Gladiator is probably one of my most favorite movies of all time. I can recall reading Entertainment Weekly back in 2000 when it first came out that gladiators often weren’t killed during combat simply because to do so was too expensive. Since then, I’ve read conflicting reports from various sources regarding what actually occurred in combat. One report from January of last year suggests that gladiators fought for show, to entertain the crowds rather than simply to kill each other.
Another, new study suggests that gladiators did, in fact, kill one another, though they did so according to a set of rules — a code of conduct, if you will.
The lack of multiple injuries and mutilation shows that the very strict nature of combat rules for gladiator fights was adhered to, they say.
However, despite the fact that most gladiators wore helmets, 10 had died of a squarish hammer-like injury to the side of the head. A possible explanation is that the injuries were inflicted after the fight, possibly by a backstage executioner who struck the doomed victim’s head, as has been suggested in artworks and literature.
These findings come from Ephesus, one of the largest Roman cities in western Asia. I’d be interested to know if gladiator combat was different in Ephesus than it was in Rome. In any event, these bones date from the 2nd century AD, and the findings from last year are from the same time period, which would seem to rule out gladiator combat changing over the course of a century or two.
Last year’s findings are more inferential in nature, pulling from artwork from northern Italy and Germany, whereas this year’s findings are the result of CT scans and microscopic analysis of actual bones. Given the idealistic nature of artwork in Greek and Roman times, it would seem to cast some doubt on the findings from January 2005: artists may have depicted the clashes between gladiators as how they would have liked them to be rather than how they actually were.
[tags]Gladiators, Roman history, combat, history[/tags]
Sex is something that most people think about on a minutely basis, but most don’t *really* think about it. From a macroscopic evolutionary view, sex doesn’t really make sense. The amount of effort that males put in to attract females, even outside the human species, is extreme. Sex is expensive in terms of time, effort, and stress. It would be much easier and less expensive from a reproduction standpoint to undergo binary fission, or drop pieces of oneself every time one wanted to reproduce.
Of course we don’t do that, and there are a few explanations as to why this is. (Because it’s “fun” doesn’t apply: that’s an evolutionary byproduct of needing to reproduce.) One hypothesis put forth almost 20 years ago suggests that sex evolved as a way to purge harmful mutations from the population. By shuffling genes “randomly” (mixing chromosomes is anything but random — any sociologist will tell you that), the harmful mutations would be concentrated into a few select individuals who would be weaker and less likely to reproduce, and therefore these mutations would be weeded out through natural selection. (more…)
Ray Kurzweil is a well-known futurist who often paints rosy pictures of a utopian future just around the corner. Unfortunately, while technology changes, humanity remains essentially the same. The problems we deal with today are the same basic problems the ancients dealt with. The stage and the props and the characters and the deities have all been updated, but the same basic plot remains.
Technology, of course, is the new god. It brings a wealth of information and extends human life. In fact, it’s done far more for humanity than any god in history has. Indeed, glowing predictions are to be expected as human knowledge grows. In his latest book, Kurzweil points out that technology is expanding exponentially, and thus linear thinking cannot accurately describe what the future will be like. He may well be right from a superficial point of view.
What technology will not change is bigotry and prejudice, and any number of other negative adjectives that can be used to describe human nature. Conflict will still be present, and the politics will revolve largely around the same basic issues that it does today, though the faces and individual issues may change. America may be supplanted by an up-and-comer willing to take more risks, or it may not be. As always, innovation will be integrated seamlessly complicating and simplifying all at the same time, and this will be normal. While I agree that the coming years might usher in a new era of advancement unlike any ever seen, it will not solve the fundamental problems of society. Nothing will. Yes, it is my firm belief that society will never “fix” itself, only the set and the players on the stage will change.
Science and technology is wonderful, but it will never solve our most basic, deep-seated problems. Human problems.
Most students have heard of, or perhaps used, ratemyprofessors.com which is a popular website for most people attending college. I haven’t used the site much, mostly because the courses I am required to take for my degree are taught by only one faculty member, and as such, it’s not really going to do me much good to look up said professor’s ratings since I can’t avoid him or her anyway. I find that in this case, going in knowing next to nothing about how a professor is allows me to form my own opinions rather than labelling the professor as “bad” before I even set foot in the room. Nonetheless, if I were at a larger school in a different program where one could choose the professor one took a class with, I would probably use the site.
I believe that the site is a great playing field-leveler. While most students at my school fill out course/professor review scantrons at the end of the semester, no one really knows what happens to them. I believe that the professor who teaches the class decides what to do with them. I’m fairly certain the administration doesn’t touch them simply because of their attitude towards students in general. Anyway, I digress. Back to what I was saying — services like ratemyprofessors.com force the administration to deal with the problem of bad teachers. Most everyone that I know of in higher education has had some professors who just don’t care about teaching — they’re there for the grant money and research opportunities. As a result you end up with some truly awful professors who are well-regarded by the school because of the prestige and money that they bring in, despite the fact that they should never, ever step foot inside a classroom.
If a site like ratemyprofessors.com can change how professors are vieed in the eyes of the school administration, this can only be a good thing. But these school administrators, rather than embrace the service, are understandably irritated. In face, quite a few schools have threatened to sue the site for publishing defamatory comments.
Westhues finds that professors and administrations are “deeply threatened” by the site in part because work with students has generally been a very minor part of a faculty member’s evaluation. When doling out grants of tenure, promotions and raises, universities look mainly at a professor’s scholarship and publications. But RateMyProfessors, Westhues said, is forcing administrations to take a professor’s teaching capability more seriously.
“Here’s this tenured professor with high rank and high salary and students say he’s a disaster in the classroom,” he said. “RateMyProfessors gets that information out into the open.”
But the trouble with that, critics say, is there’s no guarantee it’s accurate.
And this last sentence is quite true. My only personal experience with ratemyprofessors.com is from almost 3 years ago when a professor came into class in tears because she had looked at her rating on ratemyprofessors.com. Someone had written something negative about her, and she took it to heart. And the comment, I’m sorry to say was inaccurate — clearly written by someone who expected to have a good grade handed to them on a silver platter. I understand this student’s frustration though, because our particular section of the class was much harder than the other professors’ sections who allowed open-book and take-home exams. By taking her class, we got no extra credit; it was not considered an “honors-level” section, though it should have been because everyone worked much harder for her than they would have in another section. I am a firm believer in parity among class sections. Regardless, I felt bad for that professor simply because she truly cared about the students as people as well as future professionals.
So one malicious comment against one otherwise good teacher can leave them with what amounts to a black eye for their self-esteem, because as always extreme opinions elicit extreme responses: those that love a prof or hate a prof are that much more likely to rate or write a review of said professor. More neutral (some would say “more accurate”) views tend to go unpublished because the students that hold those views have no motivation to act. So while the system isn’t perfect, it is certainly better than no system at all: it is forcing schools to look more closely at who they allow to teach students. Perhaps with time and a little luck, experiences like this guy’s won’t happen as often. I won’t hold my breath, though.
Lakes Nyos and Monoun in Cameroon are building towards releasing toxic gases again. In the 1980s, the two lakes vented their payload and killed nearly 1800 people. Primarily carbon dioxide, the concentrations in the lake are building again, despite having a ventilation pipes installed in 2001 to prevent this sort of thing from happening again. The gas is created by volcanic activity beneath the lakes, and although the pipes are working, scientists fear that they are not working fast enough.
They speculate that adding more pipes could help alleviate the problem, and that current pipes will only remove an estimated 10% of the total gas in the next year.
“This slow removal extends the present risk to local populations,” says Kling. “Our model indicates that 75-99% of the gas remaining would be removed by 2010 with two pipes in Monoun and five pipes in Nyos, substantially reducing the risks.”
There are two ways of de-gassing the lakes, the current method in place at the two lakes is the “autonomous soda fountain” method which consists of a vertical pipe between the lake bottom and the surface. A small pump raises the water in the pipe up to a level where it becomes saturated with gas, which lightens the water column. The saturated water rises to the surface creating a spectacular 68-foot water fountain which can be turned on and off at will via radio from shore. Once the process is primed, there is no need for the pump to operate because the process perpetuates itself.
There are three “killer lakes” in the world that release gases: lakes Nyos and Monoun, and Lake Kivu in Rwanda. Lake Kivu differs in that its killer gas is made up of carbon dioxide and methane. Because methane is valuable, several commercial enterprises have undertaken harvesting the methane from the lake to make some money as well as prevent deadly “overturn” which seems to occur once every 1,000 years or so, which kills all of the wildlife in the lake, and around the lake. Lake Kivu is much larger than Nyos and Monoun, but its circumstances are a little bit different in that harvesting the gas is a profitable — as well as life-saving — enterprise.
Fetuses, it seems, can cry too. New research shows a fetus going through the same motions an infant or young child does when they cry: sharp, irregular intake of breaths, an open mouth, and chin quivering. There’s even a video of a moving ultrasound showing a girl crying at 28 weeks. I found the video absolutely amazing, not ever having seen a still ultrasound or anything of the sort, being an only child and one of the youngest in my extended family. It aroused protective feelings in me, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s going to feel that way when they see the video clip.
I expect that anti-abortion advocacy groups will use this as fodder for their campaign, especially since they already use hurting an unborn child as a tool against abortion. This video comes at a time when the subject of fetal pain is being hotly debated, and other studies are indicating that they cannot.
Their report, being published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, is based on a review of several hundred scientific papers, and it says nerve connections in the brain are unlikely to have developed enough for the fetus to feel pain before 29 weeks.
Well, I just saw a video that begs to differ. Arguing whether what I saw was pain or not seems to be a semantical argument at best, because that fetus was clearly in discomfort. Assuming (and this is a big assumption to make right now) that the fetus can feel pain, fetuses being aborted in the 28-29 week stage will likely have to anesthetized before they can be aborted for ethical reasons.
“This is an unknowable question,” said Dr. David Grimes, a former head of abortion surveillance at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who now delivers babies and also performs abortions in Chapel Hill, N.C.
“All we can do in medicine is to infer.” Nonetheless, he said, the new article makes a compelling case for lack of pain perception in fetuses before 29 weeks.
Indeed it is “unknowable,” but I think this video makes a strong case for fetal pain, and certainly crying. While I have mixed feelings on the abortion issue, and I don’t feel that this is the place to air them, I certainly sympathize with that fetus. Hearing tones at the 100Hz level at 95dB would probably make me cranky, too.
I was reading an article in the NYT today whose headline struck me as being remarkably retro and modern at the same time: “Many Women at Elite Colleges Set Career Path to Motherhood.” My first thought was of the movie, Mona Lisa Smile, where one of the characters gives up being a lawyer to stay at home instead. Indeed, the article goes on to talk about several high-achieving young women at Ivy League schools who plan on giving up their career when they start having children.
I’m conflicted over the concept — while I think it’s good that they intend to have the affluence necessary to be stay-at-home moms, I’m depressed by the idea that they won’t be out working and contributing to society in a meaningful way. I don’t intend for that statement to be demeaning towards those who stay at home, but I have known several girls throughout my life who were extremely gifted in academics, and were just very smart all-around, who simply gave up what could have been to stay at home and raise the kids. People who might have been doctors or researchers, simply opting to stay home instead. And I wonder to myself what the world at large has lost by their being stay-at-home moms. I will say that their children are very fortunate, however, to have such women as parents. I’ve no doubt that they will be raised well by a loving family.
There was a survey conducted, and the results were not unexpected:
The interviews found that 85 of the students, or roughly 60 percent, said that when they had children, they planned to cut back on work or stop working entirely. About half of those women said they planned to work part time, and about half wanted to stop work for at least a few years.
Two of the women interviewed said they expected their husbands to stay home with the children while they pursued their careers. Two others said either they or their husbands would stay home, depending on whose career was furthest along.
In general, those just starting out in college (their first or second years) tend to be fairly clueless about 1) what they want and 2) how life really ends up going. For instance, I was a hotshot student in high school who liked to overpower people with my intellectual first gear and beat them down in debates and such, but I absolutely floundered when it came to college. I started out as a computer science major and ended up in medicine instead. I don’t regret the change, but the person I am today is completely different than the person I was four years ago. I suspect these women will discover the same thing.
Those respondents in the second paragraph, I think, didn’t take into account their husband’s drive. Most men are very aggressive when it comes to being the primary breadwinner, and when it comes to sacrificing their career because their wife is further along… well this can create more than a little bit of tension. Expecting their future husbands to give up their careers simply because their wife had children and/or is further along in her career is very naive.
I found the first part of this quote to sum up my feelings about most (American) students quite well, both men and women.
“What does concern me,” said Peter Salovey, the dean of Yale College, “is that so few students seem to be able to think outside the box; so few students seem to be able to imagine a life for themselves that isn’t constructed along traditional gender roles.”
Though I would, perhaps, have said “contained within the bounds of existing commercial infrastructure or constructed along traditional gender roles.” I find the lack of entrepreneurial spirit and “grab the bull by the balls” attitude in modern American students frustrating and sad. I don’t know if it’s always been this way, but finding kindred spirits when it comes to ambition is difficult: most would rather take the easy way out. (Which certainly has its own appeal.)
In any case, lamenting “traditional” gender roles seems somewhat unfounded to me. Men and women are quite different physically, and as a result, emotionally: our muscle structure is different, and more importantly, our hormonal makeup is different. Testosterone lends itself to aggression and violence. Without delving into pecking order, in a modern first-world society like America, violence isn’t done on the battlefield, it’s done in the boardroom. Dominance is established by success. Men, it stands to reason, will be more aggressive than women due to their hormonal makeup, and as a result, these “traditional” gender roles form. Are these roles “bad”? I would venture to say that they aren’t, so long as one — male or female — has the personal freedom to choose what kind of life they want to live, and the opportunities available to them are fair and balanced compared to their counterparts of the opposite sex.
On the other hand, I do think it’s acceptable to lament for what society potentially loses every time a gifted person chooses to stay at home fulltime to raise their children. The upside of this, of course, is that their children will likely be better equipped, to make their own contributions when the time comes.