The Pity of War, by Christopher Hitchens (The Atlantic) October 22, 2009Posted by rationalskeptic in Christopher Hitchens.
Tags: Christopher Hitchens, The Atlantic, War
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Christopher Hitchens doesn’t have an official website, and there are no Hitchens aggregates out there, so I am going to attempt to fill this void. This is his most recent peice from The Atlantic, and I will continue to post his newest articles as I run across them.
The Pity of War
I went to the Central Lobby of the Houses of Parliament in London to keep an appointment with the almost picturesquely reactionary Conservative politician Alan Clark. He was the son of Kenneth (later Lord) Clark—the art historian and author of the Civilisation series—and the heir to Saltwood Castle, in Kent. He was also the author of a 1961 book, The Donkeys, which was a history of the British General Staff in the First World War. The title came from a famous comment that had supposedly been made at that epoch by a German military strategist. Told by the highly impressed Quartermaster General Ludendorff that “these British soldiers fight like lions,” General Max Hoffmann had responded: “Yes, but lions led by donkeys.”
He [Joffre] therefore was of the opinion that 1 July was the latest date for the combined offensive … The moment I mentioned 15 August Joffre at once got very excited and shouted that “The French Army would cease to exist, if we did nothing till then”! The rest of us looked on at this outburst of excitement, and then I pointed out that, in spite of the 15th August being the most favorable date for the British Army to take action, yet, in view of what he had said regarding the unfortunate condition of the French Army, I was prepared to commence operations on the 1st July or thereabouts.
Even if Haig had fully realized the depth and breadth of the losses suffered by his assaulting divisions on 1 July he could not have aborted the offensive without seriously jeopardizing the Entente Cordiale with France and Russia … They were unlikely to look on with any great sympathy if Britain tried to evade her share of the “butcher’s bill.”
And I must say that they fought most stubbornly and bravely. Probably not more than 300–500 put their hands up … I have no shame in saying so—as every German should in my opinion be exterminated—I don’t know that we took one. I have not seen a man or officer yet who did anyway.
A few hundred yards away from where we were fast becoming busy, my good and brave friend, Captain Nevill, led his men into the fight with footballs. And thus he died. With the Englishman’s way of fighting, he went on his way. The War was a game which was to be played to the end in a clean and straight manner.
Some of their divisional generals are so ignorant and (like so many Colonials) so conceited, that they cannot be trusted to work out unaided the plans of attack.
Tags: Jerry Coyne, Why Evolution Is True blog
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(This is a post from Jerry coyne’s blog Why Evolution is True. and I thought this post had some great information in it and wanted to share the goodness! Thanks to the writer of this post Matthew Cobb and the blog master of WEIT Jerry Coyne)
And now for something completely different…October 14, 2009 – 12:47 pm
by Matthew Cobb
Well, not completely different. As some of you may know, every week during the academic year, I send out an electronic newsletter to Zoology students at Manchester University, past and present, and to another hundred or so interested people. I just sent out the latest issue of the Z-letter, and one of my readers – Jerry Coyne – replied from Guatemala, or wherever: “Post this WHOLE THING on my website! Including the stuck skunk!” So here you are… If any of you want to subscribe to the Z-letter, send a mail to: cobb at manchester dot ac dot uk
Here’s the latest Z-letter, with everything from a stuck skunk video to ideas about how morality evolved, including rapping about natural selection… Don’t forget to send in your links! 288 subscribers now!
OPPOSING SLAVERY WITH DARWIN
James Moore, co-author of the recent book “Darwin’s Sacred Cause: Race, Slavery and the Quest for Human Origins”, will be giving a talk about his fascinating discoveries underlying Darwin’s motivations. Everyone is welcome – the talk will be in Roscoe B lecture Theatre, on Brunswick Street, at 5:30pm on Tuesday 20 October. Anyone with any interest in Darwin should go to what will be an excellent talk.
RAPPING WITH DARWIN
When I first heard about this Darwin-themed event at the Manchester Museum, I was very doubtful – “evolution presented in the style of Eminem”. But Henry McGhie of the Museum, who’s been heavily involved with it, assures me that it really is fantastic. Baba Brinkman explores the history of Darwin’s theory combining hilarious remixes of popular rap songs with clever lyrical storytelling that covers Natural Selection, Sexual Selection, Evolutionary Psychology, and much more. Friday 23 October at 6pm in the Museum.
Baba Brinkman’s page:
THE END OF THE LINE
The new documentary about the fishing industry which was mentioned in the last Z-letter will be shown on More4 at 10:00pm on Tuesday October 20th.
The End of the Line trailer:
WHY SPONGES ARE ANIMALS
I had to address this issue in my second year lecture this morning. I was so amazed by some of the stuff I uncovered while researching the talk that I had to blog about it as Jerry Coyne’s guest blogger. See whether you’re equally convinced.
REMOTE CONTROLLED BEETLES
I had to check the date on this one, but no, it’s not date-stamped 1 April. US researchers at Berkeley are apparently able to radio control giant beetles (up to 20cm long) using electrodes implanted when the beetle was a grub. They can be “flown” round a room using a laptop. Although undoubtedly macabre, it isn’t quite so amazing as it sounds, as the electrodes are implanted into the muscles, not the brain. Stimulating the wing muscles on one side rather than the other would make the animal turn. Controlling the neuronal activity leading to that movement would be a lot more difficult, indeed impossible given our current knowledge. [EDIT – How wrong I was! Now I have been able to read the original article – see below, they did indeed plant electrodes into the beetle’s brain, which controlled flight initiation (wing flapping) and elevation (presumably a function of wing vibration speed). Amazing!] However, there are alarming implications of this work, which is being funded by the US military… Sheffield’s Professor Neil Starkey is particularly concerned by this. The work is allegedly reported in Frontiers in INTEGRATIVE Neuroscience (open access, includes movies!) but I can’t find the original article…
From the EZNews produced by John Altrincham (Leeds): Cameras fitted to albatrosses show that they follow killer whales, perhaps to take advantage of fish flushed to the surface. They also appear to dive in the company of other albatrosses and dive surprisingly infrequently.
Original Paper in PLoS ONE (open access):
Oklahoma skunk gets its head stuck in a jar of peanut butter. Will it spray its rescuers?
THE EVOLUTION OF MORALITY
This is an issue that Darwin (again) was fascinated by, and which is growing in importance. There’s an excellent site by Douglas Allchin of the University of Minnesota which effectively functions as a textbook on the question. Essential reading.
Evolution of Morality site:
Review by me of three books on the question:
The Big Moment of many people’s week will have been the new BBC natural history series, Life, narrated (but not filmed) by David Attenborough. I found the music incredibly irritating, overblown and unnecessary, but the images are absolutely stunning. (The flying fish were my favourite.) If you’re in the UK, you can still watch it again on line at:
THE STRESS OF BEING A PREY
Much of the footage in the first episode of Life was devoted to predation, with scenes of prey animals being chased by hungry predators. What are the physiological effects of such stress on prey animals? An article in a recent issue of Journal of Animal Ecology looks at snowshoe hares.
Magazine article (Sub needed to get past abstract):
Research article (Sub needed to get past abstract):
More from John Altrincham: Spiders adjust thread tension to improve their ability to detect prey on the web.
Proceedings of the Royal Society article (Sub needed to get beyond abstract):
THE VEGETARIAN SPIDER
Promised about a month ago by Geoff North, editor of Current Biology and assiduous Z-letter reader, this news of a salticid spider from Central America that is vegetarian. Or nearly. Its primary food are small tender shots of acacia leaves, which are guarded by ants as part of an ant-plant mutualism. The spider can jump over the ants and get the buds. Quite amazing.
BBC page, including video:
Current Biology News & Views article:
Current Biology research article:
MASSIVE DINO PRINTS FOUND IN FRANCE
A huge set of dino prints, covering several hectares, has been found in Eastern France. Some of the sauropod traces are over *two metres* wide. That doesn’t mean that the dino’s feet were that wide, of course. The way that prints are preserved in gloopy mud often means that they are much broader than the animal’s feet.
NAME THAT ANIMAL
This sent in by PhD student Neil Buttery, who spotted it on PopBitch, which is obviously what he surfs when he’s not playing Scrabble on Facebook…
Homer Evolution October 16, 2009Posted by rationalskeptic in Humor.
Tags: Comedy, Silly Theists, The Simpsons
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Ardipithecus ramidus October 4, 2009Posted by rationalskeptic in Fossils.
Tags: Ardipithecus ramidus, Evolution, Fossils
In its 2 October 2009 issue, Science presents 11 papers, authored by a diverse international team, describing an early hominid species, Ardipithecus ramidus, and its environment. These 4.4 million year old hominid fossils sit within a critical early part of human evolution, and cast new and sometimes surprising light on the evolution of human limbs and locomotion, the habitats occupied by early hominids, and the nature of our last common ancestor with chimps. (from sciencemag.org AAAS)
This is an area of study that I love to talk about and post about, but I am going to leave this post up to the experts to explain: Here is a portion of Carl Zimmer’s post over at his blog The Loom.
Nice Guys With Little Teeth
Those of you reading this post that have a Y chromosome have canine teeth that are about the same size as those of my XX readers. The same rule applies to the teeth of some other primate species. But in still other species, the males have much bigger canines than the females. The difference corresponds fairly well to the kind of social lives these primates have. Big canines are a sign of intense competition between males. Canine teeth in some primate species get honed into sharp daggers that males can use as weapons in battles for territory and for the opportunity to mate with females.
Men have stubby canines, which many scientists take as a sign that the competition between males became less intense in our hominid lineage. That was likely due to a shift in family life. Male chimpanzees compete with each other to mate with females, but they don’t help with the kids when they’re born. Humans form long-term bonds, with fathers helping mothers by, for example, getting more food for the kids to eat. There’s still male-male competition in our lineage, but it’s a lot less intense than in other species.
White and his colleagues found so many teeth of different Ardipithecus individuals that they could compare male and female canines with some confidence. The male teeth turn out to be surprisingly blunted. This result suggests that hominids shifted away from a typical ape social structure early in our ancestry. If this was a result of males forming long-term bonds with females and helping raise young, this shift was able to occur while hominids were still living a very ape-like life. Ardipithecus existed about 2 million years before the oldest evidence of stone tools, suggesting that technology was not the trigger for the evolution of nice hominid guys.
Walking, Of A Sort; And Climbing, Of A Sort
C. Owen Lovejoy of Kent State University spearheaded the studies on how Ardipithecus moved. He and his colleagues argue that its pelvis could support its upper body during bipedal walking. It wasn’t a fabulous walker, and was probably a terrible runner. Nevertheless, it had some of the same anchors for muscles that we have on our pelvis, and which chimpanzees and other apes lack. Its pelvis was, in other words, a mosaic. Lucy, we now can see, represents a later step in the journey towards out own walking-adapted anatomy.
Ardipithecus’s feet were mosaics too. The four little toes were adapted for walking on the ground. Yet the big toe was still opposable, much like our thumbs. This sort of big toe helped Ardipithecus move through the trees much more adeptly than Lucy.
But Ardipithecus could not climb through trees as well as, say, chimpanzees. Chimpanzees have lots of adaptations in their arms and shoulders to let them hang from branches and climb vertically up trees with incredible speed. Ardipithecus had hands were not stiffened enough to let them move like chimpanzees. Ardipithecus probably moved carefully through the trees, using its hands and feet all at once to grip branches.
Just a Reminder: We Didn’t Evolve From Chimpanzees
Chimpanzees may be our closest living relatives, but that doesn’t mean that our common ancestor with them looked precisely like a chimp. In fact, a lot of what makes a chimpanzee a chimpanzee evolved after our two lineages split roughly 7 million years ago. Ardipithecus offers strong evidence for the newness of chimps.
Only after our ancestors branched off from chimpanzees, Lovejoy and his colleagues argue, did chimpanzee arms evolve the right shape for swinging through trees. Chimpanzee arms are also adapted for knuckle-walking, while Ardipithecus didn’t have the right anatomy to lean comfortably on their hands. Chimpanzees also have peculiar adaptations in their feet that make them particularly adept in trees. For example, they’re missing a bone found in monkeys and humans, which helps to stiffen our feet. The lack of this bone makes chimpanzee feet even more flexible in trees, but it also makes them worse at walking on the ground. Ardipithecus had that same foot bone we have. This pattern suggests that chimpanzees lost the bone after their split with our ancestors, becoming even better at tree-climbing.
Chimpanzees do still tell us certain things about our ancestry. Our ancestors had chimp-sized brains. They were hairy like chimps and other apes. And like chimps, they didn’t wear jewelry or play the trumpet.
But then again, humans turn out to be a good stand-in for the ancestors of chimpanzees in some ways–now that Ardipithecus has clambered finally into view.
Check out all the links in this post to read through the commentary and the actual research itself.