☛ Celebrating babies’ first laugh

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

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

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

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

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?