Category Archives: History

Maps of the day II: We’re all getting much taller


But Americans, once the third tallest men and fourth tallest women in the world in 1914 have fallen comparatively in the century since, now ranking 37th and 42nd tallest place respectively by 2014, according to a new global survey:

Relative global heights of men in 1914 [top] and 2014 [bottom]:

BLOG Ht men

And the keys for 1914, left, and 2014, right:

BLOG Ht men upper

BLOG Ht men lower

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And the same comparison for women, with 1914 above and 2014 below:

BLOG Ht women

And the relative scales for 1914 [left] and 2014 [right]:

BLOG Ht women upper

BLOG Ht women lower

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So just how much taller and where?

A report on the study from Imperial College London:

Dutch men and Latvian women are the tallest on the planet, according to the largest ever study of height around the world.

The research, led by scientists from Imperial College London and using data from most countries in the world, tracked height among young adult men and women between 1914 and 2014.

Among the findings [open access], published in the journal eLife the research revealed South Korean women and Iranian men have shown the biggest increases in height over the past 100 years. Iranian men have increased by an average of 16.5cm, and South Korean women by 20.2cm. Interactive world maps are available here.

To see a full list of the countries please click here.

The height of men and women in the UK has increased by around 11cm over the past century. By comparison, the height of men and women in the USA has increased by 6cm and 5cm, while the height of Chinese men and women has increased by around 11cm and 10cm.

The research also revealed once-tall USA had declined from third tallest men and fourth tallest women in the world in 1914 to 37th and 42nd place respectively in 2014. Overall, the top ten tallest nations in 2014 for men and women were dominated by European countries, and featured no English-speaking nation. UK women improved from 57th to 38th place over a century, while men had improved slightly from 36th to 31st place.

The researchers also found that some countries have stopped growing over the past 30 to 40 years, despite showing initial increases in the beginning of the century of study. The USA was one of the first high-income countries to plateau, and other countries that have seen similar patterns include the UK, Finland, and Japan. By contrast, Spain and Italy and many countries in Latin America and East Asia are still increasing in height.

Furthermore, some countries, particularly those in sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and the Middle East have even seen a decline in average height over the past 30 to 40 years.

There’s lots more after the jump, including an explanation for humanity’s vertical explosion. . .

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Gut bacteria: We share them with our kin


A family tree showing how different strains of Bifidobacteriaceae bacteria evolved in humans [blue] and our hominid relatives, the gorilla [green], chimp [yellow] and bonobo [red].

A family tree showing how different strains of Bifidobacteriaceae bacteria evolved in humans [blue] and our hominid relatives, the gorilla [green], chimp [yellow] and bonobo [red].

We’ve been posting quite a bit about the critters inside us, organisms that comprise the majority of the cells inside our skins.

They’ve been linked with a growing list of human afflictions, as we’ve noted in previous posts about  Previous posts have noted newly established links between our intestinal microbes and multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, anorexia, Alzheimer’s disease, and even our emotional states.

And now comes the latest intestinal microbial discovery, genetic traits they share in large part with their relatives in the guts of our own relatives.

From the University of California, Berkeley: [emphasis added]

For all the anxiety today about the bacteria in our gut being under constant assault by antibiotics, stress and bad diets, it turns out that a lot of the bacteria in our intestines have been with us for at least 15 million years, since we were pre-human apes.

A new comparison [$30 for a one-day access] of the gut microbiomes of humans, chimps (our closest ancestor), bonobos and gorillas shows that the evolution of two of the major families of bacteria in these apes’ guts exactly parallels the evolution of their hosts.

This shows that the microbes in our guts are determined in part by our evolutionary history, not just external factors like diet, medicine and geography. Obesity, cancer and some inflammatory diseases, such as diabetes and Crohn’s disease, have been linked to imbalances in the mix of microbes in our stomach and intestines.

“We are showing that some human gut bacteria are the direct descendant of gut bacteria that lived within our common ancestors with apes,” said lead researcher Andrew Moeller, a Miller Postdoctoral Fellow in UC Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. “It shows there has been an unbroken line of inheritance or transfer from one generation to another for millions of years, since the dawn of African apes.”

Moeller is beginning to assemble a snapshot of the microbes in the guts of our ancient ape ancestor — in essence, a paleo gut that fit our paleo diet — and hopes to go even further back in time if, as seems likely, all mammals have evolved their unique microbiota from a common ancestral population in the distant past.

“We now have samples from all the major groups of mammals, and we’re working on tracing the evolution of the microbiome all the way back to when we were tiny carnivorous creatures 100 million years ago,“ he said.

There’s more, after the jump. Continue reading

And now for something completely different. . .


“Waltzing Matilda,” the ballad of a Bush Ranger who’d rather die by his own hand than surrender to authorities, is the unofficial anthem Down Under, a song that celebrates the origins of white Australia in the convicts shipped over the Old Blighty.

You’ve heard the song, no doubt, opening with the immortal words, “Once a jolly swagman [thief] camped beside a billabong [watering hole]. . .”

But one thing we guarantee you’ve never heard is the song sung in the language of those who had lived in Australia for 40,000 years before those first Brits, Irish, and Scottish prisoners arrived. The language she sings is Kriol, a creole evolved from contact between the Gurindji language of the indigenous people of the New Territories and the English of the settlers.

Well, here it is, for aboriginal vocalist Ali Mills, who performs a robust version which draws smiles aplenty from her studio musician accompanists.

From MGM Distribution:

Ali Mills — Waltjim Bat Matilda

And if you’re confused about the meaning of the words in the English-language version, we’re calling in our official interpreter, the Man in Black himself.

Take it away, Johnny Cash:

Conventional Wisdom: Humor & Weimar America


As the GOP convention winds to a close, a video take on the event and the election.

We begin with a brutally frank assessment of the Republican convention from Lewis Black, during a guest sport on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

And he’s got the best idea yet on what to do with the two November contenders:

Lewis Black On The Election: “It’s A Social Experiment”

Program notes:

The comedian and star of “Back in Black” on Broadway suggests that by choosing between two deeply unpopular presidential candidates, voters are participating in a grand social experiment.

The election as emerging fascism fueled by both parties

Next up, a Paul Jay interview with journalist and former Berkeleyan Robert Scheer on the emerging fascism of Weimar America, and the way both parties have worked to bring it about.

From The Real News Network:

Robert Scheer: Neofascist Trump or Corporate Hawk Clinton Are No Choice at All

From the transcript:

JAY: So let’s start with question one. Is this just a kind of eccentric right populist, and another variance of the Republican Party? Or is this something that’s gone further into what you can call a new authoritarianism, developing neofascism, or such?

SCHEER: Well, it’s precisely a neofascism, and I think we should explain, particularly to younger people, what we mean by this. Because it’s not just throwing around some frightening word. But we’ve had this phenomenon. We have it right now in Europe. We have it where you’re–basically what you’re, what you had under the rise of Mussolini and Hitler, in Italy and Germany.

And what you’re really talking about is scapegoating real problems, there are real problems, you don’t get fascist movements taking over, rising to power, without people being in pain. Hurting. The economy in shambles, their aspirations are limited, they’re worried about their future. And we have a situation now in the United States that is increasingly resembling a kind of post-Weimar Germany. It’s neofascism, it’s not fascism. But basically, people are perplexed: why is life not getting better? Why is income disparity more glaring? Why did my $38 an hour job in [inaud.] or mining disappear, and now I have to work for $7, $8, $9 an hour. What about the benefits I thought I had? What about my ability to send my kid to college?

So we have lowered expectations in America. We have a great sense of pain. And it’s not, you know, just one region and one group of people. And it’s in that atmosphere that you can basically have one of two narratives to respond. You had the Bernie Sanders narrative that said yeah, we got real problems, here. Income inequality is getting worse. The good jobs are not there. The benefits are not there. And we’re going to propose a progressive alternative. And that’s why Bernie Sanders, you know, almost knocked Hillary Clinton out of the box, because Hillary Clinton represented the establishment that had enabled this kind of pain out there.

On the Republican side, Trump did something amazing. He wiped out the whole Republican establishment. He did it up from Maine to Alabama. And he was able to do it across the country because people are hurting. They’re not fools, they’re not desperate to back a fool. What they are desperate about is having a good life for their kids, for themselves, and they’re worried. And so this demagogue of the right comes along with a neofascist message, and by that I mean precisely blaming the undocumented worker, you know, blaming people who don’t have your religion, or gay people, or minorities, or something of that sort. Blaming them for the problems that people with power have caused.

And that’s the key ingredient of neofascism, is to distract people from the real origin of the problems, and make them think it’s the undocumented Mexican worker, which is absurd. They’re not the people who have destroyed housing in America. They’re not the people who did the collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps and all the junk that Goldman Sachs and others did that brought the economy down. And to blame some guy who’s crossed the border, or some woman who’s crossed the border and is trying to clean a house or help raise a kid there for your problems. . .is absurd.

And Michael Moore declares Trump will be the winner

And he gives a plausible rationale for his analysis in this special convention of HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher.

Also featured in Tony Schwartz, the man who really wrote Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal and who has proclaimed that Trump’s victory in November would herald the end of civilization:

Bill Maher Live RNC Special Edition: July 20

Program notes:

Bill Maher and his guests – Michael Moore, Dan Savage, Joy Reid, and Tony Schwartz – discuss the 2016 Republican National Convention during this special edition of Real Time.

When the mass paparazzi instinct turns lethal


The invention of the cell phone [thanks, Hedy Lamar] and the decision to use it to house first still, then moving image cameras, complete with sound capability, have transformed daily life.

Throw in the Internet and the rise of viral videos and still images made each of us all vigilant for opportunities for images to share, both free and for profit.

As Benedict Evans, trend analyst for the Silicon Valley investment bankers at Andreessen Horowitz noted last year, “more photos will be taken this year than were taken on film in the entire history of the analogue [film] camera business.”

While this technology enables us to creative a documentary record unparalleled in human history, the omnipresence of the camera plus the egoistic drive to assert olur being in the world can lead to mishaps, especially when we all turn paparazzi simultaneously when presented with an irresistible image.

We’ve heard of lethal selfie accidents, when folks seeking to self-immortalize end up proving self mortality.

But then there the time times when the same drive leads to death of the object of our visual obsession.

From the Associated Press:

A mountain goat in Alaska jumped into the ocean to get away from crowds snapping its picture, and the animal drowned when it couldn’t get back to land because of the crush of people on shore.

Alaska State Troopers say it’s imperative to give animals adequate space. That didn’t happen Saturday in downtown Seward, and troopers say in an online post that it “resulted in a wild animal dying for no cause.”

It comes amid a series of incidents of people getting too close to wildlife, including tourists in Yellowstone National Park who picked up a bison calf they thought was abandoned. It had to be euthanized.

 In Alaska, troopers got a call about people harassing the goat and another about a large group following it onto the breakwater rocks.

Obama pushes world closer to nuclear war


While a lot of folks are worried about the bellicose personalities of both major party presidential candidates, don’t forget the current incumbent, who has been busily pushing the world ever-closer to the brink of nuclear war through his Game of Zones plays in Asia and Europe.

While the Obama Administration’s “Asian pivot” has resulted in the first U.S. arms sales to Vietnam since the American humiliation four decades ago and Obama has relentlessly pushed Japan into the imminent scrapping of the pacifistic provisions of that country’s constitution, provisions imposed by the U.S. 60 years ago.

And now the Obama administration is beefing up U.S. forces on the Russian border, bring the threat of nuclear war to its highest level since the peak of the Cold War according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

The latest moves in Europe have even upset governments in Western Europe, who see Russian more as a trading partner than as a military threat, says University of Missouri-Kansas City economist and European historian Michael Hudson in this interview with Jessica Desverieux of The Real News Network:

US-NATO Border Confrontation with Russia Risks Nuclear War and Loss of European Partners 

From the transcript:

DESVARIEUX: So, Michael, we just heard President Obama pledging his allegiance to protecting Europe. Does Europe really need protecting, though?

HUDSON: Well, as soon as Obama made those words, there was a fury of European statements saying that Obama and NATO was making Europe less secure. The French prime minister, Francois Hollande, says that we don’t need NATO. NATO has no role to play in our Russian relations. That leaders of the two major German parties, both the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats, said that NATO was warmongering. Gorbachev came out and said the world has never been closer to nuclear war than it is at present. William Perry, the former head of the Pentagon in the mid-90s, said that NATO was threatening and trying to provoke atomic war in Europe.

And one of Russia’s leading military strategists said here’s what the problem is: NATO wants to move bombers and atomic weapons right up to the border of Russia. That means that if they launch over us, we have only a few seconds to retaliate. President Putin a little while ago had given a speech saying that Russia doesn’t really have a land army. In fact, today, no country in the world, in the Northern Hemisphere, at least, has a land army that can invade anywhere. Try to imagine America being invaded by Canada, or by Mexico on its borders. You can’t imagine it. Impossible. No democracy can afford a land army anymore because the costs are so high that the costs of mounting a land war will just impoverish the economy.

As a matter of fact, what NATO is trying to do is to goad Russia into building up an army so it can undercut its economy by diverting more and more resources away from the economy towards the military. Russia’s not falling for it. Putin said that Russia has no intention of mounting a land army. It is unthinkable that it could even want to invade the Baltics or Poland. But Putin did say we have one means of retaliation, and that’s atomic bombs. Atomic weapons are basically defensive. They’re saying, we don’t need an army anymore. Nor does any country need an army if they have an atomic weapon, because if you attack us we’ll wipe you out. And we’ll be wiped out, too, but you’re never going to be able to conquer us. And no country, really, can conquer any other country. Russia can’t conquer Europe.

So the effect, Putin and the Russian leaders have said, look, if they suppose that an American plane goes a little bit off, like, you know, the ships try to provoke things, we don’t know whether it’s an atomic attack at all. We can’t take a risk. If there’s a little bit of a movement against us, we’re going to launch the hydrogen bombs, and there goes Berlin, Frankfurt, London, Manchester, Brussels. That’s why you’re having all of these warnings. And Europe is absolutely terrified that Obama is going to destabilize. And even more terrified of Hillary getting in, who’s indicated she’s going to appoint a superhawk, the Cheney protege Flournoy, as Secretary of Defense, and appoint Nuland, Victoria Nuland, as Secretary of State.

And all throughout Europe — I’ve been in Germany twice in the last two months, and they’re really worried that somehow America is telling Europe, let’s you and Russia fight. And basically it’s a crisis.

Biodiversity plunges, and human action is to blame


Two new major studies examine the alarming loss of species on Planet Earth directly attributable to human action, action, and the results are, as you may expect, alarming.

And with the acceleration of global climate change, the outlook for the future looks increasingly grim.

Percentages of original species still surviving after the introduction off modern agriculture.

Percentages of original species still surviving after the advent of Homo sapiens.

The first study takes a broad look at the impacts of all human action on biodiversity.

From University College London:

Levels of global biodiversity loss may negatively impact on ecosystem function and the sustainability of human societies, according to UCL-led research.

“This is the first time we’ve quantified the effect of habitat loss on biodiversity globally in such detail and we’ve found that across most of the world biodiversity loss is no longer within the safe limit suggested by ecologists” explained lead researcher, Dr Tim Newbold from UCL and previously at UNEP-WCMC.

“We know biodiversity loss affects ecosystem function but how it does this is not entirely clear. What we do know is that in many parts of the world, we are approaching a situation where human intervention might be needed to sustain ecosystem function.”

The team found that grasslands, savannas and shrublands were most affected by biodiversity loss, followed closely by many of the world’s forests and woodlands. They say the ability of biodiversity in these areas to support key ecosystem functions such as growth of living organisms and nutrient cycling has become increasingly uncertain.

The study, published today in Science [$30 for one-day access to the article], led by researchers from UCL, the Natural History Museum and UNEP-WCMC, found that levels of biodiversity loss are so high that if left unchecked, they could undermine efforts towards long-term sustainable development.

For 58.1% of the world’s land surface, which is home to 71.4% of the global population, the level of biodiversity loss is substantial enough to question the ability of ecosystems to support human societies. The loss is due to changes in land use and puts levels of biodiversity beyond the ‘safe limit’ recently proposed by the planetary boundaries – an international framework that defines a safe operating space for humanity.

“It’s worrying that land use has already pushed biodiversity below the level proposed as a safe limit,” said Professor Andy Purvis of the Natural History Museum, London, who also worked on the study. “Decision-makers worry a lot about economic recessions, but an ecological recession could have even worse consequences – and the biodiversity damage we’ve had means we’re at risk of that happening. Until and unless we can bring biodiversity back up, we’re playing ecological roulette.”

The team used data from hundreds of scientists across the globe to analyse 2.38 million records for 39,123 species at 18,659 sites where are captured in the database of the PREDICTS project. The analyses were then applied to estimate how biodiversity in every square kilometre land has changed since before humans modified the habitat.

They found that biodiversity hotspots – those that have seen habitat loss in the past but have a lot of species only found in that area – are threatened, showing high levels of biodiversity decline. Other high biodiversity areas, such as Amazonia, which have seen no land use change have higher levels of biodiversity and more scope for proactive conservation.

“The greatest changes have happened in those places where most people live, which might affect physical and psychological wellbeing. To address this, we would have to preserve the remaining areas of natural vegetation and restore human-used lands,” added Dr Newbold.

The team hope the results will be used to inform conservation policy, nationally and internationally, and to facilitate this, have made the maps from this paper and all of the underlying data publicly available.

Animal species lost because of agricultural production

Species loss due to agricultural production.

Species loss due to agricultural production.

A second major study, this time conducted under the auspices of the European Commission: look at species loss specifically related to agricultural production.

The results are equally alarming.

From the European Commission:

In the past 500 years, over 300 vertebrate species have gone extinct, and many more are under threat of extinction — causing a lamentable decline in the variety of life on the planet. Biodiversity provides important benefits, from pollination to nutrient cycling, that are vital for human health and the economy. There is, therefore, an urgent need to address the causes of biodiversity loss.

Agriculture is a major driver of biodiversity decline. As the world’s economies are become more and more connected, international flows of crops and their products are increasing and it is important to understand the environmental effect of these changes.

There’s lots more, after the jump. . . Continue reading