Death in Manchester


(From European Press Agency , via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“Thousands attended a vigil in Manchester earlier”
(BBC News)

Manchester is England’s second-largest urban center, in terms of population.

At around 10:30 Monday night, something like 21,000 folks — pre-teens, teenagers, adults — were leaving a music concert at the Manchester Arena. Someone with a bomb set it off in or near the arena’s foyer.

He’s dead. So are more than 20 other folks.

Except for the chap who killed them, the dead had been enjoying an Ariana Grande concert. The youngest victims I’ve read about were eight years old.

Quite a few others are injured. Some are missing.

I am not happy about this, putting it mildly.

Some Guy With a Bomb

The UK’s government raised their terror threat level to “critical,” the highest it’ll go.

That’s apparently because they can’t be sure that last night’s attack was a one-man show.

Under the circumstances, that seems reasonable.

It looks like the bomber had been born in Manchester, went to the city’s Salford University, supported Manchester United football team, and worked in a bakery. He’s Libyan, in the sense that his ancestors lived in Libya.

A trustee of the Manchester Islamic Centre said the bomber probably had been there. That’d hardly be surprising, since that’s where his father goes.

The trustee also pointed out that his mosque was, as BBC news put it, “a moderate, modern, liberal mosque, and he is a member of an organisation liaising with police, the Independent Advisory Group.”

Based on what’s in the news, I do not think that England should lock up all bakery workers, outlaw universities, and banish folks with Libyan ancestry.

My guess is that many or most most Libyans and Muslims living in England are as upset about what the now-dead ex-student did, as I was back when the IRA was giving “Irish” a bad name.

Manchester, 1996: IRA Bombing

I’m a Norwegian-Irish-Scots-American. My ancestors don’t define me, but without them I wouldn’t be here.

The point of that reminiscence is that news from the UK had a personal angle for me a few decades back. I was disgusted by what some folks were doing to my homeland’s reputation.

On June 15, 1996, the Provisional Irish Republican Army, or IRA, set off a truck bomb in Manchester.

Nobody was killed; thanks partly to the IRA telephoning ahead with a warning, and partly because the powers that be helped with an evacuation of about 75,000 folks.1

The IRA wasn’t always that careful. Or lucky. In any case, although I am not happy about what English monarchs have done to my ancestral homeland, I don’t think bombing English cities is a reasonable response.

That sort of thing is not even close to matching the criteria for legitimate defense. I’ve talked about that before. (September 20, 2016; September 11, 2016)

Love and Justice

I don’t know anyone in Manchester, and I’m not an Ariana Grande fan. I have nothing against her music: I simply don’t know much about it, or her.

Why should I care?

I’m a Christian, and a Catholic. Part of my job as a citizen is contributing “to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom.” (Catechism, 2239)

My country and people, like the UK, are part of a big world. We are one of the places folks try to reach, when they flee death and poverty. I don’t mind. I’ll be worried if folks ever stop trying to come here.

Like I said, I’m a Christian and a Catholic.

Since I take our Lord seriously, I think loving God, loving my neighbor, and seeing everybody as my neighbor, makes sense. (Matthew 22:3640, Mark 12:2831; Matthew 5:4344; Mark 12:2831; Luke 10:2530; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1825)

“Everybody” means everybody.

I keep saying this: I think human beings are people, all human beings. Each of us has equal dignity: no matter where we are, who we are, or how we act. (Catechism, 360, 17001706, 1929, 19321933, 1935, 2334)

Since I think respecting the “transcendent dignity” of humanity makes sense, I must work for justice — “as far as possible.” (Catechism, 1915, 19291933, 2820)

In my case, that’s pretty much limited to writing these posts, and suggesting that justice should not be all about “just us.”

And that’s another topic, for another day.

More, mostly about acting like love matters:


1 Manchester in the news:

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Acting Like Truth Matters

Folks have thought truth is important for quite a while:

“Piety requires us to honor truth above our friends.”
(Aristotle, “Nicomachean_Ethics” (349 BC))

3 Love and truth will meet; justice and peace will kiss.
“Truth will spring from the earth; justice will look down from heaven.”
(Psalms 85:1112)

“Never gainsay the truth, and struggle not against the rushing stream.
“Be not ashamed to acknowledge your guilt, but of your ignorance rather be ashamed.”
(Sirach 4:2526)

“The Heavenly City outshines Rome, beyond comparison. There, instead of victory, is truth; instead of high rank, holiness; instead of peace, felicity; instead of life, eternity.”
(St. Augustine of Hippo, “The City of God,” (early 5th century))

“The inclination to seek the truth is safer than the presumption which regards unknown things as known.”
(St. Augustine of Hippo, “De Trinitate,” (417))

I think truth is important, too. As a Christian, I’d better:

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way and the truth 5 and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
(John 14:6)

The Cambridge dictionary says truth is “the quality of being true,” and “the actual fact or facts about a matter:” which is a bit more useful than the other definition.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church’s glossary doesn’t include that word, but the index has quite a few entries under “truth.” One of those says that truth is the virtue of being true in what I do and say. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2468)

That helps, a little.

At least now I know that truth or truthfulness is a virtue. Backing up a little, there’s a pretty good overview of virtues in “The Dignity of the Human Person.” (Catechism, 18031832)

That part quotes Philippians 4:8, then says that a virtue is an established habit and attitude that points me toward what is good. It helps me notice what is good, and choose to do what is right. (Catechism, 1803)

Ignoring what is good and true, and making bad decisions, is an option. I’ve got free will, and that’s another topic. (March 5, 2017; November 13, 2016)

Faith, Reason, and Mr. Squibbs

I don’t know if I’d have decided to become a Catholic, if it meant steadfastly ignoring what we’ve learned since 1543, 1749, 1859, or some other arbitrary date.

The question is hypothetical, since we embrace truth: all truth. We should, that is.

Individual Catholics may be as fervently dedicated to a bit of 17th-century scholarship as their Protestant counterparts. (October 28, 2016; August 28, 2016)

But the Church does not warn us against “tampering with things man was not supposed to know,” as Mr. Squibbs put it. (October 16, 2016; August 21, 2016)

We’re told that faith means willingly and consciously embracing “the whole truth that God has revealed.” (Catechism, 142150)

We’re also told that God created everything: this universe and the things of faith. Faith, the Catholic version, and reason, get along fine. So do science and religion. (Genesis 1:1; “Fides et Ratio;” “Gaudium et Spes,” 36; Catechism, 159)

Sometimes a newly-discovered fact doesn’t fit assumptions we’d made earlier. That upsets some folks, but doesn’t make God a liar.

It means we need to think about what we’re learning. Eventually, we’ll solve the puzzle. “Truth cannot contradict truth,” as Leo XIII said. (“Providentissimus Deus,” Pope Leo XIII (November 18, 1893))

Being curious, thinking, and studying the universe, is a good idea. It’s part of being human. It’s part of what we’re supposed to do. That, and developing new technology by using what we learn. (Catechism, 282289, 1704, 22932296)

Noticing order and beauty in the universe is one way we can learn about God. (Catechism, 3132, 3536, 319, 1704)

Like I keep saying, scientific discoveries don’t threaten an informed faith. They’re opportunities for greater admiration of God’s work. (Catechism, 283, 341)

Asking Questions

The first ‘Catholic’ document I studied was “Humanae Vitae.” I didn’t like what it said, not at the time. But I couldn’t argue with the logic.

Later, I wasn’t surprised by the Catechism’s insistence that logic and truth made sense, that we’re supposed to accept both: and that science and faith both seek truth. (Catechism, 31, 159, 1849)

Where was I? Truth, Aristotle, St. Augustine of Hippo. Right.

I didn’t become a Catholic because the Pontifical Academy of Sciences is at Casina Pio IV in Vatican City.

But I’d be about as likely to join folks who fear knowledge, as I’d be to sign up with a bunch who think they can rewrite the Decalogue if they get enough votes.

The idea that asking questions, seeking truth in what we can see, is far from new:

“Question the beauty of the earth, question the beauty of the sea, question the beauty of the air…. They all answer you, ‘Here we are, look; we’re beautiful.’…
“…So in this way they arrived at a knowledge of the god who made things, through the things which he made.”
(Sermon 241, St. Augustine of Hippo (ca. 411))

Simple, Far From Easy

I could decide that just believing is enough.

I’ve got free will, so that’s an option. It’s also a bad idea. I have to act like our Lord matters. That gets me to Sunday’s Gospel reading, John 14:1521:

“‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate 8 to be with you always,
“the Spirit of truth, 9 which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you.”
(John 14:1517)

I could go nuts, trying to memorize the Ten Commandments and every rule of conduct that’s been written since. That might be interesting, but it’s not necessary.

Our Lord boiled the whole thing down to a few simple points.

I should love God, love my neighbor, and see everyone as my neighbor. That’s “the whole law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:3640, Mark 12:2831; Matthew 5:4344; Mark 12:2831; Luke 10:2530; Catechism, 1825)

“Simple” isn’t “easy.”

Let’s say I notice my neighbor trying to commit suicide.

Saying ‘do whatever you want, I love you’ would be a bad idea. So would telling a suicide victim’s nearest and dearest that the recently deceased is roasting in Hell.

Suicide is a bad idea and we shouldn’t do it. But life is precious, hope is a virtue, and trusting God makes sense, even — particularly — when bad things happen. (Catechism, 18171821, 2258, 22802283)

I know from personal experience that choosing hope can be very, very hard. But the other option is not viable. (February 24, 2017; October 14, 2016)

Depression, death, and despair, aren’t cheerful topics. They’re unpleasant, unavoidable, and unacceptable, respectively. Dwelling on them doesn’t, I think, make sense; and that’s quite enough words starting with “d,” at least for the moment.

I’ve found that remembering the big picture helps lift my mood. Your experience may vary.

“These Few Years….”

I can’t die: not permanently. That’s good news, or bad news, depending on what I decide at my final performance review. We call it the particular judgment. It comes right after my physical death. (Catechism, 10201037)

If I decide that acting like a rational creature is less important than some trivial whim or desire, I can opt out of Heaven. That’d be a daft decision, but it is possible. (Catechism, 10211022)

Nobody’s dragged, kicking and screaming, into Heaven.

It’s not just about me and eternity, though.

Part of my job is passing along the best news we’ve ever had.

God loves us, and wants to adopt us. All of us. (John 1:1214, 3:17; Romans 8:1417; Peter 1:34; Catechism, 1, 2730, 52).

If I take love seriously I’ll also do what I can to help build the “civilization of love” Pope St. John Paul II talked about. (May 7, 2017)

Dual Citizenship

In the long term, my “citizenship is in heaven.” (Philippians 3:20)

At the moment, I’m living in America; so I have a sort of dual citizenship. (February 27, 2017; August 14, 2016; July 24, 2016)

Part of my responsibility as a citizen is to do what I can to work for the common good, correcting what is unjust and supporting what is right. (Catechism, 19281942, 24012449)

That does not mean claiming that everyone should act like an American, or insisting on one ‘correct’ form of government. We’re not all alike, and aren’t supposed to be. (Catechism, a href=”http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s1c2a2.htm#1897″>1897–1917, 1957)

I can’t end world hunger, establish a lasting peace in the Middle East, or cure the common cold. I’m just one man living in central Minnesota.

But working at conforming my will to God’s, trying to act as if God matters: that, I can do.

I can also suggest that we all work with what we have: doing what we can, correcting what is unjust and supporting what is right.

And I can repeat what I think is true: that we are, each of us, made “in the divine image.” (Genesis 1:27)

Whoever we are, wherever we live, each of us has equal dignity. Part of our job is working with each other, correcting inequalities which do not reflect that dignity. (Catechism, 18971917, 19281942, 2334)

I think we can build a better world. I am sure that we must try.


(From Ridwan Chandra, used w/o permission.)

More, mostly about love and making sense:

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Ammonites, Dinosaurs, and Us

Today’s world is remarkable for a lack of dinosaurs. Big ones, anyway. Those critters would have been among the first things someone would notice here for upwards of 200,000,000 years.

Then, about 66,000,000 years back, something awful happened. The only dinosaurs left are those little tweeting, chirping, and cawing critters we call birds.

Ammonites had been around for even longer, but whatever finished the ‘thunder lizards’ wiped them out, too. We showed up much more recently, and are learning that there’s a very great deal of our past, and Earth’s, that we don’t know. Not yet.


Differences

Nomader, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.Folks who look like me, more or less, have been around for about 200,000 years.

Everyone doesn’t look just like me, though. About half are women, for starters.

Differences between male and female humans aren’t as dramatic as we see in critters like orangutans, but they’re quite real. Most of us get very interested in them when we hit adolescence, and that’s another topic.

Groups of people aren’t exactly alike, either. Not if our ancestors have lived wherever we are for enough generations.

My ancestors, the ones I know of, spent a long time in northeastern Europe before moving to central North America. That left me with freckles and otherwise melanin-deficient skin, blue eyes, and a particular sort of facial features.

I’m also very close to average height for a human male: globally.

But most families where I grew up had immigrated from Scandinavia or Germany a few generations back. Although they’re not the tallest folks in the world, their height runs well above average. I still think of myself as short.

We’re not all alike. We’re not supposed to be.

Differences exist. We’re born needing others, grow and change in different ways so that our strengths can help others. Each of us benefits in some way from the strengths of folks who are not like us.

That’s the way it should work. Something went wrong, obviously, and that’s another yet topic. (April 16, 2017: March 5, 2017)

But we are still, each of us, made “in the divine image:” male and female, young and old, with equal dignity. Part of our job is working with each other, and correcting inequalities which do not reflect that dignity. (Genesis 1:27; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 18971917, 19281942, 2334)

We have a great deal left to learn about dignity and and dealing with differences.

Dvergar

I’ll be talking about two sorts of folks who aren’t around any more, which reminded me of dvergar.

I think that’d be twerga in Old High German. By the time “dvergar” reached today’s English, the word was “dwarf.”

Folks in my ancestral homelands didn’t start writing down our traditions until recently. The “Poetic Edda,” for example, isn’t much more than seven centuries old in its current form.

We figure it draws on much older traditions. Several different ones, most likely.

Dvergar were creatures of myth and folklore by then. “Völuspá” says they came from the blood of Brimir and bones of Bláinn. “Prose Edda” is less complementary, saying they were like maggots in Ymir’s flesh, before getting brains.

Whatever their local name, northwestern European tales are fairly consistent in describing dvergar. They’re short, ugly, and prone to antisocial behavior. But they’re wise and skilled in mining and crafting metal.

Mythic elements aside, that sounds like quite a few folks on my wife’s side of the family; and mine.

Not the ugly and antisocial part; but short, smart, and really good with our hands. I don’t think I’m descended from Ymir’s maggots or leftover bits of Brimir and Bláinn.

But I think it’s possible that folks who looked a bit like me and my kin made a living as miners and smiths.

Speculation

Smelting and forging iron wasn’t invented in Scandinavia. That happened in the Near East, and maybe sub-Saharan Africa.

The current academic opinion is that the tech reached Africa through Carthage, but that could change.

Around the time disastrous success added Pyrrhic victory to our cultural heritage, folks in Scandinavia started mining and processing iron ore.1 Archeologists figure that teams of about ten men worked the mine at Heglesvollen, Levanger, two millennia back.

The operation’s scale makes sense only if they were exporting the iron. We’ve found quite a few similar installations in Norway. Denmark probably had iron mines, too, but that land has been repurposed for farming and cities, burying any evidence that’s left.

Fast-forward over about a thousand years of oral traditions and imagination, and I can imagine accounts of miners and smiths merging with tales of chthonic spirits. But I won’t insist on it.

Short People and Mountain Gorillas

Little people‘ may not feature in everyone’s folklore and mythology, but Nimerigar, goblins, and ebu gogo aren’t unique.

Some mythical people, like the Abatwa, aren’t entirely mythical. Stories about them are arguably imaginative, but Twa live in central Africa, trading game for agricultural products.

Some of them got the short end of the stick in 1992, when a well-meaning effort to save mountain gorillas left them with no place to live. What was left of their land was being taken for use by other folks.

Up to that time, they’d had an unwritten agreement with taller folks.

The powers that be recognized them as human, which is an improvement over some earlier eras. (August 26, 2016)

But since they’re not mountain gorillas, they were evicted from gorilla land. With no documents saying they owned their land, there was no legal reason to pay them. They were left to discover poverty and drug abuse in treeless regions.

The good news is that they’re occasionally allowed to make and sell pottery.

I’m not happy about that. But I can’t do much to resolve the situation, other than mention it here: and hope that someone who reads this can take action. Or at least remember that good intentions can have unexpected results.

My recent family history has been happier. The potato famine forced some of my more-or-less-recent ancestors out of Ireland. But we moved to an area where we understood the local language, and could sometimes find work.

We didn’t have something like a dozen millennia of cultural and technological catching up to accomplish in one generation, for which I’m duly grateful. I was going to ramble on about humans, height, and ethnicity, but that’ll wait for another day.2


1. Chicxulub Impact: Firestorm With Sulfur Fallout


(From Barcroft Productions/BBC, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“Artwork: The impact hit with the energy equivalent to 10 billion Hiroshima bombs”
(BBC News))

Dinosaur asteroid hit ‘worst possible place’
BBC News (May 15, 2017)

Scientists who drilled into the impact crater associated with the demise of the dinosaurs summarise their findings so far in a BBC Two documentary on Monday.

“The researchers recovered rocks from under the Gulf of Mexico that were hit by an asteroid 66 million years ago.

“The nature of this material records the details of the event….

“…The shallow sea covering the target site meant colossal volumes of sulphur (from the mineral gypsum) were injected into the atmosphere, extending the ‘global winter’ period that followed the immediate firestorm….”

I don’t know what, if anything, Thomas Jefferson thought about dinosaurs; but he didn’t believe mammoths could have become extinct.

Evolution isn’t a new idea. Anaximander suggested that animals, humans included, developed from fish. But we’ve been on a steep learning curve since 1669, when Nicolas Steno helped launch paleontology as a science. (October 28, 2016; July 29, 2016)

Apparently even folks who made up “creation science” in the 1960s accept the reality that things change. It’s almost a step in the right direction. (March 31, 2017; January 13, 2017)

Georges Cuvier’s 1796 lecture discussing the notable lack of mammoths eventually got scientists wondering why we hadn’t found living equivalents of fossilized critters.

Time passed. Lamarck and Haeckel had theories about evolution that were wrong. Darwin is famous for being more nearly right, and Pope Leo XIII said that what we learn can’t interfere with faith. Not in the long run. (October 28, 2016; September 23, 2016)

By 1982, we’d uncovered a big enough sample of fossilized extinct critters for Jack Sepkoski and David M. Raup to identify five major mass extinctions.

Don’t Panic

They figured those five were probably statistical oddities in a general trend of decreasing extinction rates over the last half-billion years.

They were right, but not entirely.

Extinction events happen. The earliest we know of was the Great Oxygenation Event, or GOE, about 2,400,000,000 years back.

The biggest was the Permian-Triassic extinction event, or Great Dying, roughly 252,000,000 years ago. That’s about halfway between the GOE and now.

Depending on who’s talking and what criteria they use, we’ve had between five and 20 major extinction events, and a whole mess of little ones.

Scientists figure around 99.9% of all species are now extinct.

Don’t panic. Even though we finally managed to drive the smallpox virus to extinction, many species are not extinct. We’ve named 64,788 chordates; and around 1,359,365 invertebrates, give or take, of an estimated 6,755,830.

We’re even less likely to run short of bacteria. We’re not sure about the exact number, but scientists figure Earth currently has between five and 10 million bacterial species.

Don’t get me wrong. I think avoiding another lapse in judgment like the one that ended passenger pigeons and nearly drove the American bison to extinction is a good idea.

I also think using our brains makes sense. Jumping on the latest ‘crisis’ bandwagon, not so much. (February 10, 2017; January 20, 2017)

Making it Worse: Deccan Traps


(From Christopher R. Scotese, Paleomap Project, used w/o permission.)
(Earth, when non-avian dinosaurs died.)

We’ve known that the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event happened for some time, but still aren’t entirely sure what killed off nearly every tetrapod weighing more than 25 kilograms, 55 pounds.

In 1980 Luis and Walter Alvarez, a father-son team, said that an asteroid impact was the probable cause.

It looks like they were right, at least partly. But massive volcanic eruptions had been forming the Deccan Traps before the Chicxulub impact.

Some scientists say they’ve found evidence that lava flow increased after the impact.

Shock waves from the impact could have felt like a magnitude 9 earthquake everywhere on Earth — possibly triggering more massive eruptions in the Deccan Traps, and in other volcanically active areas.

As we learn more about the dinosaurs’ last days, it looks the Chicxulub impact wasn’t their only problem. Effluvia from eruptions in the Deccan Traps were pushing Earth’s temperature down, which may or may not be connected with sea level falling.

Whatever blasted out the Chicxulub crater may not have been alone. There’s doubt about whether the Shiva formation west of Mumbai/Bombay, India, is an impact crater, but the Boltysh crater in Ukraine is definitely from an impact.

The Boltysh crater is only 24 kilometers, 15 miles, across: but whatever made it hit Earth within a thousand years or so of the Chicxulub event. Maybe less. We don’t know if these two impacts were a statistical fluke — or happened when a binary asteroid hit.

I don’t see a reason to think this was an ‘either-or’ situation. As someone pointed out a few years ago, the Chicxulub object hit at the wrong time.

Wrong for most big critters, that is. Scorpions and cockroaches endured and have been doing pretty well. So have mammals. But what with falling rocks, massive volcanic activity, and all, that was a bad time to live on Earth.3

One More Thing

It’s very unlikely that a Chicxulub-sized asteroid will hit in the next few years, decades, or centuries.

Cosmic debris big enough to trigger an extinction-level event come at (apparently) irregular intervals of much more than ten million years, on average.

Smaller bits and pieces, like the one that exploded over Chelyabinsk in 2013, come every century: more or less.

Bigger things, like whatever hit our planet about 800,000 years back, come less often. That impact sprayed tektites — gravel-size bits of molten glass — over much of Asia and Australia. I think it’s in our best interest to keep that from happening again.

We’re not quite ready to move an incoming asteroid into a harmless orbit: but we’re nearly there, and that’s yet again another topic. (November 4, 2016)


2. Recently-Discovered Branches on the Family Tree


(From BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“The male H. naledi specimen named ‘Neo’, after being freed from the surrounding matrix”
(BBC News))

Amazing haul of ancient human finds unveiled
Paul Rincon, BBC News (May 9, 2017)

A new haul of ancient human remains has been described from an important cave site in South Africa.

“The finds, including a well-preserved skull, bolster the idea that the Homo naledi people deliberately deposited their dead in the cave.

“Evidence of such complex behaviour is surprising for a human species with a brain that’s a third the size of ours.

“Despite showing some primitive traits it lived relatively recently, perhaps as little as 235,000 years ago.

“That would mean the naledi people could have overlapped with the earliest of our kind – Homo sapiens….”

I talked about these folks,4 and a new tool for studying humanity’s family story, two weeks ago. (May 5, 2017)

Remains of 15 individuals might have ‘randomly’ ended up in the Rising Star Cave’s “Dinaledi Chamber.” But I think scientists who studied the chamber and remains are right. This looks like deliberate internment. (May 5, 2017)

The first report was that Homo naledi might have been around anywhere from nearly three million years, based on how their heads looked; to a few hundred thousand, based on other factors.

Later reports say that these folks almost certainly lived quite recently, geologically speaking. They shared their part of the world with folks who looked like us.

That makes their internment custom less odd, since other folks had started burying their dead by then. It raises other questions, and I’ll get back to that.

Scientists are still wrapping their minds around evidence that we learned burial customs from Neanderthals. That doesn’t surprise me, but will admit having a well-defined perspective regarding “primitive” people.

I’ve discussed “low types,” family history, and ersatz science, before. (January 13, 2017; November 29, 2016; August 26, 2016)

Contact and Cultural Exchange: Maybe


(From BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“The Lesedi chamber yielded the remains of two adults and a child”
(BBC News))

Finding more remains in another part of the same cave system may not prove that these folks interred their dead, but it’ll make the ‘it’s a wild coincidence’ argument harder to swallow. My opinion.

Contact between Homo naledi and Homo sapiens may explain how they picked up the habit of placing their dead underground.

My guess is that we learned that from Neanderthals, communicating with neighbors until the custom reached humanity’s African homeland. We’re chatty folks, given half a chance.

What’s less obvious is how folks like Homo naledi and others manage to survive while sharing territory with folks who look like us.

I see the difficulty. A common assumption is that folks with bigger brains and sharper rocks would “naturally” drive everyone else to extinction. I realize that conflict happens, sometimes with tragic consequences.

But I also realize that folks with European ancestry, myself included, have Neanderthal DNA in our genome. I may lack Denisovan DNA, but a great many folks in southeast Asia have Denisovan ancestors. (January 13, 2017)

I’ll leave assumptions about “nature, red in tooth and claw” for another post.

Intelligence, Flores Man, and More Questions

We found the first Homo floresiensis, the ‘Hobbits’ of Flores, remains in 2003. More than a dozen years later, we are far from fully understanding who they were how they fit into our story.

Some scientists think maybe they’re a separate species, and some say they’re a really unusual variety of Homo sapiens.

Some figured they were normal folks with microcephaly, or maybe Laron syndrome.

That doesn’t seem at all likely, which leaves us wondering whether they made the Oldowan tools we found near their remains, and if so — how? They also had cooking fires, which is a distinctly “human” behavior.

Someone developed the first Oldowan tools at least 2,600,000 years ago, back in Africa. We’re still tracing migration and settlement patterns for the early parts of humanity’s story, and may never get a full picture of old trade routes.

I gather that some scientists still aren’t comfortable with thinking that “primitive” people did what we’ve been doing since the start of recorded history: swapping extra stuff for something we want or need whenever we can.

Homo floresiensis lived on Flores, islands in Indonesia. We’re not sure when they arrived. It may have been as early as 190,000 years back, well after Oldowan tech was available.

My guess is that their ancestors had the tech when they arrived, or that they learned about it from other folks who went through that part of the world on their way east and south.

Australians, the folks who were there long before England sent undesirables to Botany Bay, may have arrived 100,000 years ago.

Aboriginal Australian genes are a bit like folks from Asia, which should surprise nobody. What’s more interesting, I think, is that they may be significantly distinct from Asians and Polynesians. That’s another set of questions we’re working on, and still another topic.

Where was I? The ‘Hobbits’ of Flores, stone tools, Australians, Polynesians. Right.

A Reasonable Question

We’re not sure who worked the bugs out of Oldowan tech. Whoever it was, they looked like Australopithecus garhi, Homo habilis, or someone else living in eastern Africa.

Whoever they were, they didn’t look like us. But they and their ancestors started making and using tools like the ones in that picture about 2,600,000 years ago.

They didn’t look like us, quite; but they weren’t all that different, either. Homo habilis were on the short side, a bit over four feet tall; with brains about half our size or less.

Homo floresiensis stood about three and a half feet tall. Their brains were roughly the size of a chimp’s. That’s normal for a chimp, but way undersized for a human.

Wondering if Homo floresiensis could have used stone tools and fire isn’t the old “Anglo-Teutonic” attitude toward folks like many of my ancestors.

It’s a reasonable question.

What we’ve been learning about neural circuits and intelligence says that these folks should have been about as smart as chimps: which makes their tools and cooking fires hard to explain.

Part of the answer came after scientists found enough pieces to reconstruct the shape of their brains. The assumption, which I think is valid, was that their neural architecture would follow the pattern we see in today’s humans and other primates.

Relative to the rest of their brain, the Homo floresiensis Brodmann area 10, part of the prefrontal cortex, was huge: something like 10 times the size of ours.

We’re still learning how it works. It’s probably where we do much of our “thinking:” the information and task management that lets us develop and use stone tools, pottery wheels, and integrated circuits.5

My guess is that Homo floresiensis were as “human” as I am.


3. An Ammonite’s ‘Death Drag’


(From University of Manchester, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“Ammonites are prehistoric cephalopods, closely related to modern-day squid, cuttlefish and octopuses”
(BBC News))

Rare ammonite ‘death drag’ fossil discovered
Helen Briggs, BBC News (May 8, 2017)

The ‘death drag’ of a prehistoric ‘squid’ – or ammonite – made 150-million-years-ago has been preserved as an incredible fossil.

“The animal’s shell made the 8.5m-long mark as it drifted along the seafloor after its death.

“Ammonites are one of the most common and popular fossils collected by amateur fossil hunters.

“This specimen (Subplanites rueppellianus) was found in a quarry in southern Germany.

“Its shell was preserved alongside the mark it made as it drifted along the floor of a tropical lagoon in a steady current….”

Subplanites rueppellianus are an index species for the most recent part of the Late Jurassic, the Tithonian. In other words, they’re a critter that lived then, was fairly common, and is easy to identify.

This particular sort of ammonite lived from about 152,100,000 to 145,000,000 years back, give or take about four million. “Gargoyle lizards,” gargoyleosaurs, lived where Wyoming is now. They may have been the first ankylosaurs.

Subplanites rueppellianus weren’t the first ammonites, and weren’t the last. We’re pretty sure that ammonites started with Bactritida. Those were cephalopods with roughly-conical shells, living from about 390,000,000 to 235,000,000 years ago.

First and Last Ammonites

That was when Dunkleosteus was the biggest predators around.

The biggest we know of, at any rate. I’ve mentioned those armored fish before. (October 28, 2016)

Dunkleosteus didn’t survive the Late Devonian extinction, but ammonites did.

That was roughly 360,000,000 years ago now. Ammonites survived the Great Dying, too.

The last ammonite died, along with about three-quarters of all plant and animal species on Earth, in the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event. But their descendants, Coleoidea like the octopus, squid, and cuttlefish, are doing quite well.6


Errors, Spelling and Otherwise

That picture sparked a lively discussion a few years back. The third, fifth, sixth, and seventh, comments reflected two all-too-common beliefs:

#3
“Two errors in posted image:
1) The dates are significantly too long ago.
2) The Flood, which caused the immediate burial of dinosaurs, etc needed for good quality Fossilization, is absent.”

#5
“Not sure if serious or trolling..”

#6
“Please cite the Bible as your source, so that everyone can be keenly aware you have made no distinction between mythology and science, and thereby safely ignore you.”

#7
“As a beliver in the one true God who created all things, who is over all things even science, and logic…..”
(Google Developers post, Google+ (October 11, 2013))

I saw two other ‘errors:’ the live ammonite in the pickup and the pterosaur. They’re anachronisms. Those critters have been extinct for about 66,000,000 years.

That doesn’t make the picture “wrong,” though. Sometimes a little playfulness makes an image more memorable.

I also do not see a need to believe either that God is rational and all-powerful, or that God’s creation follows rational laws.

Noticing the beauty and order surrounding us is one way we can learn about God. (Catechism, 32, 214217, 268, 302305)

That’s my viewpoint. I’m a Christian with a lively interest in God’s creation, and a willingness to take reality “as is.”

I’m also a Catholic who understands that truth cannot contradict truth, and that scientific discoveries are opportunities for “greater admiration” for God’s creation. (Catechism, 32, 159, 283, 294, 341)

Not everyone shares these views, obviously.

Pastafarians and the “Beliver” Bunch

The “Two errors” comment might be trolling.

But the seventh comment, where “believer” is misspelled, could easily be an honest expression of belief. So could the one that ends with “safely ignore you.”

My contribution, added much later, was “Next thing you know, someone will claim that the sky doesn’t keep the upper waters from flooding us.”

By then the discussion of “mythology and science” had gone down a well-worn path.

Followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster criticized the “wild and uncanny ignorance” of those who believe in the “god guy.”

The “beliver” bunch said they were right because —

“Genesis is the foundation for young Earth science like ‘On the origin of species’ is the foundation for Evolutionary science. However, because the Bible is God’s word and not the work of fallible people, we know it is correct.”

The conversation was fairly coherent, as such things go.

Emotions tend to run wild when folks who passionately believe that religion is nonsense argue with folks equally convinced that God agrees with a 17th century Calvinist.

Mesopotamian Cosmology

Oddly enough, folks who sincerely believe that Earth didn’t exist before 4004 B.C. don’t seem troubled by evidence that Earth is roughly spherical.

I knew a fellow who said that our sun goes around Earth, not the other way around: because the Bible says so. (Joshua 10:1213)

Even he didn’t seem to have trouble thinking that Earth isn’t flat. Maybe it helps that we’ve known Earth is roughly spherical for millennia.

If Biblical imagery was “true,” by Western literalist standards, we’d be living between “the waters beneath the earth” and “the flood waters stored on high.” (Genesis 1:7; Exodus 20:4; Psalms 33:7)

I take 1 Samuel 2:8; Job 9:67; Job 26:11; Psalms 75:4; and Sirach 43:10 seriously. That’s a requirement for Catholics. (Catechism, 101133)

But insisting that Earth and the sky stand on pillars isn’t. I am firmly convinced that the Bible is true, and wasn’t written by an American. (Catechism, 109114, 362, 390)

I don’t think Psalm 150:1 is ‘mere poetry.’

On the other hand, my faith wasn’t shattered when Voyager 1 didn’t crash into a celestial dome on its way to interstellar space.

Still Heading for the Horizon

It’s becoming increasingly obvious that people have been acting like humans for a very long time.

Every few generations, some of us wonder what’s over the next hill, and head for the horizon.

Along the way, we’ve met descendants of folks who did pretty much the same thing; only earlier. Youngsters from both groups find each other interesting, and we get a new generation that’s a bit of both groups.

Even if my beliefs permitted it, I know too much of my family’s immediate history to think “racial purity” is anything other than a bad idea.

I see it as a reasonable alternative to repeating the Hapsburg disaster. Besides, that’s how some of my ancestors made me possible. (January 13, 2017; August 5, 2016)

Learning That There’s More to Learn

We didn’t know Homo naledi existed until a few years ago. There is a very great deal we don’t know about them.

They certainly don’t fit into what folks remember from Time-Life’s 1965 ‘march of progress’ illustration for “Early Man.”

“The Road to Homo Sapiens” inspired cover art for a Doors album and an Encino Man soundtrack, and helped sell surfboards.

I don’t mind that.

My problem with the picture is that a distressing number of folks apparently didn’t read the illustration’s text.

The authors carefully explained that “Road” was not an accurate picture of our development. At the time, scientists figured that the fourth figure from the left, Oreopithecus, wasn’t a direct ancestor.

They also thought the next one over, Ramapithecus, might “be the oldest of man’s ancestors in a direct line.”7 It was a reasonable idea in the 1960s, based on none-too-complete fossils.

We’ve learned more about biochemistry since then, and found more fossils in the 1970s. The odds are pretty good that Ramapithecus was an early version of today’s orangutans.

Paranthropus, number seven, was called “an evolutionary dead end” in 1965. We’re still pretty sure that’s right.

On the other hand, the Paranthropus hand had precision-grip features like ours. How bright they were, and whether or not they used fire, is something we haven’t learned.

Not yet.

More; mostly about Earth’s story, and ours:


1 Iron mining in Norway, in Roman times:

2 People, short and otherwise:

3 A bad time to be on Earth, 66,000,000 million years ago:

4 Homo naledi and fossils, A quick overview:

5 Thinking about brains:

6 More than you need, or maybe want, to know about:

7 Evolution and humans, mostly:

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Mother’s Day, and Mary

Upwards of 40 countries celebrate mothers at some point during each year.

America’s Mother’s Day doesn’t seem to connect with Phrygia’s cult of Cybele or Japan’s Haha no Hi, apart from being a recognition of motherhood.

Our Mother’s Day has roots in my country’s civil war. Ann Jarvis organized a committee in 1868, promoting “Mother’s Friendship Day.” The idea was “to reunite families that had been divided during the Civil War.”

On May 8, 1914 the U.S. Congress said the second Sunday in May should be Mother’s Day. President Wilson made it official the next day, and World War I started on July 28, 1914.

I’m not sure why America’s Congress picked the second Sunday of May for Mother’s Day.

Oddly enough, I’ve never run across claims that Mother’s Day is a plot to subvert America’s Protestant purity with our ‘foreign’ ways — or seen someone make a connection between President Wilson’s proclamation and Word War I.

Don’t laugh. Mother’s Day and Catholic beliefs have common elements, and there are stranger conspiracy theories.

May, Mary — and Maria Monk?!

May is a month traditionally studded with (Catholic) devotions to Mary. We think she’s special. I’ll get back to that.

Ann Jarvis was the daughter of a Methodist minister. As far as I know she had nothing to do with the Catholic Church. But a conspiracy theorist could call that a lie spread by agents of Pope Pius IX.

I think an international ‘Mother’s Day plot’ makes a little more sense than the 1836 “Maria Monk” bestseller. Echoes of the lurid tale of deadly secrets and a secret tunnel were still echoing in my youth, a half-century back now.

Several investigations turned up zero evidence that the tale was true.

Some conspiracies have been real, but I’m pretty sure something as big as a ‘Mother’s Day Conspiracy’ would long since have been unmasked.1

Ephesians and Diapers

‘Family’ is very important to Catholics, or should be. The Catechism devotes more than two thousand words to discussing what a family is, and how families should work. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 22012233)

We all have duties: children and parents. (Catechism, 22142220, 22212231).

When I married my wife, I knew what I was signing up for. Ephesians 5:2225 says that as her husband, I must love my wife “even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her.”

That sets a high standard, since our Lord washed the disciples’ feet and walked to Golgotha. (John 13:47; Matthew 27:33)

Considering what my duty might require, I didn’t mind cleaning diapers now and then.

Queen, Yes: Passive, No

As the mother of our Lord, Mary has a prominent place in the Catholic Church.

That’s “prominent,” not “top.” She is, in a sense, our mother. (Catechism, 484507, 963972)

I think that makes sense. Jesus is God’s son. Mary is our Lord’s mother. (Luke 1:2628; John 1:14)

We’re told that God wants to adopt us. All of us. (John 1:1214, 3:17; Romans 8:1417; Peter 1:34; Catechism, 2730, 52, 1825, 1996)

I accepted the offer, which makes me a part of the family — along with everyone else who makes the same decision.

Seeing Mary as our adopted mother? Like I said, I think that makes sense.

One of Mary’s titles is Queen (or Lady) of Angels, which is where my parish church got its name.

In movies like “Knights of the Round Table,” queens don’t do much other than stir up trouble: intentionally or not. My guess, based on the number of verified Marian apparitions over the last two millennia, is that Mary is nowhere near as passive as that.

The one at Fatima, starting May 13th, 1917, may be the best-known these days. Francisco and Jacina Marto were recognized as Saints recently.2

As a Norwegian-Irish American whose mother is as ekte norsk as you’re likely to find, I have no trouble thinking of a woman as a sort of 12-star general. There’s probably a post lurking around that idea.

We see Mary as a Saint, someone who “practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace.” (Catechism, 828)

Some of the world’s 1,100,000,000 or so living Catholics may think Mary is a goddess. That is a very bad idea, and strictly against the rules. (Catechism, 21122114)

A Woman of Few Words

Let’s remember that Mary was quite likely in her teens when Gabriel said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.”

Gabriel did most of the talking, mostly responding to Mary’s question; and reassuring her. (Luke 1:2638)

I don’t think that means Mary is timid or diffident.

She had the guts to accept an assignment that would be extremely difficult to explain to her family, friends, and neighbors. All things considered, Joseph took the news that his wife-to-be was pregnant rather well. (December 18, 2016)

Years later, Mary had this conversation with our Lord:

1 On the third day there was a wedding 2 in Cana 3 in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.

“Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding.

“When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’

“(And) Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.’

“His mother said to the servers, ‘Do whatever he tells you.'”
(John 2:15)

“Do whatever he tells you” is pretty good advice: and that’s another topic.

Somewhat-related posts:


1 Conspiracies, psychology, and statistics:

2 Fatima, background:

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