☛ Miss Marple makes a comeback

The Guardian reports:

The collection, titled Marple, marks the first time anyone other than [Agatha] Christie has written “official” (as recognised by the Christie estate) Miss Marple stories. The 12 women who contributed to the collection include award-winning crime writers Val McDermid and Dreda Say Mitchell, historical novelist Kate Mosse, classicist and writer Natalie Haynes and New York Times bestselling author Lucy Foley.

(If the Guardian link above doesn’t work for any reason, here is an alternative link from Smithsonian Magazine quoting The Guardian.)

This is great! Always room for more Marple mysteries for avid Christie readers such as me!

There have already been several new “official” Poirot novels, written by Sophie Hannah, also sanctioned by the Christie estate, that have been published in the last few years. I have read a couple of them, and they are pretty good reads! The author’s voice seems just that bit different — of course, that is to be expected, and indeed hoped for — and that’s a little jarring after years of reading Christie, but the plots and the characters are quite well-thought-written-fleshed-out. They won’t feel out of place amongst Christie’s Poirot mysteries.

If these new Marple stories are anywhere as good, then they will be worth looking out for.

☛ Ancient DNA traces origin of Black Death

A Silk Road stopover might have been the epicentre of one of humanity’s most destructive pandemics.

People who died in a fourteenth-century outbreak in what is now Kyrgyzstan were killed by strains of the plague-causing bacterium Yersinia pestis that gave rise to the pathogens responsible several years later for the Black Death, shows a study of ancient genomes.

“It is like finding the place where all the strains come together, like with coronavirus where we have Alpha, Delta, Omicron all coming from this strain in Wuhan,” says Johannes Krause, a palaeogeneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, who co-led the study, published on 15 June in Nature.

Fascinating read on new research on the origins of Black Death. As you can imagine, it’s not an easy task to find genomic data from the plague bacteria, several centuries after the pandemic. Then, like now, how the pandemic spread mattered quite a lot of how and where a lot of humans came together and then dispersed, carrying the deadly disease with them.

☛ Of Cricket, and How Fast Bowling is About More Than Speed

It has been too long on this website with not a mention of cricket. To remedy that, here is essential reading by Cameron Ponsonby at ESPNCricinfo on how fast bowling speeds are only a portion of the feel of a fast bowler’s pace:

It is very easy to think of facing fast bowling as primarily a reactive skill. In fact, read any article on quick bowling and it will invariably say you only have 0.4 seconds to react to a 90mph delivery.

But what does that mean? No one can compute information in 0.4 seconds. It’s beyond our realm of thinking in the same way that looking out of an aeroplane window doesn’t give you vertigo because you’re simply too high up for your brain to process it.

However, the reason it’s possible is because, whilst you may only have 0.4 seconds to react, you have a lot longer than that to plan. And the best in the world plan exceptionally well.

When the ball arrives to you, as the batter, literally faster than you can react to the ball, how fast a ball feels has way more to do with diversity between bowlers than the raw pace on the ball.

Excellent and insightful read.

Another interesting piece by Ponsonby talks about data analytics in cricket. As Ponsonby mentions in his fast bowling article, cricket only dabbles in data analytics when compared to, say, baseball, where the analytics have been taken to another level altogether.

I think I’m okay with the balance that cricket has with its data analytics: I would rather have the analytics being fascinating reads for the fan, and an influence on the coaches/players, without their becoming all that anyone cares or talks about. I sometimes feel like the innate skill and art of sport gets lost in baseball. Makes for great reading though!

☛ Human evolution and the role of our grandmothers

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.

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.