people would know why the names were spelled wrong.
The time that made me put them all together was then she asked why we had put large windows on the south of our house (they had two very small ones on the south). She implied that we should have consulted them about windows because they had thought long and hard about what was right for windows. I said that we had thought long and hard and that was why we had big windows to the south. There was a long discussion about whether it was better to worry about keeping a house cool in summer or warm in winter. And she was surprised too that my explanation of the window also explained how we have set the house straight with north-south instead of the angle at which they had put their house. Apparently this had bothered her but she had not said anything. This time I told her what I thought. What she did was figure something out and would just know what was right – then she would see someone do it differently – she would not ask herself why but just assume that they were not thinking it out or lazy or stubborn. She never started out think that an intelligent person was doing something different from her so they must have a reason and wonder what that reason was. Other people could have other reasons that were just as good as her reasons.
I also do this occasionally and so does everyone else. That is why it is called the fundamental attribution error. When we observe other people we attribute their behavior to their character rather than to their situation. When we think about ourselves we do the opposite, we downplay our dispositions and emphasize the situation. There was another component to this and that is the belief that there is always a 'right' way to do something. There is a certain corollary here, if I have found the right way then anyone do it another way is wrong.
As I said, my mother was almost perfect and also I am very much like her. But in this case we differed quite a bit. I almost never assume that there is one and only one 'right' way and I often (but not always) assume that people have reasons for what they do. Although at times I have thought I was surrounded by 'only one right way' thinking people. I start out assuming that if I was in someone's shoes there is a likelihood I would do the same as they do.

Talking Neanderthals
The neanderthals were pale skinned redheads. Pale redheads evolved separately for modern humans and neanderthals because the genes are different.
With language it is different, one of the important genes is the same, the Foxp2 gene. The Foxp2 gene is fairly common but the human one is different from those of other apes as well as more distance vertebrates. But it is the same as the one found in neanderthals. This gene probably evolved into the human form before humans and neanderthals separated, 300,000 to 400,000 years ago, but after the appearance of the first Homos about 2 million years ago. Our Foxp2 gene has some of the same mutations as found in some other animals that have sound communication: songbirds, mice, bats, whales. In humans it seems to be involved in learning vocalizations, producing speech and processing language among other things. It is likely that some sort of proto-speech was developed between the split between chimps and homo and the split between humans and neanderthals. This is indicated by an evolutionary sweep of the Foxp2 gene by very high selective pressure to change its function before the split with neanderthals. The gene then appears to be conserved by selective pressure to preserve its function until the present.
Many believe that it was the use of language that pressured the enlargement of the human brain. It is relevant that the neanderthal brain was slightly larger than modern humans. In any case the neanderthal brain was large enough for language. They also appeared to have skills like their human counter parts: tool making, ornamentation, music, funeral rites and the like. This would indicate a similarity in function as well as size of the brains. There is evidence of asymmetry in the skulls of neanderthal like that in humans. There is some evidence that neanderthals were predominately right-handed like humans. These two pieces of evidence indicate that language areas in the left hemisphere were probably being favoured.
Nearnderthals also have changes to their anatomy that they share with humans and that indicate language use. The hyoid bone of neanderthal is almost identical to the human one and very different from the chimp one. This bone has been studied in detail to find how the muscles were attached and where there was strain when it was in use. It not only looks like the human bone, it was used in exactly the same way. The bone controls the shape of the mouth and throat and is the anchor for the tongue and larynx. For this bone to be adapted identically to the human hyoid bone practically proves that nearderthals spoke, making the sounds that we use in language. Homo heidelbergensis, which split from the ancestor of humans and neanderthal about 500,000 years ago also has a hyoid resembling ours. So it is likely that this adaptation too happened in the same period as the Foxp2 change.
There are also adaptations of the throat, lowering the larynx and losing the air sac that other apes have. Finally there are changes to the little bones of the inner ear and this results in better hearing of the frequency band that is used for speech.
All in all it makes a convincing argument that speech has been with us for perhaps a million year, certainly for a half million, and that we share this with other homo species. And that means we have to revise a number of assumptions.
Assumption: Only humans have/had language. Some people would sooner class all homo as a single species than enlarge the number of species with language. “If Neanderthals also had language then they were truly human, too” - Prof Stephen Wroe
Assumption: There was no human language prior to 50-150,000 years ago. This was based on the idea that symbolism was needed before language could develop and so the earliest date has been tied to the oldest symbolic artifact. This tie is now broken – either there was symbolism but no artifacts proving it, or symbolism is not a necessary basis for language.
Assumption: There was no proto-language changing very slowly into full language, but an abrupt change. This idea is the foundation for the assumption that language occurred as a mutation in one single individual and was an internal language of thought before it come to be used as communication. “The scenario usually assumed by most language scientists, namely that of a sudden and recent emergence of modernity, presumably due to a single -- or very few -- genetic mutations.” The time for language developing is now 10 times longer than was thought.
Assumption: Language was not evolved for communication by for thought. If the adaption was over a long period of time, there is no need for this assumption.
Assumption: Humans eliminated neanderthals because they had language and neanderthals didn't. This has to be dropped and the other reasons that have been put forward have to be taken more seriously: higher reproductive rate, difference in disease resistance, warming climate changing ecology.

Cowslip
Very noticeable this spring, has been stands of cowslip. This year we have a lot more shortish grass and I am out in the yard in the early spring now that we live here. So concentrations of yellow flowers ahead of most other flower took my fancy and I looked them up.
Cowslip, Primrose and Oxslip are similar; we definitely have cowslip, Primula veris (early spring flower), and not any of the other relatives of the primrose. Cowslip is found in well manured, lime-rich, open, pasture land – like our grass patch which is often used by our dog. Current agricultural practices have caused the cowslip to be rare, where it was once common. Motor way verges have been planted with them and some people are growing them in their gardens. They are not so much a 'wild flower' anymore. Ours are definitely wild.
Cowslips are used for wines, jams, vinagers, teas, and the like. They are used to decorate and scent foods. The leaves are used for s
cowslipalad in various countries. But mostly they are thought of as folk medicines (like the primrose). Their medical properties were written about by Hildegard von Bingen (I mention that because Harry has a liking for Hildegard). They are also tied into a spherical flower ball called a tostie by children as a celebration of spring.
There are old religious association with cowslip. To the Norse, they were the emblem of Freya and fertility. It was a sacred plant to the Celtic druids who used it extensively in their medicine. The Christians saw it as a symbol for heaven, St. Peter's keys to the Gates. In Wales and Ireland it is the hiding place of fairies and the keys to their treasures. (click on picture to enlarge)
It was the fairies that Shakespeare wrote about in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'.
 Over hill, over dale,
Thorough bush, thorough brier,
Over park, over pale,
Thorough flood, thorough fire,
I do wander every where,
Swifter than the moon’s sphere;
And I serve the fairy queen,
To dew her orbs upon the green:
The cowslips tall her pensioners be;
In their gold coats spots you see;
Those be rubies, fairy favours,
In those freckles live their savours:
I must go seek some dew-drops here
And hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear.
Farewell, thou lob of spirits: I’ll be gone;
Our queen and all her elves come here anon.

Tulips in Kolomiya
potholesKolomiya is the town where Harry's father did his higher education. It is in an area that is very 'western Ukrainian' or Ukrainian Nationalist. But it seems in the middle of protests that toppled the government, the youth here had more local concerns. “The inhabitants of Kolomiya of the Ukraine found a creative method of protest against adverse conditions of the roads. According to bagnet.org unknown activists planted tulips in the holes of the roads. It is also known that on April 9th local youth organization planned to make a protest. If the demands of the citizens to renovate the roads is not fulfilled the activists threaten to plant trees instead of flowers.” (click to enlarge) 


Crater Lake myth
Back to one of my favourite subjects, oral history. Before writing, all knowledge was transmitted orally. This may seem to imply that history was not well preserved or preserved at all. But remember that oral knowledge was treated differently before there was writing. Old stories, tales, myths and legends have been discounted until quite recently. Using Homer to find Troy was a real surprise to most people because Homer's works were oral for centuries before they were written down. The idea that they were at all accurate in describing the Trojan War or that there even was a war with a place called Troy was simply not thought credible. Lately there has been very good parallels between the sagas and Norse archeology.
As we go back further we get less of the stories and more of the myths. It is harder to see parallels. In order to get a good match there has to be local continuity; as people migrate they take their stories with them and they are lost to their home locale and are not a fit to the new locale. People lost their languages in being conquered and with them the poetry and song that kept the tales from corruption. Almost all the oral genealogy, precedence of judgments, and folk medicine is lost, only snippets remain. But some things stay in the mind and travel well. These include the exploits of great people, traumatic defeats and natural disasters, especially great natural disasters.
So the biblical story of the flood which was wide spread in the Middle East was probably the flooding of the Black Sea basin. This would have been a devastating event to those would lived in the basin and escaped. The Atlantis myth may have been Santorini island exploding.
Here is a Native American tale of the mountains in the Cascade Range. (Imagine that a pre-literate description of Mount St. Helen erupting would become like after a time.)
“Some geomyths actually constitute a record of major geological events. Beautiful Crater Lake in the state of Oregon in the United States is a volcanic caldera. It was created by an eruption of Mt Mazama in the Cascades Range. According to the myth of the Klamath Indians, Llao, the chief of the Below World, standing on Mt Mazama, was battling Skell, the chief of the Above World, who stood on Mt Shasta in California, about a hundred miles away. They hurled rocks and flames at each other, and darkness covered the land. The fight ended when Mt Mazama collapsed under Llao and hurled him back into his underworld domain. The large hole that was created then filled up to form Crater Lake. This sounds like an eye-witness account of such an eruption, and it undoubtedly is, for Indian artifacts have been found buried in Mazama ash. The eruption has been radiocarbon-dated to about 6500 years ago on the basis of Indian sandals found in the ash, but had no date-able materials been found, this myth alone would have served to date the eruption as post-Pleistocene, because this part of the world was first inhabited by people who crossed the Bering Land Bridge and migrated down through Alaska and Canada into the northwestern United States.”


In praise of vacations
I have been thinking about holidays and vacations. I read that it has been shown that vacations are good for employers to give because people return with more enthusiasm for work and are more efficient. I don't believe that is a universal. If you have a really lousy job then a vacation will only make you more sure that your job is crap. But if your job is tolerable or better, than I think a vacation does do good for your work on return. And of course, if your job is just insufferable, then a holiday may convince you to try and change jobs.
I have theories about this. (of course – is there anything I don't have a theory about?) Holidays allow you to think, to learn and to heal.
There are two ways of thinking, system 1 and system 2; the new names are from Kahneman and avoid using old words which carry a lot of baggage with them. System 2 thinking is the thinking we are aware of, it uses the short-term memory and we are conscious of it. It is slow, logical, takes effort and only juggles a few things at a time. System 1 is the thought we are not aware of, it just happens automatically and unconsciously. It is fast and can juggle a great many things at once, it takes no effort, and it is less logical but more emotional and intuitive. You can think with both systems at the same time – but – you cannot think about the same thing with both systems simultaneously and independently. If you keep thinking about a particular question with system 2, consciously and in an organized way, then system 1 never gets a chance to tackle the problem. As soon as you stop thinking consciously about the question, you can start thinking unconsciously about it. You can start but you don't know if you do, system 1 being unconscious. When we relax on vacation, we stop thinking about work, more or less, and our system 1 thinking can consider the problems at work. Some problems cannot be solved by system 2 thinking because there are too many aspects to the problem for the narrow scope of attention and short-term memory in consciousness. You go around in circles never seeing the problem clearly or coming to a satisfactory conclusion. System 1 also allows you to use your accumulated experience (read wisdom here). During months of work, we get some problems that just never go away. A good vacation can make them seem simple when you return to them. You think about something and a new idea pops into your head and you say to yourself, “Why didn't I think of that before?”
Another thing that happens on vacation is very new experiences. We get in a rut during months of work, where we are primed in our thinking by the same objects, the same people, the same routines, day after day after day. Having brand new experiences and fitting them into the structure of your memories and knowledge, allows new thoughts. We can have little epiphanies and notice new perspectives on holiday. For instance, we see the same streets every day and so we do not notice what is unique or interesting about those streets. On holiday we see a foreign street that is so different. It makes us notice not just the nature of the foreign street but also the nature of our familiar street. There is value in new experiences but there is also the lovely feeling of returning from holiday to home and work. The familiar takes on a rewarding air and we are happy to start using our old routine. So we can simultaneously have a welcome for the old scene and have brought new ingredients to it.
Finally there is the question of stress. Quiet relaxation allows healing. Whether we like it or not, just living though a day requires healing. We need the sleep. Very often we go into a healing debt and stresses wear us down over time. But not all vacations are quiet relaxation: holidays, so now I can paint of house; holidays, so I will take a flight to London and see the sights; holidays, so I can do that camping trip in the forest; holidays, so I can take that advanced course in computing. There is a saying, “Are you fit to travel?” But even holidays that are not relaxing can still be good for some kinds of stress. You may come home a wreck and need a week or two to get over the strain in the muscles, the sunburn and insect bits, the upset digestion and so on. That does not mean that you have not gained against psychological stress and its affects on your body as well as your mind. One of the most stressful things in most jobs is a lack of control. You are not able to take much independent action. To the extent that your time, effort, movement, thought and so on are controlled by others and by machines, you experience stress. Timetables, schedules, chains of command, delays, confined spaces, noise levels, endless phone calls/emails take a toll. Holidays are very good at healing this type of stress. Just being yourself in an independent way is like a tonic. Even if it is a physically hard vacation, it is a break where you have control. You can come back beat-up but refreshed and with a good deal of inner energy.


 
An atlas of Inuit trails
mapCambridge and Canadian researchers have created an atlas of Inuit trails, the Pan Inuit Trails, based on various historical accounts, maps, physical traces and northern place names. For a few millennium the Inuit have lived in the arctic and moved over a networks of routes over land, sea and ice that stretch from Greenland to Alaska. The trails are part of the Inuit culture and traditions, pass down through the generations. The Inuit may have to prove in future that the Arctic was not 'empty' but populated and used by the indigenous people. Documentation of the trails will help to establish their ownership of the land.
“While much of the Arctic appears 'featureless' to outsiders, it's not – and the Inuit learned how to read the fine-grained details of this landscape. Knowledge of the trails was attained by remembering specific journeys they themselves had taken, or learning in detail instructions in the oral narratives passed on by others. The Inuit were able to read the snow, the prevailing wind, the thickness of the ice, and the landscape as a whole. Over hundreds of years, their culture and way of life was, therefore, written into the landscape. The region became an intimate part of who they are.” "The trails are lived, remembered, and celebrated through the connections that ultimately reflect the Inuit traditions of sharing life while traveling." “Place names and trails are integral parts of Inuit culture and heritage. Inuit have used place names to describe different features of the land, water, and ice since time immemorial. Place names are often (but not always) descriptive of the features they are associated with, including lakes, hills, rocks, caribou passes, ice ridges, bays, islands, etc. The names are linked to places of significance, often denoting important fishing and hunting areas and camps. They are also used to describe routes of travel, and in that sense many of them are connected to well-established trails and routes. Understanding Inuit routes is essential in order to appreciate the Inuit history and occupancy of the Arctic. Although they are not permanent features on the landscape, their geographic locations are well known, and in many cases have been used by Inuit since time immemorial. An intricate system of trails has long connected Inuit with resources and with other Inuit. Inuit routes are seasonal, ranging from open water boat routes and walking trails to sled trails. Seasonal knowledge is important because it has enabled people to travel to places where animals can be found at specific times of the year. Where migration routes are involved, being at the right place on the right day could be critical for hunting and survival.”
The atlas is not complete and is based on records from east and central Canadian arctic. Further work will cover more areas and Inuit groups, southward and westward. It is also going to be a background resource for the documentation of the oral traditions of the north. When the ice is gone there will still be a record of where paths were before the melt. The picture is a summary of the major trails in the atlas, see paninuittrails.org. (the picture is only the major trails, the detailed maps have many more)

Moslem headgear
I have been mixing up the names for different styles of Muslim women's headgear. Here is something from the BBC on what the names mean.
It seems that only the niqab and burka have a problem with hiding the face. There are, of course, other places where muslim women do not wear headgear.

headgear

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Goldfinches
Outside our bedroom window in a low patch of weeds, some tall thistles have grown up, flowered, and produced seed filled heads. A group of goldfinches have visited to pick seed a number of times. They are so close to the window that if the glass was not there, I could reach out and touch them. What good looking little birds they are. And how appropriate that they are on a thistle patch.
It seems that goldfinches and thistles have been connected for a long time. Because of this they are used as a symbol for the crown of thorns, therefore of the crucifixion, and through that to the fore-knowledge of the crucifixion by Jesus and Mary. That seems a stretch but a goldfinch is sometimes included in religious paintings.
goldfinchThey are also used as a symbol of captivity because they were caged and breed (like canaries) as songbirds in homes. The picture is Carel Fabritius' The Goldfinch painted in1654. It is not caged but chained to a feed box. Their song was beautiful enough for Vivaldi to copy it. Their black and yellow wings are startling in flight.
Here is Keat's description from I stood tip-toe upon a little hill:
Sometimes goldfinches one by one will drip
From low hung branches; little space they stop;
But sip, and twitter, and their feathers sleek;
The off at once, as in a wanton freak:
Or perhaps, to show their black, and golden wings
Pausing upon their yellow flutterings.



The 2014 Ig Nobel Prize Winners
The 24th Ig Nobel Prize ceremony was on Sept 18 at Harvard. … And the winners are...
PHYSICS PRIZE [JAPAN]: for measuring the amount of friction between a shoe and a banana skin, and between a banana skin and the floor, when a person steps on a banana skin that's on the floor. REFERENCE: "Frictional Coefficient under Banana Skin," Kiyoshi Mabuchi, Kensei Tanaka, Daichi Uchijima and Rina Sakai, Tribology Online 7, no. 3, 2012, pp. 147-151.
NEUROSCIENCE PRIZE [CHINA, CANADA]: for trying to understand what happens in the brains of people who see the face of Jesus in a piece of toast. REFERENCE: "Seeing Jesus in Toast: Neural and Behavioral Correlates of Face Pareidolia," Jiangang Liu, Jun Li, Lu Feng, Ling Li, Jie Tian, Kang Lee, Cortex, vol. 53, April 2014, Pages 60–77. The authors are at School of Computer and Information Technology, Beijing Jiaotong University, Xidian University, the Institute of Automation Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China, and the University of Toronto, Canada.
PSYCHOLOGY PRIZE [AUSTRALIA, UK, USA]: for amassing evidence that people who habitually stay up late are, on average, more self-admiring, more manipulative, and more psychopathic than people who habitually arise early in the morning. REFERENCE: "Creatures of the Night: Chronotypes and the Dark Triad Traits," Peter K. Jonason, Amy Jones, and Minna Lyons, Personality and Individual Differences, vol. 55, no. 5, 2013, pp. 538-541.
PUBLIC HEALTH PRIZE [CZECH REPUBLIC, JAPAN, USA, INDIA]: for investigating whether it is mentally hazardous for a human being to own a cat. REFERENCE: "Changes in personality profile of young women with latent toxoplasmosis," Jaroslav Flegr and Jan Havlicek, Folia Parasitologica, vol. 46, 1999, pp. 22-28. REFERENCE: "Decreased level of psychobiological factor novelty seeking and lower intelligence in men latently infected with the protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii Dopamine, a missing link between schizophrenia and toxoplasmosis?" Jaroslav Flegr, Marek Preiss, Jiřı́ Klose, Jan Havlı́ček, Martina Vitáková, and Petr Kodym, Biological Psychology, vol. 63, 2003, pp. 253–268. REFERENCE: "Describing the Relationship between Cat Bites and Human Depression Using Data from an Electronic Health Record," David Hanauer, Naren Ramakrishnan, Lisa Seyfried, PLoS ONE, vol. 8, no. 8, 2013, e70585.
BIOLOGY PRIZE [CZECH REPUBLIC, GERMANY, ZAMBIA]: for carefully documenting that when dogs defecate and urinate, they prefer to align their body axis with Earth's north-south geomagnetic field lines. REFERENCE: "Dogs are sensitive to small variations of the Earth's magnetic field," Vlastimil Hart, Petra Nováková, Erich Pascal Malkemper, Sabine Begall, Vladimír Hanzal, Miloš Ježek, Tomáš Kušta, Veronika Němcová, Jana Adámková, Kateřina Benediktová, Jaroslav Červený and Hynek Burda, Frontiers in Zoology, 10:80, 27 December 27, 2013.
ART PRIZE [ITALY]: for measuring the relative pain people suffer while looking at an ugly painting, rather than a pretty painting, while being shot [in the hand] by a powerful laser beam. REFERENCE: "Aesthetic value of paintings affects pain thresholds," Marina de Tommaso, Michele Sardaro, and Paolo Livrea, Consciousness and Cognition, vol. 17, no. 4, 2008, pp. 1152-1162.
ECONOMICS PRIZE [ITALY]: ISTAT — the Italian government's National Institute of Statistics, for proudly taking the lead in fulfilling the European Union mandate for each country to increase the official size of its national economy by including revenues from prostitution, illegal drug sales, smuggling, and all other unlawful financial transactions between willing participants. REFERENCE: "Cambia il Sistema europeo dei conti nazionali e regionali - Sec2010", ISTAT, 2014. REFERENCE: "European System of National and Regional Accounts (ESA 2010)," Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, 2013.
MEDICINE PRIZE [USA, INDIA]: for treating "uncontrollable" nosebleeds, using the method of nasal-packing-with-strips-of-cured-pork. REFERENCE: "Nasal Packing With Strips of Cured Pork as Treatment for Uncontrollable Epistaxis in a Patient with Glanzmann Thrombasthenia," Ian Humphreys, Sonal Saraiya, Walter Belenky and James Dworkin, Annals of Otology, Rhinology and Laryngology, vol. 120, no. 11, November 2011, pp. 732-36.
ARCTIC SCIENCE PRIZE [NORWAY, GERMANY]: for testing how reindeer react to seeing humans who are disguised as polar bears. REFERENCE: "Response Behaviors of Svalbard Reindeer towards Humans and Humans Disguised as Polar Bears on Edgeřya," Eigil Reimers and Sindre Eftestřl, Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research, vol. 44, no. 4, 2012, pp. 483-9.
NUTRITION PRIZE [SPAIN]: for their study titled "Characterization of Lactic Acid Bacteria Isolated from Infant Faeces as Potential Probiotic Starter Cultures for Fermented Sausages." Raquel Rubio, Anna Jofré, Belén Martín, Teresa Aymerich, Margarita Garriga, Food Microbiology, vol. 38, 2014, pp. 303-311.


The Dust Bowl
This year there has been some drought in the Western States and people thought it was unusual, but they can think again, it was within the normal range of weather. A group of scientists looked at tree rings from western North America and charted weather from 1000 AD to 2005. The very worst drought in that 1000+ years peaked in 1934. The second worst was in 1580 but 1934 was 30% more severe. It covered over 70% of western North America. The whole decade was dry with severe droughts in 1930, 31, 36, 39 as well as the whopper in 1934. It coincided with the great depression which made matters worst.
dust stormI was born in the last year of the dust bowl and the great depression and at the start of WW2 and the 'wet years'. So I do not, myself, remember the dust storms. But I do remember little leftovers. People set the table for a meal with the plates and glasses upside down. Often the cutlery undercover of the plate or a napkin when the food came to the table it was in covered dishes. People came to the table and when they were about to put the first food on their plate, they would then turn it over. Although this ritual was not longer need, and people would remark on how little dust there was on the table these days, there were people when I was young that did still put glass and plates upside down.
The prairie is as flat as can be where I grew up. When I was older I asked why some places had odd names, referring to hills and lakes, when all that could be seen from horizon to horizon was the flat prairie. I was told that some were just fanciful but that others referred to the land before the 30's. It was not so flat then, the dust storms had filled in the low places and blown away the high ones.
There was one place where there was a stand of trees, quite a few, in the middle of a field. The ground under them was noticeably higher then all the land around. I mentioned it to an aunt who said (she believed it but I not as sure) that they withstood the dust storms and the reason was that they were very old, their roots went very deep to water that was separate from the surface ground water. That deep water could not rise and so was not touched by the 30s. If that was true then they must have been extremely deep roots. But everyone said that they were on high ground because they stop the soil from blowing where they stood.
We had, when I was a child, a little striped gopher that live in a hole under the door step. Now prairie people do not like gophers and kill them at very opportunity. My parents were no exception at that time. But the gopher lived in peace. I asked and I got told a joke. In the 30s when a dust storm came, you would not know whether to go out or not, whether to go to church or town or stay put. What you had to do was get your gopher from under the step and throw it in the air. If he fell, you were save to go to church, but if he started to dig, you stayed home.
A saying that I hear a few times was that “all our soil blew away, but then all of Texas blew in to take its place”.
The dust bowl was very hard on people because there were also grasshoppers that ate everything up the few times that things grew. The was a depression and therefore there were additional financial problems as well as not having crops to sell. Many lost farms. Many just left their farms and move away – like the Okie migration to California that is the setting of “The Grapes of Wrath”. Not just crops could not be planted or failed but also livestock died some years.
The habits of some people are excused by “he grew up in the depression” or in the west “he grew up in the dirty thirty's”. Never throw anything away, always look for a bargain, don't spend money unless you have to, always take the time to check the bill and the change, etc.” The cooperative movement, the marketing boards, and the new political parties in western Canada were a result of the 30's. There were changes in agriculture to keep soil from blowing, especially when the wet years ended – starting with 'trash' on the top of plowed fields. Trash was the remains of the previous crop and had been burnt or plowed deep before but was cultivated so that it stayed on top. Burning was only done with some crops like flax. The changes went on year by year involving more chemicals and less tillage. There have been some dry years since and even the occasional dust storm but nothing approaching the 30s when there were times with many days in a row of semi-darkness in a brown-yellow world with no sight of the sun and the air thick with dust.
So what happened to cause such a terrible drought? In 1934, the worst year, there was already soil to blow because of crop failures in previous years, lack of money for seed and no faith in a sowing until there was some rain. The prairie had very little vegetation covering it. There was an La Nina in the Pacific during much of the 30s (this normally means that the Northwest receives more rain and the Southwest less). This particular winter there was a stationary ridge of high pressure along the Pacific coast and this steered the wintertime storms further north and made a much larger and drier dry area. In early spring the high pressure shifted eastward and interfered with spring and summer rains on the central plains. The conditions were made much worse by dust storms, which prevent rain clouds forming and enlarging the affected area north and eastwards. This is a circle – no rain, no crops, no ground cover, dust storms, no rain. Nature and man cooperated to cause this terrible year, the driest on the plains for a 1000 years.

The Prince Charles goof
As President Truman was rumored to have said about Anzio landing beach, “What squirrel headed general picked this?” We have to ask what squirrel headed diplomat arranged for Prince Charles to make a fool of himself in Cartagena Colombia.
The plaque the Prince unveiled was almost immediately broken and within a few days had been removed. The residents are angry at Britain's ignorance of history and glorification of colonial warfare. This is a short review of the history that was ignored.
There is a fort, San Felipe, and in front of the fort is a statue of Blas de Lezo, a Columbian and local hero. His statue is to honour his defense of the city when it is attacked by the English. This defense took place in 1741 when Admiral Edward Vernon and his troops besieged the city to take it from the Spanish. The British use the title naval officer for Vernon but the people of Cartagina call him a pirate. Vernon lost and de Lezo won, famously, even though he was outnumbered 10 to 1. The English fleet was one of the largest assembled, 186 ships, and they lost, retreating after two months with heavy losses. The Spanish lost most of their smaller force but saved the city.
The Brits put up the memorial in a place in front of the fort where the locals honour de Lezo at the entrance. The plaque is to "the valour and suffering of all those who died in combat while seeking to take the city and the fortress of San Felipe” and mentions the English death but not the Spanish troops who also died. The mayor seemed have thought it would be good for English tourism but the locals did not think much of that. One tour guide said, "The mayor has a nerve to commemorate the deaths of 10,000 English troops in 1741. These men intended taking Cartagena and massacring our ancestors. It would make me feel bad showing the plaque to the tourists."
Prince Charles should have known better. He had visited this area before and as a naval officer. He would have known about the “War of Jenkin's Ear” and this particular battle. He should have thought about what it would look like from the other side.
Wikipedia confirms that Vernon was no a pirate and describes the Cartigena battle thus: He pursued the case of Robert Jenkins, who was alleged to have had his ear cut off by Spanish coastguards in the Caribbean. This led to the War of Jenkins' Ear in 1739 in which Vice Admiral Vernon led a fleet along with Major General Thomas Wentworth. Vernon captured Porto Bello a Spanish colonial possession, as a result of which, he was granted the Freedom of the City of London. However, Vernon's next campaign against the Spanish, a large-scale assault on Cartagena de Indias in 1741 ended in disaster. This was the biggest amphibious attack until the Invasion of Normandy in 1944: in Cartagena the British fleet of 186 ships and almost 27,000 men was defeated by a garrison of 3,500 men and 6 ships of the line commanded by the one-eyed, one-armed, one-legged, Spanish admiral Blas de Lezo. The strategic defense of the colonial port of Cartagena led to heavy British casualties and eventually a retreat to Jamaica.

Hating the poor
It seems that a Hawaiian State Representative called Tom Brower hates homeless people and they disgust him so much that he destroys their possessions with a sledgehammer. What does it take to hate the poor to that extent? In Fort Lauderdale a man was repeatedly arrested for feeding the homeless. The idea seem to be that if homeless people are allowed to have any help or even peace, they will not go to some other place and be homeless there. Hawaii for instance has approved a fund of $100,000 for one-way flights out of Hawaii for the homeless, estimated to be 17,000 people. The message is go away, disappear, vanish!
There is only rarely an effort to actually provide homes for the homeless. And charity for the poor is thin – maybe a few shelters and soup kitchens – maybe not. Yet these people are not really a breed apart. They come from the general public through unemployment, housing shortages, marriage breakdowns, mental health problems and disability, addiction and many rare forms of just bad luck. But they are not given the respect accorded members of the community, citizens or even just human beings. It does not actually taken a lot of resources to get the homeless off the street and into some form of decent living arrangements, not the same for everyone but cheap housing, shelters, sheltered employment, rehabs and so on. Things that should have been available in the first place.
There are two histories here. One is the judging of the poor as causing their own situation. This may occur other places too, but it seems to be particularly British and then American and also predominately protestant. It was in Olde England, the responsibility of a parish to take care of the poor in the parish. They were supplied with shelter, food and other necessities. They were not thought of as non-parishioners. Then, in the conditions of the industrial revolution, the enclosures and the return of disabled veterans after wars, there got to be too many destitute people for parishes to handle. The debtors prisons were overflowing. There were beggars on the street. And remember that PTSD is not new; there was shell shock and before that just vets and groups of vets roaming the country with mental and physical problems that stopped them from re-enter society. In answer to the problem, work houses were invented. They were made terrible on purpose. They gave relief but made it so demeaning that no one that had any other choice would enter the work houses. This period lead to the alienation of the poor from the rest of society. The blaming of the victim also started in a big way. The poor were divided into the deserving and the undeserving. The poor were moved about in a way that resembled being bought and sold. The Puritan idea that poverty was a sign of God's displeasure with someone, and not doubt God had his reasons, over came older Catholic notions that the poor were good and the rich had suspect morals. To the Puritan, the well-off were good and the poor had suspect morals. Good fortune became a sign of a good soul rather than poverty being a ticket to heaven.
The other way of thinking, the assumption of the goodness of the poor, has an older history. It was almost universal in Europe before the Calvin doctrines and the rise of capitalism and the notion of accumulation of wealth over generations rather than its use within a life time in good works to secure salvation. In the days when wealth was a 'zero sum game', the rich could only have got their money from taking it from others who became poorer. The old way to get to heaven was to give away everything and live as a monk or hermit. A rich man could not easily get into heaven (like the camel and the eye of the needle). It was also usually an obligation (not a free act of charity) to give to the poor directly or through a tithe. But there was no idea that poverty could be eliminated, it was a fact of existence that there are poor. Nor was it very likely that a poor person could become rich or a rich person fall into poverty. A slow upward movement could happen over generation of careful dealings, marriages, special skills and services etc. And a slow fall could happen over generations of bad decisions, poor marriages and rotten luck. By and large, a person was born into a station and stay there without questioning. So the poor in the old Catholic Europe were permanent, basically moral, not personally responsible for their station in life and to be treated fairly and kindly. This was overtaken by the idea (a mixture from religious and economic theories) that the poor were responsible for their condition, basically morally weak, a class that should be eliminated, and not the obligation of society to support or protect. Ayn Rand has been a clear communicator of this new view of the poor. But there are softer versions, those that hate poverty but not the poor and work diligently to eliminate it. It is not a surprise that Pope Francis, very Catholic and not raised to be comfortable in neo-liberal economics, has the old fatalistic view of the poor as permanent but moral and blameless.
Working to eliminate poverty has not been very successful because the goal posts keep moving. What it is to be poor is not that clear. If someone does not have the resources and possessions needed to stay live, they are not just poor, they are desperate. It should certainly be possible to get rid of this situation. (That means shettler and food for a start – the very things that are being denied in some places today.) Above just staying alive, is having a minimum basic living standard. This is the territory of the welfare state. The state through taxes provides a level of medical care, education, access to security and justice and the like. Many wish that this could be done by charity rather than government programs, but somehow that just doesn't seem to work to eliminate that particular level of poverty whereas the welfare state does work (it is the cost that is the question, not the effectiveness). At this point things get difficult. Some would say that the welfare state eliminates poverty; other would say, no, poverty is still there as long as children do not have equal opportunities and starting points. The measurement of poverty gets to be a problem, the line that marks the edge of poverty moves up with each successful move against poverty. On the other hand, moving too far into the elimination of poverty starts to bang up against two very powerful ideas. People believe in and want a certain level of meritocracy; they want excellence and skill to be rewarded. People also measure their position in society, not in absolute terms but in relation to the positions of others. How rich some people are then affects how poor other people feel. There is actually a point in the distribution of wealth that the bulk of people would consider fair and also there are agreed principles on what should be rewarded for by merit. Our societies are far away for these ideals and the idea and the reality of poverty will be with us until we do manage to attain those ideal compromises. Right now we are traveling in the direction of more inequality and more unfair remunerations and so the poor will be with us for a longer time, and by and large it will not be because they are morally inferior. It has been shown many times that the rich have lower morals than the poor – they are less concerned with fairness, less generous, more likely to steal/cheat, less empathetic, less helpful, less socially responsible.
Alienation is one of the worst things for a country, culture, or community. Alienation because of economic and social status, racial, religious, language is deadly to the health of societies. If you take people in poverty and say to them, “this is your fault and we will not help you out but just push you away” you are showing your alienation from them and creating a alienation in them from the society. Alienation continues to feed on itself if it is not countered. That stores up big trouble – it is 'the vineyard where the grapes of wrath are sown'. It is a dangerous thing to cause alienation. When rioters are rampaging and people ask, “Why are they destroying their own communities?”, the answer is simple – it is no longer their community because they have been alienated from it.