arnabocean

— by Arnab Gupta

☞ Human evolution and the role of our grandmothers

August 03, 2020

From the archives, this article from NPR sheds fascinating light on the role of our grandmothers in human evolution. For example, Dr. Kristen Hawkes at the University of Utah follows modern hunter-gatherer tribes to understand how our ancestors might have lived.

Over many extended field visits, Hawkes and her colleagues kept track of how much food a wide sample of Hadza community members were bringing home. She says that when they tracked the success rates of individual men, “they almost always failed to get a big animal.” They found that the average hunter went out pretty much every day and was successful on exactly 3.4 percent of those excursions. That meant that, in this society at least, the hunting hypothesis seemed way off the mark. If people here were depending on wild meat to survive, they would starve.

So if dad wasn’t bringing home the bacon, who was? After spending a lot of time with the women on their daily foraging trips, the researchers were surprised to discover that the women, both young and old, were providing the majority of calories to their families and group-mates.

A Hazda woman digs for tubers with a digging stick.

A Hazda woman digs for tubers with a digging stick. (copyright NPR/Nigel Pavitt/Getty Images/AWL Images).

As we learn more, we are coming to realize that our strong relations with our grandparents is not just a weird (and lucky!) quirk of our evolution, but quite necessary to our anthropological journey to our present.

For starters, not all animals have ‘grandparents’, i.e. ‘elders’ living long past their reproductive age, in the first place. Humans (and other great apes), whales and elephants are a small minority of those with societal grandparents. Even among humans, having grandparents may be a more recent development than we think.

This NPR article provides a great perspective from several researchers. We were surely hunter gatherers in our evolutionary past, but it turns out that how our hunting and gathering occurred is way more complex than the men hunted and fed their families.

If you’re following Dr. Hawkes’ work, you might be interested in this podcast that she appeared on at The Insight.

☞ Pregnant elephant tortured to death in India: it was fed a pineapple stuffed with firecrackers.

June 02, 2020

I am appalled to admit that the creatures who did this are of my same species:

An elephant that was pregnant died in Kerala, standing in water, last Wednesday, after she faced one of the most brutal forms of animal abuse. She ate a pineapple filled with firecracker, offered to her allegedly by some locals. The fruit exploded in her mouth, leading to the inevitable tragedy.

[…]

So powerful was the cracker explosion in her mouth that her tongue and mouth were badly injured. The elephant walked around in the village, in searing pain and in hunger. She was unable to eat anything because of her injuries.

I am more disturbed by this incident than I can put into words. Poor, poor elephant, expecting a minimum — the very minimum — of cross-species friendliness, and receiving not just death, not just agony, but excruciating, hours-long torture. The creatures that did this don’t deserve to share the Earth with anyone.

The elephant stands in the Velliyar River.

The elephant stood in the Velliyar river for hours, refusing help and in ‘searing pain’, until it died standing in the water. (via NDTV).

The news report was based on accounts from a forest officer on social media who went to respond to the situation, and has no mention of whether anyone has been arrested for this. The creatures that did this should face consequences at the very least according to the laws of their own species, surely. (That would be inadequate and the bare minimum, but the rest of us are, after all, bound by such things as codes of conduct, and laws, and morals.)

Anyway, this here is the relevant Indian Penal Code section:

[Section] 429. Mischief by killing or maiming cattle, etc., of any value or any animal of the value of fifty rupees.—Whoever commits mis­chief by killing, poisoning, maiming or rendering useless, any elephant, camel, horse, mule, buffalo, bull, cow or ox, whatever may be the value thereof, or any other animal of the value of fifty rupees or upwards, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years, or with fine, or with both.

Whoever did this needs to be behind bars. Anyone that could have spoken up and didn’t needs to be behind bars too. 5 years, the penal code says. I think that’s too few; there’s no mention of torture in the code, and ‘mischief’ is quite inadequate to capture the extent of this monstrosity. Put them all in jail, and slap fines large enough that they spend the rest of their lives just paying them off.

Poor, poor elephant.

☞ Wriddhiman Saha shines as India wicketkeeper

October 14, 2019

This makes me so happy. :-)

India wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha was at the very top of his game during India’s second Test cricket match against South Africa. Usually, wicket keepers are invisible when they do their job well—they’re just there to catch or stump the batsman out thanks to the bowlers’ efforts. This time, though, Saha’s brilliance was plainly evident even on the highlight reel.

Saha dives!

Saha’s keeping is a thing of beauty (via cricketaddictor.com).

Saha has been India’s best pure wicketkeeper for a while now. For the majority of his career he was in the shadow of the great MS Dhoni; more recently, Saha’s injury has allowed the precocious but evidently still raw Rishabh Pant a sniff at the top job. It’s good to finally see Saha back in action. Saha may not be as exuberant as Pant, but he can certainly bat. After this latest Test and in comparison with Pant’s work in the past year, there should be no debate at all regarding Saha’s place as India’s first choice keeper.

Welcome back, Wriddhiman! Having him behind the stumps adds beauty to the game.

☞ Celebrating babies’ first laugh

August 14, 2019

There are several references to this on the internet, but this is the reference that I first came across, so this is what I’m linking to. From Ingrid Fetell Lee:

Did you know that the Navajo (Diné) people have a specific tradition around celebrating a baby’s first laugh? Around three months, they watch the baby closely for that first real giggle. The person who has the good fortune of eliciting that first laugh is then responsible for throwing a party, with the baby technically playing the role of host. Of course, a baby can’t host a party, so the relative or friend who coaxed out that first laugh hands out rock salt, candy, and gifts on the baby’s behalf.

I love this tradition, if for nothing else then for the cuteness factor alone. There are more reasons to celebrate this event, though: laughter is a baby’s first form of communication with its surroundings and with other humans. From this great Ted.com article referencing psychology researcher Caspar Addyman:

The need to communicate with laughter may have deep roots in our development as a species, speculates Addyman. Evolutionary biology suggests it’s a way for humans to share with other humans — and thus, to belong. While he is still teasing out why children needed to signal their enjoyment of the cartoon to whoever was there, he thinks it has to do with the idea, raised by Oxford University anthropologist and primatologist Robin Dunbar, that laughter could be a replacement for the earlier primate behavior of grooming. “Grooming was a one-on-one, unfakeable investment of time in somebody else,” explains Addyman, and it created trust among group members as well as a sense of community.

We have several different baby-event celebrations; this should be one of them!

☞ The climate change that helped the dinosaurs

November 01, 2018

The Atlantic has an excellent piece on a drastic climate change event about 230 million years ago, when vast quantities of carbon dioxide gas erupted from undersea volcanoes. We’ve all heard the story of how the dinosaurs disappeared; well, this one is a different story.

But perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of the Carnian Pluvial Episode was not the crisis itself, but the world that came after. Until then, dinosaurs had been a puny and obscure lineage confined to the furthest southern reaches of Pangaea. But by the time the crisis was over, they had spread all over the world—perhaps using the oddly humid pulse to hopscotch across the previously arid wastelands of Pangaea—and rapidly diversified, using the extinction of their competitors to experiment with new lifestyles. The planet would never be the same.

Speaking of climate change, living in the US makes it pretty clear that some of us haven’t yet gotten our head around the whys, the hows, and really, the necessity, of caring about climate change. This is the part that we must keep reminding ourselves: it’s not that climate change destroys the Earth; far from it. The Earth was, is and will be fine. It’s just that the species that inhabit the Earth has and will change with drastic climate change.

If we, humankind, as a species are destined to have the same fate as the dinosaurs, well, so be it. But hey, if there’s one thing us humans have done better than any other species, that’s to change our environment to suit ourselves. Let’s use that to keep Earth’s climate as we like it! A huge chunk of our civilization is based on proximity to water, including oceans; a huge chunk of us are used to certain weather patterns. We won’t like it if either of those factors change. We won’t; the Earth won’t care.

(Hopefully we won’t end up like the dinosaurs. Hopefully, we will (a) keep Earth’s climate under control, and (b) inhabit other planets, at least, by the time the Sun makes Earth uninhabitable.)

Anyway, go read this great article. This kind of story about the paths of life and evolution on Earth is always fascinating to read.

☞ ‘Democracy brings discontent’ in peaceful Bhutan

October 30, 2018

From Joanna Slater at the Washington Post is this excellent piece about emerging democracy in Bhutan:

A small Himalayan nation wedged between India and China, Bhutan is famed for its isolated location, its stunning scenery and its devotion to the principle of “Gross National Happiness,” which seeks to balance economic growth with other forms of contentment.

Now Bhutan’s young democracy, only a decade old, just received a heady dose of the unhappiness that comes with electoral politics. In the months leading up to Thursday’s national elections, the first in five years, politicians traded insults and made extravagant promises. Social media networks lit up with unproved allegations and fearmongering about Bhutan’s role in the world.

It is enough to make some voters express a longing for the previous system — absolute monarchy under a beloved king. “I would love to go back,” said Karma Tenzin, 58, sitting in his apartment in the picturesque capital, Thimphu. “We would be more than happy.”

Interesting tidbit:

The way elections are structured here is atypical, too. Buddhist monks, nuns and other clergy are not allowed to vote, on the logic that they should remain outside politics. No campaigning is allowed after 6 p.m. And candidates found “defaming” their opponents or straying into certain sensitive topics — such as Bhutan’s oppressively close relationship with India — face fines or reprimands.

Fines have been levied for describing political opponents as “anti-national” and “all talk and no substance”. This is such a stark contrast in tone and expectations from election campaigns in both India and USA that it almost seems quaint and anachronistic. Here’s to Bhutan maintaining its peacefulness and innocence as its democracy matures.

Bhutan went to the polls for its third parliamentary elections on 18 October, the day that the Washington Post piece was published.

(Well, perhaps democracy can also broach the topic of the expulsion, deportation, ethnic cleansing of its Nepali-origin citizens. Can’t imagine that having a good bearing on the Gross National Happiness.)

☞ FIFA updates its ethics code… to fight defamation, not corruption

August 16, 2018

From the AP:

FIFA has officially eradicated corruption. All it took was pressing the delete key.

Soccer officials and players who bother checking out the new code of ethics governing their conduct will find the word “corruption” missing. They also will discover how to avoid being banned for paying and receiving bribes.

It seems that the lesson that FIFA took from their massive corruption scandal is that they need to run a tighter ship in terms of information about the corruption getting out.

Related, they have also previously addressed racism in the sport by disbanding its anti-racism taskforce, declaring that it had “completely” fulfilled its mission. “Completely”; meanwhile, task force member Osasu Obayiuwana had this to say:

“I wish I could say that I am shocked by the decision, but unfortunately I am not. The problem of racism in football remains a burning, very serious and topical one, which need continuous attention.”

What would you bet that the next FIFA scandal won’t be too far away, however much they declare defamation of the body to be a punishable offense?

☞ The ugly scandal that cancelled the Nobel prize in literature

July 18, 2018

From the Guardian:

In the eyes of its members, there is no more important cultural institution in the world than the Swedish Academy. The members, who call themselves The Eighteen (always in capitals), are elected for life by their peers, and meet for a ritual dinner every Thursday evening at a restaurant they own in the heart of the old town in Stockholm. And once a year, at a ceremony brilliant with jewels and formality, the permanent secretary of the academy hands out the Nobel prize in literature and all the world applauds.

But this year there will be no prize and no ceremony. In November 2017, it was revealed in the Swedish press that the husband of one of the academy members had been accused of serial sexual abuse, in assaults alleged to have taken place over more than 20 years. Jean-Claude Arnault, a French photographer and cultural entrepreneur, is married to the poet and academician Katarina Frostenson. In addition to assault accusations against him, the pair are accused of misusing academy funding. Arnault has denied all accusations, and Frostenson has refused to comment.

The academy is paralysed by the scandal, which was followed by a slew of resignations and expulsions. Six of The Eighteen have withdrawn from any part in its deliberations; another two were compelled to do so. The statutes say that 12 members must be present to elect any new ones, so with only 10, no important decisions can be taken and no new members elected.

What a mess this is. I’m tempted to say “you can’t make this stuff up”; would that be too ironical?

☞ Disposable America — A history of modern capitalism from the perspective of the straw. Seriously.

July 11, 2018

By Alexis Madrigal for The Atlantic:

The invention of American industrialism, the creation of urban life, changing gender relations, public-health reform, suburbia and its hamburger-loving teens, better living through plastics, and the financialization of the economy: The straw was there for all these things—rolled out of extrusion machines, dispensed, pushed through lids, bent, dropped into the abyss.

You can learn a lot about this country, and the dilemmas of contemporary capitalism, by taking a straw-eyed view.

This is a very well researched article on the humble drinking straw, and its correlation with the evolving American societal outlook. The pervasiveness of the drinking straw in this society probably makes this a pretty good correlation to make.

Go read, this is quite an interesting, albeit long, read. (I did not know, for example, that the original straw was made from actual straw.)

☞ New free street library in Kolkata!

July 02, 2018

The Indian Express reports:

If one gets down at Netaji Bhavan metro station and walks towards Rammohan Dutta road straight to Northern park one would stumble upon a rather curious sight. College-goers can be seen crowding the area and a familiar smell of books envelops it. Several books are exhibited in bookshelves on the footpath and it almost seems like a bookstore at first glance. This, however, is no bookstore, instead, it is an expansive library that houses books by authors ranging from popular Bengali comic books to Sidney Sheldon. The name of the place is Street Library.

This is such a lovely concept. Anyone who wants to read can pick up a book and return it once they are finished. People who have books that they don’t plan on keeping can donate and improve the collection. People with organization skills and some spare time can chip in and organize the collection every once in a while.

This is an excellent program that encourages reading, sharing and selflessness. It also depends on a community working together to keep a good thing going. I wish this all the best, and really hope that there is enough community interest and investment to overcome the occasional miscreant. Although Kolkata is home to the National Library of India, and hosts several other libraries, they are either not free or not easily accessible for many people. Street libraries are an excellent idea for people short on time and energy but an interest to read.

If you’re in Kolkata and have some books to spare, perhaps you can consider donating to this? Or better yet, perhaps you can see if something similar can be organized in your part of the city?