Archive for April, 2012

This is Brienne, the maid of Tarth.  She is one of my favorite characters in Game of Thrones, a fearsome warrior who only wants to uphold honor and protect her lord.  But the world painted by George R. R. Martin is violent and unforgiving, and Brienne often finds herself in circumstances that put her honor at risk

I finally got around to watching the first five eps of season 2, and I’m delighted with the actress cast to play the role of Brienne.  Her name is Gwendoline Christie, and she is six feet three inches tall.  She towers over most of the male characters, and as Brienne she whales the tar out of any who challenge her.  That’s fine with me.


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Campaigning in Westeros

I haven’t discovered the origination of this amusement but it seems to be spreading fast along the Internet’s murky waters.  I’m looking forward to take-offs.

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Poor Henri!


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Worth the Wait

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This here handsome dude is Lavonte David, who should be selected in the second round of the NFL draft today.  David is, IMHO, one of the best linebackers around, but the NFL scouts apparently think he is too small at 6 feet and 233 pounds.  Nothing he can do about that, but he is fast and smart and he makes up for his smaller size with desire.  It was David who tackled Ohio State’s quarterback during the third quarter of the Huskers’ unbelievable comeback in the rain last year, turning the game around so Nebraska could beat OSU, probably for the first and last time for many years to come.

Nebraska sent first-rounder Ndamakong Suh to the Lions in 2010 and Prince Amukamara to the New Yawk Giants in 2011, plus several other guys who had big first and second years–Roy Helu and Alex Henery to name two.  But the Huskers had no alums of that caliber this year–at least according to those who make such judgements.  The next most likely recruit today or tomorrow is defensive lineman Jared Crick:

This is Crick in action.  Remind you of anyone?  Sadly, his stock has fallen because he was injured for most of his last season at Nebraska.  But he will probably be chosen in the second or third rounds nonetheless.

Last night was a hoot.  Desert Democrat and Mr. Desert came over to my house bearing beer and delicious carne asada burritos, and we watched the first round while chowing down.  Highlight of the evening:  the obnoxious guy who does the mock draft for the NFL channel was proven wrong again and again and again.  Desert, who wisely does not waste her time following such matters, asked “why is that guy yelling?”

Thanks, Desert and Mr. Desert.  Let’s do it again next year

UPDATE:  Lavonte David was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the third round.  And Crick goes to the Houston Texans in the fourth.  Hooray!

MORE UPDATES:  Alfonzo Dennard to the Patriots and Marcel Jones to the Saints.  Not bad.

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The book in question is Ian Tattersall’s Masters of the PlanetThe Search for Human Origins (2012).  Tattersall is a curator emeritus at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and, in addition to knowing his stuff, he writes clearly and well.   I read Masters in three days–glued to it as through it were a good novel.  If you want a taste, NPR has posted an interview with Tattersall on their website.

Some revelations (at least to me):   the genus homo contains a number of species (see the chart above), some of whom were the first hominids to leave Africa, cross the Levant and migrate into Europe and Asia.  Homo sapiens  was not among those who first colonized other continents, having got its start much later than the original exodus.  But once sapiens got moving, it apparently wiped out all other members of the class.  Not necessarily directly, through warfare (although this is possible), but through competition for limited resources.

Tatterall also introduced me to the notion of exaptation:  a feature that is acquired through random changes in genetic codes and later co-opted for specific uses.  For example, birds had feathers long before they learned to fly.  So random changes in genetic codes can provide a species with tools that it may or may not take advantage of.  This notion is far more flexible than “adaptation” or “natural selection,” which suggest an individual changing in order to accommodate some alteration in the environment.  If one individual “adapts,” or if “nature” were to “select” for some feature, those changes would only affect one creature (unless that creature has language of some sort, and in that case the feature would have to be behavioral rather than genetic or morphic).

Sapiens had one huge advantage:  consciousness that others are conscious too (he calls this “symbolic thought,” but IMO that phrase is a little too non-specific to name just what he is after).  Tattersall is not sure how this came about (nor is anyone, really) but he suspects that once the requisite physiology was in place it happened among children–which is a nice thought.

Philosophers have been struggling with this problem for years.  Rene Girard has supplied a thesis that is still compelling, even given the recent and startling advances in paleoanthropology reviewed by Tattersall.  Girard suggests that consciousness began among a group of humans standing around a dead body;   each member of the group suddenly realizes that the victim could have been him or her.  Simultaneously, each realizes that everybody else is sharing that thought, ie that everybody else has a consciousness too.  Once this notion of shared consciousness is available, the use of language to represent it becomes possible.

All that aside, the most lasting impression I carry away from Tattersall’s work is this:  that humanity ever happened at all is due to highly random chance.  As he says, the only evidence we have for this astonishing fact is that it actually happened.  So the creationists, as usual, are looking under the wrong rock.  The story of human evolution is so nearly impossible that it is a marvel and a wonder to behold.  That story should satisfy any thinking being who has religious yearnings.

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Earlier this week, the shuttle Discovery made its final voyage, this time riding on the back of NASA’s 747.   The huge plane flew over the Washington DC area at about 1500 feet, giving a great view to the tens of thousands of people who gathered outside to see the spectacle.  This shot shows the plane-cum-shuttle flying past the flag on the capitol dome.  The shuttle is on its way to the Smithsonian.

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