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Miscellaneous Items from 2015:                        to enlarge a photo, click on it

The deaths in 1258    Attitudes to Teenagers   Pioneer Women in Science  Sometimes a crock is a crock  A story from the Vikings  new 

The deaths in 1258
In the church yard of St. Mary's in Spitalfields London there are many ordinary old graves, but also some mass graves. Thousands of men, women and children packed in single pits. They were dated to near 1250. That was before the Black Death and not during a war so researchers looked for a cause of a mass death. A search of old documents show that there was a famine in 1257-58. “In this year, there was a failure of the crops; upon which failure, a famine ensued, to such a degree that the people from the villages resorted to the City for food; and there, upon the famine waxing still greater, many thousand persons perished.”, according to the Sheriffs of London 1257. There were also records of sulphur fogs in France, as well as famines in many parts of Europe.
The famines of 1257-58 were caused by unusually dark, cold, dry weather. Looking at geological papers investigators found that there are traces, around the world, of the worst volcanic eruption in thousands of years happen sometime around 1258. Evidence shows dust, ash, sulfur. But where was the volcano?
There were a number of candidates but the favourite is now the Mount Samalas volcano, a former part of the Mount Rinjani volcano on Lombok Island in Indonesia. It disappeared in the explosion. Old Indonesian records tell of a volcanic blast on Lombok that destroyed the city of Pamatan, capital of an ancient kingdom. It’s possible that city still exists, buried beneath the volcanic debris, waiting to be rediscovered like the Roman city of Pompeii. Measured by the amount of sulfuric acid injected into the atmosphere, the eruption was 8 times the size of Krakatau (1883). Based on ice core archives this was one of the largest volcanic eruptions of the past 7000 years. At least 40 km3 (dense-rock equivalent) of tephra were deposited and the eruption column reached an altitude of up to 43 km. Three principal pumice fallout deposits mantle the region and thick pyroclastic flow deposits are found at the coast, 25 km from source.
The effects were felt around the world for several years. But surprisingly the picture remained only in very local records and in recent geological research. It is only now that the evidence has been put together.

Attitudes to teenagers
A researcher took a spectrum of anti-social behaviours, 18 in all from assault to standing about, and wrote short descriptive vignettes showing adults and teenagers in various roles. 200 adults and 185 teenagers from the same district in London were asked to classify the vignettes as showing (or not showing) anti-social behavior.
In general adults were more likely to find an action anti-social than teenagers. And also the adults were more likely to find an action anti-social if it was done be a teenager rather than an adult. More than 80% of adults thought swearing in a public place was anti-social behaviour compared with less than 43% of young people, and more than 60% of adults listed cycling or skateboarding on the street compared with less than 8% of young people.
"It is notable -- and worrying -- that young people's presence in public places, regardless of their behaviour, was considered to be an anti-social behaviour by four in ten adults. The information that adults have about young people, for example from their negative portrayal in the media, often defines them in terms of the threat that they allegedly pose to adults. In the context of increasing distances between generations, between 'them' and 'us', efforts should be focused on improving social connectedness by bringing adults and young people together so that adults can get a better understanding of young people and their behaviour. ” Adults often do not know the teenagers when they see them as a risk. Teenagers often gather in public places where there are adults because this feels safer but adults do not see the youngsters as seeking safety but as posing a risk to adults.
Adults and teenagers agree that murder, assault, burglary and shoplifting are anti-social with approximately the same statistics. They disagree (especially if young people are doing it) on hanging around, dropping litter, chewing gum, swearing, dumping rubbish, scratching names on things and the like – here teenagers find the actions much less anti-social then adults do.
“A group of girls shouting insults at an elderly lady were defined as anti-social by all adults and all but five young people, but only 60% of adults and 76% of young people defined an elderly man shouting insults at a group of teenage boys as anti-social. In conversation, adult participants surmised that the boys must have provoked the elderly man and some commented that he was 'brave' to confront them. The results of the study show that, in practice, the identification of behaviour as anti-social involved an interpretative process that is not based simply on the behaviour itself but on the age of those involved." Teenagers are more likely to be labeled as perpetrators and less likely to be seen as victims.
In my own experience people do not feel this way about teenagers that they saw grow up. This is not a small town story.

Pioneer Women in Science
women in science
Mary Anning: She was a fossil hunter and made some of the most significant geological finds of all time. Her contribution had a major impact at a time when there was little to challenge the biblical interpretation of the story of creation and of the flood. During her career geology became a science.
Ada Lovelace: She was a mathematician and writer – known for her notes on the Babbage computer. The notes include the first algorithm for a machine and because of this, she is called the first computer programmer.
Marie Curie: She was a physicist and chemist who did pioneering research on radioactivity. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person and only woman to win two Nobels, and the only person to win Nobels in two different sciences. She was the first woman professor in the University of Paris and the first woman to have a tomb in the Pantheon for merit. She discovered radioactivity, two elements, and medical uses of radioactivity against cancer.
Lise Meitner: She was an Austrian nuclear physicist, part of a team that discovered nuclear fission and the element protactinium. Her colleague Otto Hahn was given a Nobel Prize for this work, "a rare instance in which personal negative opinions apparently led to the exclusion of a deserving scientist" from the Nobel. Element 109, meitnerium, is named in her honour. The fission work led to the atomic bomb.
Emmy Noether: She was an influential mathematician with groundbreaking contributions to abstract algebra and theoretical physics. She revolutionized the theories of rings, fields, and algebras. Noether's theorem explains the fundamentals of symmetry and conservation laws.
Cecilia Payne: She was not able to present a thesis in Cambridge and therefore went to America and presented it there - “undoubtedly the most brilliant PhD thesis ever written in astronomy” She explained the composition of stars in terms of the relative abundances of hydrogen and helium. Payne was able to accurately relate the spectra of stars to their actual temperatures. And found the elements in stars by their spectra.
Barbara McClintock: She was a cytogeneticists and won the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine 1983, the only woman to win an unshared Nobel. She studied chromosomes microscopically and found the genetic recombination during meiosis, produced a genetic map of maize, demonstrated the telomere and centromere, discovered transposition and genetic regulation. Because of skepticism, she stopped publishing data in 1953 but stubbornly kept to her theories and research. In the 1960-70s her work was confirmed by many scientists.
Grace Hopper: She was an American computer scientist and US rear admiral. A pioneer in the field, she was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer in 1944, invented the first compiler for a computer programming language, worked on machine-independent programming languages (COBOL), popularized debugging).
Rachel Carson: She was a marine biologist and conservationist, credited with advancing the global environmental movement with the book 'Silent Spring'. She also wrote 'The Sea Around Us' and other bestsellers. She was met with fierce opposition by chemical companies, spurred a reversal in national pesticide policy, which led to a nationwide ban on DDT and other pesticides, and the creation of the EPA. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Dorothy Hodgkin: She was a biochemist who developed protein crystallography and won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. Using X-ray crystallography she determined the 3D structures of proteins for the first time (penicillin, vitamin B12, insulin).
Hedy Lamarr: She was a film actress and inventor. During her years in Hollywood, she and composer George Antheil co-invented the technology for spread spectrum and frequency hopping which was used by the military during WW2 to control torpedoes. They are now used in Wi-Fi, CDMA and Bluetooth. She was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
Rosalind Franklin: She was a chemist and X-ray crystallographer who investigated the fine structure of DNA, RNA, viruses, coal, graphite. Her DNA results were shown to Crick and Watson without her knowledge and the information greatly helped their finding the double helix structure. She was not named in the Nobel Prize given for the DNA structure. This omission has been widely criticized.
Esther Lederberg: She was a microbiologist and pioneer of bacterial genetics. She discovered the bacterial virus, the lamda phage, the transfer of genes between bacteria by transduction, the technique of replica plating, and bacterial fertility factor F. She maintained and distributed plasmids to other researchers (coding for antibiotic resistance, heavy metal resistance, virulence etc. etc.) for many years.
Jane Goodall: She is a primatologist, ethologist, anthropologist and the world expert on chimpanzees. She is a UN Messenger of Peace and works extensively on conservation and animal welfare issues.
Jocelyn Bell Burnell: She is an astrophysicist who discovered and precisely analyzed radio pulsars. She was omitted from the list for the Nobel Prize given for this work. Many prominent astronomers expressed outrage at the omission. She has been the President of the Royal Astronomical Society, the Institute of Physics, the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
Mae Jemison: She is a medical physician and NASA astronaut, the first Afro-American woman in space. She has been awarded 9 honorary doctorates in science, engineering, letters and humanities.

Sometimes a crock is a crock
It is a nice feeling (not that common) when something that seemed a crock when you first heard about it, turns out to actually be a crock.
Case: brainstorming
It has now been shown, after many years of use, that brainstorming does not work. Experiments show that more ideas are generated by a number of people working alone rather than in a group. The larger the group, the less well it does compared to individuals. And, suspending judgment while coming up with ideas does not increase the number of good ideas but just adds bad ones to the mix. The notion that group participation will, in the end, be a good way to ensure acceptance of an idea may have some merit. However, brainstorming is not the only way to further participation and can be counterproductive if people see in as a sham participation (which is how it often feels). I have been part of many brainstorming sessions and have always had to fight the feeling that they were useless and manipulative.
Case: lack of self-esteem
It finally comes out that lack of self-esteem is not at the root of all evil. Bullying for example has been put down to a lack of self-esteem that is being hidden by the appearance of much self-esteem. But it now seems that bullies have extremely healthy self-esteem and attempts to increase esteem simply leads to more not less bullying. It looks like bullies have too much self-esteem, not to little. On the other hand, some common methods for increasing self-esteem in those with actual low self-esteem backfire. Just saying “your great” sounds to them like a lie and so they cannot trust what you say. They want a test, but if the test is too easy they assume you think they couldn't pass a real test and therefore that you actually think they really are worthless. If the test is too hard and they fail, their opinion is validated. It is not easy and takes time and skill which few so called therapy methods actually use.
Case: trauma counseling
I have never liked the idea of grief counseling – let people mourn in peace with support from their friends and family. Whenever there is a tragic event, counselors descend on the victims to help them avoid psychological trauma causing permanent damage. They can be so numerous that they interfere with aid delivery (food, blankets, tents) and actually have to be feed and housed themselves. They are often not that generally knowledgeable about psychology and just have a short course in counseling, not a well rounded degree or the like. Some studies have shown the most methods have a worst outcome than no counseling at all. Making people remember and talk about terrible events is itself a traumatic experience. It interferes with the unconscious accommodations that actually do allow people to overcome trauma and make a new start. And finally the therapists very often are ignorant of the culture of the victims – so much so that the UN has asked for therapists to be briefed by anthropologist or to stay at home.

A story from the Vikings
Lady of the Labyrinth writes:
More on strong women of the Viking Age - The Song of Blenda (Blendasägnen) is a legend from Småland in East-Götaland during the early Viking Age (8th Century AD) but was not written down until very late. I translated this into English from an 1864 Swedish rendering by Wilhelmina Stålberg and must say the story has probably been censored to suit the 19th Century audience (think Gunhild Ossursdaughter and then add some), but here it is, a story explaining why Gaut women held the vote at local Parliaments and went to their weddings dressed as Warriors;
“Ælla was that king called, who then ruled in Småland, and he was gone with all his warriors, in a battle against the Norwegian king. A Danish king, Taxe, decided then to attack the defenseless country with a large army, that land where only women, children and weak old men still existed, and he burned and harried there very terribly…
Then lived in Konga County a young, very noble maiden, named Blenda, who, when she heard spoken of the misery which passed upon a part of Småland and threatened all the rest of country, with manly courage decided to set a limit for the devastation. And she, although young, proceeded with all the wisdom and moderation, as it would only be expected of one who held years of experience.
She then sent out messengers about all parishes and villages and sued all women to a place named Gemla. She let say that all women who wanted to vanquish the enemy should shows up, bringing all kinds of food and drink, so much as their houses could. This took place: the women from Konga, Albo, Kindevalds, Norrvidinge and Uppvidinge districts appeared at the rendezvous point, bringing big loads of beer and food.
Blenda gave unto the women one electrifying speech, exhorting them to, during the absence of their men, to save house and home, children and old parents from the impending destruction.They wanted it, all of them, after which they were provided with weapons of all kinds, those Blenda allowed collect and bring to the meeting place. and so marched the army of women equipped with scythes, axes, knives, breakers and other weapons, away to the lake… in the neighborhood of the so notorious Bråvalla heath, where they encamped and rested.
Here, on the plain, cooked now the biggest Feast you ever heard of in that all the food and all that beer which the Småland-women brought there, was added and put out in the most tasty and inviting way.
When everything was in order Blenda sent messengers to Danes, who lay encamped a few mil thence, with the request that they might continue to ravage country, but might rather, in its Place, come to Bråvalla heath and make do with the banquet that Småland’s women had prepared for them. These poor women - they had bid instructed to say; - were tired of loneliness; and when they could not know when or if their men would return, they wanted to dispel a few moments gaily chatting with the Danish men of war, who by no means would regret the bumpy ride they made themselves, since they were busy with food and drink to regale them with.
This sounded very appealing to the Danes, who had long suffered privations of war and hardships; for they had already several days ago devoured the last of the Småland forcibly taken repositories. They laughed in their beards at the "man-crazy women, "as they called them, but promised however, with much politeness, to accept their kind invitation.
And then journeyed Danes… But when they arrived at the designated spot they saw no single man der, because the women had hidden in the nearby forest.
“Some women,” they said then among themselves, "but they will probably appear later.” And now they threw themselves greedily like hungry wolves greed over the prepared food and saved not the bulging caskets of beer. The king and all his men were extremely excited.
At last the guests felt a little heavy from food and their forest hiding hostesses
deceived them only at the moment when they would get up to snatch the last of the dishes. One Dane after another fell asleep and soon, out of of all of the numerous army, no one was awake.
As they now lay there in the greatest disorder, strewn across the field, deeply asleep, very heavily, snoring and without arms, for shortly before they put the meal down, the women stole out of the forest, fell upon them and slew them in the most the lamentable way, even the king, that out of the whole army only one man escaped, who told of the others' fate. (…)
The King (of Småland) called for a great all-parliament… all women should inherit their parents as equals to their brothers, and all widows should inherit half of their husband’s property, and all girls could on their wedding day be equipped as warriors…”
Translation by Maria Kvilhaug aka Ladyofthe Labyrinth