Video of the day

Just caught this while looking up on a TV in the gym today.  Absolutely amazing goal.  It was only #3 in a top 10 countdown, but I love the way it completely freezes the goalkeeper by looking like it will surely be wide:


I’m sure there’s plenty about the Paleo diet to recommend it.  My problem with it is that the rationale seems to be so much psuedo-science.  Thus, I really enjoyed this excerpt from Paleofantasy claiming as much and explaining why:

The paleofantasy is a fantasy in part because it supposes that we humans, or at least our protohuman forebears, were at some point perfectly adapted to our environments. We apply this erroneous idea of evolution producing the ideal mesh between organism and surroundings to other life-forms too, not just to people. We seem to have a vague idea that long long ago, when organisms were emerging from the primordial slime, they were rough-hewn approximations of their eventual shape, like toys hastily carved from wood, or an artist’s first rendition of a portrait, with holes where the eyes and mouth eventually will be. Then, the thinking goes, the animals were subject to the forces of nature. Those in the desert got better at resisting the sun, while those in the cold evolved fur or blubber or the ability to use fire. Once those traits had appeared and spread in the population, we had not a kind of sketch, but a fully realized organism, a fait accompli, with all of the lovely details executed, the anatomical t’s crossed and i’s dotted.

To think of ourselves as misfits in our own time flatly contradicts what we now understand about the way evolution works.But of course that isn’t true. Although we can admire a stick insect that seems to flawlessly imitate a leafy twig in every detail, down to the marks of faux bird droppings on its wings, or a sled dog with legs that can withstand subzero temperatures because of the exquisite heat exchange between its blood vessels, both are full of compromises, jury-rigged like all other organisms. The insect has to resist disease, as well as blend into its background; the dog must run and find food, as well as stay warm. The pigment used to form those dark specks on the insect is also useful in the insect immune system, and using it in one place means it can’t be used in another. For the dog, having long legs for running can make it harder to keep the cold at bay, since more heat is lost from narrow limbs than from wider ones. These often conflicting needs mean automatic trade-offs in every system, so that each may be good enough but is rarely if ever perfect. Neither we nor any other species have ever been a seamless match with the environment. Instead, our adaptation is more like a broken zipper, with some teeth that align and others that gape apart. Except that it looks broken only to our unrealistically perfectionist eyes—eyes that themselves contain oddly looped vessels as a holdover from their past.  [emphasis mine]

Also enjoyed this segment on the matter on Quirks and Quarks. Among other things, they discuss the fact that our cavemen ancestors surely weren’t drinking milk from cattle, but that many human populations evolved this ability quite rapidly.

Quick hits

A lot of interesting stuff I’ve been reading lately that I don’t have all that much to say about:

1) Grade inflation is just nuts.  Currently at my alma mater, Duke, fully a quarter of the students have a 3.7 or above GPA.  In my day– class of 1994– that figure was about 3.4 for the top 25%.

2) In theory, I love the idea of attending a Premier League game in England some day.  In practice, sounds kids of crazy.

3) Catholic school in Columbus, OH fires beloved PE teacher after finding out via her mother’s obituary that she has a same sex partner.  Damn this stuff drives me crazy.  Love this quote:

Perhaps six colleagues met Julie over the years, though they probably weren’t the only ones aware of Carla’s sexual orientation. “I’m sure it was surmised: gym teacher, divorced, short hair, didn’t have a bow in it,” Carla said. “Come on.”

4) All of our babies slept in bed with us at some point.  It’s just so much easier and I’m pretty sure we were as safe as could be about it.  I really enjoyed this discussion of the issue, especially the sad fact that pediatricians will not even discuss how to make co-sleeping safer because they are so dead-set against it.

5) Enjoyed this George Packer post on how technology has made our lives better, but there’s not much it can do about inequality.

6) Apparently parents read more to their daughters.  One theory is that its harder to read to boys because they’re more likely to be squirmy.  That one sounds good to me.  This author’s anecdotal N of 1 family (her own) shed no light on the topic at all, but was an interesting review of the issues.  In my family David loved to be read to and so does Sarah, who actually demands it on a regular basis.   I’d like to see more research to help figure out how much of this is about the parents vs. how much is innate differences in young  boys vs young girls.

Photo of the day

So, this is kind of crazy, two bald eagles locked in an aerial battle and crash landing:


How two bald eagles appeared after crash landing. Photo courtesy of Randy Hanzal, Minnesota conservation officer


We’re all related to dead people

So, I’ve been meaning to check out the new on-line only science magazine, Nautilus, and finally did so yesterday after a link from wonkblog.  Very cool post about the relatedness and lack thereof of human beings.   (Also, love the visual layout of Nautilus– about as appealing as any website I’ve come across).  Additionally, M.S., despite being an NC resident, wrote to tell me he’s tired of bashing the legislature and he wants more epigenetics.  Well, this isn’t quite epigenetics, but its genetics:

 In 2004, statistician Joseph Chang, computer scientist Douglas Rohde, and writer Steve Olson used a computer model of human genetics to show that anyone who was alive 2,000-3,000 years ago is either the ancestor of everyone who’s now alive, or no one at all. Think about that: If a person alive in 1,000 BCE has any descendants alive today, they have all of us—even people from different continents and isolated populations. This line of thought led to the revelation that everyone of European heritage alive today is a descendant of Charlemagne, who ruled over much of Europe as the first Holy Roman Emperor. As science writer Carl Zimmer wrote last week, it’s “Charlemagne for everyone!” …

It doesn’t get any less weird when you look at it from the other angle: While you more than likely have four distinct grandparents and eight distinct great-grandparents, past a certain number of generations back, your number of ancestors stops growing exponentially, because they start being the same people. By the time a couple who married in 1450 in Holland, has had a few hundred descendants over the span of several generations, those people are distantly related enough that some of them start marrying (and, yes, reproducing with) each other. That couple thus becomes the however-many-great-grandparents of the children of those unions along multiple branches of their family tree. (If your number of ancestors actually doubled every generation, by the time you counted back the 40 or so generations to Charlemagne, you’d have around a trillion ancestors. Scholars estimate the world population was only about 300 million at that point.) Stretch this back a few thousand years and you can see how you wind up being related to every other member of your species.

That’s just fascinating stuff.  I suspect these are some factoids that people who know me well are going to get sick of hearing about.  And, I’ll have to start bragging about my great, great….great grandfather Charlemagne.

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