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Could it be that, even with all the issues that we face today, there is cause for optimism? It would seem so, at least set in the longer context of human history. Take a look at HumanProgress.org for some data that will give reason for hope. A few tidbits from that site:
In fact, for most of human history, life was very difficult for most people. People lacked basic medicines and died relatively young. They had no painkillers and people with ailments spent much of their lives in agonizing pain. Entire families lived in bug-infested dwellings that offered neither comfort nor privacy. They worked in the fields from sunrise to sunset, yet hunger and famines were commonplace. Transportation was primitive and most people never travelled beyond their native villages or nearest towns. Ignorance and illiteracy were rife. The “good old days” were, by and large, very bad for the great majority of humankind.
Average global life expectancy at birth hovered around 30 years from the Upper Paleolithic to 1900. Even in the richest countries, like those of Western Europe, life expectancy at the start of the 20th century rarely exceeded 50 years. Incomes were quite stagnant, too. At the beginning of the Christian era (CE), annual incomes per person around the world ranged from $600 to $800. As late as 1820, average global income was only $712 per person.
Humanity has made enormous progress – especially over the course of the last two centuries. For example, average life expectancy in the world today is 67.9 years. In 2010, global per capita income stood at $7,814 – over 10 times more than two centuries ago.
But forget for a moment the last two centuries, and let us consider just one lifetime – that of the Old Man, who a couple of weeks back saw his 91st birthday. One of his earliest memories would have been around 1926 or 1927, and that was the memory of the night his younger brother Lee died – of pneumonia. In today’s world, Lee almost certainly never would have been in any danger. He also remembers having twin sisters, also younger than he, who died shortly after birth, following a long, difficult labor. Again, today, they probably would have been delivered by C-section and survived. It bothers to Old Man to this day to think how his mother felt to have lost three of her five children before any of them saw their third birthday.
But that kind of thing wasn’t that uncommon then.
Personally, I never had the chance to ask my paternal grandmother how she felt about any of that, because she died in 1944, aged fifty, a massive stroke almost certainly caused by undiagnosed hypertension. Again, today, she would have been diagnosed and treated, and probably lived much longer.
Fast forward to my own children; our youngest daughter was born in 1996, three months early. Mrs. Animal suffered through eclampsia and the labor was induced to save her life. Both survived just fine, and our little Peanut is 18, now a second-degree black belt and a college student, so she obviously came out just fine – but a few days after the delivery the doctor presiding over this high-risk case told me “twenty years ago, they probably both would have died.”
It’s a great time to be alive.
Take some time and browse HumanProgress.org. One of the things you’ll come away with is that there is one great driver to human progress: Liberty. As their “About” page states:
While we think that policies and institutions compatible with freedom and openness are important factors in promoting human progress, we let the evidence speak for itself. We hope that this website leads to a greater appreciation of the improving state of the world and stimulates an intelligent debate on the drivers of human progress.
Threats to freedom, threats to liberty and the rule of law are found all over the world, of course; most notably in the Middle East. If one needs a reason to oppose the spread of Bronze age barbarity like that advocated by ISIL, Al Qaeda and the like, the Human Progress project will give you plenty of reasons.
No news today, not on this lovely Colorado Christmas Eve. No deep thoughts, no musing, no notes on the passing scene.
Instead, today, just accept our best wishes from all here at the Casa de Animal (along with the concomitant Christmas Hump Day totty) and a heartfelt Merry Christmas to all True Believers!
Regular posts will return on (Rule Five) Friday.
Well, what do you know. North Korea is losing Internet access. Both North Korean computers are reportedly unable to connect. Excerpt:
The country, which the FBI accused last week of the cyberattack, is suffering a total Internet outage that experts at DYN Research said is out of the ordinary, as first reported by North Korea Tech. According to the research firm, North Korea’s Internet connectivity grew steadily worse beginning Sunday night, and then went completely offline Monday morning.
“I haven’t seen such a steady beat of routing instability and outages in KP before,” Doug Madory, director of Internet analysis at DYN Research, told North Korea Tech. “Usually there are isolated blips, not continuous connectivity problems. I wouldn’t be surprised if they are absorbing some sort of attack presently.”
Let’s hope it is an attack, preferably one orchestrated by the United States. Let’s hope that the stunted little gargoyle from a long line of stunted little gargoyles that runs North Korea figures out that the attack was orchestrated by the United States. Let’s hope he calls the White House to complain. Let’s hope President Obama tells him “Yeah, it was us. What ya gonna do about it, putz?”
While I’m hoping for those things, I may as well hope for Scarlett Johansson to come sit on my lap and nibble on my ear, because that ain’t gonna happen, either.
Next move? Let’s take down their power grid and plunge North Korea into darkness.
1944-2014. One of the greats.
This just in from National Review Online: The United States of Anxiety. Excerpt:
If 2014 had a grand theme, it was testicular absence.
In science fiction, corporations are deathless juggernauts imposing their will on governments and galaxies, but in the real world Sony, one of the most powerful business entities in the world, got cowed into submission by the release of some embarrassing e-mails and threats from hackers acting on behalf of the Evil Kingdom of the Hermit Midgets. Hollywood is forever congratulating itself on its courage for banging on, e.g., the American suburban bourgeoisie, because bourgeois American suburbanites don’t generally resolve disagreements by sawing off heads. But let Kim Jung-un take offense at your dopey Seth Rogen movie and Sony is suddenly a wounded kitten.
You think the Weyland-Yutani Corporation would put up with that nonsense?
James Franco and Seth Rogen and the Sony brass might be man-shaped objects carved out of cotton candy, but they are iron men compared with the American college student. Students at the University of California at Irvine felt the need to avail themselves of the services of grief therapists after the grand jury decided not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for a shooting in Ferguson, Mo., some 1,800 miles away. It’s not like the UCI Anteaters don’t have legitimate reasons for grief – starting with the fact that they are called “Anteaters” — but a no-bill from a grand jury five states away isn’t one of them. Meanwhile at Occidental, students who were receiving class credit to work on Democratic political campaigns were reduced to shambolic mounds of blubbering distress by Republican victories.
Oh, the humanities.
This is a nation that has produced Presidents such as Andrew Jackson – the hero of the Battle of New Orleans, who responded to an assassination attempt by beating the would-be assassin nearly to death with a walking stick. Also Theodore Roosevelt, whose considered reply to a pistol bullet in the chest was to go on and continue with his speech. And those are just two of our ballsier Presidents – this is a nation that produced generation after generation of pioneers, men and women who found ways through unknown mountain ranges, across vast dry prairies and deserts, who founded towns, cities, industries. We are – at least, we were – a nation of doers, of people who refused to take ‘no’ for an answer.
Are we still?
Are neurotic nitwits like the college students blubbering to therapists because of a grand jury decision half a continent away becoming the American norm?
In Marvel’s fabulous movie The Avengers, the villain Loki forces a crowd of Germans (!) to kneel before him by an ostentatious display of power. One elderly man, a look of determination on his face, gets back to his feet. “No,” he says. “Not for a man like you.”
“There are no men like me,” Loki, supposedly a Norse god, informs him, sneeringly.
“There are always men like you,” the old man replies. A line from a movie, maybe, but a cogent point nonetheless.
Are we, as a nation, the kind of a people that would stand up to an actual, real, live, oppressor? A Hitler, a Stalin, a Pol Pot?
The nitwitted students at UC Irvine are not. These cottony, squishy children have not the slightest inkling what real hardship is, what real oppression is, or what a cold, brutal place most of the world is. They would have no idea and no ability to face such reality if it were forced upon them; they would almost certain react by dropping to their knees.
One can only address them in the words of one of our founders, Samuel Adams:
“If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.”
Mrs. Animal and I really have to visit this place.
One of my personal heroes, General George Smith Patton, was a man for his time, a living weapon, probably the finest (that is to say, deadliest) practitioner of modern warfare that ever lived. And the Battle of the Bulge may have been his finest hour. Excerpt:
The Allies had a problem.
It was called the German army — rolling right into the American gut.
This was December 1944. The U.S. Army had figured it was close to turning out the lights on World War II in Europe.
Hitler kept them flickering with a tank invasion of northwest Europe, in particular Belgium. In his scope: Antwerp’s port, supplies, fuel and a peace pact to keep the American juggernaut from bagging Germany.
Gen. Dwight Eisenhower heard the alarm.
Now he had to make the call. But to whom?
As soon as the three-star general had his marching orders, he made a beeline to the Bulge in Belgium — and in seven days rescued the trapped Americans in Bastogne while decking the Nazis.
“It was Patton’s finest hour,” Harry Yeide wrote in “Fighting Patton.”
“There was not one other single man in the Army who could’ve done that,” Mike Province, author of “The Unknown Patton” and head of the Patton Society, told IBD. “No one else had the willpower and knowledge of the terrain. He turned the entire 3rd Army 90 degrees and headed north — about 200,000 men and 200 tanks. It took the sheer willpower of Patton.”
Willpower – something Patton had in abundance.
When Patton proposed to turn 3rd Army and head north, every officer around him – including Omar Bradley – said it was impossible. Patton responded that 3rd Army would damn well do as he told them, and they did.
Another of my personal heroes, then-Captain Dick Winters, was in the encircled 101st Airborne at Bastogne – as was the Old Man’s older brother Donald. When moving into Bastogne, Winters was speaking to a lieutenant from one of the units fleeing the German onslaught. The young officer told Winters, “A panzer division is about to cut the road south. You’re going to be surrounded.”
The 101st never admitted they needed to be rescued, by Patton or anyone else. And they may be right. But that doesn’t make the achievements of Patton and 3rd Army any less.
The article concludes:
A year after his Bulge heroics, Patton died from the effects of a paralyzing car crash in Germany. He’s buried in Luxembourg.
“Patton had shortcomings,” said Sorley, “but Eisenhower knew he was a great fighting general and knew he would need him when the chips were down.”
Patton had all of the traits of a consummate combat general: Audacity, courage, determination, ruthlessness, intelligence, education, and a talent for reading his opponents (his victories over Rommel in Africa were largely due to two things: 1) Rommel had written a book on tank warfare, and 2) Patton read it.) He was an arrogant, profane man, difficult to work for and a handful for his superiors.
But the Allied victory in Europe in WW2 was in no large part due to the efforts of George Patton and 3rd Army.
In the U.S. Army, uniform protocol states that the unit patch of one’s current unit is worn on the left shoulder. On the right, soldiers that have served in a combat zone may wear the patch of the unit they served with at that time. On my old uniforms, the patch of 3rd Army is on the right sleeve.
Granted that was for service in the Persian Gulf War in 90-91, not WWII, but still – I’m pretty proud of that.
Nasa’s announcement on Tuesday that its Curiosity rover had detected wafts of methane in the Martian air was met with immediate speculation that life might be the source. It might. Communities of microbes could be living under the Martian surface and churning out the gas. Perhaps the corpses of long-extinct bugs are being heated in the Martian interior and vaporised into methane. But any number of other processes that involve nothing as spectacular as life can and do make methane too. The problem is that detecting methane alone is never enough to answer the question of whether or not we are alone.
“You need to know a lot more about what’s going on right at the source,” said Michael New, an astrobiologist at Nasa’s headquarters in Washington DC. “You need to know the context. It’s very hard to look at methane alone and say it came from life.”
It’s good to see that bit of caution, that bit of skepticism in the quote from Michael New. That’s how science is supposed to work.
The hints of methane are tantalizing, though. It’s been decades since yr. obdt. trained as a biologist and only a few years less than that since I worked in the field, that last stint being a few months in a microbiology lab in 1990-1991. But an abiding interest in the topic and a lifelong penchant for reading everything I can lay hands on has kept me reasonably current on the topic, and it’s easy to see how the wisps of methane on Mars could be a sign of biological activity under the surface. But, as NASA points out, there are plenty of possible non-biological sources as well.
Discovering life on Mars – or anywhere other than Earth – would be one of the greatest discoveries in the history of mankind. It would be a discovery with vast implications, implications affected subjects ranging from biology to physics to religion.
The linked article concludes: Good evidence for a biological origin for methane on Mars could come from measurements of the isotopes of carbon and hydrogen that make up the methane molecules. On Earth, at least, life tends to use lighter isotopes, so more carbon-12 than carbon-13.
Seeking those isotope ratios would be a good next step.